MAY / JUNE 2011: BY CHARITY BISHOP
It stuck its head outside the cage and sniffed at the strange green turf, then put one foot in front of the other and stepped out.
This might seem like a strange sight on the high plans of Colorado but is a regular happening at the Wild Animal Sanctuary. Home to over 1,500 of God’s creatures, it offers a safe home to abandoned, abused, and mistreated lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other carnivores. Each has a story, many of them tragic, from the mountain lion whose owners abused her so badly she arrived with skull fractures to a bear whose poor eyesight has dimmed to blindness. Rescued from zoos, private collections, circuses, roadside attractions, and shelters throughout the US and abroad (25 lions just arrived from Bolivia), these animals faced euthanasia if not taken in. Their stories are heartbreaking …leopard cubs found in an air heating duct when their owners tried to hide them from the authorities, a lion kept in a filthy pit dug in a backyard (the owners fed him dogs from the nearest animal shelter!), and bears who were not even given water, so they resorted to drinking their own urine. It’s hard to read these tragic accounts of mistreatment but each has a happy ending: a new life at the Sanctuary.
Unlike animals captured in the wild, these large animals could never fend for themselves. Not only have many suffered abuse that would make survival impossible, most were raised from a young age in a human environment. The cats do not know how to hunt and the bears are used to humans and would become a nuisance.
Visiting the Sanctuary is a life-changing experience both for its ability to tug at your heart and its way of permitting access to the animals. Visitors are confined to observation decks so as not to disturb the normal behavior of the residents. The animals raised together remain so while others adapt to new friends and environments. To prevent bringing up more animals in captivity, the males are neutered on arrival but because this process would cause lions to lose their rich, luscious manes, the female lions are kept out of season with safe hormone treatments. The Sanctuary tries to replicate an eating schedule similar to what the animals would experience in the wild, so the animals are fed not everyday but on a routine (this allows their bodies to process the food naturally) and the meat is frozen so it takes longer to consume.
Their most famous resident is a black leopard named Eddie, featured on Animal Planet. Born at the Sanctuary to feral black leopards, it was apparent that he would die without proper care so he was raised in the home of owner Pat Craig. At first Eddy had trouble getting all the nutrients he needed… the goat’s milk that usually works for big cats was not doing its job and his hair was falling out. Fortunately, they soon found a vitamin-rich milk compound that allowed him to grow and for the first six months he lived in the main house and interacted with the children and bulldogs. Now at 160 lb and too big to interact safely with the family, the exquisite Eddy lives in an enclosure with seven other leopards.
The lions are content to roam their little savannah, the bears enjoy sitting around, and the tigers love to sun themselves and go for swims in the pond. The wolves are more reclusive, hiding in underground dens, which like all similar underground cement hidey-holes in the individual pens maintain a constant sixty degrees, summer or winter.
One of the foremost authorities in the field, Pat Craig started rescuing animals at age nineteen when he adopted a jaguar cub and was licensed to keep it on the family farm. Thirty years later, he has the largest Sanctuary in North America. He is not alone in his passion for protecting and caring for these large beasts; many other organizations have followed in his footsteps. Monkeys, elephants, bears, and big cats are the most commonly rescued. It is sobering to realize more tigers exist in captivity than in the wild.
While the Sanctuary is open to the public, no profit is made off the animals. All entrance fees and donations go to providing for them, and it costs over $1,500,000 a year to keep the Sanctuary running and provide for its many happy residents. If this outreach touches your heart, there are ways to help through financial support or if you are in the area by volunteering at this and other similar Sanctuaries. You can either give a one-time donation through their website, or have the opportunity to “adopt” an animal. ($30 a month for large animals, $20 a month for medium-sized animals, and $10 a month for small animals.) The most difficult thing is picking which animal to support. I couldn’t, so they chose for me, a beautiful tiger named Meeka.
My visit reminded me it is our responsibility to care for all of God’s creatures. Much is revealed about a society in how it treats its animals. These did not choose to be here but now because of the kindness of Pat Craig and the financial support of people like you, they have a happy life.
If each of us chose a cause we believed in and took action either through financial support or by volunteering, our world would be a much better place. Saving one animal may not change the world, but for one animal their world changes forever. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!