Monday, August 14, 2006

Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center

Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center

On August 14, 2006 Pat asked members of The Association of Sanctuaries to help him place his animals, stating he intends to close his Wild Animal Sanctuary fka Rock Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center.

"The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center will be closing. The 150+ animals in its care will need to be placed ASAP.

Approximate numbers are:

75 tigers

25 black bears

20 Mountain Lions

10 African Lions

9 Leopards

5 Grizzly Bears

5 Bobcats

2 African Servals

Pat Craig

Executive Director

The Wild Animal Sanctuary


Sanctuary Owner Says Animals May Have To Be Euthanized

August 20, 2006

KEENESBURG, CO - Pat Craig said he is facing a terrible choice: raise enough money to feed the lions, tigers and other large predators at his sanctuary while he finds them new homes or euthanize the 155 animals.

"Of course, that is going to be the very, very last thing we ever do," Craig said last week during a tour of the sanctuary 30 miles northeast of Denver. "But in December, I was sure that within two weeks, I'd be doing that.

"You either let them starve to death or you go out there and do the right thing," he said.

This isn't the first time that Craig has appealed to the public for help with his Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center. This time, said Craig, who ended last year with a $250,000 deficit, donations won't keep him open.

"We didn't just lose a little. We lost well over half of our income," Craig said, blaming the lack of donations on the national and global disasters.

He has 75 tigers, 12 lions, nine leopards and 30 bears, plus wolves and smaller cats.

Others involved in rescuing animals that are victims of illegal trade in exotic criticized Craig's statements, saying they amount to blackmail.

"He knows, like us, that sanctuaries are filled to capacity and he's got a lot of cats and where are they going to go?" said Vernon Weir, director of the American Sanctuary Association. "Once you start killing these animals, it becomes an acceptable method for disposing of these animals and we don't want this to ever become acceptable."

Nick Sculac, the owner of Big Cats of Serenity Springs, a sanctuary near Calhan in El Paso County, said the threat of euthanization is a fund-raising ploy by Craig.

"He won't do it. It's the only way that he knows how to raise money," Sculac said.

Sculac has his own challenges at his sanctuary following the death of his wife, Karen Sculac, earlier this month. Volunteers have said they want to help keep the 128 cats there.

Prairie Winds, a sanctuary with 45 big cats in Kiowa, southeast of Denver, is closing. Owner Mike Jurich is finding homes for his lions and tigers one or two at a time. He said he doesn't have the resources or energy to raise the $50,000 he would need to stay afloat.

"I feel like I'm parting with my family. I feel like I'm parting with my children," he Jurich. "It breaks my heart to think about it, but it's better for them."

Colorado has banned big cats as pets since 1985 and has some of the toughest regulations, adopted in 2003, for sanctuaries. The state banned new nonprofit facilities, and none have opened since then.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife licenses seven wildlife sanctuaries.

Nationwide, 20 states have banned keeping them as pets, and the federal government is implementing the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which prohibits interstate or Internet trade of big cats.

The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates from 10,000 to 15,000 big cats are in private hands, from cages in basements to roadside zoos. Most that wind up in sanctuaries came from squalid and inhumane conditions.

Sanctuaries are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which only controls how animals are euthanized but doesn't prohibit it.

Pat Craig's Press Release:

America's Largest Wild Animal Sanctuary Closing
6 Tigers in one of the sanctuary's 20-acre habitats.
(PRNewsFoto/The Wild Animal Sanctuary)

Executive Director - Pat Craig with rescued African Lion.
(PRNewsFoto/The Wild Animal Sanctuary)


DENVER, Aug. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- The Wild Animal Sanctuary (also known as Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center) has announced the non-profit sanctuary for Lions, Tigers, Bears and other dangerous carnivores is closing.

