2015-09-04 / Front Page

Protestors hope to take bite out of breeding

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — About 40 protestors lined Cottage Road in South Portland outside the offices of video production company Lone Wolf Media on Saturday, Aug. 29, hoping to draw attention to the breeding of big cats and other exotic animals.

Sparking the protest was the announcement of a second season of the show, “Yankee Jungle,” which centers on DEW Haven wildlife sanctuary in Mount Vernon and is produced by Lone Wolf.

DEW — an acronym for Domestic, Exotic and Wild — features more than 200 animals on its 42-acre compound, located about 1 ½ hours north of South Portland. Included in the menagerie are lions, tigers and leopards, along with a host of monkeys and marsupials, as well as standard farm animals.

The operation is run by Robert and Julie Miner, who promote it as a shelter and sanctuary for the animals they take in. they procure the animals from rescue situations, such as zoos that have closed down, or from “individuals who got in over their heads.” DEW is dedicated, they say, to protecting their charges and educating the public about wildlife conservation.

Protestors line both sides of Cottage Road outside the offices of Lone Wolf Media in South Portland on Saturday, Aug. 29, in hopes of bringing public attention to the show, “Yankee Jungle,” which is produced by Lone Wolf and airs on Animal Planet. (Duke Harrington photo) Protestors line both sides of Cottage Road outside the offices of Lone Wolf Media in South Portland on Saturday, Aug. 29, in hopes of bringing public attention to the show, “Yankee Jungle,” which is produced by Lone Wolf and airs on Animal Planet. (Duke Harrington photo) The Miners, who live at DEW and frequently raise newborns in their home, freely acknowledge the sanctuary began almost by accident. Robert Miner, a Vietnam veteran, began taking in animals in 1980 as a “form of therapy,” following a series of strokes that ended his military service. Over time, more and more animals, often of an increasingly exotic nature, were referred to him. He and Julie met and married in 1994 when she visited DEW, and the site has grown to an increasingly professional level, although the Miners admit they have no formal training in veterinary care and that DEW, although open to the public from May to October, is only a zoo, “of sorts.”

While the protestors say they support DEW’s stated mission, they claim the Miners also breed their animals. The allegation is that DEW supports itself not just from zoo admissions and donations, but also from the sale of exotic animals. DEW was in the news last year when three tiger cubs, including two rare white tigers, were born there. Until the tigers were sent to other nonprofit facilities — protestors complain the Miners don’t say where the animals went, or how much they got — DEW charged $50 for so-called “tiger encounters,” allowing the public to pet and bottle feed the cubs.

“Yankee Jungle” features the Miners raising many newborn animals, including lemurs and wallabies.

“For that program to go out worldwide, it is promoting private backyard zoos and captive breeding of exotic animals,” said Kristina Snyder of Concord, New Hampshire, who organized Saturday’s protest. “My goal is to get Animal Planet to not air this show, because people will think that’s a good thing to do, to constantly breed more animals and to keep putting them into the system.”

“When you are rescuing animals, you have an obligation to not breed them and to put more animals out into the marketplace,” said Toni Fioire of Cumberland, a vegan chef who is a former president of Maine Animal Coalition. “If it’s a non-releasable animal, which many at DEW are, your goal should be that your job ends, that you don’t have any more animals coming in, or going out.”

Instead, the protestors complain, DEW has a history of breeding cubs and other animals. One of last year’s triplet tiger cubs died at DEW, reportedly of a congenital disorder.

“It was sick when it was born and it was handled by humans when it was less than a month old,” Snyder said. “Things like that shouldn’t happen.”

In addition to Saturday’s protest, designed to focus public attention on the show, Snyder has launched an online petition aimed at convincing Animal Planet to pull “Yankee Jungle” from its schedule. As of Wednesday, that petition had 87,978 electronic signatures, up from about 53,000 when word of Saturday’s protest hit local media.

“It’s very important for people to understand we are not objecting to legitimate rescue and rehabilitation work,” said Cape Elizabeth resident Karen Coker, “but you can’t be both a legitimate animal sanctuary and a breeder that’s feeding animals into the trade at the same time.”

