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Exclusive: Animal Planet’s Dodo Heroes Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips on Pepe’s story and how you can help them

Jan Creamer of Dodo Heroes with Pepe the spider monkey
Jan Creamer in Peru doing her life’s work, saving animals

Animal Planet brings us two of the most effective animal crusaders in the world featured in their series, Dodo Heroes.

Dodo Heroes features inspiring stories about animals in need of help and the people who go to extreme lengths to help them. In the next episode, we meet two amazing wildlife and animal heroes who have given most of their lives to animal rescue.

When you speak or meet with Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips, it’s hard to not pepper them with a million questions at once.

On the latest episode airing Saturday night, titled Jan and Tim’s Greatest Show on Earth, the episode features Pepe the spider monkey who has lived his entire life on a short chain in a Peruvian circus.

Pepe the spider monkey
Pepe’s Story is being screened ahead of air date across the USA

Also in a bad way in the same circus are six lions kept in cages and forced to perform.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) is the organization led by Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips, who are featured in this episode. They arrive in Peru to rescue the animals.

So far, ADI has already helped ban the animal circus industry in over 40 countries. Their work is measured, steady and quite dangerous in a world where different standards and outlooks on an animal’s worth vary.

Harder still to liberate or make someone who makes their living off the backs (or skins) of an animal see the proverbial light and free their money maker without a fight.

That’s the crux of the problem real-life couple Creamer and Phillips face, but they have steadily won hearts and minds and made powerful political friends over the decades they have devoted to their undying fight to free animals from cruel prisons and dire fates.

Jan Creamer, Tim Phillips
Jan and Tim are rescuing circus animals in Peru on tonight’s Dodo Heroes for Animal Planet

We spoke to Jan and Tim about their important work.

Monsters and Critics:    You’re a real champion of humanity in helping animals. First, let’s start off with Dodo Heroes, the June 30th episode.

Jan Creamer:  The animals that we’re going to meet on the show on the 30th is Pepe the spider monkey, and Kiara the Lioness and her cubs and the rest of their family, and a big male lion called Smith who, as it turns out, becomes the hero of the family.

Pepe is a very intelligent, sensitive, emotional, spider monkey. He’s a very clever little species. He was taken from the rainforest. Most commonly his mother would have been killed and he was taken as a baby and then sold into the circus where he lived for eight years. They snapped off his teeth so that he couldn’t defend himself.

He was used to entertaining the public. He was alone with no one who could speak his language, no one to play with him, no one who knew how he felt, for eight years. When Peru banned animals in circuses, we were able to work with the wildlife officials to seize Pepe and Kiara and most of the animals from the circus, which was at the time in Cusco.

Jan Creamer
In Peru, the circus conditions were life-threatening to the animals

We follow Pepe’s journey. We get to know him as an individual. One of the things we always want to do when we’re talking about laws to protect animals, we want people to understand that there’s a living, feeling, intelligent, being behind these facts, figures, and the legislation that we talk about. We get to follow Pepe’s journey until he meets his first other spider money in eight years. It’s a pretty amazing thing that we see when Pepe meets his first spider monkey.

M&C:   What countries have really listened to you? I know you’ve spoken to the American Congress. What countries have given you the most support and the most encouragement? What countries, conversely, are you really having trouble with?

Tim Phillips:   We’re getting a fantastic reaction from the public wherever we do these campaigns. ADI is a kind of start-to-finish campaign organization. We do undercover investigations. We build on that with scientific evidence and economic research. Then we present that to the public, get public support, then push for legislation.

Then, if we get legislation, and it’s needed, we will do what we’ve done in Bolivia and Peru and currently, literally right at this moment, doing in Guatemala. Help enforce the laws and save the animals.

In terms of the public, wherever we’ve been, whether it’s in the USA or whether it’s Great Britain, or whether it’s countries like Peru and Bolivia, the public responds if you give them good evidence. They want to help stop this cruelty. We’ve had a phenomenal response in these countries.

Where, I think, Great Britain and the United States are slow is the politicians, whether it’s at the state level or whether it’s at the congressional level, taking that and driving it forward and turning it into laws. We’ve got over 40-odd countries now around the world that have introduced legislation to end this suffering.

We’re still waiting for it in the US and the UK where there’s probably more public support for this than anywhere else in the world. In terms of really tough countries to campaign, I think we’re going to eliminate this suffering in every country in the world in my lifetime. I think there’ll be some tough ones. I’d probably put Russia at the top of that list.

M&C:     There was a video that was circulating about a bear that turned on the person that was feeding it in a Russian circus…

Jan:      The animal protection groups, our colleagues who work in Russia, we do know they have a very time ahead of them to change the culture in Russia on this kind of thing. I mean, unfortunately, it is one of the countries where people don’t really think about animals. It’s part of the culture, and it’s very common to use animals.

You see animals abused very frequently. That’s really where the animal groups come in. This is where we have to show people a different way. It’s one of the things that an international show like this can help people do.

This will change the minds of certain people in Russia too. If they see this show, it’ll get them to start to think about the way animals are treated. I mean, there are countries around the world where it’s been a tough path for all of us to change. China, for example, is now finally changing.

They’re banning ivory sales. They do actually have legislation on animals in circuses. It’s not enforced yet, but it does show that, with consistent pressure, public pressure, you can make a difference.

Tim:      I think what’s interesting is that this is an issue which is universally the same. People often ask Jan and I when we’re doing Q&As at screenings of our films and so on, which countries have the worst suffering? Usually, it’s more like which countries are the most behind in terms of public awareness.

These animals are treated the same and they’re abused in all of the countries. I saw an elephant. We filmed an elephant in one of our undercovers being hit in the face 32 times in succession. That was in Great Britain. I’ve seen elephants being electrically shocked and beaten repeatedly in the United States.

