In this technology driven day and age where people from all walks of life and across the globe can communicate and connect through social media, the exchanging of ideas and information has never been so readily accessible. However, with the advancement in technology bringing together many like minded individuals, radical activism has taken on a more elaborate but still chaotic form. This new world of online extremism operating under the guise of animal rights activism runs rampant with cyber bullying typically brought on by keyboard warriors hiding behind the veil of anonymity. (Be prepared for a lot of reading)
All too often, well meaning intentions quickly morph into witch hunting with the goal being to ruin someone's reputation based on nothing more than rumors or false allegations. So how does this pertain to the roadside zoo otherwise known as Big Cat Rescue and their particular brand of animal self righteousness?
Back in August, Big Cat Rescue orchestrated an online assault against small business owner, Clif Nelson, owner and chef of the Paramount Grill located in Gainesville, Florida. The floodgates were opened when they unleashed their army of fanatical followers deeply devoted to spreading the teachings of their leader, Carole Baskin, founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue.
So what triggered Big Cat Rescue and their animal rights minions into attacking?
It turns out, the Paramount Grill was hosting a benefit to help Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation (CSWCF) raise funds to transport a rhino to a new home. The possibility of there being exotic cats at the restaurant for the purpose of educating people and helping to raise money for the rhino’s transportation is what set Big Cat Rescue off.
The attack took place on August 15th after Big Cat Rescue made a Facebook post instructing their followers on what actions to take against Paramount Grill. They provided a link to an automated email system with a pre-written message already attached that would be delivered to the Florida restaurant.
As usual their misguided followers also took to social media to leave their expert opinions regarding exotic feline care in the hopes of saving the cute kitty cats from being petted (the horror!). We all know that leaving comments online definitely saves the lives of animals in the real world.
If a target of Big Cat Rescue’s unwarranted attacks is really lucky, a clogged inbox resulting in spending an hour or so marking messages as spam is all that they will receive but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for Clif Nelson.
On the Paramount Grill's Facebook page, Clif Nelson spoke about his ordeal with Big Cat Rescue and their supporters.
He claimed to have received threats to his business, his life, and the lives of his employees.
In a Facebook post Clif said, "someone called several times last night and promised to come here to cut me down and strangle my senior server."
According to the Gainesville Sun, Clif also received a bomb threat and had reported all of the threats directed at him to the Gainesville police so they could investigate.
Our readers that continually follow our work know all about Big Cat Rescue's methods of persuading businesses to adopt their ideology. If you’re new here, their methods basically involve what amounts to threats and intimidation.
We contacted Clif for more information and he provided us with correspondences between him, Susan Mitzel Bass (Big Cat Rescue’s mouthpiece), and Howard Baskin (treasurer of Big Cat Rescue and husband of Carole Baskin). As an added bonus we were also forwarded an email from 2011 that was sent by Carole to Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation.
Right off the bat, Susan Bass put her public relations skills to work by trash talking one of her competitors and trying to control how the Paramount Grill can conduct their own business.
In one email, Susan says, “Christine Janks breeds and collects exotic cats - including the 3 Geoffrey kittens scheduled to be at the fundraiser at your restaurant. Carson Springs is not a true rescue and not GFAS accredited….I'd like to request that you cancel the appearance of the Geoffrey cats and any other exotic cats at your restaurant, now and in the future.”
We have millions of social media followers (2.2 million Facebook fans alone) who rely on us to inform them when we learn about abuse and exploitation of big cats. I will need to let our fans know that Paramount Grill is promoting and condoning the exploitation of exotic cats at this fundraiser, if you don't cancel the appearance of the cats at the event. You are likely to hear from many of our supporters as they are very passionate about the humane treatment of exotic cats and understand that wild cats should not be carted to events and gawked at. They should be respected as wild animals. Big Cat Rescue raises large amounts of money from donors every year and we do it without EVER exploiting any of our cats to do it.”
Reading between the lines we can discern that Susan Bass is basically telling Clif that if he knows what’s good for him he should do as she says or she will have to let Big Cat Rescue’s fanatical followers know what’s going on which won’t end too well for him.
