Michael Holston appears to be a misguided 24-year-old, self-proclaimed “exotic animal specialist” in Miami. He calls himself “King of the Jungle” and “The Real Tarzan” and has said that his goal in life is to “be the next Steve Irwin” by posing with exotic animals. He seems to legitimately loves animals and thinks that he’s teaching the public to love and respect wildlife, but all that he’s really doing is teaching people that exotic animals are nothing more than pets, accessories, or selfie props. Just read the quotes from this article to see what people are “learning:”
“If Holston has proven anything, it’s that animals, especially a baby cougar like this one, can be very docile and fun to be around. They also don’t mind taking selfies with humans.”
“As you can see just from looking at this little one, you can tell that finger monkeys are super cute.”
Holston works at an exotic animal breeder/broker/pet store in Deerfield Beach called Underground Reptiles. This business sells primates, reptiles, and even baby Sand Cats as “pets” in store and online. Underground Reptiles has a pretty bad animal care record and has been criticized by pig rescue groups because they used to keep newborn piglets in aquarium tanks and passed them off as “mini pigs,” telling customers that they would never grow bigger than 30 pounds (which is a lie).
Holston is also a keeper at Mario Tabrue’s Zoological Wildlife Foundation, where most of his cub-cuddling pictures, including the jaguar cubs, were taken. The swimming with a jaguar photos/videos were taken in Honduras, where a resort on Little French Key allows tourists to pay $50 to “swim” with chained jaguars. Holston often encourages his Instagram followers to visit ZWF so they can play with cubs, too.
Thanks to Holston’s self-promotion, there are now multiple news/blog articles about Holston fawning over his “lifestyle” and “love for animals,” many of them mentioning that his exotic selfies are going viral because of the fantasy aspect — everybody dreams about being an “animal whisperer” and cuddling wild animals, but not many people bother to think about what that means for the animal — Holston included.
In this article, he explains: “I want to show everybody the smallest wildlife and the most dangerous wildlife. Get close as possible. Hold it, hug it, touch it, kiss it.” Like many animal lovers, Holston seems to believe that as long as you have “true love” for the animal, everything’s OK: “You make yourself a part of the animal’s life. You raise that animal. You trust that animal. You let the animal trust you. No matter how dangerous it is, you have that. Whether you rescued it or whether you took it out of the wild. Look, as long as you’re taking care of these animals at the highest standard, you’re taking great care of them,” he says. “You’re interacting with them. You’re showing them true love.”
Holston’s Facebook friends include known wildlife smuggler Tom Crutchfield and the notoriously abusive Tim Stark.
I’d definitely keep an eye on Holston, but you might also consider contacting him to see if you can help him see the light. Maybe he can change his ways to make a real positive difference. He’s still young and relatively open minded — the above article also mentions that he “understands the reservations animal rights activists have concerning menageries,” explaining that “It’s a weird stance for me because as I get older, I learn more, and I read more. I get more understanding” and that the longer he works around big cats, the more he understands that they’re dangerous, wild animals.
Holston seems to be genuinely well-meaning and passionate about wildlife, but he’s still young and naive, and doesn’t seem to understand the harm he’s doing to his beloved animals by promoting the exotic pet/selfie trade. Does he knows about Mario Tabraue’s checkered past, and is he aware of the abuse that happens in the exotic pet trade he’s perpetuating? He wants to become a “professional,” but he probably hasn’t read the AZA guidelines on educational animal presentations, which include “the need to be cautious about hidden or conflicting messages (e.g., “petting” an animal while stating verbally that it makes a poor pet)” or the recent studies which prove that when people see exotic wildlife interacting with a person, they’re less likely to want to conserve the species, not more. He’s being conned, just like the tourists, into thinking that breeding and posing with wild animals is “conservation” and “education.”