Big cats are beautiful but deadly, and they’re often seen as status-symbols for the extremely wealthy in Mexico. While they can be legally owned with the right paperwork, these animals are very expensive to maintain, and dangerous to keep.
Mexican animal rights activists estimate more than 60 predatory felines are abandoned by their owners every year. Eduardo Serio has dedicated his life to caring for them. He’s the founder of the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation, a foundation dedicated to taking in these felines.
Serio regularly receives calls, many of them from people involved in organized crime. They soon realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew by buying these predatory cats.
“You can have the money to buy a lion or a tiger as a pet, but you don’t have the knowledge, so they buy the cubs from breeding facilities, and then they have them for like a month, or two months, and then they ask us to come pick them up. They’re crazy,” Serio explained. He claims his collection of rescued lions, tigers, jaguars and panthers is the world’s largest.
The Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation is home to over 300 big cats. It’s also become a social media sensation, with nearly 6.5 million Instagram followers. Better known as ‘Papa Bear’ to his followers, Serio gets up close and personal with his cats, creating extraordinary viral videos.
“I built my foundation with my heart, my iPhone and Instagram. Without the three none of it would exist,” he said.
Yet despite its online fame, the foundation is not universally popular. Leonora Esquivel is one of Mexico’s leading animal rights activists and founder of AnimaNaturalis, an international, animal rights nonprofit.
“Black Jaguar is not a sanctuary. It is either a zoo, or a private collection. According to international standards, it has no legal status as a sanctuary, because truthfully, we don’t know where these animals have come from,” she explained.
Animal advocates have criticized what they call an excessive amount of human interaction and dependency Serio fosters with his cats. While well-meaning, they claim this environment is ultimately unhealthy for the animals.
Serio rejects such criticism, and has said that as long as there are abandoned animals in need of sanctuary , he will continue to take them in.