Before Tiger King there was: Turtleman

Bert Remmerswaal

“Tiger King” by Pluruk is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Kaitlynn Breeden, Editor in Chief

Call of the Wildman was an Animal Planet show starring Turtleman. The show ran for four seasons before being dropped. Turtleman’s gig was responding to calls from people in his home state of Kentucky and helping them remove unwanted and dangerous pests. His approach to wild animals is the same that Joe Exotic takes, just grabbing them with his bare hands. I watched Turtle Man on Animal Planet as a kid, and I didn’t see anything wrong with his actions. But I’ve since learned that this fun show revolved around dangerous animals is just like Tiger King. A scam. An investigation into the show revealed that the scenes of Turtleman rescuing animals were staged.

The show also faced serious allegations of abuse and neglect of some of the animals. Mother Jones, an investigative news organization, investigated the show and suggests that the production team was complicit in illegally drugging animals “in violation of federal rules,” as well as failing to properly document wildlife activities for Kentucky officials. One example is an incident in which a zebra was sedated, and Turtleman “caught” the zebra, which show producers admitted they procured from a local drive-thru safari.

Another fake rescue situation the producers created was an episode where Turtleman rescued three baby racoons after finding the mother in a Kentucky family’s laundry room. Well, it turns out the racoon was a male, and the babies had been trapped fays earlier in preparation for the episode. Karen Bailey, who runs the Kentucky Wildlife Center, was only able to save two of the babies after show producers brought them to her in what she described as an “emancipated” state. After this news initially broke between seasons three and four of the show, Call of the Wildman saw a 43% drop in ratings. The show was never officially canceled by Animal Planet, Turtleman just never returned after the final season.

Turtleman’s signature catch phrase in the show is “Live action!” but almost everything in the plot of the show was completely fake and arranged for dramatic effect. Interesting enough, before the show Turtleman was a licensed Nuisance Wildlife Control Officer in the state of Kentucky. In 2013, the year before the show ended, Turtleman was hit with a violation of his NWCO license after an episode in which he wrangled a deer out of a store in exchange for an authentic suit of armor.

Aside from the animal abuse allegations and fake rescuing animals, a Kentucky farmer accused Animal Planet of setting a fire, damming a creek, chopping down trees, and illegally trespassing and building structures on his property during the production of Call of the Wildman. During the episode called “Call in the Cavarly,” the “Turtle Team” builds an elaborate tree house, and Turtleman directs his team to only get building materials from things they can find in the woods. The cast can be seen during the episode chain sawing a tree, cutting shingles, and mixing cement. Behind the scenes, the producers went onto the Kentucky resident’s property and built the tree house using lumber they logged on his land. The weirdest part of this story is that months after the filming had wrapped up, the producers came back in the middle of the night with a crane to tear down the tree house. The remains of the tree house were then set on fire.

I personally think that Joe Exotic and Turtleman both got the karma they deserved for endangering animals for their personal wealth. Turtleman was the first Joe Exotic, acting crazy and seemingly unafraid of any of the animals he approaches. Both performed insane stunts with animals to try and attract more viewers to their shows, and ultimately didn’t succeed in the end.