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Call of the Wild not only fake, but abused, even killed animals

Animal Planet’s series Call of the Wildman has been revealed to not only be staged, faking its animal rescues by planting animals and using them as props in a scripted series. It’s even caused death to one of the animals it is supposed to be about saving.

The network’s press release for the show’s second season described it as being about “Turtleman” Ernie Brown, Jr., “Kentucky’s most famous backwoods animal-trapper,” who “has the uncanny ability to catch monster-snapping turtles and other pesky critters with his bare hands and return them into the wild unscathed.”

As it turns out, just the opposite is true. The network and producers admit to staging and manufacturing the situations–the show does now end with a disclaimer saying the show “contains some dramatizations”–but some of the animals they’ve acquired and planted to be caught have been hurt in the process.

A seven-month Mother Jones investigation revealed “numerous instances on Call of the Wildman sets of alleged animal mistreatment and possible infringements of state and federal law, the result of what sources describe as cavalier and neglectful production practices.”

The investigation found that the production has been guilty of “using an animal that had been drugged with sedatives in violation of federal rules; directing trappers to procure wild animals, which were then ‘caught’ again as part of a script; and wrongly filling out legal documents detailing the crew’s wildlife activities for Kentucky officials.” It even found that “producers even go so far as to make fake animal droppings using Nutella, Snickers bars, and rice.”

Among other things, they used a drugged zebra, and a raccoon that was supposed to be the mother of baby raccoons was actually a male. While a Mother Jones press release sent to journalists notes that “A baby raccoon died and others were endangered when they were removed from their mother to be staged for the show,” the article itself quotes someone who says the baby raccoons were “were almost dead” when they arrived at a rescue center. Another episode featured planted bats, some of which were apparently left behind to die.

Sharp Entertainment senior vice president Dan Adler told the magazine, “We’ve always made the humane treatment of animals our top priority,” and said it now has new guidelines and a licensed animal trainer on set. He also claims that using animals for TV is better for the animals that get trucked in: “We take pride in the fact that many of these nuisance animals in the state of Kentucky would be exterminated when caught, but the animals featured in Call of the Wildman are relocated. And that’s an important part of the show for us.”

Read the full investigation for details and documents, including Sharp’s “Guidelines for the Filming and Treatment of Animals.”

It’s ethically problematic enough to fake a reality series, and something else entirely to hurt animals in the process.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

Discussion: your turn

I think of writing about television as the start of a conversation, and I value your contributions to that conversation. We’ve created a community that connects people through open and thoughtful conversations about the TV we’re watching and the stories about it.

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Happy discussing!

Steve Candolonni

Sunday 26th of February 2023

It is called entertainment. I hope the detractors don’t believe other things seen on television or in movies. Gullibility is not a trait to be proud of.