In the world of “reality” television, Animal Planet’s Call of the Wildman was about as real as a dating show relationship. But a producer of the show is finally being hit with a real fine from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for exhibiting animals without a license in a number of staged scenes that caused animals to suffer.
In 2014, the USDA opened an investigation into the show after a PETA complaint and a damning Mother Jones investigative report. In one episode, the show’s star, Ernie Brown Jr.—known as “Turtleman”—visited a Kentucky consignment shop in order to capture a white-tailed deer buck who was “trapped” in the store. Throughout the episode, Brown and several other men are filmed shouting as they chase the visibly distressed animal through the store, attempting to catch him. The deer crashes into shelving then slips and falls before being tackled. The USDA found that the staged scene caused the deer unnecessary discomfort and stress.
A different episode showed Turtleman chasing and catching bats by hand in a brightly lit hair salon in Houston. Animal Planet later admitted that the bats had been placed in the salon solely for the purpose of filming. Other episodes of the show involved Turtleman tormenting a coyote by dragging and lifting the animal by the tail, forcefully throwing a zebra to the ground after the animal had been reportedly drugged (for which PETA was able to get the exhibitor cited), violently wrestling a raccoon, and tossing a porcupine into a trash can.
Even though the producer was fined, this case exemplifies how the USDA is failing to deter animal abuse. Following an investigation that dragged on for more than three years, the USDA settled the case for a mere $1,400—even though the producer faced up to $100,000 in fines for these violations. The agency’s own Office of the Inspector General has issued a series of scathing audit reports finding that USDA penalties are “often so low that violators regarded them as a cost of doing business.”
But at least one of the show’s producers was held accountable for causing animals to suffer, and this trash TV series has thankfully been canceled. Don’t buy into the feel-good “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimers. No matter how you look at it, animals aren’t props. Please, refuse to support TV shows and movies that rely on captive animals for their entertainment value.