An Instagram post by Odell Beckham Jr. of the NFL star playing with some exotic animals has been viewed more than 1.6 million times by Tuesday night.
Among those who have seen the New York Giants Pro Bowl receiver playing catch with a chimpanzee and petting some big cats chewing on a football was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
The group was critical of Beckham’s Jan. 6 post. Its tweet about Beckham “ ‘playing football’ with wild animals” was not directed at the wide receiver, but at the South Carolina safari that provided the animals in the video.
PETA tweeted that Myrtle Beach Safari “exploited” the animals for “cheap publicity stunts (that) are cruel and incredibly dangerous.”
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In a longer statement issued on its website, PETA said the animals were “pimped out as props by shameless roadside zoos,” also calling Myrtle Beach Safari “sleazy.”
It called for “everyone — including Beckham, who certainly doesn’t want another injury — to steer clear of cruel facilities that exploit animals.”
PETA also asserted that Myrtle Beach Safari “has a lengthy record of violating federal law.”
The director of the safari, Doc Antle, disputed that claim.
“This is not a backyard zoo. This is a really magnificent wonderful place,” said Antle, according to WFAN. Antle said Myrtle Beach Safari has been investigated, but has not been cited for any federal violations, WFAN reported.
More than “130 wild animals, including 60 big cats,” wolves, apes and an African elephant live at Myrtle Beach Safari, according to its website. It offers a number of packages for visitors to interact with animals, ranging from $299 to $5,000.
Myrtle Beach Safari has been criticized by another animal rights group.
In January 2018, In Defense of Animals named the safari one of the 10 worst zoos for elephants, The State reported. The safari was named sixth-worst zoo for its treatment of Bubbles, an African elephant which “has lived without the company of other elephants since 1984.”
In that case Antle also rebuffed the criticism, saying Bubbles lives “with me and my family,” and adding the safari is “in compliance with all USDA regulations,” The State reported.
Having a high-profile athlete like Beckham interact with the safari’s animals helps raise awareness and money to help animals in the wild, Antle said, according to WFAN. He added “Myrtle Beach Safari donates millions of dollars to great ape conservation.”
This is not PETA’s first time using high-profile football to send a message. After Texas’ 1,700-pound longhorn Bevo charged at Georgia’s 60-pound English bulldog Uga prior to the Sugar Bowl, the group called for the end of the use of live mascots in sports.
“These sensitive and much-abused animals belong with their families in nature, not pimped out as props by shameless roadside zoos. We’re sure that Odell Beckham Jr. had no idea that the sleazy safari park where this young chimpanzee is kept has a lengthy record of violating federal law and uses great apes and big-cat cubs in cheap publicity stunts like this. These encounters are incredibly dangerous, and PETA urges everyone — including Beckham, who certainly doesn’t want another injury — to steer clear of cruel facilities that exploit animals.”