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A police officer stands guard Monday at the animal sanctuary Black Jaguary-White Tiger. A police officer stands guard Monday at the animal sanctuary Black Jaguar-White Tiger.

Animal sanctuary’s owner denies abuse after authorities seize 200 big cats

Complaints about poor conditions led to Monday's raid at Black Jaguar-White Tiger

An animal shelter in the outer reaches of Mexico City that claims it rescues animals “from horrible circumstances” has been seized by government officials after complaints of mistreatment and poor conditions.

Approximately 200 felines including African lions, white lions, tigers, jaguars and pumas were found on the property of the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation, according to reports from Profepa, Mexico’s environmental protection agency. Also found were 17 monkeys, four dogs, two coyotes and two donkeys, many in conditions of mistreatment, according to reports.

Black Jaguar-White Tiger is a well-known nonprofit that has provided a home to animals that are born or sold in Mexico, including animals from  zoos or circuses and those that have been seized from breeders or collectors. In the past, it has received financial support from celebrities such as British race car driver Lewis Hamilton, Colombian singer Maluma and American actress Kristen Stewart, according to the newspaper El Universal.

In recent months, however, evidence of poor conditions on the property have circulated on social media, including videos showing cats that had lost weight, did not have enough food, supposedly ate each other’s tails and were confined to cages. 

Contact with former workers and complaints to local officials confirmed the poor conditions for the animals, and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum called on Profepa to intervene. The shelter is located in the Tlalpan borough of Mexico City, in the San Miguel Ajusco neighborhood on the city’s southernmost edge.

The Association of Zoos, Breeders and Aquariums of Mexico (Azcarm) will be in charge of the rescue, containment, transfer, management, rehabilitation and protection of the animals that were found during the Monday raid. The Attorney General’s Office (FGJ) and the Ministry of Citizen Security (SSC) were among the other government entities involved. Legal notices were posted around the property citing animal abuse and operating an animal shelter without a permit.

Eduardo Serio, the founder of Black Jaguar-White Tiger, denied that his animals were suffering mistreatment, and he contended that the photos and videos on social networks — which show animals that have infections and are exhausted, in addition to being malnourished have been taken out of context.

“The issue of tails, they don’t eat tails,” said Serio, who started the sanctuary in 2013 with a jaguar named Cielo. “At night, when they’re in groups, they bite each other. It’s not because of hunger. That’s what was taken out of context.”

Sanctuary founder Eduardo Serio and a big cat.
Sanctuary founder Eduardo Serio and a big cat.

A former worker was quoted in El Universal as saying, “Money was coming in and it was not used for the animals. Their tails were ripped out due to hunger.” The paper also reported that complaints of mistreatment and poor conditions (such as tigers and lions with exposed wounds and confined to small cages) had come into the Tlalpan mayor’s office.

Around 60 members of the SSC surrounded the property’s perimeter during the raid. While Profepa reported that 190 felines were recovered, the news site Animal Político reported 201 and SSC gave the figure of 177. Some of the big cats are members of species that are in danger of extinction, according to Animal Poliítico.

Sheinbaum said the recovered animals will be taken to zoos, following thorough reviews and health examinations by Profepa, veterinarians and other officials. Some of the animals will be placed in locations where they can recover. Reports said that some of the animals living on the property had been rescued previously by Profepa from illegal or dangerous situations.

“The government no longer has its own spaces to deposit these animals, so it deposits them in places like Black Jaguar-White Tiger in order to get rid of the problem, which is how they see it,”  said Arturo Berlanga, an animal rights activist-lawyer and director of AnimaNaturalis Mexico.

Black Jaguar-White Tiger achieved worldwide recognition before the COVID-19 pandemic, with Serio soliciting (often by video) and receiving donations from around the globe.

In an interview on Televisa, Serio said he has received animals that are malnourished, some with bad kidneys, livers or hearts, or even diabetes, but that the sanctuary tries to rehabilitate them and “save their lives.” But, he added, “We are not God. Sometimes we save [the animals] and sometimes we don’t. When not, we have no choice but to give him a dignified death.”

He also said that 70% of donations have dried up since the start of the pandemic, but he and his staff have continued to care for the animals. “In general, our little animals have suffered a bit from the crisis because they are a little thinner,” he said. “But when Profepa showed up, the animals were at 90 to 95% of their weight. The ones [in the videos], which look terrifying, were animals that we were trying to rescue. They were taken out of context.”

He explained the loss of tails by saying that the animals often bite each other’s tails in fun at night, and sometimes the lions lose their sensitivity and need to have an operation. He recalled rescuing 200 animals from a circus that were “super old and genetically bad.”

Ernesto Zazueta, president of Azcarm, called for a harsh punishment for Serio, whom he categorized as one of the “pseudo-animalists and pseudo-activists” who is doing “so much damage to the wildlife” in Mexico. “This man, as well as the owners of other animal rights foundations, become very famous and rich through lies and deceit. They are not wildlife specialists. They are only very good at profiting from animals, and when they achieve their economic goals and feed their enormous ego, they simply forget about them and let them die.”

With reports from Reforma, El Universal and Animal Político

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