COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–A documentary making claims about the way the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium handled animals has premiered in Ohio theaters.
“The Conservation Game” looks into the treatment and trafficking of big cats in the United States.
It claims the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium would pay vendors for cubs and other baby animals to use in public appearances, then return those animals when they matured.
Director Michael Webber said his film is the result of a four-year investigation into what happened to the cubs and other baby animals that appeared on national talk shows.
“We and the film does actually reveal… quite a few striking things about the nature and the relationship of celebrity conservationists that we see on TV, and sort of this unholy alliance that we’ve seen between Jack Hanna and others that we see on TV between their work in the animal advocacy space, but also sort of the relationship that they might have with the seedy underbelly of the exotic pet trade of people who are actually trafficking in these exotic animals and involved in their exploitation,” Webber said.
The Columbus Zoo and Hanna, its former director, are featured prominently in the film.
“We would never try to speak for our dad who, as we shared in April, is compromised by dementia,” said a statement from the Hanna family in July regarding the documentary. “What we can say emphatically is that he worked his entire career to better the animal world. He has had a hand in some of the world’s most positive and profound zoological advancements and on-the-ground conservation efforts around the world. He has always believed that the progress that has been made was just the beginning. Zoos will continue to change and grow. We’re confident that’s what dad would want – or even demand.”
Hanna stepped away from public life last year.
“The film is difficult to watch, especially when you care about animals,” said Dr. Jan Ramer, the zoo’s Senior Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation, and one of several new leaders who stepped in earlier this year. “We took the allegations of the film very seriously and reviewed all our animal records. We have implemented some pretty strict changes with regard to the types of non-Association of Zoo and Aquarium animal dealers that we deal with.”
Webber said he supports the changes at the Columbus Zoo and hopes the public does, too.
“I’m really encouraged by what they do,” Webber said. “I think that they are leading in a very responsible way, and I’m actually very willing to follow them where they lead.”
“The Conservation Game” is showing in select movie theaters. Click here for locations and showtimes.