The internet loves nothing more than a good old fashioned witch hunt and as of recent weeks, a subject of their hatred has been vegan activist, Sonia Sae and her fennec fox, Jumanji. Whilst it is easy to formulate quick conclusions about wild animals being domesticated and to have concerns regarding the feeding of a vegan diet, it is important not to jump on the hate campaign bandwagon without researching for yourself first, or at least questioning the validity of the sources.
Where did it all start?
It appears the concern surrounding Jumanji’s well being stemmed from a Facebook post that subsequently went viral, with over 28,000 shares. The original post makes numerous claims about his health, after stating foxes are not omnivores and are incapable of digesting synthetic taurine. She implies Jumanji’s partial blindness and skin condition is, “no doubt due to taurine deficiency,” as well as claiming he appears “underweight” and “lethargic”. The poster also claimed his nose was sore due to insufficient digging areas in his home, leading to him trying to dig in undesirable areas such as bed sheets or hard flooring. According to the accuser, Sonia has ignored several attempts from professionals urging her to change the fox’s diet, including animal sanctuaries and exotic animal veterinary technicians.
Let the witch hunt begin…
Despite the claims not being presented with any evidence and being purely the opinions of someone who has not only never met Jumanji but also seems to have no advanced knowledge of fennec foxes, a media frenzy ensued. Outlets all over the world began donning extreme headlines, accusing Sonia of killing her fox and depicting the “deterioration” of Jumanji using Instagram images from Sonia’s page, conveniently with the dates cropped out, giving a completely inaccurate time line of his life with Sonia. Screenshots of her openly speaking of his partial blindness and convulsions have been used as “proof” his diet is harmful, despite there being no actual proof of this being the case and no records provided to show these ailments were non existent when he first came into Sonia’s care.
Since going viral, Sonia has been hit from all angles with thousands of comments and messages bombarding her various social media pages. Many of the comments are not appropriate to repeat here but vary from “animal abuser” and “you’ll always be hated, you will always be treated like trash”, to death threats and very explicit personal attacks. Sonia has since made her Instagram account private, in an attempt to stop the abusive comments rolling in, although they are still coming on her Facebook activism page. Numerous posts, videos and petitions have been circulated about her and of course, as mentioned, even mainstream media outlets are relentlessly fueling this fire.
This isn’t the first time the media has gotten carried away with false accusations against vegans. Just weeks ago, farm intern Alison Waugh hit mainstream headlines with claims of death threats from vegans but later retracted her statement but by that time, the damage was done and the tarnishing of vegans had already had the desired impact on the public. The Express even went as far as to don the headline “Vegan activists want children hurt” which, of course, is preposterous but it goes to show, people will write anything for views, regardless of whether there’s any evidence to back up those accusations.
What’s the truth?
There are many discrepancies when it comes to the accusations against Sonia and until these accusations are proven or disproven, the decent thing to do is not to launch such an aggressive hate campaign. Reading through comments and articles regarding Sonia, it becomes glaringly obvious the majority of pitchfork dwellers do not have any knowledge or information on the matter, other than someone else telling them it is so. Unfortunately, we live in a time where many take what they read on the internet at face value; don’t do any further research for themselves, and the concept of innocent until proven guilty goes straight out the window. The blatant lack of evidence and somewhat inaccurate claims about behavioural traits of fennec foxes will go unnoticed by some, as will the deliberately cropped out dates on images and incorrect information regarding his living conditions. Many commenters appear more concerned with being a part of the public stoning, rather than legitimately caring about Jumanji. It is truly shocking how one person’s Facebook status has ignited such an awful display of harassment and bullying, without there being any research into the situation or evidence showing the claims were true. As this all seems to have originated from that one Facebook post, we will lay out the initial concerns surrounding Jumanji and delve a little further into them.
“If you feed a fennec fox an omnivore diet they will get sick”
Fennec foxes are in fact omnivores, despite the post claiming they are not. In the wild, they are opportunistic eaters and typically forage for plants, as well as eating rodents, eggs, reptiles, and insects, should the opportunity arise. She also stated foxes cannot digest synthetic taurine but provided no factual evidence for this being the case. In fact, chemically produced synthetic taurine is the same, structurally, as naturally occurring taurine. Without details of exactly what is being fed to Jumanji, it is impossible to pass judgment on whether or not his food intake is insufficient. The only information given is the brand name of cat food, AmiCat, but there is no other information on whether his diet is supplemented with other foods or ingredients and no information on exactly how much cat food Jumanji is receiving, so it cannot definitively be said that Jumanji is not receiving an adequate diet. Synthetic taurine is present in many meat-based cat foods and so it’s digestibility is not necessarily a cause for concern.
“Jumanji is partially blind already, no doubt due to taurine deficiency”
The main issue here is, presenting an opinion as fact. Until a written report from a vet, who has examined Jumanji and taken into account all other variables, specifically states his blindness is without a doubt due to his diet, there is doubt and this needs to be acknowledged. Regardless of how controversial it can be to feed certain companion animals a plant based diet, it is not a given that every ailment they may suffer is therefore due to their diet and without evidence, frivolous claims such as this hold no weight. Blindness can indeed be an effect of taurine deficiency, this is not being disputed and the concern is not invalid, however, without proof of this being the case with Jumanji, it would be fair to await further evidence before jumping to conclusions. It is not known how long Jumanji has had issues with his eyesight; for all the public knows, it could have been from birth.
