Call of the Wildman, Animal Planet's blockbuster chronicle of a wildlife trapper, is one helluva romp. It's also a drama-staging, zebra-drugging, wallaby-kidnapping, raccoon- and bat-killing crock of shit, according to a disturbing new in-depth investigation by Mother Jones.
The investigation, led by producer James West and summed up by him in the video above, exposed "evidence of a culture that tolerated legally and ethically dubious activities, including: 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".
Mother Jones' story begins with a reconstruction of a scripted scene in which Wildman's star, simple redneck Ernie Brown Jr. (Also known as "Turtleman"), seeks out a nasty critter in a house that turns out to be a distressed pregnant raccoon.
Except, according to the wildlife expert who took the raccoon family in after the segment, "the 'mother raccoon' was actually a male." And the newborns had all been grabbed days before for the shot, left without neo-natal treatment, so that by the time they were dumped at an animal hospital after shooting, the three emaciated orphaned raccoons needed incubation, intubation, fluid drips, antibiotics, and plasma transfusions. According to the rescuing veterinarian, who tearily curses Animal Planet and Turtleman: "The fact that we saved two was a miracle."
It gets worse from there. Virtually every scenario on the show is staged with animals that have been previously bought "from farms or trappers" and dropped in the situations from which Turtleman extricates them. That includes a bunch of supposedly dangerous snakes that were "found" in a public pool and a family of bats that was dumped, possibly illegally, for "rescuing" from the attic of a hair salon. (After the show left that location, it still needed two visits from bat catchers; several of the creatures ultimately died.)
Then there was the time someone pumped a zebra full of tranquilizers so that Turtleman could wrestle it, neck-first, to the ground. You know, to "rescue" it.
"We would basically pitch the entire script that was sent to Animal Planet weeks ahead of time with the exact animal, and location," one insider tells West. "They knew." Show "producers even go so far as to make fake animal droppings using Nutella, Snickers bars, and rice."
When confronted with all these allegations, Animal Planet brought in "a top Manhattan crisis manager who has worked with celebrities like Justin Bieber" to talk to West. Through that spin doctor, Animal Planet said it would keep re-running and selling the episodes in question. With 1.6 million viewers, it was, after all, their highest-rated episode yet.