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'Call of the Wildman' mistreatment accusations spur call from USDA

By Rene Marsh, CNN
updated 7:45 PM EST, Thu January 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Magazine Mother Jones accused "Call of the Wildman" of mistreating animals
  • The USDA is looking into the claims of drugging, trapping by Animal Planet show
  • Animal Planet and show's production company deny the accusations
  • "The notion that there is a culture of 'neglect' ... is absurd," channel says

Washington (CNN) -- Claims that workers associated with Animal Planet's "Call of the Wildman" show mistreated animals have prompted federal officials to review whether an investigation is warranted.

The accusations were made by the magazine Mother Jones, which alleged that "Call of the Wildman" staged animal rescues and said it found "evidence of a culture that tolerated legally and ethically dubious activities."

Those activities include sedating a zebra in violation of federal rules, directing trappers to procure animals so they could be "caught" again as part of a script and wrongly completing legal documents.

Animal Planet and Sharp Entertainment, the show's production company, have disputed the accusations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act, told CNN Thursday it is "fact-finding" but has not launched an investigation. The agency said it does not know yet whether Animal Planet or the production company conducted any activities that are regulated under the act.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the Mother Jones article prompted the review.

"Once we have an opportunity to look into the situation, we will work to determine our next steps. If we determine an investigation is warranted, we will open one," Espinosa said.

On Wednesday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group, filed a request with the USDA asking it to investigate the allegations.

"Call of the Wildman" centers on Ernie Brown Jr., also known as "Turtleman," a Kentucky wildlife rescuer who catches "nuisance" animals and releases them back into the wild.

Animal Planet released a statement to CNN's New Day, saying in part:

"The life and welfare of all animals is of paramount importance to Animal Planet. It is core to our ethos that every animal's life has value... The notion that there is a culture of 'neglect' at the only network that is devoted to celebrating and protecting animals is absurd.

"Claims in the 'Mother Jones' article were brought to the production company's attention nearly nine months ago. Where appropriate, Sharp Entertainment promptly instituted changes to further ensure the welfare of animals while filming the series." it read.

Dan Adler, senior vice president of Sharp Entertainment, said on New Day Thursday, "The idea that there is a culture of neglect or abuse on the show is completely false ... Everyone on the show from staff to talent love animals."

"The idea that animals are killed or drugged on 'Call of the Wildman' is false," he said.

Adler said nuisance animals in Kentucky are customarily euthanized, but the show has given hundreds of animals "a second lease on life."

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