Michael Webber, director of “The Conservation Game”

by | Aug 25, 2021

Michael Webber—director of the new documentary, “The Conservation Game,” which explores the realm of people who bring animals on late-night talk shows and morning news programs, and may be secretly participating in the exotic pet trade—discusses how his career (which included working on numerous studio features and other films, television shows and other projects) forever changed when he made his 2011 doc, “The Elephant In The Living Room.” That film, which also delved into the black market commerce involving big cats and other exotic animals, won rave reviews and several Best Documentary awards and was otherwise intensely gratifying for Webber, he recalls. That movie also had Tim Harrison, a retired policeman (and former fireman/paramedic) at the center of it—Webber had been drawn to the subject by Harrison’s two books about the exotic pet trade—as does “The Conservation Game.” Webber recalls the reaction he felt in reading the two Harrison books, while on location in Poland, and enthuses about the man himself.  Webber addresses the discovery Harrison made while checking out an exotic animal auction (Webber accompanied him, shooting footage with a hidden camera), and how this epiphany—that so-called “celebrity conservationists” who bring animals on TV programs, most famously: Jack Hanna, directly participate in the exotic pet trade—which launches Harrison’s investigation that forms a core narrative of  “The Conservation Game.” Webber touches on the film’s parallel narrative: the effort to lobby for the Big Cat Safety Act, a bill that revises and significantly tightens laws governing the trade of big cats, including onscreen appearances by longtime advocates of such strengthened legislation, Howard and Carole Baskin of Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue. Webber speaks to one place the two narratives intersect—that Hanna and The Columbus Zoo were quietly but insistently working against the passage of the bill. This represents just one element of a Hanna portrait that emerges—viewers of “The Conservation Game” might never look at Jack Hanna the same way.   (https://www.theconservationgame.com, https://www.facebook.com/BigCatMovie, https://www.instagram.com/bigcatmovie/)

ALSO: I also spoke briefly with Maddie Stone, Marketing Manager at Great Explorations Children’s Museum in Saint Petersburg, about the Museum’s then-forthcoming “Pet Day With SPCA Tampa Bay,” slated for Aug. 27. Stone provided a brief overview of the facility, what kind of programming they typically offer, a bit about their special events—and a number of details about “Pet Day,” such as an assortment of animal-themed activities, including a Critter Corner and a rabbit to meet and greet.    .  (https://greatex.org, https://www.facebook.com/GreatExKids/, https://www.instagram.com/great_explorations/          )

 COMEDY CORNER: Eddie Pepitone’s “Dog Therapy” (https://www.eddiepepitone.com)

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: Steely Dan’s “Black Cow”



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