“Genuine sanctuaries do not breed or sell animals for profit,” agreed Elaine Tselikis of South Portland, a freelance grant writer for nonprofits and a self-described lifelong animal advocate. “The problem is, this is kind of like the puppy mill model, and in some ways it’s even more tragic, because we’re talking about wild animals here, animals that are large. These are not animals that belong in people’s personal care, or even in cages. Think about what we could do if we could get away from this trade and divert those moneys to animals who have a right to live in the wild.”

Following nearly three years of pre-production, Lone Wolf got a green light from Animal Planet last year, producing a three-episode debut season that aired late last fall. According to Jed Rauscher, the executive producer of “Yankee Jungle,” a second season was filmed this past spring and is now being edited for airing later this year. While Yankee Jungle’s sophomore season will include more than three episodes, Rauscher said he did not have a final order yet from Animal Planet.

Asked for comment, Lone Wolf issued a brief statement — cleared by Animal Planet, Rauscher said — acknowledging its involvement in the show.

“Bob and Julie’s profound love of animals inspired them to dedicate their lives to providing homes for unwanted and discarded domestic, exotic and wild animals, which they’ve been doing successfully for more than 30 years,” the statement read.

“We don’t want to make any comment at this time,” Rauscher said on Tuesday. “I would be happy to be interviewed about the show if it’s not in the context of this protest.”

Pressed further, Rauscher added, “I can’t engage with these activists. They are entitled to their opinions, but they are completely unfounded in what they are saying about Bob and Julie, and what I cannot do is get into a war of words with these people because it’s a battle that is unwinnable.”

The Miners could not be reached for comment. However, on the FAQ section of DEW’s webpage, they state flatly, “We do not sell exotic animals,” and, “We would never sell exotic animals in the pet trade. We do not believe in individuals owning exotic animals. We save animals from these types of situations.”

They also address the white tiger issue by writing that such animals are not the result of inbreeding, as claimed by many of the protestors.

“White Tigers are a subspecies of the Bengal tiger,” they write. “It is a recessive gene both tiger parents must carry to produce a white offspring. This occurs naturally.”

Meanwhile, both Coker and Fiorie faulted Lone Wolf for appearing to script what is purported to be a documentarystyle program. In a Bangor Daily News article published when “Yankee Jungle” was announced, Julie Miner said a camera merely follows the couple and their employees as they go about their daily business of caring for the animals at DEW.

However, “Yankee Jungle” does feature two comedians well-known to Maine audiences. That, said Coker, a journalist who has worked on the PBS program “Frontline” and in the TV broadcast division of the Christian Science Monitor, is “very disturbing.”

“Like most reality programs, it is not reality,” Fioire said. “It’s a show. It’s for entertainment. And, like most such programs, they hire people to come in and act like they are doing things for animals.”

The show features a man named Jake who is hired as a handyman at the animal sanctuary. Prior to his comical misadventures, which include failing to secure a gate and allowing animals to run free while DEW is full of volunteer workers, Jake introduces himself as a former lobsterman and carpenter, who has “experience working on farms.” While that appears to be true enough — Jake Hodgdon is a native of Mount Desert Island and still goes out lobstering, according to his Facebook page — what Jake does not tell the audience is that his primary occupation is stand-up comedy. As Krazy Jake, he’s been featured as a regular on the Bob Marley Comedy Tour and continues to perform across New England, while promoting himself as a “cast member” of “Yankee Jungle” on his website and Facebook page.

Another featured person on the documentary-style show is Karmo Sanders of Scarborough, better known to most Mainers as “The Marden’s Lady,” from the series of commercials she did for the discount retailer. Sanders introduces herself as a longtime friend of Julie Miner, crediting Miner with helping her cope with the recent death of her husband. Sanders’ husband Jerry did die of colon cancer in May 2013, about a year before shooting began on “Yankee Jungle.”

Sanders is referred to on the show not by her actual name, Karmo, but as “Birdie.” Since her association with Marden’s ended, Sanders has performed as the Marden’s Lady in stand-up routines, giving the character’s actual name as Birdie Googins.

“The reality is that any entity that is perceived to be a sanctuary should not be involved in the breeding of animals for public display and this program is just glorifying that activity,” Tselikis said. “People need to understand what is a real sanctuary, and what is a breeding zoo.”

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