Devastated by the negative effects of world-wide disasters in 2005 -- the sanctuary will be forced to close its doors -- leaving over 150 wild animals homeless. The 140-acre sanctuary was the largest of its kind in the United States, but now its residents face an uncertain future as their caretakers scramble to find alternatives to euthanasia. Like many other non-profit animal organizations in the U.S., the Colorado-based rescue organization was devastated financially last year when their donations all but disappeared as people shifted their support towards helping tsunami, hurricane, and earthquake
victims. The sanctuary fell into major debt last year as donations dwindled and the year wore on -- and even though they did receive some renewed support late in the year, the funds that came in were not substantial enough to allow the organization to fully recover. Facing massive shortfalls, management has decided that it is in the animals' best interests to close its rescue operations as soon as possible.

(Photo: ) 6 Tigers in one of the sanctuary's 20-acre habitats The sanctuary, which has operated in Colorado for nearly 27 years, is home to over 150 lions, tigers, bears, leopards, mountain lions, wolves and other carnivores that were originally confiscated from illegal "pet" situations by law enforcement agencies. The sanctuary will do everything in its power to try and find new homes for the animals ... however, there are very few organizations in the United States that have the ability to take these kinds of animals in, so
placing all the animals will be a very difficult. "Most people logically expect their local zoo could take these animals in," says the Sanctuary's Executive Director, Pat Craig, "but that isn't the case. The fact is that almost every zoo in the country already has a serious surplus problem of their own, and are unable to help in situations like these."

(Photo: ) Executive Director - Pat Craig with rescued African Lion The 140-acre sanctuary is the largest of its kind in the U.S., as the facility has more large carnivores than any other large carnivore sanctuary, including 75 tigers, 30 bears, 20 mountain lions, and dozens of leopards, African lions and other big cats. "The only way we will be able to place this many animals is with ample time," says Craig, "as it's going to take an incredible amount of work to find that many homes, and to also get the animals moved across the country when new homes are found." However the Sanctuary doesn't have sufficient time to accomplish their goal of placing 100% of the animals since it costs over $15,000 per week to operate the facility and their operating funds have been completely depleted. "We may be able to stay open for another week or two, at best, so if we don't find more resources right away we will be forced to close before new homes can be found for each animal," states Craig. "Any support we can get right now will allow us to stay open another day ... and each additional day we get will increase the odds for saving another life."

Information and Time Frames: Sanctuary Open to Public: Now till funds run out ... Placement/Transport of Animals: Now till funds run out ... Special Sales/Auctions: To be announced -- check our web
site or call, 303-536-0118 Information/Donations: On line @ via mail, or at the Sanctuary until closure is complete Our immediate focus is to find homes for the animals and get them transported. We will be continuously trying to raise funds to that end, as well as to meet other needs, such as food, utilities, equipment payments, and paying people to
help close the Sanctuary. In the unlikely event that we have anything left after the animals are relocated and all debts are paid, any extra proceeds, fixtures and equipment must, by law, be turned over to another non-profit. SOURCE The Wild Animal Sanctuary


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Big cat could be big ticket

Weld County Garage

Dan England, (Bio)

May 14, 2006

After 35 years in the animal business, Pat Craig is learning how to market his Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center.

Craig always knew how to win the trust of and care for wild, neglected animals that others couldn't handle. And he knew how to run a sanctuary, with more than 150 big cats, bears and other exotic animals, and a budget of more than $750,000. But he didn't know, or really want to learn, how to market his place. He refused to open to the public for many years and finally gave in more than a year ago.

But after almost closing -- he was $200,000 in the hole before receiving a flood of donations in response to his pleas for help -- he hired a consultant and is working on finding ways to start major gift campaigns, which means lots of marketing, brochures and meetings with bigwigs. But he has the perfect marketing tool.

Eddy, a black leopard born at the center after Craig saved a female who was so thin he didn't know she was pregnant, will be featured on Animal Planet's "Growing Up" series Sunday. The show may reach 10 million viewers after numerous repeats (the show airs twice Sunday and probably will be shown many times in the next few weeks).

Eddy is a unique opportunity for the conservation center, a baby cat that is personable, cute and even friendly, even if he could kill a human without much effort. Babies are rare at the center because Craig refuses to breed; he says the breeding and selling of exotic animals is the reason the need for places such as his is so great.

