National Wildlife Federation

Dave Mizejewski’s outreach activities which don’t involve live animals (presentations, blog posts, books, etc.) are great, but unfortunately that message of respecting wildlife is being undermined by NWF’s use of cuddly baby wildlife as TV props. If they’re serious about teaching the public to respect wildlife and not keep them as pets, they need to lead by example, and right now, their actions are contradicting their words. There’s more than a bit of irony in this NWF blog post Mizejewski wrote about well-meaning Yellowstone tourists who accidentally killed a baby bison by trying to “help” it. Mizejewski writes:

“As a wildlife conservation professional, when I see stories like this, my first reaction is to think, why would anyone think it’s ok to pick up a wild animal?” 
“As people who work in wildlife education and conservation, we aim to help people understand wildlife and rules of the natural world. It can be an uphill battle when movies, celebrities, the extreme animal rights movement, and popular culture in general promote the idea that wild animals are in need of coddling… Helping wildlife doesn’t mean treating them like our pets or children.”

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Meanwhile, Mizejewski’s earlier blog posts talk about him bringing “some of the cutest, cuddliest baby animals around” to TV shows in order to promote the NWF’s symbolic “Adopt a Baby Wild Animal” fundraiser, and the NWF website includes many of the below photos from his media appearances. Mizejewski has brought a screaming 6-week-old tiger cub to the TODAY show and invited the hosts to pet it, walked onto a set with a monkey on his shoulder, bottlefed a newborn Asian Leopard Cat on the Conan O’Brien show, and in another Conan appearance he brought a serval on a leash and gave it a cat toy to play with, while stating verbally that “These are wild animals. These should never be pets” (leading one of the show’s hosts to immediately quip about how cool it would be to “walk into the club with that thing”). the NWF even has a “highlight reel” of Mizejewski’s appearances:

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After setting this example in front of a national audience, NWF and Mizejewski wonder why the public thinks it’s OK to interact with wildlife?

Startlingly, NWF has had Mizejewski present live big cats at some of their internal events!  In 2015, Mizejewski presented a leashed juvenile cougar onstage at the NWF’s annual Conservation Achievement Awards:

And in 2011, he wrote a blog post and posted a video about bringing a “rambunctious” leashed cougar cub to a staff party, where it “attacked” the buffet table. This stunt was apparently intended to “inspire people to protect wildlife.” He writes:

As always, I emphasize that no matter how much we work with these ambassador animals so they can be part of education programs, they are still wild animals and are not pets. In captivity, these animals need to live in facilities with the proper permits, veterinary care, enrichment programs and professional handlers (in this case, provided by Jeff Musial at Nickel City Reptiles & Exotics).  The cougar cub’s natural rambunctiousness as it “attacks” the buffet table, captured in the video, perfectly illustrates why.”

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They may not be aware of it, but this is the kind of exploitation and abuse the NWF is unwittingly supporting by hiring exotic animals as “ambassadors”. There are so many intermediaries in the business that it can be very hard, if not impossible, to tell where the animals really come from or where they’ll end up when they’re too large to handle.
That said, one of Mizejewski’s most recent TV appearances on Good Day LA, where he demonstrated how to make your yard attractive to wildlife, is a great example of how the NWF can educate the viewing public without using live animals. He brought examples of native plants and birdfeeders for the host to interact with, so it was still an engaging segment, and he managed to get much more conservation education across than when he has an animal with him. In many of his live animal segments, the animal negatively impacts his ability to deliver the conservation message because he often has to stop mid-sentence to wrangle the animal; the hosts and audience are distracted by the animal’s presence and don’t focus on the message; and/or he has to rush to get the next animal out and doesn’t have the time to share very much information about each species (he’s mentioned this issue in one of his blog posts). NWF needs to take a good hard look at how they’retrying to spread their conservation message, how it impacts animal welfare, and what message they’re actually sending to the public.

National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is the largest nonprofit conservation NGO in the US. David Mizejewski, who is a naturalist, works for NWF as a spokesperson. In this role, he exploits exotic “ambassador animals” by bringing them to TV shows such as Conan, Wendy Williams, morning news shows, etc. In May 2019 he was on the Ellen Show with a tiny African Serval kitten, a binturong, a zebra and several other non-native wild animals. NWF claims to be “America’s largest and most trusted conservation organization, working across he country to unite Americans…in giving wildlife a voice.” So why is NWF’s spokesperson bringing non-native wild animals onto television shows??

As is typical for TV animal handlers, neither NWF nor Mizejewski actually own the animals used. In response to a question on Instagram, Mizejewski confirmed that the animals he works with are all rented from Wild Wonders, a small, ZAA “accredited” private company near San Diego formerly called Zoofari. Wild Wonders is owned by Jackie Navarro and offers “Hands-on Wildlife Education and Conservation” by selling “animal encounters, tours, and educational programs” with small exotic species.

We believe National Wildlife Federation is likely misguided in their practice of renting out cute baby wildlife on leashes to TV shows for “education.” Not only is it exploitative of the animal (which should probably be with its mother) it sends mixed messages to viewers and only makes people want to touch the animal, own it as a pet, or believe that the species isn’t threatened in the wild. This is in direct conflict with an article Misjewski authored for the NWF urging the public not to approach, touch or take selfies with wildlife. It is typical of these television handlers of exotic animals to preach on air “don’t touch wild animals” as they touch wild animals! It’s ridiculous and hypocritical.

We are extremely suspicious about the mysterious “network” of animal providers that Wild Wonders brokers media appearances with — third-party animal booking agents are frequently utilized by particularly abusive breeders and trainers, even those with revoked USDA licenses, because it helps cover their tracks and lets them hide behind the clean record of whatever booking group they’re working under. For example, there is evidence (on page 72 of this PDF) that in 2013, Navarro worked with Lisa Limbert, a private exotic animal owner/exhibitor from Arizona, to exhibit an armadillo at a gas station and a public park. A FOIA request of Limbert’s USDA records revealed a longstanding pattern of buying newborn exotics without fully understanding their care, subjecting the animals to excessive handling, cuddling, and “decorating” by groups of children at programs (which may have contributed to the premature death of a baby armadillo) and keeping them in small cages to make them “better ambassadors.” Limbert has been cited multiple times for inappropriate housing, veterinary care, and handling of animals, and has claimed that she would rather transfer an animal to her “ZAA buddies” than to a legitimate sanctuary. It’s likely that the network of animal providers Navarro uses are also affiliated with the ZAA, so they could include “doc” Antle or any other of what we believe to be substandard roadside zoo/breeder.

Finally, it’s very concerning that Wild Wonders openly advertises as one of their “services” the ability to broker live animals for corporate events and party props. Their website states:

“Why not invite “TRUE” party animals for your clients’ event. Our animal ambassadors make a unique and beautiful addition to any event. We can work with groups of 10-10,000 people. Planning a safari theme? We can provide anything from tigers to zebras. Arabian nights? Camels always complete the mood! Christmas Event? Our winter wonderland can include Penguins to reindeer. Our India themes can include Pythons to elephants.”

“Does your corporate logo feature an animal?  Let us provide a real one for your next gathering.”

  • Animals are available for company picnics, festivals, evening theme setters, movie premieres, etc.
  • Animals will attend events until 9pm

There is absolutely nothing “educational” or appropriate about pimping out tigers, penguins, elephants, or any other wild animal as living party props, and any group that does so and any facility which is willing to rent out animals for this purpose isn’t — in our opinion and the opinion of many reputable animal welfare organizations — a good organization or place. Why are NWF and Mizejewski associated with Wild Wonders??