The Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation located just outside of Mexico City was founded on the principle that every animal’s life matters. In October 2013, founder Eduardo Serio received a call from his cousin that would transform his life and spark the beginning of the BJWT movement. The call led Eduardo to rescue a black baby Jaguar who was about to be sold to entertain tourists as a means to make a profit. Eduardo named the jaguar Cielo and from that point on there was no turning back.
Story by Ksenia Edwards as featured in HOLR Issue 9. All numbers in the article are reflective of the time of this visit in November, 2017.
Over the course of the next few months Eduardo rescued a lion named Karma, a Tiger named Tieris and a Jaguar named Matzu. Fast forward to 2019 and BJWT is now home to 330 felines and 250 other species. While a lot of his animals were given to him by the Mexican government, after animal circus programs were shut down, others came to him as a result of regular people being unable to care for them. In November 2017, I spent three days at the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation interviewing founder Eduardo Serio. While there, I got to witness the inner workings of the foundation and see how the animals are thriving in their new home.
We drive down a dusty road, bouncing around the SUV as we follow Eduardo into the first ranch. As the dust settles around us large white signs with black lettering materialize, sprawled out across even larger fences. The signs say ‘Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation.’ We step out of the SUV onto a grassy field covered in specs of dust. Enclosures stretch beyond our vision and Eduardo informs us that we are at phase two- just one of three areas he has built for his rescues. There is also phase one and his own property, that has been carefully designed to support animals that need a little more attention like cubs and felines recovering from injury. This is probably a good time to mention that no, Eduardo does not breed cubs. While he doesn’t believe in spaying or neutering any of his animals we witness it first hand that the animals in heat are kept in separate areas away from the opposite sex.
We move away from the car and the sounds of the animals fill the air around us, everything from roaring lions, to barking dogs. When it comes to rescuing animals Eduardo does not discriminate. While rescuing felines is what the organization is known for and specializes in, if Eduardo has the means to support an animal that needs a home he won’t hesitate. From dogs to birds, cats, pigs, foxes, baboons and even a bear, these are just some of the animals we learn that he has rescued over the years.
It doesn’t take long to see what a big heart this man has and an even greater dedication to ensuring that all of these animals live happy and healthy lives. Although Eduardo is confronted with many naysayers on a daily basis, what many of them don’t realize is that he is up against a systemic issue in Mexico. It is legal to breed and buy exotic animals as pets in Mexico and often just as legal to dispose of the animals once you can no longer care for them. Fortunately, for a lot of these animals, this is where BJWT comes in. Instead of allowing these animals to be slaughtered or chained up as entertainment for unassuming tourists, they come to live at the sanctuary.
In awe of what it must take to run something of this magnitude, I ask Eduardo how he does it? He doesn’t shy away from telling me what an important role donations and advertising dollars play in taking care of these animals. He also reveals that no one on the board, including himself, takes a salary so everything donated goes toward caring for the animals. Eduardo’s life revolves around the well-being of these animals. Or niños aka kids, as he so fondly refers to them.
As we walk by a group of curious baboons, we near an enclosure with tigers and lionesses about to be fed. With the help of five of the workers out of the over sixty that work at the ranches, Eduardo enters the enclosure. We wait with baited breath to see how these hungry animals will react. The workers bring out whole chickens in barrels and strategically place them around the enclosure so that everyone gets their own meal. They then release the tigers and lionesses from a separate enclosure and the animals each dart toward one of the piles of chicken. For anyone who says these animals are drugged, they are sorely mistaken. All of their eyes are bright, their energy levels are high and their appetites big. As we look on from the outside of the enclosure we can see just how full their coats are and how strong they look. I tell Eduardo how well cared for they look to which he responds, “of course, we feed them about 4-5 chickens a day depending on the size of the animal and they all get vitamins.” That results in over 4,000 pounds of chicken a day. One thing is for sure, these niños eat well.
As the animals finish eating some of them excitedly run over to Eduardo. They seem genuinely happy to see him. When we continue on past the other enclosures we witness more of this. Lions run toward the edge of the fence to greet Eduardo and Tigers rub their heads on the fences and chuff as a means to say hello. There is no denying the intelligence of these animals and their capacity to feel. This is just one of the messages Eduardo hopes to spread across his social media. He hopes that by sharing so much of what he does and his interactions with these animals that people can begin to see them in a different light. That perhaps people will be less inclined to hunt them, to take photos with them as they’re displayed as entertainment or to pet them as they’re drugged up in Thailand petting zoos.
While he has relationships with these animals, he stresses the importance of them being wild animals. He is able to have relationships with them because a lot of them are accustomed to human contact as they came from circuses and people’s homes. But he under no circumstance promotes people owning these animals or treating them as pets. In fact, he won’t even go in with half of the animals at the sanctuary because of this and their unpredictable nature.
