The Conservation Game
Directed by Michael Webber, featuring Tim Harrison, founder, Outreach for Animals
If you have not yet seen The Conservation Game, the acclaimed exposé of exotic cat exhibition and trafficking that sent longtime animal exhibitor Jack Hanna into retirement due to alleged dementia, there will never be a better time to watch it––free––than now.
Just make sure you have one hour and 47 minutes of uninterrupted viewing time ahead, and click this link to Carole and Howard Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue channel on YouTube:
The biggest fake since the Trojan Horse
For those who remain unaware that Jack Hanna was, and remains, possibly the biggest fake in animal exhibition since the Trojan Horse, The Conservation Game will be an eye-opener.
The rest of us can appreciate that Tim Harrison, a retired police officer, firefighter and paramedic in Oakwood, Ohio, finally knocked Jack Hanna off the pedestal that had enabled him to inspire legions of imitators over the past half century, much as Hanna himself was inspired by Jim Fowler and Marlin Perkins’ NBC nature documentary television series Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, 1963-1971.
Bush hat was an affectation
There was one big difference between Hanna and the Fowler/Perkins duo, though. Fowler and Perkins, though their show was scripted and much of the animal action staged, actually had some serious background in field conservation.
Hanna likely spent more time in television makeup rooms than he ever did in the field. His bush hat was a fashion statement, worn mostly indoors, especially when on camera.
Tim Harrison, in The Conservation Game, introduces a small army of one-time Hanna associates who went on to start their own animal exhibition businesses, though Harrison only fleetingly mentions perhaps the most notorious, Kevin “Doc” Antle.
Kevin Antle, the Iowa Kid
Antle, who styles himself “Mahamayavia Bhagavan Antle,” was among the half dozen animal exhibitors featured in the 2021 Netflix series Tiger King.
Animal Underworld author Alan Green in 1999 introduced Antle as “an assistant to Jack Hanna,” during Hanna’s “appearances on Good Morning America and Late Night With David Letterman.”
That was earlier in Antle’s career. For an update, see Kevin “Doc” Antle’s secret life on the lam from Iowa.
As to Jack Hanna, see Jack Hanna shenanigans get Columbus Zoo the boot from the AZA––again.
AZA yanked accreditation
Forty-plus years of Jack Hanna shenanigans finally caught up to the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Hanna’s longtime base of operations, on October 1, 2021.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums [AZA] on that date yanked the Columbus Zoo’s accreditation for the second time, seven months after the twenty-ninth anniversary of yanking it for the first time.
Both losses of accreditation were due to Jack Hanna shenanigans undertaken in brazen disregard of the AZA Code of Ethics.
Hanna had been the Columbus Zoo director, and later director emeritus, since 1978.
Backyard breeders & roadside zoos
“The AZA is looking inward at its own accreditation practices,” reported Kevin Landers of WBNS-10 in Columbus, “after a documentary,” The Conservation Game, “accused Jack Hanna of using animals from unaccredited breeders —not animals from the Columbus Zoo — to appear on late-night TV shows.”
The 2021 loss of AZA accreditation came, reported Columbus Dispatch reporter Jennifer Smola Shaffer, after “The Conservation Game “raised questions about the way celebrity conservationists, including Jack Hanna, acquire exotic animals. The film alleges baby tigers and snow leopards who appeared with Hanna on late-night talk shows often didn’t come from or return to accredited zoos, but were instead shuffled among backyard breeders and unaccredited zoos that don’t have to adhere to the same strict animal care standards and ethics rules as accredited facilities.”
Shocked, shocked, to discover Jack Hanna was a trafficker
This should not have surprised anyone, least of all longtime exotic animal rescuer Tim Harrison, star of The Conservation Game, who nonetheless appeared to be surprised to discover Hanna was a charlatan after months of trying to trace the fate of many exotic cats who, as kittens, had been featured on talk shows with celebrity hosts.
At least five times between 1986 and 1990, on Hanna’s watch, the Columbus Zoo sold animals to dealers who resold them to inappropriate destinations, as confirmed and exposed in January 1990 by CBS 60 Minutes.
Hanna then insisted to the Columbus Dispatch that the Columbus Zoo had a policy against selling surplus animals to dealers for auction, but admitted that he did not always know what became of the animals he sold, some of whom ended up as living targets for trophy hunters at hunting preserves. Others went to roadside zoos and other for-profit exhibitors.
The Conservation Game is about much more, though, than just Jack Hanna
The American Zoo Association took no action against Hanna and the Columbus Zoo then, but did reinforce the AZA Code of Ethics to require that accredited zoos be prohibited from selling animals to non-accredited entities.
Even then, Hanna and the Columbus Zoo were notorious for over-breeding animals and selling animals to inappropriate destinations.
The Conservation Game is about much more, though, than just Jack Hanna.
Tim Harrison, assisted by Florida online investigator Jeff Kremer, also traces what became of a variety of exotic cats who were acquired and dumped by other television exhibitors at facilities offering the cats, at best, a quality of life that would be considered subpar by the rural standards for hunting dogs, let alone endangered species.
One tiger cub next turned up in Massillon, Ohio, where the high school football team booster club has exhibited a tiger cub mascot at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium since 1960.
