Animal Planet has come under fire this week following an investigation which concluded that forces behind its popular program “Call of the Wildman” – which chronicles the exploits of Kentucky woodsman Ernie Brown Jr. – treated at least one animal brutally in a staged capture and violated state law.
According to photographic evidence obtained by Mother Jones, a coyote was trapped by a paid handler at request of the production company, Sharp Entertainment, for future use on the reality series. The publication claimed that by the time they were ready to shoot, the coyote – which can be seen in the photo squashed into a very small cage – was “sick and unresponsive” and had to be substituted. Data analysis and internal documents also note that the coyote was held captive for more than three days after being caught by a licensed nuisance wildlife control operator working for the show. However, the operator allegedly did not have a specific permit, and Kentucky regulations prohibit one from holding captured wildlife beyond a 48-hour period.
Internal production documents and communications published on the site also indicate that the production team hired Kokas Exotics, an Ohio farm that breeds and raises exotic animals, paying them $500 to bring in the replacement coyote – another violation of Kentucky law which bans the out-of-state importation of coyotes. Adding to legal allegations are government documents noting that state regulators first cautioned the show’s star about violations in early 2012.
Representatives for Animal Planet and Sharp Entertainment did not respond to a request for comment, however Sharp’s Vice President Dan Adler vehemently denied the practice of snaring animals deliberately for the reality show and insisted that the “coyote in question was determined to be sick by the licensed officers on location, and the determination was made not to film with it because production policy is not to film with sick or injured animals.”
Still, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources confirmed to FOX411 that the matter has been turned over to law enforcement for further investigation. If proven to be in violation of the law, two parties may face repercussions.
“First, the show itself is subject to fines and penalties. It will more than likely be of a monetary nature given the type of abuse and that no reports have stated that the coyotes died from the abuse. Second, the licensed nuisance wildlife control operator working for the show, in addition to facing fines and penalties, may also lose his license to capture wildlife,” explained attorney Leo Terrell, of CleartheCourt.com. “Kentucky authorities are aware that animal rights groups are watching their every move regarding the abuse of the defenseless coyote. However…Sharp Entertainment brings in money for the state. Therefore, though Kentucky may investigate the matter, they may water down the fines and penalties so that Discovery [which owns animal planet and] Sharp Entertainment do not completely stop filming their show in Kentucky.”
But animal rights groups are already on the case – turning to legislative measures to ensure the matter is not brushed aside by authorities, as well as calling for the show, which is also said to be under investigation for animal care violations while filming in Houston, Texas, to be axed.
“It appears that numerous Kentucky animal-protection laws were violated in the way that this ailing coyote was handled, and PETA is filing a complaint [Thursday] with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation Deputy Counsel Delcianna Winders told us. “PETA will also file a complaint with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding numerous apparent violations of the federal Lacey Act in the production of this episode of ‘Call of the Wildman’ and numerous others.”
Nicole Paquette, Vice President for Wildlife Protection for The Humane Society of the United States, asserted that it is a network’s responsibility to ensure that all laws are complied with and referred to the alleged actions of “Call of the Wildman” as “shameful.”
“We hope networks that guided reality shows [like this] reconsider including these types of staged shows that place animals in harm’s way,” she added. “The only way to ensure no animals used for protection are harmed is not to use them.”
The matter has attracted immense outrage on social media, and crisis communications expert Glenn Selig predicts that animal lovers won’t let this issue fall to the wayside.
“This type of publicity, about alleged abuse or otherwise harming animals on a program airing on that channel, will absolutely harm the show's ratings,” he said. “There will be calls to the channel to cancel the show. If in fact these allegations are true, Animal Planet really has no choice but to distance itself or risk harming its own brand.”
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Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay