Vegan poet Benjamin Zephaniah, reality TV star Chris Wilson, sanctuarian David Stevens, exotic cat trainer Dirk Arthur, & vegan “influencer” Zhanna Samsonova did not even have beans in common
Performance protest poet, actor, reggae musician, and vegan animal advocate Benjamin Zephaniah, 65, died early on December 7, 2023, eight weeks after he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
“I first encountered poetry when I was five years old,” Zephaniah in 2007 told then-Telegraph India reporter Shubhobroto Ghosh, who is now World Animal Protection projects manager for India.
“My mother would play records of Jamaican poems,” Zephaniah recalled. “My mother is from Jamaica and my father from Barbados. I was born in Handsworth in Birmingham, England, and spent part of my childhood in Jamaica.
“When I was eight,” Zephanaiah continued to Ghosh, “my parents separated and I went to
live with my mother.
“A cat came up to me one day”
“I went to a school where I was the only black student,” Zephaniah said, “and it was then that I developed a bond with animals. A cat came up to me one day when I was alone and I was so glad to have him for company. The next day he brought his friends with him, and thereafter I was always pleased to have them around me.
“That experience inculcated the notion of compassion in me and I became a vegan at the age of 13.”
Leaving school a year later. Zephaniah “began performing at demonstrations, youth gatherings and outside police stations,” Guardian obituarist Ella Creamer recounted.
“In 1968 I gave my first performance in a church,” Zephaniah told Ghosh, “and by the age of 15, I was getting noticed in my hometown for my art.
Zephaniah published his first poetry collection in 1979.
Hosted concert for Nelson Mandela
“He also released a number of albums,” Creamer wrote, “and was the first person to record with the Wailers after the 1981 death of Bob Marley, in a tribute to Nelson Mandela. Mandela heard the tribute while in prison, and later asked to meet Zephaniah. When a concert honoring Mandela was held at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996, Mandela asked Zephaniah to host it.”
Zephaniah later played the role of Jeremiah “Jimmy” Jesus in 14 episodes of the British television crime drama series Peaky Blinders, which appeared off and on from 2013 to 2022.
Wrote Zephaniah in a August 1, 2007 statement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, “Slavery is not dead.
“I am talking about animal slaves who are beaten and forced to perform, crammed inside battery cages to produce cheap food, or systematically tortured in laboratories.
“The mindset that permitted atrocities to humans in the past is the same as the mindset that allows abuse of animals today.
“Choose not to be a part of cruelty, violence, & enslavement”
“Just as it is always wrong to oppress and abuse less powerful humans, it is always wrong to abuse and oppress animals. Because today’s victims of tyranny are unable to speak for themselves, it is up to people of principle to speak out for them.
“Animals’ lives are as important to them as ours are to us. We must stand up for them, as good people from other eras stood up and even risked their own lives in order to defend children from sweatshops and women’s right to vote and fought against massacres of entire groups of people and other acts of violence.
“It has been 200 years since Parliament banned the slave trade,” Zephaniah reminded. “It’s about time that enlightened attitude was extended to other exploited beings. Every day we have countless opportunities––from what we eat to what we wear––to choose whether to support or oppose injustice. Let’s choose not to be a part of cruelty, violence, and enslavement, in any of its forms.”
Lawsuit brings how Chris Wilson died to light
A lawsuit brought by Danielle Wilson, 34, widow of Chris Wilson, 34, who starred with Matt Wright in the Australian reality television show Outback Wrangler, against Matt Wright, Wright’s charter helicopter company Helibrook, and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority in early December 2023 brought to light the circumstances of Chris Wilson’s death on February 28, 2022.
Trying to collect crocodile eggs, “Father-of-two Wilson died after he plunged into croc-infested swamps [in West Arnheim Land] while dangling [about 100 feet] below one of Wright’s helicopters when it ran out of fuel and fell out the sky,” summarized Kevin Airs for Daily Mail Australia.
“An investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found Wilson died when chopper pilot Sebastian Robinson,” who survived the crash with severe injuries, “unhooked Wilson’s lifeline, sending him plunging [about 30 feet] to his death, as the pilot fought for control of the aircraft.”
Wright was criminally charged in November 2022 with allegedly attempting to pervert the course of justice, destroying evidence, fabricating evidence, two counts of unlawful entry, making a false declaration and interfering with witnesses.
Wright on December 7, 2023 was ordered to stand trial on the charges in 2024.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation “found that the helicopter was likely not refueled at a fuel depot about three-quarters of the way between Darwin and the crocodile egg hunting area,” safety bureau commissioner Angus Mitchell said.
