Celebrities Stun in their Treatment of Animals

It's a good thing my 11-year-old, animal-loving, vegan daughter, Mia, despises Justin Bieber--otherwise, the dinner table would be much more contentious and argumentative. At her young age, she's smart enough to know that celebrity does not equal quality. Even if the music is ... okay..., it matters what type of person you are.

Where Bieber is concerned, his treatment of animals is deplorable. That's the kindest word I can use.

In the past month alone, he has posed with a chained Bengal tiger at an engagement party for his father and was photographed holding a white lion cub. We live in a world where this kind of extraneous exploitation of big cats makes the news--and where the celebrity involved is doing nothing to make the world a better place for animals.

Tigers continue to be poached in the wild for their skins, claws, teeth, bones, organs, and fluids. Lions, who cling to only 8% of their historic range, are besieged by poachers and hunters looking for a trophy, and are slaughtered for their organs to be used in traditional medicines. Setting aside the plight of these species in Asia and Africa respectively, thousands of these imperiled big cats are bred, caged, tethered, and mistreated all across America--all for a photo opportunity like Bieber's.
Deplorable, indeed.

But, to make matters worse, it's a pathetic pattern for this wayward young man. Just a few years ago, Bieber was given a nine-week-old capuchin monkey as a pet. Whereas it's typical for young celebrity singers to flaunt their "bling," and their mansions, and their high-priced cars, Bieber added a living, breathing, feeling monkey to his audacious arsenal.

Despite Bieber's wealth and notoriety, he's incapable of providing care for a wild animal. Bieber took the monkey on tour and the capuchin was confiscated. It's a vicious cycle where the well-to-do can acquire the animals they wish, exploit them, mistreat them, and possibly lose them; then, the animals become someone else's "burden."

We know how dreadful this is because Born Free USA has to care for so many of these animals. At our primate sanctuary in Texas, more than 600 monkeys receive care in the most natural conditions we can provide: primates rescued from biomedical research laboratories and, yes, the pet trade. Our friends at Mindy's Memory in Oklahoma have more than a dozen capuchins receiving lifetime care after careless humans acquired them for fun or unjustifiable, indefensible companionship. I have seen these animals up close--climbing, playing, eating strawberries--but not one of them should need our care.

Bieber is young... and, dare I say, immature. My hope is that he reads this and realizes that wildlife belongs in the wild. He should commit to never again possessing a wild animal. He should commit to never again being photographed with a captive one. He should commit to financially supporting those of us who care for animals in need: a need created by people like him. He has the financial means to do so.

Bieber should also learn from other celebrities who use their wealth and status for good.

Jon Stewart and his wife, Tracey, have partnered with Farm Sanctuary to expand opportunities for animals like pigs, cows, and horses in need, already rescuing a 20-year-old horse injured after being used as target practice for paintball enthusiasts. Leonardo DiCaprio and Elton John recently attended the massive ivory burn in Kenya, supporting a permanent and universal end to the ivory trade. Guitarist Slash (saved on my Spotify account!) recorded "Beneath the Savage Sun" about elephant poaching. Actress Kristin Davis, whom I had the pleasure of seeing at the ivory crushes in Colorado and New York, has long supported the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. And, Ricky Gervais uses his vast social media following to speak out--literally to the world--about numerous animal issues.

There is a certain strength that comes with "celebrity." There is a power and a prestige. There is also an opportunity that I can only dream of to make a positive impact for animals financially, inspirationally, and educationally.

Justin Bieber has a lot to learn and a long way to go. Thankfully, as he may be a role model to millions (my daughter notwithstanding), he can lead the way in declaring that wild animals belong in the wild. He can use his celebrity status to ensure that animals who have been exploited by unenlightened people can receive the humane, enriched, lifetime care they so desperately crave.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,