An episode of Animal Planet’s hit show Call of the Wildman that aired 5 months ago featured the show’s star Ernie Brown Jr. (who goes by the nickname “Turtleman”) and his sidekick Neal James ridding a Montrose beauty salon of an infestation of about 20 Mexican free-tailed bats. The escapade filmed in the back storage rooms of the Jazzy Girls Beauty Boutique on West Alabama St. just east of Shepherd was only one of several dozens of purported animal rescues performed by Turtleman “with his bare hands” in the course of the top-rated Sunday night cable TV show, which is now in its third season. In the other segment of the episode, called “Bat Hair Day,” he rescues a raccoon from a cave.
The supposedly cruelty-free “live action” Montrose winged-creature extrication, which was filmed in April, was reported locally in the Chronicle and Culturemap as another quirky Turtleman success story shortly before the episode aired in early August. But an investigation published earlier this week by Mother Jones reveals that the show’s creators had themselves planted the bats in the salon to allow them to film Turtleman and his assistant removing them.
The stunt was, according to reporter James West, part of a pattern of questionable and deceptive activity by the show’s producers, which animal experts claim in many instances put animals in danger.
“Animal Planet and [production company Sharp Entertainment] acknowledge that the bats were placed in the salon for the purpose of filming, but they claim that it happened legally,” writes West. According to his research, relocating bats for entertainment purposes violates Texas law. (Mexican free-tailed bats are listed as a “species of special concern” by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.; they’re also Texas’s official state flying mammal.)
Turtleman’s removal work was also incomplete. Weeks after the shooting, according to West’s reporting, a pest control company was contracted by Animal Planet to remove dead bats from the salon — twice. Jazzy Girls shut down its business permanently late last year; the property at 2015 West Alabama is currently listed for lease by Davis Commercial. Former salon owner Velma Trayham, who also goes by “Coco the CEO” in the episode, declined to be interviewed by Mother Jones.
Were any bats present in the building in the first place? A press release put out by Trayham’s own PR firm provides a clue — by consistently referring to a removed creature, in the singular:
Calling on just any exterminator or varmint removal service wouldn’t do for the ever-scrutinizing Trayham. Due to the nature of the uninvited visitor, the extremely squeamish boss lady rather chose to call on none other than the South’s most popular and eccentric animal catcher, Brown. [emphasis added here and below]
Would a search for a single bat be worthy of animal-reality TV? How about, say, 20 bats? Here’s more from the press release, which was sent out a few days before the episode aired:
The popular Animal Planet show along with it’s production crew arrived bright and early at Jazzy Girls Beauty Boutique on the day of the taping to begin an investigation that would help them identify and capture the mystery animal. Greeted by the frantic Velma Trayham, Brown was made to promise that he would apprehend the animal without disturbing patrons of the salon or involving any of the uber feminine staff.
Trayham told Chronicle reporter Alyson Ward in August that she had stayed away from the bat-removal portions of the filming: “’I didn’t know what they were doing,’ Trayham said, waving a manicured hand. ‘I did not want to go back there.'”
A portion of the Jazzy Girls segment has been posted to YouTube:
Below, West introduces his Call of the Wildman exposé:
- Drugs, Death, Neglect: Behind the Scenes at Animal Planet [Mother Jones]
- Animal Planet’s “Call of the Wildman” Rids Houston Beauty Boutique of Elusive Intruder [ThinkZilla Consulting]
- Episode: Bat Hair Day [Animal Planet]
- 2015 W. Alabama [CommGate]
- ‘Turtleman’ saves beauty salon from wildlife invasion [Houston Chronicle]
- Animal Planet star Turtleman rescues Houston beauty salon from bats [Culturemap]
Photos: LoopNet (building); Discovery Communications (interior shots)