“The pilot did not identify the reducing fuel state before the helicopter’s engine stopped due to fuel exhaustion.”
Added Airs, “The bureau also found the pilot’s ‘exposure to cocaine’ in the previous days increased the likelihood of fatigue and inattention, but there was insufficient evidence to determine if he was affected at the time.”
Wine seller David Stevens, 72, cofounder in 2014 with wife Monica Stevens of the Jameson Humane sanctuary in the Napa Valley of California, died on November 12, 2023, “after developing Alzheimer’s disease,” reported Sasha Paulsen of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Stevens “grew up in Minot, North Dakota, and moved to San Francisco in 1975,” Paulsen reported. “Stevens arrived in Napa Valley in 1995 and became a bartender at Tra Vigne restaurant in St. Helena, where he also ran the wine program. This led to the co-founding in 2003 of ACME Fine Wines,” which led to meeting his future wife.
Together they founded 750 Wines in 2009, sold to Wine Access in 2021.
Jameson Humane, begun as Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, Jameson Humane operates a spay/neuter program and shelters both companion animals and farmed animals.
Dirk Arthur, “last of the big cat magicians”
Dirk Arthur, 63, whose actual name was Dirk A. Gingell, identified by Corey Levitan of Casino.org as “the last magician to use wild animals in a Las Vegas magic show,” died at his home on October 13, 2023, one day after Arthur reportedly sold the property to Clair W. Daines, trustee of the Daines Family Living Trust and father-in-law of fellow big cat magician Jay Owenhouse.
“From what we’ve turned up, Clair Daines is Jay Owenhouse’s father-in-law,” updated Scott Roeben of Casino.org in his column Vital Vegas on October 27, 2023.
“Owenhouse was married to Clair Daines’ daughter, Susan Daines, who died in 2009. Susan Daines was the sister of Montana Senator Steve Daines.
“Owenhouse has been trying to bring an exotic cat show to The Strip for some time,” Roeben said, “but his attempts were thwarted by Clark Country. His current plan is to open a show without animals in a tent across from Mandalay Bay.”
Exotic cat show had nine lives
The Las Vegas Review-Journal said Dirk Arthur “had been pursuing a new show in Branson, Missouri,” which has no casinos, as recently as September 2023.
Summarized Levitan, “Dirk Arthur’s Wild Magic,” later called Dirk Arthur’s Wild Illusions, “debuted in 1997 at Bally’s, before subsequent incarnations leapt to the Silverton, Plaza, Tropicana, O’Sheas, Harrah’s in Reno and Laughlin, and the Riviera, a few months before that hotel closed in 2015.
“The ninth venue (and life) for Dirk Arthur’s Wild Magic,” Levitan said, “occurred at the Westgate for five months in 2017 and 2018. Before opening, Arthur was forced to scratch plans to feature a snow leopard, bobcat, birds, and a duck.
Dirk Arthur ended career as an usher
Until July 2022, Levitan continued, “Arthur planned to single-handedly bring performing big cats back to Las Vegas. He kept 15 of them in a private zoo on a 1-acre habitat west of the Strip near the Silverton at an estimated cost of up to $150,000 per year.”
When that plan failed, Levitan said, Arthur “last worked for the Westgate as an usher.”
“Shortly after Arthur’s death,” Roeben mentioned, “10 cats were taken from Arthur’s property by Clark County Animal Protection Services. The seizure included six tigers, a snow leopard, two clouded leopards, and one bobcat.”
The cats were reportedly sent to the Exotic Feline Rescue sanctuary in Center Point, Indiana.
Russian vegan social media “food influencer” Zhanna Samsonova, known on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram as Zhanna D’Art, 39, formerly a fashion model and yoga instructor, reportedly died from exhaustion and malnutrition on July 21, 2023.
Except for a return visit to Russia in 2021, during which she suffered a bout with COVID-19, Samsonova spent her last 17 years in Malaysia, 15 of them on increasingly strict vegan diets.
“A proponent of uncooked herbivorous fare,” reported Ben Cost of the New York Post, “the Kazan native claimed she ate a ‘completely raw vegan diet’ for the last four years, consuming just ‘fruits, sunflower seed sprouts, fruit smoothies and juices.’
“Meanwhile,” Cost added, “a friend claimed that for the last seven years Samsonova had only eaten the giant sweet jackfruit and durian, a spiky, mace-like fruit known for its custardy meat and noxious odor.”
Newsweek FactCheck on August 4, 2023 posted a link to a posting in which Samonova claimed she quit drinking water six years earlier, getting her water “from fruits and coconuts.”
In her final posting, Samsonova wrote “Life is meaningless but worth living provided you recognize it’s meaningless.”