To clear up the misunderstanding, Clif said, “Ms. Bass, there is nothing on my flyers or advertisements stating there will be exotic cats at this dinner. I have asked you several times to contact Carson Springs with your concerns. I have even contacted them myself and addressed the referenced post you provided me. Your reluctance to contact them and yet continue to harass me is concerning. I don't know what else their is to do.”
In a following email, Susan warns Clif that she will have to tell Big Cat Rescue’s followers about the fundraiser due to him not promptly accepting her earlier demands. She follows that up by also mentioning a possible protest outside of his restaurant that might be covered by the media.
Her emails reads, “I'm disappointed not to have heard back from you confirming that you and Paramount Grill will do the humane thing and insist that Carson Springs not bring any exotic cats to the fundraiser on August 20. Our supporters look to Big Cat Rescue to inform them when we find out about big cats or cubs/kittens being exploited or used for entertainment or profit. We will need to let them know that this event is happening at your restaurant next week. One concerned local Gainesville citizen is considering organizing a protest at the event and there may be media.”
Apparently tired of suggesting that Susan contact Carson Springs and explaining to her multiple times that he never planned on having exotic cats at his restaurant, Clif had an attorney try getting the message through loud and clear. That led to Howard Baskin getting involved due to Susan Bass being scared away.
Below is a shortened version of Howard’s email that amounts to him trying to puff out his chest.
“The reason you did not get my phone number is that when Susan informed you I was the person to speak to on legal matters you refused to accept that and badgered her unprofessionally insisting that she speak with you….
To the extent that you are claiming some kind of cause of action and might be contemplating litigation it was beyond inappropriate for you to try to engage one of our staff in that way after being informed you should speak to me. It may be a violation of Florida Bar ethics….
I don't mean to be rude, but I do not believe there is anything to discuss. It happens coincidentally that I am in Gainesville around the corner from the restaurant and would have enjoyed meeting the owner and having a nonconfrontational chat. But I don't think that is appropriate given the nature of your call and email.”
Excluding the part about him creeping around the corner from Clif’s restaurant, Howard’s response to Clif’s attorney is interesting since it could explain why Big Cat Rescue’s legal expenses have skyrocketed. He made it clear that he was the person to speak to regarding legal matters.
According to2014 and 2015 IRS 990 forms, Big Cat Rescue’s legal expenses have jumped from $162,000 in 2014 to a little over a whopping $500,000 in 2015. Since Howard is apparently the person to speak to on legal matters we can’t help but wonder if he receives a large portion of Big Cat Rescue’s legal expenses.
His email also provides us insight into the possible reasons businesses give into Big Cat Rescue’s antics. Businesses that are targeted by them seem to be provided with an incentive for doing as they say. We assume the reward is useless since Big Cat Rescue’s small email promotion likely doesn’t increase the amount of customers.
For example, Big Cat Rescue recently attacked 5-hour ENERGY on Facebook and probably through email too for an ad containing a tiger. 5-hour ENERGY gave into their demands but how many of Big Cat Rescue's followers didn't receive the memo and still believe 5-hour ENERGY is still "exploiting" animals?
We will now get back to the bonus email we were sent that originated from a conversation between Carole Baskin and Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation.
Big Cat Rescue currently accuses Carson Springs of being a "pseudo-sanctuary" that "mistreats and exploits exotic cats", however, in the final months of 2011, Carole sent an email to Carson Springs asking if they could take in a cat that they had no room for and mentions how they could easily obtain accreditation if they wanted to.
Carole’s email said, “Any chance you could help a serval who is being kept in a bird cage in the basement of a home in OH?
We are full and are bringing in 3 more tigers the end of the month, so we can't build another cage. I have asked the accredited sanctuaries and so far no one has room.
We could get the cat to you, if you have space. This is the first time we have been asked to take a cat smaller than a lion or tiger where we and all of the other accredited facilities were at capacity. I believe your facility would certainly be able to pass the accreditation process which would make it possible for us to turn to you earlier on small cat rescues.
Any room at the inn?”
It's very odd that Carole likes to constantly badmouth sanctuaries not accredited by the notorious Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries but didn't have any problem asking one to take in a cat.
Below is Carson Spring's response to the whole ordeal surrounding Big Cat Rescue's attack.