But when Animal Planet asked to film a story about Eddy's life, Craig agreed, and now he's glad he did, even if the show may be a bit too cute for his taste. The episode already aired overseas, and Craig got dozens, if not hundreds, of e-mails from all over the world about the show.

"I'm sure my e-mail box will get jammed to the hilt," Craig said. "We're scrambling to see how we can take that energy and make it positive. We don't want to miss a big opportunity. We'll probably still miss half of them because, how do you field all this stuff?"

You do it by adding three phone lines, some staff members and putting together a gift campaign that includes bro-chures, professional writers and a plan that shows the place is a responsible center, both in the way it treats its animals and manages its finances. Craig's already met with one major donor who has contacts with others, and he plans to present his plan in a few weeks. That meeting couldn't come soon enough: His place has about $50,000 left in the bank after the donations left him with a $200,000 cushion. Craig knows the campaigns are vital to his organization's future, something he's finally learned to accept.

"This is all really important stuff," Craig said. "But I'm just an animal guy who shovels crap."

If the gifts come through, they will give the conservation center the cushion it has always needed to withstand times when donations plummet, as they did after Hurricane Katrina, Craig said. His consultant said the center wasn't in an unusual position for a place with a budget of more than $500,000 and no cushion: Tragedies are bound to strike, and when they do, those places barely survive when donors choose to give their money to other causes.

"We'll have that half million in the bank for the real catastrophes," Craig said. "So if half our donations disappear for a few months, it won't kill us."

Craig needs that cushion. He never wants to be so close to closing again. The crisis came at a time when a concrete slab fell on Craig, crushing him and leaving him in bed for a couple of weeks. Craig probably should have been killed, but some quick action by his son, Casey, saved him. Still, Craig pushed through the pain, shifting his focus to his center and the animals that would probably have to be put down if his place closed.

"It was the worst pain I've had in my life," Craig said. "There were times I would just get stuck in the hallway on the way to the bathroom. It was no fun, and quite frankly, with all we went through, it was all such a blur."

Now the conservation center's future looks a little clearer, especially if the marketing plans developed by Craig and a staff of hard-working folks works out, and Craig can stash a little money away for emergencies.

And just maybe, Craig will get some help in that department from a friend. Souvenirs of your favorite black leopard are now available.

"Eddy's going to be totally famous," Craig said. "That's OK. We actually have Eddy T-shirts now."


"Growing Up: Black Leopard," the story of Eddy's life at the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, will be broadcast at 6 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. Sunday on the Animal Planet channel.

« The show will be hosted by Edie Falco of "The Sopranos."

« The conservation center, at 1946 Weld County Road 53 in Keenesburg, is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. every day.

« For more information, directions to the center or to make a donation, go to or call (303) 536-0118.

Source: Dan England

Pat Craig of Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg, CO fights to raise money, keep exotic animals alive

Dan England, (Bio)

December 18, 2005

Pat Craig was just an idiot, he says today, running a gas station he took over from his family, when he got a call from a crying woman in South Carolina .

Craig was 19 and had built a sanctuary to save the world by taking in the so-called "surplus" animals that zoos kept in cages and, in some cases, barns. After he got 300 calls in a month after sending just a few letters asking zoos and amusement parks to consider him before they put their animals to sleep, he realized the problem was bigger than he. So, for a while, the sanctuary remained empty on his family farm in Lyons , just outside of Boulder .

But the woman, through tears, explained to him that they had pulled the jaguar cubs from their parents and two had died. Craig was no vet, but he had tube-fed puppies on the farm and said he would give it a try.

He brought that kitten back to life in 1980, and for almost 25 years, Freckles was the only reassurance Craig needed during the tough times. His animal sanctuary grew by the dozens into its current size of more than 150 big cats, bears and other exotic animals. All of them were the victims of the illegal exotic animal trade, a problem that, by all accounts, is out of control. If Craig could nurse that starving, lifeless kitten back to health and keep it longer than it takes for a child to graduate from college and get a real job, he could do almost anything.

When he had to refinance his home, or stick every cent of his savings into the sanctuary, even when he had a family with two boys, or when he had to work two jobs or more to support his Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg, Freckles was there.