“He is experiencing hair loss (which she claims is an allergy), appears underweight, and from the videos provided on her instagram last week, he is also lethargic for a fennec”
Again, without evidence of these claims being accurate or related to his diet in any way, they are purely speculative. Sonia has always been upfront regarding Jumanji’s health issues, explaining years before the accusations started that his hair loss is down to a pollen allergy. The allergy became apparent prior to the feeding of a plant based diet and as of yet, there is no veterinary evidence to the contrary. It is also important to acknowledge the claim from the accuser, fennec foxes “do not have seasonal coats that they shed”, which in all fairness, can be said of wild fennec foxes but it is not unheard of for fennecs in captivity, especially in countries with varying temperatures, to shed their coats. Accusations against his being underweight could also be attributed to his varying fur densities making him appear that way. To someone who does not know much about fennec foxes, he probably does look thin because they are naturally very tiny. Sonia has claimed Jumanji is well within the average weight range of a fennec fox at 3.3lbs, with the average being is 1.5–3.5lbs. As for lethargy, it’s worth considering that fennec foxes are naturally nocturnal animals, so it is common for them to spend many of the daylight hours resting and sleeping. A video taken in the daytime is not necessarily an accurate example of how he behaves during his more active hours. It’s also important to bear in mind that one or two videos of Jumanji do not showcase his life on a daily basis, so it’s unreasonable to assume he is always lethargic, based on insufficient, small snippets of his life.
“He also lacks a digging area so his nose is rubbed red”
Jumanji does in fact have a digging area in his home, in the form of a play pen filled with sand. One of the images shared did show him to have a sore looking nose but with no further information available on when the photo was taken or what may have caused it, as well as it only being apparent in one photograph, there is nothing to suggest an ongoing problem. This is an empty claim attempting to further vilify Sonia, without having any factual information.
“She PURCHASED him from a breeder! He was NOT a rescue”
Jumanji has been under Sonia’s care for four years, after an exotic animal breeder could no longer keep him. Despite being willing to adopt him, Sonia has been very outspoken about not supporting the exotic animal trade stating, “only if you adopt him! Don’t buy them” when asked for advice on getting a fox as a pet. So whilst from a first glance, it may seem hypocritical to have a fennec fox as a companion animal, being born in captivity and suffering health issues from the offset rendered Jumanji unable to be released into the wild.
Are the claims not true at all?
Until there are veterinary records or irrefutable evidence that Jumanji the domesticated fennec fox is suffering due to his vegan diet, the jury will remain out. Inconsistencies, convenient cropping of images, misinformation and lack of evidence should all be considered before blindly siding with the accuser and if, like she says, the police are investigating, they will get to the bottom of it. Having seen videos posted over the last few days by Sonia herself, of Jumanji playing gleefully with a full body of hair, we shall remain supportive of Sonia and not get caught up in the mob mentality. As much as we are obviously hoping we are never proven wrong, should any solid evidence be provided to show Jumanji is suffering in any way, due to how Sonia is looking after him, we would of course be devastated. Until that happens though, we have seen nothing substantial to suggest the mistreatment of Jumanji and will not be buying in to the hate campaign against Sonia and would urge others to stop harassing her.
Have Sonia and her accuser responded to the media attention?
Since the war was waged, Sonia has spoken up a few times on Facebook but understandably, is staying away from social media for the most part. She has on two separate occasions said the following,
“Thank you for being concerned about his health on this subject. He is in good shape, his blood tests are fine, he’s healthy, playful and hasn’t shown any signs of malnutrition for around 3 years”
“Thank to all the people who have messaged me asking politely concerned about Jumanji’s health without harassing me or threatening to kill me”
Sonia also posted two videos showing him running around and playing in his sand box however, this still didn’t please some critics who went as far as claiming Sonia had purchased a new fox or was passing off someone else’s video as her own.
Meanwhile, the female who began the controversy has made light of the situation, changing her profile to read, “come for the fox drama, stay for the memes.”
The irony behind it
Whilst there are some vegans out there who are opposed to Sonia’s keeping of an otherwise wild animal and her choice of diet for him, the majority of those voicing their concern for Jumanji, both with genuine words and offensive ones, are not vegan. It shows how society is living with a constant state of cognitive dissonance, by aiming their rage at who they believe to be an “animal abuser” whilst having no qualms being complicit in the systematic torture and killing of trillions of animals every year. One can hope a positive outcome of this dramatic witch hunt will be those who found themselves concerned with the well being of this one fox will open their eyes to the plight of the animals they have chosen to ignore up until this point and choose to no longer fund the animal cruelty, commonly accepted in the food industry, animal testing industry, fashion industry and entertainment industries such as zoos or marine parks.
* * * *
For the most recent video uploaded by Sonia, click here.
For the Vegan News segment on the subject, click here.
To oppose the wrongful information presented in the BBC article, you can sign the petition here.
Disclaimer: The cover image is not Jumanji as no images of the correct dimensions were available