Under critical scrutiny, it’s been apparent for a while that many animal rights organizations and sanctuary groups are far more intertwined than they appear to be. With the official announcement of a new alliance on October 27th, the relationships between these various entities and their long term goals are now much easier to discern. The eight members now publicly collaborating to end private ownership and commercial use of big cats in the United States through the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance are not actually the discrete entities they appear to be at first glance; their executives and funding sources are so interconnected that the organizations have been aligned long before this alliance was officially formed.
Here’s a breakdown of the member list of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, current as of 29/10/17:
- The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is a sanctuary accrediting organization heavily affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS owns and administrates the GFAS web domain, and one of the directors of GFAS is both the executive vice president of HSUS and president of the Fund For Animals (see below). Multiple other people on the GFAS board of directors (both current and previously) have served in executive roles at HSUS. Since at least 2014, GFAS has been funded in part by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (see below).
- The Fund for Animals (FFA) is an animal protection organization run by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). All of the officers and board of directors at the FFA are HSUS executives, and together the two organizations founded the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF). The president of the FFA, in addition to being a director for GFAS and the executive vice president of HSUS, is also the president of the HSLF and is the chair of the Humane USA PAC. All three sanctuaries run by FFA are GFAS accredited.
- Tigers in America (TIA) is a group of the “best tiger sanctuaries in the U.S.” whose founder and president is the treasurer for GFAS. Two of the three facility members of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance are Tigers in America members. The Tigers in America website notes that the founders are “forever grateful to Patty Finch from GFAS for introducing us into the world of captive bred tigers”. Patty Finch is a previous GFAS executive director and former HSUS vice president.
- Carolina Tiger Rescue is an unaccredited big cat sanctuary that is a member of Tigers in America.
- Turpentine Creek is a GFAS-accredited big cat sanctuary that is a member of Tigers in America.
- The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is an animal protection organization that has been partnering with HSUS since at least 2012 to draft and promote big cat-related legislation, including but not limited to multiple iterations of the loophole-filled Big Cat Public Safety Act and a petition with the HSUS, GFAS, FFA, and People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for a blanket ban on public contact with big cats. In February 2014, IFAW joined HSUS, FFA, and PETA in petitioning the USDA to revoke the license of a big cat exhibitor in Ohio. In both 2013 and 2016, IFAW’s Wildlife Rescue Division and GFAS co-hosted a Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop. Representatives from at least four sanctuaries that are both GFAS-accredited and members of Tigers in America (including Carolina Tiger Rescue and Turpentine Creek) attended the workshops, and Carolina Tiger Rescue was the end-of-conference tour in 2013.
- The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) is an animal protection organization that runs a GFAS-accredited sanctuary and is a member of Tigers in America.
- Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary is an unaccredited tiger sanctuary that attended the 2016 Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop run by IFAW and GFAS.
In summary: GFAS and FFA are HSUS surrogates. GFAS, FFA, and IFAW are tied together by the money that has changed hands, the years of legislative collaboration, and mutual support and assistance on both sanctuary management and big cat topics. Tigers in America is run by a GFAS board member. Carolina Tiger Rescue, Turpentine Creek, and the Performing Animal Welfare society are all both GFAS-accredited facilities and Tigers in America members. Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary is both the newest facility and a major outlier, with their only public connection to the web their attendance at the 2016 Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop.
This is an important member list to pick apart, because an alliance of seemingly independent organizations supporting a common goal seems far more credible than one run by multiple facets of a single entity and their close business associates. The Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance isn’t really anything new – it’s simply it’s the final evolution of a long-term set of relationships between major power players in the big cat politics and sanctuary world.
Now, the interesting thing is that there’s not actually a definition of what constitutes the ‘commercial use of big cats’ the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance has made it their mission to end. Since the project is originating from a group mostly under the control of HSUS – a group with a history of keeping position statements on animal management ambiguous to allow them to pivot without conflict – the potential interpretations of ‘commercial use’ would normally be fairly murky. But there’s one sneaky little aspect to this Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance that gives a lot of context to the ‘commercial use statement’, and to what the goals of the group will likely emerge to be: Big Cat Rescue’s (BCR) founder and CEO, Carole Baskin, is heavily – but covertly – involved.
Big Cat Rescue has no formal presence on the public-fronting part of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance website, although the organization is as equally interconnected with the member organizations as any official member group is. (The facility is both a Tigers in America memberand a GFAS-accredited sanctuary; they frequently partner with HSUS, FFA, GFAS, and IFAW to promote legislation and petitions; they were part of the call for USDA to revoke the license of an Ohio facility; and they were participants in both years of the Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop.) However, Carole appears to be heavily involved in the backstage aspect of the project.
The Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance website appears to have gone live in early 2017 – a couple months after the idea for the alliance was conceived at the 2016 Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop, which Big Cat Rescue attended. An account labeled ‘BCR staff’ appears to be the first account made on the alliance website’s forum – created ten months ago, in January of 2017 – and the second account belongs to Carole Baskin herself, created in February 2017. It’s from this latter personal account, bearing the title of ‘keymaster’, that Carole appears to have set up much of the content for the website: starting in early February, Baskin uploaded nine articles to the site (including affiliate links for both GFAS and IFAW) and created the structure of the forum,along with introductory topics and ‘how to interact with the forum’ posts. There are no posts on the public-access part of the forum that were not written by Baskin. (It’s worth noting who else the only other accounts on the forum belong to: Meredith Whitney is the Wildlife Rescue Program Officer for IFAW who was involved in the collaborative Big Cat Sanctuary Workshop with GFAS; Kellie Heckman is the executive director of GFAS; Robin Greenwood is the president of Elmira’s Wildlife Sanctuary and has been featured on the BCR website for a ‘Cat Chat’; and Abbie Knudsen is a staff biologist at the National Tiger Sanctuary. All of these accounts were created in February of 2017 and appear to have gone unused until a few hours before GFAS’ press release about the alliance was published.)
It is highly likely that the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance has purposefully chosen to downplay Baskin and Big Cat Rescue’s involvement. A big clue that this is intentional, rather than accidental neglect, is that that the alliance has never once been mentioned on the BCR website – a place where Baskin blogs prolifically about everything occurring the big cat world. So why the purposeful choice to hide BCR’s formative role in the alliance? Baskin’s reputation for aggressive behavior and insensitive social media posts precedes her, and it is inherently damaging to the credibility of organizations BCR partners with. More importantly, her involvement in the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance drastically changes the connotation of the phrase “ending commercial use of big cats in the U.S.” When the public face of the organization is viewed alone, as a group run by mostly HSUS surrogates and their affiliated facilities, it’s possible that the alliance would view conservation breeding programs at facilities that still conduct commercial activity as being an acceptable form of ‘commercial use’. Baskin, however, is known for her strongly anti-zoo stance – even to the point of trying to bully and guilt-trip zoos into no longer having big cats in their collections – and for her published long-term goal of managing captive big cat populations to extinction in the United States. If BCR is, as it seems, a founding member of and major player in the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, then the most probably interpretation of their goal to end ‘commercial use of big cats’ is the eventual removal of all big cats from any non-sanctuary setting.
Read the original article here.