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'The Conservation Game' Filmmaker And Columbus Zoo Officials Address Controversy

 Jack Hanna carries a cloud leopard as he arrives at Safe Kids Day at Smashbox Studios on Sunday, April 24, 2016, in Culver City, Calif.
Jordan Strauss
Jack Hanna carries a cloud leopard as he arrives at Safe Kids Day at Smashbox Studios on Sunday, April 24, 2016, in Culver City, Calif.

The documentary that ties the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and former director Jack Hanna to the exotic animal trade will make its Columbus debut in September. The documentary's filmmaker and zoo officials addressed the film's controversy Thursday morning.

"The Conservation Game," partly looks at how the Columbus Zoo paid vendors for tiger cubs that appeared on TV shows alongside Hanna, and then returned them to vendors once the animals matured.

Filmmaker Michael Webber appeared on WOSU's All Sides with Ann Fisher. He said the documentary shows that conservationists many grew up idolizing might not be what they seem decades later.

"You have this sort of two sides, to see the underbelly of the exotic pet trade and all the things we all believe and know that are taught are wrong, and then we have our big conservationists who seem to be on the right side and unfortunately what we found is that those two worlds are infused together," Webber said.

Webber later addressed a caller on All Sides who accused the filmmakers of using the Columbus Zoo and Hanna's name to profit with the film. Webber said the film is merely holding what he calls untouchable celebrity conservationists, accountable.

"And what they will see is that these people are literally lying to them on television," Webber said. "They are misrepresenting and telling bold-faced lies to this caller in fact, in terms of what happens with these animals, where they come from and where they go."

Columbus Zoo Senior Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation at the Jan Ramer, who also appeared on All Sides, said the zoo took the allegations from the film seriously and investigated them.

"And sadly, we found holes in tracking those animals that were used in media appearances under previous leadership," she said. "The department involved in those media appearances was not held accountable ... and we are deeply sorry for those lapses with the sometimes consequences to those animals."

Last month, the Columbus Zoo announced it ended relationships with the vendors mentioned in the film after it was screened at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.