Eduardo leads us through the ranch, providing me with short answers to my questions as his eyes remain fixated on the animals. He tells us how important it is to stay alert. Evidently, this is lost on me as I walk by a Tiger who decides to spray me with urine through the fence. “He’s marking his territory,” Eduardo tells me. Naturally.
As we explore the rest of the ranch, Eduardo tells us the names and stories of all of them. Like Mickey the lion who came from a circus and is best friends with a dog that lives in the same enclosure as him. And Khloe the tiger named after Khloe Kardashian after her and Kendall Jenner visited BJWT on an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We pass a lion that stands protectively in front of his lioness. Eduardo tells us he was in isolation at the circus for 18 years before being brought to BJWT and introduced to her. They’ve been inseparable ever since and some may say, Soul Mates. Eduardo knows the ins and outs of each animal. One glance at their faces and he can tell you each of their names.
We follow Eduardo by car to phase one, where we meet some of his first rescues, Cielo and Matzu. He enters the enclosure and plays with the two jaguars as we look on. He says that he won’t always enter with the animals if he can sense that they are in a mood. Once again he stresses the importance of respecting the animals and always paying attention. Although BJWT has had plenty of celebrity visitors from Lewis Hamilton to Demi Lovato and plenty of others, his main reason for hosting them is to raise more awareness for the animals. Based on the way his social media accounts have grown, we would say it’s working.
Phase one has a different look to it than the phase two. The lawns are lush and sprawling and the trees planted throughout the property makes us feel like we are in Africa. We gaze out at one of the large enclosures where the lions are lounging in the shade. Eduardo says he purposefully puts the animals in prides, as that is the way they are in the wild and when they are happiest. He mentions a program he is developing with scientists and the Mexican government to reproduce and reintroduce endangered feline species native to Mexico into the wild. Unlike any of the animals he rescued, which have never stepped foot in the wild, this will be an entirely different initiative. One in which the animals will never experience human contact. It is estimated that there are roughly 15,000 Jaguars left in the wild, about 3,890 Tigers, and about 20,000 lions. Something needs to be done about it and Eduardo feels an urge to do his part.
The next day we join Eduardo at his home in an upscale suburb not far from our hotel. A large iron gate slides open revealing his home. As we step out of the car we see a pride of curious cubs peaking through the window at us. We enter his home and get a better sense of his passions outside of rescuing animals. The walls are covered in artwork by some of his favourite artists from Mr. Brainwash to Romero Britto. He also tells us about his love of music. It doesn’t take long for our attention to be pulled in a different direction as a few of the workers bring the cubs out into an enclosed space in what would be a living room. We sit on the floor and the cubs slowly approach us. The smallest one in the pride is called Eva. She instantly steals my heart. She’s a lot smaller than the other cubs but is the loudest of the bunch and definitely has bite. She dives straight for my boots and begins to gnaw on them. Her fur is rougher than a cat’s and her big almond-shaped eyes, which look like they are lined with a white pencil, stare up at me intently. Her belly is round and I notice her paws are perfectly plump as I try to detach her from my boot. I manage to pick her up and she looks at me lazily as another cub follows suit and another one, until my boots are covered by these curious, intelligent felines. When there’s no surface area left, one of them moves onto my knee. The only thing that distracts them is Eduardo approaching who walks over while filming an Instagram live story for his 6.4 million followers. Social media is a huge part of Eduardo’s mission to raise awareness and to fundraise for the sanctuary. He is very transparent with all of his followers, sharing his tax forms and financial information about where all of the fundraising dollars go- you guessed it, straight toward the needs of the animals.
The more we talk with Eduardo the more we realize how candid and frank he is. Ask him anything and he’ll answer. He possesses a no-nonsense approach that we all admire. Eduardo crouches in the area with the cubs and they all run toward him and jump on him. They start licking his head and holding on to him. Seemingly Wolf’s Pride recognizes Eduardo and adores him. We spend the afternoon with the cubs learning more about Eduardo and the sanctuary. When I ask him what the alternative is for a lot of these animals his answer is simple but grim- death. If he didn’t take these animals in, a lot of them would have ended up being sold for their fur. We give him an opportunity to dispel some of the rumors that people say about him but he doesn’t engage with the hate because his efforts speak for themselves. Eduardo has one mission and that is to help as many animal lives as he can while hopefully inspiring individuals to care more about other species and the environment. When we part ways with Eduardo on day three, it’s hard not to admire how much of himself he pours into this foundation. Black Jaguar White Tiger is his world and the kids are at the centre of it.
To donate to Black Jaguar White Tiger please visit www.blackjaguarwhitetiger.org/donate.
To see how the felines are doing and to find out how you can visit the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation please follow: @blackjaguarwhitetiger
Photography by TJ Derry @tjderry
Photograph edits by Joshua Davies @by.joshdavies