Some people say, what’s the worst conditions you’ve seen? Many of the circuses we raid in South America, they’re rather rusty and dilapidated.

My personal most vile conditions I’ve seen is we filmed inside a truck in which bears are being kept. It had solid sides. We managed to get the camera through the ventilator shaft opening, air vent. These animals were in solid-sided metal containers. They had no view on the outside world. That is touring the United States right now.

Everywhere we need to mobilize people and get them to act on this because it isn’t something restricted to certain countries. This is how these animals live.

M&C:    The common denominator is greed, isn’t it? Your lives are put in danger because people that own these animals and mistreat them and do things like this to bears, is they make money from these shows. Their interest is to stop you from showing their bad behavior. Am I correct or incorrect?

Jan:        I think that’s it. Once you commercialize the use of a living being, that animal is always going to suffer. We commercialize the body parts of animals so they get slaughtered. If you think of shark finning where the animals have their fins cut off and they’re just chucked back in the water to die.

Whether it’s killing lions for their bones because so many tigers are being killed there aren’t enough left. Now they’ve moved to lions. Or when you commercialize in an entertainment like this, that is the fundamental problem. I think that’s something that the public is gradually becoming aware of.

Once you value another living being, another member of Planet Earth, the species who live on Planet Earth, once you commercialize that, then they are always going to suffer.

There is a background element to all of this really for the cultures all over [the] world. That is a background element to the problems we cause.

M&C:     Are there any high-profile trophy hunters that you’ve turned to the good side that you could talk about? Anything to report where they might have a change of heart and see animal lives are just as worthy of respect as a human life? Any good news?

Jan:     The good news is that over 40 countries have ended the use of animals in circuses, that all animals or wild animals. Countries are banning the ivory trade. There’s good news on different fronts. It’s important to remember that it’s not all going to happen at once. The world isn’t going to change at once.

It is going to be incremental. We’ve got to be able to end certain things by ending, say, the use of animals in circuses that changes people’s perspective. We find many organizations that you wouldn’t expect or many people that you wouldn’t expect to support a ban on animal circuses.

Sometimes we meet people who are farmers who think animal circuses are wrong. You’re going to reach people at different levels. I think one of the important things that’s going to be about this show, about this concept of animals in entertainment, is that it is an issue that most people can agree about.

I think that’s what we’re looking for in terms of moving campaigns forward, is finding issues that most people can agree about and then you move on. The good news is it’s at all kinds of different levels.

Tim:   Yes. I think we are winning this campaign. That’s where the good news is. I mean, we meet lots of people who have changed their lifestyle in order to protect animals, including hunters who’ve given up hunting and now protect animals through conservation work, or even through sanctuaries and so on.

At the heart of this campaign is now more than 40 countries that have passed legislation outlawing this practice on animals. This isn’t countries that have said, “Oh, well, we should make the chains a little bit longer, and we should make the cages maybe a bit bigger and give them a bit of exercise.”

No. This is 40 diverse countries, incredibly diverse countries, who have said, “This should not be happening to animals and, in particular, wild animals, at all.”

You look at how different they are. Even Peru, an industrialized country, next to a more agrarian country like Bolivia. Countries in Europe like Greece and Austria and Portugal and the Czech Republic. Countries in Central America like Guatemala where we’re working right now to enforce the ban, and Mexico.

I have never seen so many countries going one after the other deciding not to moderate this abuse of animals but to say, “We should stop that.” That is a phenomenal change. It’s a line in the sand that we’re going to see, perhaps in the next few years, where animals are simply no longer treated in that way to entertain people.

M&C:     In closing, how can people who watch your episodes help you continue the work that you’re doing and get involved? From the most simple level to the most involved level.

Jan:    I  think the most important thing that we need people to do is to come on and follow us on Facebook. Come on to the website. Get involved by taking action locally and talking to their friends, sharing the stories. Also, there are lots that people can do locally to make people more aware of ADI and the campaigns that we run.

They can help us with local campaigns. They can help us with national campaigns. There are several states in the US where we’re trying now to get bans on animal circuses. We have in the US over 40 local district bans, towns, and districts that have banned animal circuses. We’ve got a federal bill that we’re trying to get pushed through. I think, if people want to help, certainly there’s ADI.

They can do whatever that they feel capable of doing.

They can take part. They’ll know that what they do makes a difference. They can come and volunteer. They can volunteer in their town. They can volunteer in our offices. They can come and volunteer on rescues. There’s so much that can be done. We need an army. What we need is an army of volunteers all willing to do just one thing every week to help animals.

Tim:     They can also support this work financially. This type of large-scale operation … In Peru, ADI rescued over a hundred animals. That was lions, tigers, bears, mountain lions, six different species of monkeys. We have to home all of those. We continue to look after the majority of those animals.

We can’t do that without support. People can adopt those animals, or they can donate to the rescue itself. Just a week or so ago, we rescued nine tigers and two lions from a circus in Guatemala as we began a very big operation there to empty those circuses. ADI is just buying their own sanctuary in South Africa. It’s going to be completely committed to these sorts of large-scale rescue operations that really make a difference.

People can help us build the enclosures there and build up this sanctuary, which will be a beacon of hope for these circus animals all over the world. People sometimes think they hear these things and they think, “Oh, well, I don’t have much money.”

Every little bit helps. If everyone listening to this gives $10 or $20, it will make a difference. If people can afford to give more, like sponsoring an enclosure for a family of lions, that will cost about $18,000 to build. Can people help us with that? We really need that kind of support if we’re going to keep driving this change forward.

Dodo Heroes airs Saturday at 9 PM ET/PT on Animal Planet

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