The Conservation Game

Retired Ohio police officer, Tim Harrison, stumbles upon a bombshell discovery when he suspects that the world's most famous celebrity conservationists may be secretly connected to the exotic big cat trade.

If you were lucky enough to get a ticket to The Conservation Game (it 'sold out' due to streaming caps) or have a pass, you will be a lot more informed about the ugly reality of trafficking and abuse of exotic animals, particularly big cats.

This has been a big topic recently with the crazy success of "Tiger King" on Netflix (and there's an interesting bit of overlap that occurs in this film) and with regular news stories about people who are 'shocked and saddened' when their pet tiger/python/chimpanzee turns and injures them - or worse. Director Michael Webber addressed the problem of the unregulated exotic animal market in his 2010 film "The Elephant in the Living Room," which also played at SBIFF.

In this new film, he works again with Tim Harrison, a retired Ohio police officer now dedicated to exposing people who trade in big cats and pushing for regulation of this market. While your cat or dog requires registration and a license, your pet tiger does not!

Together they seek out the so-called animal experts, such as Jack Hanna, who regularly appear on talk shows with their 'ambassador animals'. These are usually very young tigers or leopards who purportedly come from local zoos. Webber and Harrison delve into the origins and the fate of these animals and uncover a very dark world (hint: Joe Exotic was not an anomaly).

The doc has some real tension as they circle closer to the culprits in this story, and even involves secret recording and filming - the scenes at the exotic animal auction are truly shocking. The good news is that they also work with an animal rights lawyer, and as a team is effecting real change in legislation to document and protect exotic animals.

This film will make you rethink animal rights, and hopefully, respect these animals which were never meant to be 'pets'.

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