'Turtleman' facing scrutiny over animal welfare

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Associated Press

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 2:01 PM

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's "Turtleman" is facing federal scrutiny after a magazine report claimed animals were harmed while filming his reality TV show on Animal Planet.

"Call of the Wildman" features Ernie "Turtleman" Brown removing nuisance animals with his bare hands.

An article published Tuesday at Motherjones.com, claims the show stages fake rescue situations that sometimes harm animals. It also claims a baby raccoon and several bats died after being used on the show.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports (http://bit.ly/1fd32c7) the U.S. Agriculture Department, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act, is reviewing the situation.

Animal Planet spokeswoman Patricia Kollappallil told the paper that the safety of the animals is the channel's top priority. She also said the show's producers have hired a federally licensed wildlife handler to be on the set at all times since the allegations first came to light several months ago.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the agency is looking into whether those involved in the show need a federal license to exhibit the animals. A license is required under the Animal Welfare Act to exhibit certain animals to the public whether on TV or in person, such as at a zoo or circus.

Animal Planet spokesman Jared Albert told the paper Brown, who lives in Marion County, was unavailable to comment. But Brown's cohort on the show, Neal "Banjo Man" James, did talk with the paper.

He said no animals were harmed in their presence or with their knowledge.

"If I saw any of that kind of stuff going on, I would have stopped it," he said, calling the Mother Jones article "some kind of doctored up story."

Brown got in trouble with the state last year when Kentucky Fish and Wildlife issued a warning after an August incident involving a deer filmed in a store in Brownsville. A warning letter advised that Brown's Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator permit does not allow him to handle deer. The letter warned Brown that he could have his permit revoked or receive a criminal citation if there were further violations.

Two months earlier, a poisonous non-native snake was released into Danville city swimming pool without proper authorization for an episode that made it appear cottonmouths had invaded a park. A Danville city investigation found the incident was completely staged, something that Animal Planet spokeswoman Kollappallil said should not be news to anyone.

"We're clear we do dramatizations," she said.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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