Now, Freckles is buried in a special corner of the center, with a headstone fit for a queen, and Craig faces the biggest challenge since he started.

By the end of this month, Craig should decide to either close and, in all likelihood, put to sleep all of the animals he spent his life rescuing, or stay open. Craig said he needs $150,000-$200,000 to remain open.

Hurricane Katrina, last year's tsunami and other natural disasters have overwhelmed the charity market, leaving Craig's sanctuary and others like it in deep financial trouble. Craig owes money to his insurance company, to his equipment providers, and, most of all, to his meat producer, which gobbles $400,000 a year, two-thirds of his overall budget.

One effort to get a little more income failed miserably, when the conservation center opened to the public about a year ago. Many donors assumed Craig was rolling in the money, as if he were a zoo, and the center lost twice as much in donations as it made in income as a result. And when the disasters hit, that was the death blow.

"We had donors apologizing to us left and right, saying they just gave to other things," Craig said. "We used to get 10 letters a day with a donation, but since that happened, we could go a week without one."

Financial woes at sanctuaries come when it's possible they are needed more than ever. Craig receives requests every day from agencies and individuals asking him to take cats and bears. These are usually the last places the animals can go, and yet, Craig's place is only one of 17 in the country that are nationally accredited, meaning these places don't breed, sell or commercialize the animals. And it's the breeding, selling and other methods of exploitation that are the main reasons why the exotic animal problem has ballooned into a crisis (in fact, Craig's place is stuffed with examples such as this: He once rescued tigers from a place in Texas that thought having tigers by gas pumps would help sell gas).

The illegal animal trade is now the second-highest money-maker in the world, only behind illegal drugs, according to federal statistics. And with an estimated 7,000 tigers that are privately owned (there are 3,000 in the wild) and an estimated more than 25,000 big cats and bears kept in homes, garages and backyards, one question remains.

Who will save all those animals if places such as the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center can't make it?

* * *

Jenna Rose peered down at the tigers swimming together and fighting over a ball at the Rocky Mountain conservation center and giggled.

"They're soooooooo cute," said Rose, 21, of Denver and a senior at Colorado State University working toward a degree in biology and wants to be a zoologist. "I absolutely love felines."

That's the problem. The animals are fascinating and cute and fun to watch. They aren't squirrels. They are wild, magnificent creatures you don't get to see everyday.

And it's that fascination that feeds the exotic animal crisis, Craig said. The commercialization of exotic animals only stimulates the hunger for a close encounter with a tiger. Just ask pot-bellied pig adoption centers how many problems they took in after the movie "Babe" ran in theaters. The movie "Two Brothers," released in 2004, took 32 tigers to make, Craig said, because kittens grow fast into large cats.

Even commercials are a problem: American Furniture Warehouse for years has not only featured cute baby tigers and other cats in dozens of TV and print ads but hosted opportunities for customers to have their photos taken with them. In once instance, Ken Alvarez, who bred the animals and once had plans to open a "sanctuary" in rural Weld County , brought his big cats to the furniture business in Fort Collins for commercials and customer photo shoots. The government later seized his cats in Rapid City , S.D. , because they were living in inhumane conditions.

Jakob Lueck, 51, of Seattle was fascinated as well. Born in Germany , he lived in central Europe and never got to see much wildlife. When he was 7, he fell in love with animals and dreamed of the opportunity to see them. When he finally traveled to Yellowstone and Alaska and Montana , he was disappointed at the result.

"If you saw anything, it was through binoculars and far away," Lueck said. "You never saw what you would see on those glossy brochures."

But Lueck then walked into a place in Montana , and it was like walking into his dream. He could hold and play with a 3-month-old mountain lion. He got some close-up photos of wildlife. He even offered to buy the place, and sure enough, in May 1999, he got the call.

"It was a chance, at least, to be around these types of animals," Lueck said.

Eventually, he hired someone to care for the animals, and he didn't do a good job. Federal authorities arrested him, and Lueck will pay a fine of $10,000 and is on house arrest for six months until March 2006. He eventually brought some of his cats to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife center, where Craig agreed to take them in.

