Plight of Kabul Zoo brings dubious fundraising claims
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2002:
ASHEBORO, N.C.–Few people ever decline easy money, but
North Carolina Zoo director Davy Jones did.
It was a matter of honoring the trust and faith of donors,
Jones told ANIMAL PEOPLE, and of recognizing that funds raised when
they are not needed may be funds taken away from other worthy
projects–especially if the fundraising effort immediately benefits
mainly the fundraising company.
This is why Jones is extremely annoyed with a consortium of
six small nonprofit organizations calling themselves Great Cats in
Crisis, in whose name at least two hyperbolic appeals have recently
been mailed on nominal behalf of the animals at the Kabul Zoo. The
appeals are grossly misleading, Jones told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Helping the animals of the Kabul Zoo has been among Jones’
enduring interests since he visited the zoo himself about 10 years
ago, as then-director of the London Zoo in England. The Taliban
takeover of Afghanistan in 1996 cut off opportunities to assist, but
Jones did not forget.
After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of
September 11, 2001, as the U.S. economy and non-9/11-related
charitable donations collapsed almost as abruptly as the twin towers
of the World Trade Center, most heads of animal-related charities
just struggled to recuperate.
Jones, however, recognized that the soon-to-follow U.S.
retaliation against Osama bin Laden might present a chance to follow
up on his long-held hope of turning conditions around for all the
animals of Afghanistan–beginning with Marjan, the Kabul Zoo lion
who survived 22 years of deprivation and strife, losing his mate and
vision to a hand grenade attack in 1993. Marjan died in his sleep on
January 26, 2002, shortly after help finally arrived.
Jones recognized a moral obligation, he said, to help the
animals of the Kabul Zoo, and of Afghanistan generally, whether or
not fundraising for other projects went well.
U.S. and European zoos and animal protection societies had a
post-September 11 cash flow crisis, Jones acknowledged, but they
also had resources. Even if some lost major sums from their
endowments, as the stock market fell and the bottom dropped out of
Enron, a favorite “cruelty-free” investment, the U.S. and European
institutions had infrastructure, skilled staff, volunteers, and
The refugees streaming out of Afghanistan into Pakistan over
snowy mountain passes had little but lame, starved, overloaded
horses and donkeys.
In Jones’ capacity as board chair of the London-based Brooke
Hospital for Animals, he authorized the Brooke equine clinic in
Karachi to send 300 rescue workers to feed and provide farrier and
veterinary care to the animals of the refugees, in and around their
temporary camps in Peshawar and Quetta.
The 20-or-so Kabul zookeepers had risked their own lives to
keep the animals alive as best they could throughout five years of
Taliban rule. Senior keeper Agha Akbar was killed on the job. All
of them worked without pay for more than three years to try to save
Therefore, Jones said, “I told my colleagues it was time to
put off some of our own fundraising needs, dig deep into our
pockets, and give these people and animals some help, which could
have an immense payoff later in terms of changing the outlook for
animals throughout that part of the world. We have told visitors for
years about how important our role is in educating people about
conservation and the treatment of animals. Now it was our turn to
show in a very deprived part of the world that we were serious.”
Jones meant that accredited zoos should jointly fund a
mission to the Kabul Zoo, and recoup the money from the concerned
public later, as economic conditions permited. But Jones
underestimated the generosity of his peers, the response of
individual donors to video clips about Marjan, and perhaps also his
own powers of persuasion.
By Thanksgiving 2001, Jones had already raised more than
enough money, he believed, to do everything necessary for the Kabul
Zoo, including paying the keepers’ back wages; setting up an
endowment fund “somewhere safe, like the U.S., Britain, or
Switzerland, under the control of an international board of trustees
so that it cannot be looted by some warlord”; and rebuilding the
portions of the zoo that were damaged by mortar fire between 1992 and
1996, when combat among the mujadin, Communist, and Taliban
factions repeatedly overran the grounds.
Jones therefore set up a second fund to assist the dogs,
cats, equines, goats, and other domestic animals of Afghanistan.
