I’m sometimes a bit suspicious of people who call themselves animal lovers. “Loving” animals can mean all kinds of things. And while most of the people you see in the new Nat Geo Wild series Animal Intervention claim to love animals, the animals themselves aren’t exactly feeling it. They’d all be a lot happier living as nature intended.
To Kirby Van Burch, the first “animal lover” we meet, it’s all about keeping dozens of big cats – lions, tigers and leopards – locked in small cages in a dingy warehouse at the back of a theater in Branson, Missouri, where other people who “love” animals come to see his magic act. The shows involve lots of stagehands behind the scenes prodding the cats into even smaller cages that can then be winched down from the ceiling so that when Van Burch pulls a red cloth off the cage, there’s a … <audience gasps> … tiger, growling and bearing his fangs at the stage lights.
Everything about this low-life is cheap, shoddy and abusive. But no, he insists to Allison Easton and Donald Schultz, hosts of the new Nat Geo Wild TV show “Animal Intervention,” he really does love the animals. And to prove it, he brings a black leopard on a chain into his living room and sits her down on the sofa next to him, where she proceeds to try to claw his face off.
When Easton and Schultz take a side trip to the sanctuary where Van Burch gave up one of the lions who is no longer able to function, we learn that this king of beasts was terrified even at the sight of a butterfly when he was first let out of doors, having never seen grass or the sky.
In another episode, Easton and Schultz travel to Ohio. (That would be the state that’s home to Zanesville, where, earlier this year, a man let all his exotic animals out of their cages, shot himself, and left police and wildlife “experts” to deal with the havoc that ensued by shooting them all before the morning rush hour.)
In this case, the two hosts visit a “rescue center” that’s the home of Angela and her partner, who are doing their best to care for a collection of unwanted tigers, bears, wolves and lions. Trouble is these folks are in way over their heads, and Alison is reduced to selling off grandma’s jewelry to try to provide food and vet care. It’s a sad situation of the kind that’s familiar to anyone in the pet rescue world who’s had to deal with a hoarder.
Easton (daughter of Clint Eastwood) and Schultz know what they’re doing. He’s a wildlife expert; she’s an actress and director who’s volunteered with wildlife groups. Together they manage to steer a reasonable path between investigative reporting and trying to help and persuade the people they visit to do the right thing by the animals.
In the case of someone like Van Burch, who’s making a living off the suffering of his animal slaves, there’s nothing they can do except shame him on TV.
But in at least one of the previews I saw, the family agrees to let Easton and Schultz get on the phone to wildlife sanctuaries and veterinarians and have all the animals taken to new and better situations. It’s a tearful farewell, and an example of people who show they really do love the animals – in their case by letting them go.
“Animal Intervention” airs on Nat Geo Wild, starting on Tuesday October 2 at 9 PM ET/PT.