"It broke my heart," Lueck said. "But you have to be realistic."

Lueck wants to visit them in March, when his house arrest ends, and he realizes his mistake.

"You have to realize that no matter how much I love them, am I the right person to be in charge of them?" Lueck said. "No. I didn't realize that at the time. They looked a little skinny to me, I have to admit."

Craig said Lueck's situation is a good example of what can happen. Most aren't out to abuse the animals when they take them in. It's just too hard to care for them. All of Lueck's animals at the wildlife center, two bears, a mountain lion, a leopard and two tigers were malnourished, for instance.

"Every time these people come in, they think are animals are well fed," Craig said. "They asked us, 'Are your tigers are steroids? I say, 'No, protein.' They see the industry and see those small animals and think that's how they should be."

Maybe there's hope, however. No matter how much Rose loved Craig's cats, she knows they are above her ability to care for them.

"I mean, it's tempting," Rose said. "But you just don't do that. They're cute, and they're cuddly, but they are still wild."

* * *

Craig has more than 150 big cats, bears and other creatures at his sanctuary, but if he answered all the calls for help, he would have thousands.

There aren't many federal laws to protect the animals, save for those policing interstate sales or the token abuse or cruelty commandments. In fact, simply keeping an exotic animal isn't against the law by itself, at least not according to the federal government. Some states have laws making it illegal to own an exotic animal privately, but those laws vary wildly from state to state, and even states that do approve those laws, such as Texas , grandfather in all the owners because there's nowhere to place the animals.

And if people want to sell a tiger in the same state, that doesn't even require a federal permit. That law led to truck stops in Texas selling tiger kittens along with giant hamburgers and showers.

"Simple possession is not an issue," said Gary Mowad, special agent in charge of enforcement for eight states for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. "We don't regulate that."

That doesn't mean there aren't municipal codes or state laws prohibiting owning a tiger, but municipal codes, for instance, can be bypassed by living in rural areas outside the boundaries. Of course, if the animals are treated badly, as many are, even unintentionally, the government can get involved, but only when it has the manpower for it, which is rare.

There are laws, and then there's the problem of enforcing them, Mowad said. Mowad has 25 agents for eight states, and many of those agents are busy enough attempting to protect endangered species in the U.S. from going extinct. Mowad has no doubt the problem of selling animals across state lines is severe, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves because of other priorities, he said.

"If it was a high priority," Mowad said "we could quadruple our cases easily or have even more than that. But if we have to save our own or get involved in stopping the sale of a tiger, well, the tiger will fall out to a lower priority."

Mowad hates to see the cases.

"The sad thing is, the cats don't even make a ton of money," he said with disgust. "You can pay $1,200 for a leopard cub. You can buy a tiger for $1,000. That's not a ton of money. A registered dog can cost you more."

Even when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife does decide to go after a big case, it creates problems because the undercover work is costly and then the government has to take care of the cats that are seized, sometimes for two years or more. Zoos help at times, but if the cat's declared, as some are, the other cats in zoos just tear it to pieces, Mowad said.

And when a state cracks down, as Texas did (it's estimated more than 4,000 tigers are in private hands in Texas alone), and now Minnesota , it creates problems for Craig because it floods the pipelines with animals who need homes. Craig, at times, doesn't have the heart to say no because he knows it's the last place for those animals to go.

That is, if Craig's place survives.

* * *

Some places, even sanctuaries, Craig said, will collect roadkill for their animals or shoot horses to save money on meat, Craig said, but he won't resort to that.

"That's not what a sanctuary is about," Craig said.

But meat gobbles up $400,000 a year, almost two-thirds of the budget. The cost of meat, along with the decision to open and the natural disasters, have left Craig searching for $150,000 to $200,000 to save them until March, when donations should start coming again, he said.

Craig doesn't want to live month-by-month, so even if the donations come in to save the place for December, he'll most likely still close.

"No one will want to hear the sob story again two months from now," he said.

