Animal Planet: Call of the Wildman did not kill, drug animals

After Mother Jones reported late last month that Animal Planet’s staged reality show Call of the Wildman resulted in “Drugs, Death, Neglect” for some of the animals. While the article included a statement from the network and an interview with a representative from the production company, I was surprised by the comments Animal Planet’s president made at the RealScreen Summit last week.

Marjorie Kaplan, the president of Animal Planet, Science, and Velocity, forcefully denied that any animals were hurt: “No animals have been harmed in the production of that show. No animals have died. I’m a fan of Mother Jones so this is very painful,” she said during a session. RealScreen reported that Kaplan “explained that the magazine’s allegation that the three emaciated raccoons that required treatment at a Kentucky Wildlife Center in April 2012 after appearing on the show had already been turned over to an animal sanctuary and were no longer in the care of producers.” Kaplan said, “It had nothing to do with what happened in the production.”

After reading that, I asked if the network would have any additional comment, and was given the two statements below, which are reprinted in full. Both clearly deny the claims that animals died or were harmed in any way. (The deaths cited in the report were of planted bats left behind; a Mother Jones press release said a baby raccoon died.)

Animal Planet’s statement:

“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.

We take the issues raised in the Mother Jones article very seriously as we take the treatment and welfare of animals in general. We react appropriately, responsibly, quickly and thoroughly whenever any specific issues are raised or brought to our attention.

The notion that there is a culture of ‘neglect’ at the only network that is devoted to celebrating and protecting animals is absurd. As with all our shows, we are committed to continually evaluating and improving our production guidelines. Claims in the Mother Jones article were brought to the production company’s attention nearly 9 months ago. Where appropriate, Sharp Entertainment promptly instituted changes to further ensure the welfare of animals while filming the series.

We are not aware of a single animal death during filming, or as a result of filming, on Call of the Wildman. We are proud that our productions, including Call of the Wildman, have provided countless animals with a second lease on life.”

Statement from the show’s production company, Sharp Entertainment:

“Contrary to these sensational headlines, no animals were killed during the production of Call of the Wild Man and no animals were drugged by the production team. It’s unfortunate that someone would make these — and other — false and misleading claims in describing a matter that had been investigated and addressed nine months ago.

We are proud that the production of the first three seasons of Call of the Wildman (COTWM) has provided countless animals with a second lease on life. The treatment of hundreds of animals seen on our show is a top priority, and we’re constantly monitoring on-location conditions and adapting more effective guidelines to achieve this goal. In the world of TV and film where animals’ lives are often undervalued, our show sends a positive and important message by highlighting Ernie Brown Jr.’s desire and dedication to saving animals.”

Here’s an idea: Send that “positive and important message” by actually filming him saving animals instead of staging scenes.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.