This morning, I appeared on CNN's New Day to discuss my investigation into Animal Planet's hit reality TV show, Call of the Wildman. (Watch the interview above). My story detailed a cavalier culture of animal treatment on the set of the show, produced by New York's Sharp Entertainment, including the improper drugging of a zebra and the placement of bats—a protected species in Texas—inside a Houston hair salon to be "rescued" by the show's star, Ernie Brown Jr., a.k.a. Turtleman. Dan Adler, a senior vice president with the production company, represented the program for the first time in public since the story broke on Tuesday.
Most notable was Adler's insistence that nothing whatsoever occurred on COTWM sets that could be described as improper: "The idea that there is a culture of neglect or abuse on the show is completely false," he said. "So many shows out there kill animals for sport or for money. This show is about saving them." Adler also said that Sharp's own internal investigation, prompted by a former staffer last May, failed to find anything questionable with production practices.
But at the same time, new evidence is emerging of another case involving legally dubious production activities. In a letter sent in August 2013, Kentucky wildlife officials warned Brown that he was breaking the law.
The letter, made available to Mother Jones, was sent by legal counsel for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, after officials saw footage of Turtleman catching a deer in a consignment store on YouTube—despite the fact that that's against Kentucky law, according to department spokesman Mark Marraccini.
Addressed to Ernie Brown Jr., the letter states that, "Our regulation…prohibits a NWCO [Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator] from taking white-tailed deer unless specifically authorized by the Commissioner." The letter also says Turtleman's actions breached another state law governing animal welfare, which entails the risk of "criminal citation."
Also, state law…makes it illegal for any person to take, pursue, or attempt to take or pursue, or otherwise molest an elk, deer, wild turkey, or bear in a manner contrary to the Department's regulations. Such action may result in the revocation of your NWCO permit…for a minimum of three years and/or a criminal citation.
Mother Jones has filed an open records request with the department to see responses from Turtleman, Sharp Entertainment, or Animal Planet to the department's letter. We have also approached producers for comment on the incident, with no response. Sharp has previously told Mother Jones that all animals were handled legally by licensed wildlife personnel while on set.
The deer episode questioned by Kentucky officials involves a buck laying waste to a store, where it has somehow become stranded. Turtleman and his team attempt to corner and chase the deer, and then tackle it to the ground by its antlers, but not before havoc breaks out and crockery crashes to the floor: