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Houston hair salon embroiled in reality TV hoax: Inside Animal Planet's Bayou City bat problem

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Animal Planet bat Turtleman Call of the Wildman
Ernie "Turtleman" Brown Jr. with a Mexican free-tailed bat at Jazzy Girls salon on Call of the Wildman. Courtesy of YouTube / Animal Planet

A national TV scandal has hit Houston after producers Animal Planet's Call of the Wildman reality show admit to staging an elaborate bat infestation scene at a Montrose hair salon.

As first reported by CultureMap in August, the Jazzy Girls Beauty Boutique on West Alabama contacted TV host and animal removal expert Ernie "Turtleman" Brown Jr. after hearing persistent squeaks in the ceiling.

“I knew that if I called anyone else they would put down poison and I didn’t want it to affect my clients,” Jazzy Girls owner Velma Trayham told us at the time. “Turtleman is known for getting the animal without harming it. He is passionate about what he does.”

Producers freely admit to bringing bats to the salon from another location. 

In an episode dubbed "Bat Hair Day," Brown and his sidekick Neal James successfully rid the salon of nearly 20 Mexican free-tailed bats with their trademark country humor and cruelty-free removal techniques.

But after an investigation into animal maltreatment claims on the show's set, Mother Jones reports that producers freely admit to bringing the bats from another location — a tactic Call of the Wildman may have regularly employed to produce better filming opportunities — and more compelling "reality" TV. The relocating bats for entertainment purposes, the article notes, violates Texas wildlife laws.

The expose also reveals that Animal Planet paid a pest control company to remove dead bats from the salon several weeks after filming.

Mother Jones' claims of "legally and ethically dubious activities" — including the alleged sedation of a zebra — have prompted federal officials to consider an investigation into the series, according to CNN.

"The notion that there is a culture of 'neglect' at the only network that is devoted to celebrating and protecting animals is absurd," Animal Planet reps said in a statement to CNN's New Day.

Dan Adler of Sharp Entertainment, which produces the series, calls the allegations "completely false" and adds that the show has given hundreds of animals "a second lease on life."

Velma Trayham, who closed her salon in late last year, could not be reached for comment.

Watch Turtleman and his bats in action at Jazzy Girls:

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