In fact, sanctuaries around the country with much smaller budgets are facing the same problem. One closed last year, and two to three other accredited sanctuaries might have to close besides Craig's place. Smaller places such as W.O.L.F. (Wolves Offered Life and Friendship) in LaPorte, a place that gives homes to wolf pets and wolf hybrids, have had their donations drop by more than 50 percent, just like Craig's place, said Frank Wendland, co-founder of W.O.L.F. Many gave so much to places such as the Humane Society Kim Spencer 12/8/05 (American Humane Association?) to help with Katrina animals that they can't give anymore, he said.

Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" and other films, serves as president of the Roar Foundation and helps run the Shambala Preserve in California . Her budget is more than $1 million. Most grant money offered by organizations stipulate that it has to help wild animals, so captive wildlife isn't eligible for it.

"It's just so terribly expensive," Hedren said.

Craig did increase his sanctuary by five times the number of animals after he faced a similar problem seven or eight years ago. But he wouldn't have done that had he not developed specialized habitats that gave him more room.

"Just about any director will tell you if you aren't actively doing what you're doing, taking in more animals," Craig said, "people assume you are stagnant and dying."

Craig is convinced that if the disasters hadn't come along, he would be fine. Donations covered the cost of the increasing hoard of animals until this year, he said.

Craig also said he probably hurt himself by spending all of the donations on the animals, despite the fact that many nonprofit organizations will store a lot of the money or use it for marketing or direct mail programs so there is money for the harder times. Craig said he would probably look into that or find ways to market his place more if he's able to scrape together enough to survive.

If he doesn't survive, well, Craig doesn't want to think about that, but after a little prodding, he admits he would have to put most, if not all, of the animals down, some of which he's had for a decade or more. All sanctuaries are maxed out and hurting, so it would be impossible to place that many animals.

"I hate to even say that kind of stuff," Craig said. "I couldn't be the one to do that."

* * *

Even movie actresses have to sacrifice themselves for their animals. Hedren lives in a double-wide trailer.

"But I love it," she said. "Most can't believe I live right on the preserve, that I don't have a home in Beverly Hills , but I love it."

Craig cashed in his retirement and has no savings account. He learned how to fly and inherited a plane, but he had to sell it. He worked so many jobs, he didn't get to spend as much time with his family as he would have liked. His favorite time was 3 a.m., when he was home from his job and he could spend an hour with his baby sons. Now Casey and Kelly are both teenagers, close to being men.

Hedren uses her fame to lobby for tougher laws, but she knows, too, that laws aren't effective without enforcement, and in California , where she is located, there aren't enough officials around to police the issue. It's that way all over the country, she said.

So, though she will continue to fight for stronger laws and more funding to enforce them, she knows the future is with education. She wants to implore animal keepers to stop breeding them, and she wants to stop the marketplace that makes that breeding profitable. She wants no one to think they can have their own tiger. She would love, one day, to close. It would mean her place was no longer needed.

"I want to turn to the people to stop this," Hedren said.

Craig has reached many with his own message of conservation and caution, but his only personal gratification was raising a family with his own values.

"My boys love animals and know how to care for them, and they have the right kind of attitude," Craig said. "And that was worth it alone."

Maybe, if Craig can survive, one day he could pass on the sanctuary to Casey. Casey loves animals, even more than Kelly, and Craig sees him working with the animals. He's learning all the physical traits; now he just needs to learn how to be a diplomat.

When Craig goes on one of his rescues, usually, they aren't pleasant. He sees malnourished animals, or dead animals, and angry keepers. People get in his face, and Craig swallows his own anger and he explains he isn't there as part of the police.

He's there for the animals.

"I'm the one person there," Craig said, "who is there for the animals."


Brighton Standard-Blade

Funding shortages could end refuge
By Linda Tharp

Eddy is lucky to be alive. He is a black leopard born in captivity a year and a half ago at a Colorado refuge to parents who were rescued, starved and dehydrated, from a California tiger ranch that the state shut down.

"He's very sociable. He runs over for attention and treats the dogs like they are his brothers and sisters," said Patrick Craig, founder of the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, Colorado Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg.

Eddy will be featured on the Animal Planet channel in, "Growing Up Black Leopard" this season.