Callers wishing to help the Kabul Zoo animals were asked to donate to
the domestic species fund instead–a high priority of which was
vaccinating dogs to quell a rabies outbreak.
Jones first heard of Brian Werner and Great Cats In Crisis,
he told ANIMAL PEOPLE, when in mid-December “Werner contacted me to
tell me that he had raised $2,000-plus, so I thanked him, not
knowing anything about him and getting 10 calls a day like that, and
suggested that he send it to the North Carolina Zoo to be added to
our zoo-specific fund,” as Werner indicated that the money was raised
exclusively for the zoo.
“It then because evident,” Jones continued, “that the only
thing he wanted to do with the money, plus whatever else he could
raise, was to support his own trip to Kabul. I made very clear to
him that he had no useful role to play in Kabul and that we would
choose the people to send who had the best skills available. We then
endured two weeks of pressure from him and even a Member of Congress
[apparently Ralph Hall, D-Texas] insisting that Werner was the best
qualified person to do the work. He never had any intention of
cooperating with any international combined effort,” opined Jones.
World Society for the Protection of Animals international
projects director John Walsh, who headed a pre-Taliban mission to
the Kabul Zoo in 1995, had already agreed to lead the five-member
advance team. Walsh reached Kabul on January 21, followed by
specialists from the American Zoo Association and European Zoo
Werner meanwhile milked news media for all the publicity he
could get. Just before Christmas, Associated Press circulated a
story by Amanda Redman of the Pharos-Tribune in Logansport, Indiana,
in which Werner was presented as working closely with the American
Zoo Association. According to Redman, Werner described how Marjan
might be flown to Indiana aboard “spare military aircraft” to be
placed at Cougar Valley Farms, in Idaville, Indiana.
On February 3, a week after Marjan died, Dallas Morning
News photographer Damon Winter recalled meeting the old lion while on
assignment in Kabul, and asserted that Werner “had been working with
WSPA to provide veterinary care for Marjan. Great Cats In Crisis
raised $7,000 for Marjan through its web site,” Winter wrote on
Werner’s say-so, adding that Werner “hopes direct mail will pull in
an additional $45,000 to $50,000.”
In between, Werner and Great Cats In Crisis hit donors all
over the U.S. with the first of their appeals soliciting funds to
help Marjan–who was already deceased before ANIMAL PEOPLE began
getting inquiries from recipients.
“Even if the solicitations were printed a couple of weeks
before anyone called,” Jones fumed, “we had already collected over
$350,000, and Werner knew very well that we were already saying
then that we had enough money for the immediate needs. So Werner was
asking for money for a cause which he knew was already well-funded,
without acknowledging that a hefty sum had already been raised, and
without making an unequivocal commitment that the money he obtained
would be used for Kabul Zoo. With the lion dead, is he going to
channel the funds into the care of other species there? We have to
presume that any money raised will more likely go into his own
operation, after presumably a large commission has been taken by
[direct mail fundraiser] Bruce Eberle,” whom Werner identified to
American Sanctuary Association president and Animal Sanctuary of the
U.S. founder Carol Asvestas as the actual author and mailer of the
“This sounds as if it is worth tracking,” Jones told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “because Werner and his likes will give responsible animal
welfare a very bad name. We will make sure,” Jones pledged, “that
any member of the media carrying a story about this man’s alleged
‘saving’ of the animals at the Kabul Zoo receives our comments.
There is positively no need for any more money for the Kabul Zoo at
the present time,” Jones emphasized, “and Werner knows it. We
have had 4,700 donors, and I’m sure many of them would give us more
if we actually needed it. We will of course be regularly updating
them on actions taken, and will provide a full accounting of our
expenditures when the time comes–$45,000 for the Kabul Zoo so far,
and $30,000 for the domestic animal work. This included the back pay
for the keepers, delivered by John Walsh” and claimed by WSPA as a
contribution to the relief effort without apparent mention in press
releases and on the WSPA web site that the money actually came from
the zoo community.
The home front
The Kabul Zoo is not the only concern of Great Cats in
Crisis, whose web site outlines most of the well-known problems
involving large and exotic felines.
