Though Tiger King wasn't exactly an educational program, the Netflix series brought to light the truth about many animal "rescues" and "sanctuaries" that falsely tout themselves as rehabilitative organizations.
Unfortunately, this type of thing happens quite frequently — far beyond Joe Exotic's crazy antics. For example, in September 2022, Mexico City's Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation was shut down for allegations of abuse, though thankfully, the animals have since been relocated.
On July 3, 2022, environmental activist Arturo Islas Allende visited the sanctuary, founded by Eduardo Serio, to see what all the fuss was about. He collected footage and filed a complaint to authorities, but nothing happened — so he posted about it on social media.
“They are animals in danger of extinction, and we still have time to save an average of 100 animals,” Allende said via The Animal Reader. “Many animals are so skinny that their metabolism is paralyzed, and they require urgent medical attention.”
The "sanctuary" closed down on July 4, 2022, and the Association of Zoos, Breeders and Aquariums in Mexico (AZCARM) filed a lawsuit against the owner, Eduardo Serio.
“We want to have this place closed down. It’s operating underground, illegally sheltering lions, tigers, jaguars, pumas and monkeys. Plus, animals are abused,” the president of AZCARM, Ernesto Zazuata, stated.
Why was Mexico City's Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation shut down?
Nine years after opening in 2013, Mexico City's Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation was finally shut down by officials. According to Plant Based News, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum had received multiple allegations of animal cruelty from former Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation employees, as well as local activists, in the form of videos.
The footage showed animals looking emaciated. They were forced to live in inhospitable conditions, and many were suffering from injuries and wounds.
After the "rescue" was raided by Profepa, the environmental protection agency in Mexico, approximately 200 animals — including lions, tigers, jaguars, pumas, primates, and even dogs — were relocated to valid sanctuaries and zoos worldwide.
Serio claims donations had dropped by 70 percent since the pandemic, and he simply couldn't afford to keep the rescue in good condition. However, former employees allege he was still making money, and just wasn't putting it towards the animals.
The Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation has since received a number of legal notices regarding the claims of animal abuse, as well as a secondary offense of running an animal rescue without a permit.
As of December 2022, Excelsior reported that there was no one being held responsible for the animal cruelty allegations due to the current laws in place. However, Eduardo Serio was still a wanted man as Mexico News Daily shared that he and a few others were facing accusations for money laundering. Forbes then reported his indictment for the crimes of both money laundering and species trafficking in January 2023.
So who is owner Eduardo Serio?
Eduardo Mauricio Moisés Serio, Mexican businessman and self proclaimed "Papa Bear" as we know is the owner of Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation. Prior to founding the now disgraced sanctuary, he was living under the radar in Los Angeles before making the move to Mexico. He shared on his LinkedIn that, while on a trip to Monterrey in 2013, his inspiration to start the foundation came after receiving a call from his cousin regarding a black jaguar that was about to be sold to a pet store to be exploited.
How to determine if an animal sanctuary or rescue is legitimate:
Generally, animal sanctuaries are an ethical alternative to zoos. But how can you determine if they are legitimate or not? It can be hard to tell these days, especially when things like this happen.
According to Holidog Times, there are a few easy ways to make sure it's a real sanctuary or rescue. A real sanctuary or rescue wouldn't let visitors touch or be photographed with any of the animals, for example, though many "sanctuaries," such as some mentioned in Tiger King, would allow for that.
A real rescue or sanctuary would also give the animals ample space and clean living conditions. Those who run the sanctuaries generally try to replicate the animal's original habitat, and give them toys and equipment for them to stay entertained.
Many sanctuaries and rescues have limited visiting hours, as to not disturb the animals too much. And, of course, all of them have to be accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), which enforces very strict rules and regulations.
This article, originally published on Sept. 13, 2022, has been updated.