Like the more than 150 other lions, tigers, bears and wolves at the refuge, Eddy's parents were rescued from deplorable conditions.

They now live in a habitat created just for them. It is run by volunteers and funded completely through donations.

But with the worldwide disasters of the last year, a decrease in donations to the center threatens the lives of the animals once again.

"These animals eat every day of the year. All of the people who were our supporters disappeared this summer. They forgot about the animals,"
Craig said. "We were doing fine earlier this year, but with one disaster after another, we're facing closure."

If that happens, Craig said the animals likely would be euthanized, as other refuges around the country face similar challenges. There are only
17 nationally accredited sanctuaries in the country and tens of thousands of animals in need of rescue. Tigers outside of a zoo system alone, Craig said, number in excess of 7,000 in the United States.

"There's no place for them to go. This is the end of the road for them,"
he said.

It can cost up to $350,000 a year to feed the animals. They are fed quality meat, with nutrients mixed in to ensure each animal has the diet it needs.

Horses are not killed, and road kill is not used to feed the animals.

Misguided intentions

"Ninety-five percent of everything we have was confiscated from people who thought they could be the exception and raise a wild animal. They do a knee-jerk reaction when they see a baby and think they can keep them as pets.

"Most keep the animals in the house at first, thinking they will someday build a cage. By the time a tiger is 4 months old, it starts cutting you up and drawing blood, even thought it doesn't mean to," Craig continued.
"By the time a tiger is 6 months old, it can weigh 200 pounds. By the time it is 1 year old, it can weigh 350 pounds, and when it's 4 or 5, it can weigh 700 pounds.

"The animal ends up living in a basement, a garage or barn that is not suitable, and they usually end up starving."

To make the animal less dangerous to humans, some misguided owners will file the teeth or remove the claws. There have been botched declawing methods that have left some animals with permanent damage.

Many states have laws prohibiting private ownership of exotic animals.

But not everyone abides by those laws.

The state of Texas, he said, allowed individuals to breed and sell exotic animals until a law prohibiting the practice was passed just three years ago.

Even with laws, he said people could readily order carnivores online.

"The sad part is, only one out of every three baby exotic animals (illegally owned) survive," Craig said. "People bottle-feed them for the first month, then they feed them dog food. They are not getting the calcium and other nutrients they need."

Many of the animals that end up at the sanctuary need to be nursed back to health, either because they were fed improper diets or because they were abused.

The other 5 percent of the large carnivores that end up at the refuge are zoo surplus animals.

Craig was 19 when took a behind-the-scenes visit to a zoo.

That trip alerted him to the problem of surplus zoo animals. In addition to the animals on display, there were several other animals kept out of sight in small cages.

While that practice has diminished to some degree in the 26 years Craig has operated his refuge at locations in Colorado, it still is found in zoos throughout the country.

The habitat

"We know every animal here. Some have been abused or beaten, and some have been with people who had good intentions," Craig said. "Eventually, they mellow out when they realize they will be fed well and taken care of. They become more sociable."

When visiting the 140-acre refuge, lions and tigers can be seen relaxing in one of the 20-acre habitats, complete with tall grass, trees, lakes and dens. There is even a tiger pool where the tigers play.

In all, the center is home to 74 tigers, 21 mountain lions, two servals, five bobcats, seven Coati-Mundi tigers, 12 African lions, nine leopards, six wolves and 28 bears.

Volunteers offer stories of how each animal came to live at the refuge, along with information about the natural habitat and instincts of the animals.

An observation deck built 35 feet in the air allows visitors to see portions of each of the habitats.

"You walk over the habitat, looking over the open range," Craig said.
"That way there is no pressure on the animals like there is at a zoo, where they are behind a glass and want to hide."

"We make it clear that it's a home for animals and not a zoo for people," he added. "Everything that has been built has been built for the animals."

While the sanctuary offers an educational center, Craig said the refuge is not the kind of place where people can drop off their kids and leave them for hours.

Visitors of all ages frequent the center but are required to do so respecting the animals and habitat.

"This is a place for people who want to learn about the problem and what they can do to help," Craig said.