Most cat species are either threatened or endangered in the
wild. Yet many, including African lions, both Bengal and Siberian
tigers, and pumas, are entirely too abundant in U.S. captivity.
Speculators in exotic pets, roadside zoos, and suppliers of
so-called “canned hunts” produce hundreds of inbred big cats per year
from animals whose ancestors were typically sold by zoos as
“genetically redundant” in the 1970s and 1980s. The American Zoo
Association code of ethics was tightened in 1986 and 1991 to slow the
traffic, but the cats’ progenitors were already out of the
accredited zoo system and out of effective regulatory control.
Shelters and sanctuaries have been struggling ever since to
house and feed the ever-growing numbers of large and exotic cats
seized by law enforcement, surrendered by owners as too costly to
keep or too big to handle, and–increasingly often–left homeless by
the collapse of sanctuaries, which either go bankrupt or are closed
by regulatory agencies for presenting an alleged risk to the public.
In the 90 days before the March 2002 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE
went to press, at least 86 big cats around the U.S. were in urgent
need of new homes. More than 70 were from sanctuaries which either
failed or were forced to relocate.
Among them were 23 lions and tigers evacuated in December by
Asvestas and others from the Gate Keepers Sanctuary in South Dakota,
after founder Ken Alvarez fled to Mexico. Asvestas also expects to
receive 24 tigers from the Tigers Only Preservation Society in New
Jersey, as soon as the state completes seizure of the tigers from
founder Joan Byron-Marasek.
Claiming to be a sanctuary, the Noah’s Land safari park of
Harwood, Texas, doing business as Tiger’s Eyes, was target of a
February 6 demonstration led by representatives of four sanctuaries
who want it closed. The campaign intensified after a white tiger
died from alleged lack of veterinary care on February 13. Purchased
by longtime exotic animal dealer Cheryl Morgan in 1997 and operated
recently by Rick and Cheri Watson, Noah’s Land has reportedly
operated in violation of the Texas Dangerous Wild Animals Act since
October 2001. How many big cats it has is unknown.
Another alleged safari park purporting to be a sanctuary,
the International Wildlife Center, of Frost, Texas, was on January
17 given six months to relocate by Navarro County, after an earlier
deadline of January 15 came and went. Among the 85 animals at IWC
are reportedly 17 big cats. A joint response to IWC fundraising
appeals by Humane Society of Navarro County director Dianne Short and
Humane Society of Greater Dallas chief cruelty investigator Dee
Stephens stated that cofounder James Garretson had “several warrants
out for his arrest” and that neither the state of Texas nor the IRS
can find records to verify that IWC ever had nonprofit status.
In Racine, Wisconsin, the 17-month-old BEARCAT Hollow
exotic animal park faces possible loss of a city permit to operate,
and was fined $1,400 by the USDA for a July 2001 incident in which a
tiger injured a seven-year-old girl.
Several other big cats needing homes belonged to people who
claimed to be rescuers, but had no actual care facilities. In this
category were reportedly the animals of Dennis and Carolyn J.
Wittmeier, of Punta Gorda, Florida, who formerly ran the Lions,
Tigers, and Bears sanctuary in Fort Myers; and four Siberian tigers
plus an African leopard belonging to Peter Renzo, who was fined $500
on February 13 for housing the cats in a warehouse in Sparks,
Nevada, without a permit, after he fled Calfornia on short notice
following a dispute with neighbors over keeping the cats at his
Listed partners in Great Cats in Crisis, besides Werner’s
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge and Cougar Valley Farms, include Noah’s
Wildlife Shelter in Rathdrum, Idaho; Tiger Touch, east of Reno,
Nevada; the Newarc Center, of Davidson, Maryland; and Guardians
of the Great Cats, of Knoxville, Tennessee. Most have attracted
little or no media notice. Most have made no recent filings of IRS
Form 990, which all charities must file if they have revenues,
assets, or transactions exceeding $25,000 in a year.