Explains the publicity materials for The Conservation Game, “Tim Harrison is the director of Outreach For Animals, a non-profit organization founded in 2001 by a group of police officers, firefighters, and paramedics whose mission is to educate young people to respect wildlife and its natural habitat.”
The Elephant in the Living Room
Harrison “has rescued, relocated and advocated for exotic animals in the United States for over 47 years,” The Conservation Game biography says, initially as a would-be Jack Hanna who kept exotic animals himself, later as star of The Elephant in the Living Room, a 2011 documentary which, like The Conservation Game, was directed by Michael Webber.
The Elephant in the Living Room compared and contrasted Harrison’s work with that of Terry Brumfield, described as “a man who keeps his two pet African lions in a broken down horse trailer, after one escaped and began chasing cars on the highway.”
“Big Cat Public Safety Act”
Webber, and Carole and Howard Baskin, have made The Conservation Game available for free viewing in hopes it will boost the long pending “Big Cat Public Safety Act,” originally introduced to Congress in 2019, to passage by summer 2022. The “Big Cat Public Safety Act” would prohibit private ownership of large and exotic cat species.
The House of Representatives and U.S. Senate versions of the “Big Cat Public Safety Act” are H.R. 263/S. 1210), respectively. with more than 250 co-sponsors in the House and 46 in the Senate.
Promoting the “Big Cat Public Safety Act,” Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund, on January 11, 2022 pointed out that, “Since 1990, more than 400 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred across the U.S., killing five children and 19 adults and injuring hundreds more. These incidents force first responders, usually law enforcement officers with limited training and resources, to risk their lives in efforts to subdue and capture the animals.”
If only HSUS really gave a damn about public safety
One might wish that the Humane Society of the U.S. would respond comparably to the 400-500 dangerous incidents per year involving pit bulls, which have killed not fewer than 24 Americans every year since 2009, and killed 42 in 2021, along with an average of more than 9,000 other companion animals and farmed animals per year.
But prohibiting private possession of tigers, lions, and other large and exotic cats would make a long overdue good start toward introducing common sense and sanity to pet-keeping.
Tim Harrison says
I also want to add Rus Muntz when we mention our Team. He was instrumental in getting Outreach for Animals it’s nonprofit status. He was a key part of the investigation in “The Conservation Game” and his amazing work in “The Elephant in the Living Room”. A true Wildlife Warrior.
Sobering, but powerful film!
Follow-up? What happens to Hanna”s enablers at the Columbus Zoo?
James H Mundy IV says
The problem with this is the narrow focus on a section of the industry which exploited the Big Cats with disregard to animal welfare. Yes, a section that needed exposure and oversight by uneducated lax government agencies. However, they are dragging down the responsible successful individual private owners who bonded with happy Big Cats in their homes with attention to animal welfare and attached outdoor sanctuaries (I have followed more than 50 worldwide over 23 years of study/research). Movies have been made showing co-existence, FB has followings of many, i.e. Mario Infaniti, I_am_puma, etc. And the movement disregards the public’s interest with natural wildlife in a friendly setting (closeness to wildcats rarely seen) encouraging co-existence and they bang the zoos SSP’s, which I believe are worthwhile programs. I believe even cub petting can be handled properly with study and animal welfare. Not enough people to push back because their few who chose to own or are involved outside the exploiters. And the whole issue is spilling over into the smaller cats and hybrids. It is extremism at its worst. My profile is on FB.
Merritt Clifton says
These are all essentially the same defenses voiced by people who imprison and exploit others for profit, entertainment, or other forms of personal gratification in every context, whether keeping slaves, molesting children, or raising animals for their meat, fur, and/or biomedical research use. The victims are always said to be “happy” with their plight, yet almost always escape at the first opportunity.
This was a very disquieting documentary. It seems that high school that uses a never-ending stream of disappearing tiger cubs during its football games needs more exposure and increased public scrutiny. This is something I don’t think even most animal advocates are aware of.
At one point in the film, a newscaster reacts to Hannah’s retirement with a tone-deaf “Oh no! Who’s going to bring us animals now?” Dragging scared infant exotic animals onto bright, hot TV studios, to be manhandled by hosts and celebrities, is an embarrassing relic of the past and simply needs to end. Humans enjoy watching animals, sure. But we live in an era of instantaneous video sharing. Zoos and sanctuaries can send TV news/talk shows footage of their animals without ever forcing them to leave the premises. Individuals can and do share video of pets and wildlife they’ve filmed with their phones. These videos are already a big part of such shows.
As for those who are complaining about the Big Cat Protection Act being unfair to responsible owners, I would question whether they truly value animal welfare over the perceived right to own whatever animal property one wishes. The vast majority of individuals simply do not have the resources to contain tigers and other dangerous wild animals in a safe and humane way. If animal welfare were one’s priority, I would think they would still support laws–even if it mildly inconveniences the 1% income bracket who wants to run a private zoo on their property, and can do so with institutional-level housing.
Merritt Clifton says
PETA campaigned against the Massillon Tigers’ booster club use of baby tiger mascots at the start of the 2002 high school football season. ANIMALS 24-7 is not aware of any substantive follow-up since then.