Animals kept in awful conditions at popular sanctuary, activists say

On social media and on its website, the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation looked like what every animal sanctuary should be: full of happy and well-fed animals playfully enjoying themselves in wide, open areas.

However, according to animal rights activists, a Mexican animal protection group and Mexican authorities, these idyllic images were far from reality.

The animal sanctuary became so popular that even celebrities like Katy Perry, Paris Hilton and the Kardashians visited the site in Mexico City’s south side and posted selfies on social media. A former Mexican president was also among the guests.

But videos of the real conditions the animals endured, recorded by former employees and animal protection groups, shocked and horrified many when they first surfaced earlier this summer.

Some of the footage shows a sick lion lying motionless on the ground, another lion biting its own tail because it was apparently too hungry, and severely emaciated exotic animals, seemingly too weak to run or play.

Eduardo Serio is the man behind the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation.

For years, “Papa Bear,” as he called himself, was very public about his work at the sanctuary, sharing it widely on social media.

His success was such that the Mexican government agency in charge of animal protection would send confiscated animals to Serio’s sanctuary.

On his foundation’s Instagram account, Serio said that the sanctuary depended on private donors and that donations considerably decreased at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We lost 70% of our donations,” Serio said. “When people lost their jobs, they had to cut any gifts. Those horrible videos that they took are definitely true. But as I was telling you, I am not a zoo, I do not hold pure, precious, beautiful animals, like works of art in a museum. No. I dedicate myself to rescuing all kinds of animals.”

Serio’s attorney, Salvador Padilla Estrada, has filed a motion seeking to prevent his client’s arrest. He said that Serio is someone whose only goal was protecting abandoned animals, some of which were already in bad shape when they were taken in by the foundation.

“What happened was that ... due to the situation of the pandemic, donations dropped, and as a consequence, they tried to adjust with good quality food, but that did not arrive with the same frequency, which does not mean that they were not fed,” Estrada said. “All was done under the care of a veterinarian who tried to meet the needs of the animals.”

In early July, heavily armed Mexico City police in tactical assault gear raided the Black Jaguar-White Tiger animal sanctuary.

The more than 200 lions, tigers, jaguars and other exotic animals at the site were sent to zoos and animal shelters around Mexico where animal protection groups hope they will be properly fed and taken care of.