But Brian Werner, Guardians of the Great Cats founder Joe
Parker, and fundraiser Bruce Eberle are names well known to ANIMAL
Werner was suspected of losing a tiger in 1997 when predators
killed two cattle near his old home in Ohio, soon after he moved to
Texas. However, no tiger-at-large was ever found. En route to
Texas, Werner left two adult tigers at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife
Park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, keeping a cub. Alleged animal
care deficiencies and financial irregularities at Turpentine Creek
were the subject of a March 1998 ANIMAL PEOPLE expose, plus several
brief follow-ups. Werner was by then also critical of Turpentine
In Texas, Werner formed Tigers Missing Link, a tiger
registry widely viewed with some skepticism. Werner also distributed
above his own signature a list of National Rifle Association
allegations against various animal rights groups, and forwarded to
ANIMAL PEOPLE a purported USA Today news item about another sanctuary
that turned out to be a forgery. Werner said he got the forgery from
a private tiger owner who denied having had anything to do with it.
“His Tiger Creek facility is far from wonderful,” Carol
Asvestas told ANIMAL PEOPLE. She described cages resembling dog
runs. “Two lions were breeding when we arrived,” Asvestas added.
“None of his animals are spayed or
neutered. He has, however, constructed two exercise yards, so
that the animals can rotate and have room to run.”
Tiger Creek volunteer Holly White, 19, of Tyler, was
severely injured in April 1999 when one of the resident tigers bit
her. Werner said White broke the refuge rules by trying to pet the
Joe Parker, whose Guardians of the Great Cats is not a
sanctuary and appears to do mainly fundraising consulting, is a
longtime bingo operator whose games were repeatedly halted by law
enforcement. In 1986-1987 Parker allegedly skimmed $50,000 in
proceeds from bingo games held to benefit a nursery school and
kindergarten. Parker testified against other defendants to win a
reduced sentence. Parker and his ex-wife Mary Lynn Roberts started
the Tiger Haven sanctuary near Knoxville circa 1990. Parker ran a
bingo hall to help fund Tiger Haven, 1994-1996, and was the public
voice of Tiger Haven until he and Roberts split in August 2000.
Parker introduced Werner to Virginia direct mail fundraiser
Bruce Eberle, whose exploits were topic of ANIMAL PEOPLE exposes in
September and October 2000. The most recent available IRS Form 990
filings from known animal protection clients of Eberle indicate that
combined fundraising and administrative costs, as defined by the
Wise Giving Alliance, came to 77% of expenditures by the Cedarhill
Animal Sanctuary, which Eberle promoted as “Tiger Tracks” until
founder Kay McElroy severed their association late in the year; 93%
of expenditures by Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue; and 75% of
expenditures by Tiger Haven.
The Wise Giving Alliance, formed by a merger of the National
Charities Information Bureau with the Council of Better Business
Bureaus Philanthropic Advisory Service, recommends that combined
fundraising and administrative expense by a properly managed charity
should not exceed 35%.
Filing as the Tiger Missing Link Foundation, Werner
acknowledges no dealings with Eberle on IRS Form 990.
Neither does Wildlife Waystation, contracting with Eberle
since early 2000. Waystation founder Martine Colette told ANIMAL
PEOPLE that while Eberle has raised $500,000 for the Waystation so
far, the cost of the campaign is not listed on IRS Form 990 because
“We do not pay him. He takes his money as a commission out of the
Data supplied by the Waystation office staff indicated that
in 2001 Eberle received 6.5% of the gross returns from their
mailings, amounting to 10% of the net.
According to the IRS, however, all expenditure to raise
funds must be acknowledged. In addition, fundraising on commission
is not usually considered ethical. The Association of Fundraising
Professionals’ Code of Ethical Conduct states, for instance, that,
“Members shall not accept compensation based on a percentage of
charitable contributions; nor shall they accept finder’s fees for
bringing a donor or a charitable contribution to a not-for-profit
organization. The purpose of this standard is to ensure that
fundraising professionals are compensated for their experience,
expertise, and the work they actually perform, and not for work
performed by others, or for funds obtained without effort by the
fundraiser, or for funds obtained outside of the mission of their
The latter phrase is a delicate way of describing the use of
a charitable umbrella to cover perpetual fundraising, in which most
of the proceeds from each mailing go into paying the fundraiser to do