The Ugly Truth about Fake Animal Rescue Videos

For most of 2020, my organization, Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue, has been bombarded with emails of people around the world who are enraged about some videos that are swirling around on animal-related groups online. Often these emails come with abuse towards us and the Vietnamese in general. On YouTube there are some creator accounts in which monkeys are being kept as pets and many others which are fake animal rescues that are making money from clicks of keyboard warriors just dying to have something to be angry about across oceans they’ve never crossed.

We don’t watch these videos, frankly, because we are bombarded with them and no one should be adding to their views anyway. We’ve had people literally send hundreds to our emails in one day. It’s insane and needs to stop. While I do enjoy blocking people who spam us with these videos and racist nonsense, there needs to be something said to stop it.

For the record, it is illegal to keep primates as pets in Vietnam, though it’s not entirely uncommon. But if you have ever raised a primate like I have, you know they are a nightmare and not pets in any way which is why so often they end up on chains and in cages. Circuses, zoos, and individuals are often using primates for entertainment without recourse. Wild animals kept in captivity outside of a genuine rescue and rehabilitation program for unreleasable animals is simply immoral and cruel on so many levels and in Vietnamese law, there are not strong laws to prevent this. In addition to ineffective legal restraints, you must put this in the context of a country with a terrible record of enforcement of pretty much any law that protects humans or animals. Google “rule of law” and “Vietnam “ and you’ll get a clearer picture. Enforcement of laws is reliant upon a population that trusts the government and its ability to protect their best interests, something we lack in a corrupt country which rules entirely on fear and laying down a hard hand on anyone who breaks rules that harm the upper echelon of society in government and business. Laws in Vietnam do almost nothing to actually protect humans, and if they do, they aren’t getting enforced much.

When we are asked to put up petitions to “prosecute “ these random people seen on YouTube for which we have no location or names, this is asking for something absurd that will not ever have an effect on those animals. Petitioning to a corrupt and non-democratic government is pissing up a rope. Asking us to find these people and remove these animals is also fantasy. We have exactly 3 people working for us on the ground right now all full-time consumed with the care of animals in our rescue. FULL TIME. We live literally day to day on donations. That’s not an exaggeration. It takes nothing short of a miracle to have more than $100 in the bank account. We work our bums off to just manage the cases we have and those within our community that need help. We are not a national vigilante police force. We do not have an IT forensics team that tracks down YouTube creators. We work hard to just stay afloat and it is a never ending struggle for just that.

I think the reason well-intentioned but unrealistic people send us these messages from across oceans is because they cannot fathom how different our lives and our work is where we are compared to the well-funded, well-staffed animal rescue in their community of Anytown, USA, UK, or Australia. We are not in the situation you are envisioning. Not even close. We simply cannot help these monkeys or animals of any kind of YouTube videos, so please be aware of what our reality is that is totally opposite to your vision of what it is.

What can you do?

Report, report, report!!!! These channels operate with the permission of YouTube. This is a corporation that manages content for which you choose to create demand. STOP watching these videos! They make money from your clicks so you are supporting them. These are demand driven. Don’t be the demand. If you can get an exact location, then report them to the Wildlife Crime hotline at Education for Nature — Vietnam (ENV), but be aware that they are office staff that are limited in how many emails and messages they can process and cannot help any vague description of a wildlife crime. They, like us, have limited time and resources and are doing the best they can with an absolutely mad amount of work.

Realistically, the demand for primates as pets is very difficult to manage and needs to be controlled by both massive national campaigns and education programs in the country in which they take place (i.e. NOT English language FB groups spouting racism and hatred towards Asians which seems to be called “activism” these days), and by effective legal enforcement against the wildlife trade in general. This is a VERY SLOW process in any country, so the progress isn’t going to make headlines but it’s happening, mostly not in English.

The fake animal rescue videos are hard because the demand for this hero worshiping rescuer nonsense is sky high, and as long as Dodo videos are consumed at the rate they are, that’s not going to ever be reduced. “Animal lovers” love, love, love a sad story that ends well. It’s a drug. Being the hero is like crack. It activates that savior complex in all of us and unfortunately portrays none of the reality behind rescue which involves predominantly horrifying stories that end horribly and leave lasting trauma on these people you all call heroes. Vietnam is a massive and densely populated country so pinning down an animal and having even the slightest chance of getting that animal in question is an infinitesimal chance. Driving a motorbike for days on end trying to track down an animal in a city we do not live in or know anyone in is about as insane as it gets, especially given that our staff are onsite to manage the animal and facility we run plus the cases in our immediate community which are already plentiful and overwhelming.

The heroes in my book are those who donate and use spay kits around the world to train local vets of every nationality to END the population of domesticated animals that end up being in need of rescue. A vet and vet nurse snipping nuts off cats and dogs (and being vegan so they aren’t contributing to animal suffering in their own lives) are the heroes. But heaven forbid the public give two shits about preventing suffering while they consume copious amounts of before and after rescue videos that greatly distort the reality we see on the ground day in day out working our asses off to clean up the mess humanity has left us with the most vulnerable among us.

More than that, the 2.8 trillion animals that consist of non-primate, non domestic pets which these same people reporting these videos consume every single day are those which will never get even the fraction of the attention the monkeys or kittens in these videos get. That hypocrisy, above all else, is what makes these incessant pleas to address these individual videos so frustrating for us as animal rights activists.

I’m criticized frequently for my responses to people who think they are saving a life by sending us message after message and link after link of these videos. I’m actually fresh out of f***s about criticism from the peanut gallery after eight years of this, mostly from people who could not live a day in my life, but I struggle with how to educate the viral video consumed public on what our reality is. No matter how nice I think I’m being, undoubtedly I’m going to be attacked by the keyboard warriors of animal “activism”, so I’m just going to be as upfront as I can. For the most part, people just don’t have an understanding of what differences there are between our work in Vietnam and those in California and since the average American doesn’t travel beyond their region in their lifetime, and I get that that must be hard to conceptualize. In the six months I had to spend in the US in 2020, I have never met more people who were absolutely blind to most of the world and how it functions. I travel a lot, meet people from all walks of life and from all nationalities and it is the US where I find most people couldn’t begin to imagine what our work is in Vietnam, much less in Europe, or even Australia. It’s very difficult to get this message across to people who simply know no other worldview and generally have no interest in it. Most of the complaints we have about the videos come from my own nationality, which is why I had to put us on the spot.

We are extremely upset that we are unable to take in all these cases and manage a long list of prosecutions against abusers, but that’s our reality and the reality of every other animal organization in the Vietnam and many other countries. It’s not for lack of trying. Saying no hurts every single time in a way you can’t imagine if you don’t do this for a living and know that sometimes our intervention does save a life. Those animals we have saved become my family and my heart is in every single rescue, so saying no is truly hell. However, educated, experienced, and administratively competent staff cost money we cannot afford on this itty bitty budget and they are vital to making this all function at a national level. Rescue is about people, not animals after all. It takes an army we do not have. We’d appreciate not being attacked for that. Please try to understand the capacity limits of the organizations you contact and be realistic about their situation in the environment they work in.

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Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist, pig snuggler, amateur vegan chef, and runner who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.

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Catherine Besch

Catherine Besch

Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist, pig snuggler, amateur vegan chef, and runner who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.

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