Isle of Wight Zoo’s Covid Appeal

BY NIGEL BEAN

As our regular readers will be well aware, the Editor of this magazine and I are in the middle of a legal dispute with the BBC’s Chris Packham and his charity the Wildheart Trust, now cynically renamed the Wildheart Sanctuary, which runs the Isle of Wight zoo. Well, when this charity recently reported their financials to the Charity Commission, we uncovered yet more shenanigans.

Let’s first briefly recap on what has happened so far:

We complained that at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Chris Packham fronted a dishonest appeal to raise funds for the Wildheart Trust. Packham appeared in a video at the top of the appeal page:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/wildheart-trust

Packham claimed on video that he and his charity ‘rescued’ animals, principally big cats from European circuses. The appeal went on to state in the text of the ‘unimaginable cruelty and neglect the tigers had suffered while at the circus’ (all lies – this never happened):  

“While at the mercy of travelling circuses in Spain these defenseless animals were the victims of unimaginable neglect and cruelty living hellish lives confined within squalid beast-wagons or crammed into tiny pens where they were left to fight for scrapes of food in between performances”

It was also noted from press reports a solitary tiger the Isle of Wight zoo had taken on from Germany had recently died in their care (late 2019) and mistreatment at the circus in a previous life was suggested in the press as the likely cause.

So, naturally, we investigated the claims. Just as we have looked under every stone related to Packham and Wildheart since the legal action initiated (the Editor shall return shortly with the final nail in the coffin of Chris Smollett Packham’s dodgy career).

It turned out the solitary tiger called Simi had been illegally confiscated by German authorities and vets had testified in court of her living in a pleasing large space within a friendly homogeneous group of big cats. The five Spanish tigers they had acquired from a circus in Valencia had been voluntarily handed over to a rescue centre after much negotiation involving a Spanish animal rights lawyer who had been tasked by the circus to find the best possible home for their beloved tigers – the circus family had considered them part of the family.  

So we complained to the Fundraising Regulator over this one particular fundraising appeal.

Originally the regulator refused to uphold our complaint about this solitary crowdfunder even though it broke their guidelines. Instead they plumped for a very polite way of saying porkies were evident in the appeal request:  

“The Fundraising Regulator acknowledged that some of the charity’s assertions were arguably expressed rather sweepingly with a touch of hyperbole”

The investigator responsible for this report then hurriedly left the Fundraising Regulator.

We were sickened with this cover-up but did not give up. We wrote back with additional evidence supporting our complaint and said basically, this is bullshit, please re-investigate. They refused, so we requested an External Reviewer to be appointed by the regulator on the basis the regulator’s previous investigator had been manifestly unreasonable in her judgements.

The Fundraising Regulator agreed and contracted an External Reviewer who was a breath of fresh air – a grown-up who wanted to find the truth. He was curious and showed integrity in his approach whereas the previous investigator from the Fundraising Regulator we felt previously withheld important facts that should have relayed into findings and seemed blindsided by Chris Packham’s celebrity.

The External Reviewer agreed with us, the Charity did not rescue the tigers from a Spanish Circus and they should not be asking for more money to ‘rescue’ more animals in the future or accrediting AAP (a Spanish animal sanctuary) as their ‘partner’:

“I reach that finding while expressing reservations about the charity’s claim to rescue animals from Spanish circuses. A small element of the ask here was for money to “rescue more [circus animals] in the future”. I find that claim un-evidenced as well as contrary to the charity’s own crediting of a partner agency for rescues. I therefore ask the charity, through this consideration, to reflect on how it communicates its role in rescue operations”

And let’s recall…. who was making the claim on behalf of Wildheart in their fundraising appeal – “rescue more [circus animals] in the future”?  

None other than BBC Wildlife Presenter Christopher Gary Packham – Trustee of Wildheart, whose partner Charlotte Corney was CEO of the charity (Wildheart the charity had taken on the failing Isle of Wight zoo from Corney’s family). A man STILL backed by the BBC to this day.

And now on to the further shenanigans…..

Since the Fundraiaing complaint, something interesting turned up in Wildheart’s accounts, and we feel we should share this information with the British public who are continuing to get partial truth and lies from Wildheart. We believe this new information shows Isle of Wight zoo is run by liars and shysters and Wildheart Sanctuary should be struck off as a charity for repeatedly failing to go out of their way to act honestly in crowdfunders, in the spirit of the Fundraising Regulator’s rules.

The coronavirus appeal video we complained about with Chris Packham asking for donations to feed animals in a time of crisis was posted four days after an insurance policy that the charity’s trustees would have known about if they were responsible trustees kicked in guaranteeing Wildheart a percentage of their lost revenue for one year only.

The honest approach would have been to inform the public of the potential £500k insurance pay out BEFORE embarking on their Coronavirus zoo appeal.

Looking at the income generated over the Covid period (below) it would appear Wildheart and Isle of Wight zoo have done very nicely out of the situation, thank you very much.

What do the Editor and I want out of this continuing struggle?

Victory.

For the Truth. For the Public.

But we also want to see the Fundraising Regulator and the Government set a new standard for fundraising, particularly focused on lying animal rights ideologues and those who claim to be ‘rescuing’ animals when clearly that is not what they are doing at all. We want to see an end to the deception whereby shysters raise funds by pulling heart strings – hiding often extremist animal rights ideology behind the irresistible cuddliness of innocent creatures.

Whether it is animal rights sabs crowdfunding for cars that do not exist, animal rights loons crowdfunding for sheep sanctuaries which do not exist, or zoos run by BBC celebrities crowdfunding on the back of rescues and cruelty that never happened, we need to see a change in the law. As soon as possible.

Why can’t charities be honest with the British Public?

“We are possibly getting an injection of £500k from a Covid insurance policy but in the meantime we need funds” – that would have been the honest approach.

Chris Packham is dishonest. But I’ll let our fearless warrior king of an Editor have the final word on that in coming days…

Please watch this space.

Have a very Happy Christmas.