SOUTH PORTLAND — More than 20 demonstrators gathered quietly at Legion Square on Saturday, Aug. 29, to protest alleged cruelties behind the Animal Planet show “Yankee Jungle.”

Produced by Lone Wolf Media of 10 Cottage Road, and filmed at DEW Haven, a nonprofit exotic animal sanctuary and roadside zoo owned by Julie and Bob Miner in Mount Vernon, “Yankee Jungle” is a reality TV show about the daily workings of the zoo. The show debuted last November, and the second season is slated to air this fall. 

In a second-season teaser, Julie Miner tells the camera that they take in animals “that don’t have homes or from zoos that are being shut down.”

“These animals are like our family,” Bob Miner says. “Sometimes I wonder if we rescued them, or if they rescued us.”

He started the sanctuary for just farm animals in 1980, according to their website. In 1994, after Julie was introduced to the zoo as a volunteer, she and Bob married. 

Today, the Miners have obtained more than 200 animals “from all over the world,” according to the website. Tours led by Bob, select animal feedings, and a gift shop are offered to visitors every season except in the winter.

To many, the Miner’s story is one of eccentricity, of unequivocal love and commitment to monkeys, tigers, peacocks, camels, donkeys and other animals that might have otherwised perished were it not for human intervention.

But allegations of overfeeding of babies, of the deleterious impact of life in captivity, of the premature separation of young from their mothers, and perpetual inbreeding is something the show doesn’t cover, said Kristina Snyder, organizer of Saturday’s protest and collector of nearly 84,000 signatures from across the world for a Care2 petition that will be presented to Animal Planet as a plea to cancel the show.

“It’s tough for people to see why a place called a sanctuary is a bad thing,” Karen Coker, of Cape Elizabeth, said at the protest.

“On the surface,” Snyder added, “it seems like they’re doing a great job. I’m sure they love the animals, (and) we’re not saying they’re bad people, but if you really love these animals, the best thing to do is not breed them, not allow people to play with the cubs and not raise them in captivity.”

Snyder, of Concord, New Hampshire, has been campaigning for cancellation of the show since before the first episode aired last year.

She said she visited DEW Haven, paid $50 to feed and pet baby tiger cubs, and snapped pictures of animals that she believes have been inbred. She also claims to have spoken with anonymous zoo insiders who reportedly provided information about the selling of babies before they’re old enough to be weened from their mothers.

The taking of young animals from their mothers for commerical purposes “is a U.S. problem, it’s a worldwide problem,” Snyder said. 

Last year, a white tiger cub died at the zoo from a congential neurological condition, a common outcome of inbreeding, Snyder said. 

Some practices depicted in the show aren’t illegal, which is a bigger problem, Snyder said. One of her larger objectives is to draft federal legislation to make it illegal to separate cubs from their mothers during the first several months of life.

Kathy Peirce drove from Auburn, New Hampshire, to participate in the protest. The sign she held had a picture of Julie Miner holding a tiger cub by the scruff, with the words, “Stop breeding and stealing babies,” written in marker. 

Peirce said she loves animals and thinks that what the Miners are doing is counterintuitive. “I think they can’t have it both ways; you can’t call yourself a haven and breed animals in captivity,” she said. 

Public response on Saturday was positive, Snyder and Peirce both said. Around noon on the bright, sunny day, a police officer from the South Portland Police Department dropped off a case of bottled water. 

The public’s reaffirmation is heartening for Snyder, who also operates the Facebook page, “Say NO to Yankee Jungle,” to raise public awareness.

“Another big part (of the protest and petition) is bringing awareness, making the connection for people that this is a baby animal raised in captivity,” Snyder said. 

“This is an ugly business, and it needs (to) not be glorified and promoted on national television,” she continued. “When is it going to end?”

Jed Rauscher of South Portland, an executive producer for Lone Wolf Media and “Yankee Jungle,” declined to discuss the protest or whether the petition would carry any real clout. 

Rauscher said his “only comment” was a descriptive summary of the show, which included, “Bob and Julie’s profound love of animals inspired them to dedicate their lives to providing homes for unwanted and discarded domestic, exotic and wild animals, which they’ve been doing successfully for more than 30 years.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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