The ICARUS (International Consortium for Animal-Welfare Reform United in Stewardship) Foundation is a brand-new group that is dedicated to eradicating crimes against wildlife. I have been following their blog since their first post, and I have learned a great deal about issues pertaining to big cat welfare from them. I have also watched their influence rapidly expand: to the point of being able to host an international summit on wildlife crimes this past February.
I recently sent Jessica James, ICARUS’ founder, a series of questions about her organization. Her answers are listed below, and they exceeded all my expectations. They are a perfect introduction to this up-and-coming group!
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes you so passionate about addressing wildlife-related crimes?
I was born loving wildlife, and from an early age participated in observing it in its natural environment–the wild. The older I got, the more important it came for me to “be the voice” of the animals around me, both domestic and wild. I began volunteering and interning at places. The more I saw “inside” the current system for protecting wildlife, the more appalled I became. By the exploitation, the lack of laws preventing it, and the lack of enforcement of the laws that do exist. So I decided to do something about it.
How did the ICARUS project get started, and what are its main goals?
ICARUS had the humble beginnings of a thesis project involving the rehab and reintroduction of wildlife. It wasn’t until I was immersed in it that I realized rehabbing, and reintroduction were only factors within much larger problems. Our main goals now are reconstructing–or building from the ground up–laws which are designed to protect wildlife and captive wildlife worldwide. We dream of a world where there are no wildlife sanctuaries, because there is no need for them. We want wildlife to remain wild.
You recently hosted an international summit related to wildlife crimes. What were the main takeaways from that event?
The summit was what changed our mission from just rehab and reintroduction, and a PhD focus, to our developments in tech, research and networking. We now stand poised to work with some great organizations on tech development for anti wildlife crime work. But the connections we made and being able to break down walls and enjoy our work were huge takeaways as well. As empaths we often get bogged down in daily routine and some wildlife professionals never get to be part of the wild they are saving. Thus it was refreshing and renewing to be able to interact with others who share our ideals, and will join us in changing the future for the better.
The ICARUS crew often writes about the dangers of cub-petting on your blog. What makes this practice so harmful?
There are *so* many harmful repercussions to cub-petting. The dangers for the cub begin literally in-utero, simply because by breeding cubs in order to use them for petting you are self-fulfilling the need to breed cubs to be used in petting schemes. This might happen in America, yet actually have a visceral impact in areas like South Africa where the canned hunting business revolves around “lion farms” that do nothing but produce cubs who are first used in petting schemes; and once they become too large for the public to handle are then sold for canned hunting, which remains a billion dollar a year business.
After birth, the dangers range from deaths if the cubs are handled before their immune systems have developed, to the transmission of zoonotic diseases. The danger of disease transmission remains for the duration of the interactions, no matter how old the cubs get. Once they’re too large to be used for cub-petting, they become “just another captive big cat:” one more animal burdening an already overwhelmed and under-regulated system. Their fates run the gamut from canned hunting to roadside zoos, or private ownership.
Lastly, what can readers of this blog do to help end crimes against wildlife?
The most basic thing that every person can do is research issues. There’s a huge amount of information available in this digital world, but people just don’t ask questions, which is how groups like Black Jaguar White Tiger have accrued 5 million+ followers on Instagram. No one asks even basic questions like “If you’re against exploiting these animals, why are you raising them in your closet, playing with them on a daily basis, allowing them to sleep in your bed, and inviting wealthy celebrities to come play with them?”
People need to realize that right now there are few laws, and little oversight where captive wildlife is concerned. But just because it’s legal for someone to do something, does not mean that it’s not a crime against the wildlife involved. The wheels of the legal system turn slowly, and often it’s public opinion which can help grease them. The public at large can help develop better laws simply by demanding that they be developed. So if something seems too cute to be true, one must consider the possibility that all it’s designed to do is be adorable and attract attention, not actually aid conservation.
Please visit the ICARUS Foundation’s blog to learn more about them and the issues they are passionate about!