Colorado sanctuaries try to take up slack from sites elsewhere
By Deborah Frazier And Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News
September 9, 2003
Colorado is becoming a “dumping ground” for the nation’s unwanted lions and tigers as other states ban private sanctuaries for the big cats.
Colorado has two large licensed sanctuaries that take in homeless tigers, lions and other big cats, including 35 that arrived this summer from out-of-state facilities that either ran out of money or were closed due to new laws.
Big Cats of Serenity Springs near Colorado Springs is home to 85 lions, tigers and leopards, including 25 large felines that arrived this year. They expect another nine.
Another 60 big cats live at the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center near Greeley, including 14 young tigers that were rescued this summer from a defunct California refuge and others that came from Texas.
“We get at least 75 more offered to us every month,” said Nick Sculac, who started Serenity Springs with his wife, Karen, on 160 acres in 1993. “We’re building as fast as we can and we’ll take more in as long as we can afford to.”
The Colorado Wildlife Commission votes today on a rule that would ban new nonprofit refuges in Colorado and would tighten safety regulations.
Serenity Springs and the Conservation Center could remain open under the rule, but the Division of Wildlife believes banning nonprofit facilities will stop new sanctuaries from opening to take in bears, wolves or the lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and other exotic big cats pushed out of other states.Twelve states have banned private ownership of dangerous wild animals in the last few years. Many others have imposed rules, fees and requirements that have shut down many of the perennially money- short sanctuaries.
“I do worry we are becoming a dumping ground for other states who want to get out of the big cat business,” said Rick Enstrom, chairman of the wildlife commission.
“If California and Texas are getting out of it, why should we be the ‘last string’ team sitting around, waiting to go into the game?” he said.
Colorado’s two major exotic cat refuges are nationally known for their good care and humane facilities. So, Serenity Springs and the Conservation Center expand each year, despite periodic panics when contributions fall short.
But the influx of lions and tigers from other states concerns state wildlife officials.
“If it is allowed to continue, eventually there could be thousands of lions and tigers in Colorado saved from other states,” said Mike King, the wildlife division’s regulation coordinator.
In April, California authorities found 90 dead tigers, including 58 frozen cubs, at Tiger Rescue, east of Los Angeles. The refuge had run out of money.
Texas, second only to India in tiger population, passed a law this year restricting the ownership of tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and other exotic cats. The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center took in seven from there. Another eight went to Serenity Springs.
Even some of Colorado’s nonprofit facilities – where donors can deduct their contributions from taxes and volunteers take the place of paid staff – have run out of money, run into trouble and closed.
Colorado wildlife officers found 26 young tigers, lions and other exotic cats in rickety cages near Greeley in 2001. The owner, Kenneth Alvarez, had leased them for ads and other promotions. Alvarez was arrested in 2002 and 28 counts of inhumane treatment of animals are pending against him.
In 1993, Trey Chapman started rescuing cats and kept them at the Alamo Tiger Ranch near Alamosa. But a few years later, he ran out of money, rescuers sought homes for 27 large felines and he was charged with animal abuse. “We take cats even if we don’t have the money,” he said.
Such funding woes are common among refuges.
“We’ve been a nonprofit for 18 years and we’re on the edge every day,” said Pat Craig of the Conservation Center. “It’s hard enough being a nonprofit.”
The DOW’s proposed ban on new nonprofit sanctuaries may have already slowed the lines of lions and the traffic of tigers headed for Colorado.
“I get at least one call a month from someone saying they want to rescue wildlife and have a sugar daddy that will finance it,” said Kathy Konishi, who manages refuge licensing for the DOW. “When I tell them we don’t allow nonprofits, they are angry,” she said.
There are other problems as well. Every Colorado refuge has had a biting or mauling incident. There have been no fatalities here – unlike in other states – but a tiger at an Elbert County refuge ripped off a volunteer’s arm in 2000. A tiger attacked a worker at Serenity Springs this summer, but the man is back at work. In each case, the victim asked that the animal not be destroyed.
But nationally, the situation is so serious – nine people were killed by privately owned tigers in the last five years and many more were mauled – that Congress is considering a law to confine large cats to their state of birth.
Wayne Pacelle, vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., said most of the attacks occurred when a big cat escaped, hadn’t been fed or handlers failed to secure the animals.
Worldwide there are about 7,000 tigers in the wild – about the same number that are privately owned in the U.S., said Pacelle.
About 3,000 lions, tigers and assorted other exotic large cats are in private ownership in the U.S., he said. That does not include cougars, bobcats, lynx or other U.S. natives in private ownership.
And there are more exotic cats in the nation’s future.
“There’s no law that prohibits breeding,” said Kim Haddad, a California veterinarian who monitors captive wild animals across the country.
None of the exotic big cats in Colorado were born here and there are no breeders here, but 3,750 federally licensed breeders in other states sell the exotic felines as pets, movie performers, breeding stock and to traveling zoos, said Haddad. Many of the sales are over the Internet.
Some will inevitably turn up on Colorado’s doorstep. And if you’ve got space, enclosures and a talent for fund raising, it’s hard to say no. That’s why the DOW wants to make it harder to say yes.
But there’s at least one other big cat advocate who hopes to get back into rescuing – Michael Jurich, owner of Prairie Wind Animal Refuge near Kiowa.
He has 16 tigers and four African lions, plus more than 40 bobcats, bears, wolves and other native species. Until 2000, when a volunteer at Prairie Wind lost her arm, Jurich supported the venture with funds from tours and photographer and artist fees.
But in 2000 he lost his exhibitors license. Then the meat packing plant in Greeley he relied on for cat food more than doubled the price. He stopped taking in new lions and tigers.
Now, Jurich is fighting a $15,000 fine from federal inspectors for exhibiting exotic cats without a license. He hopes to get a new license and rescue big cats from states that are closing refuges.
Refuge operators fear that without new nonprofit sanctuaries more big cats will be put to death.
“Where are the tens of hundreds of these animals supposed to go?” Jurich said. “Who wants to be responsible for a 10,000-cat euthanasia party?”
Posted in Special Announcements and tagged 2003 September, Latest News, Yogie and Friends News
This is Jenny Senier, it’s pronounced like Senior, Vice President of Yogie and Friends. Tim asked me to do the update this month. I guess it is also a good thing for you all to hear from me once in a while to know that I really do exist. I was originally going to be a more behind the scenes kind of person, but how can anyone stay away from these cats when you really get to know them?
Well it is September already and another school year has begun. Along with the new school year will come several requests for school tours. Well, we have anticipated this and as a result all the schools in Caddo and Bossier Parish should be receiving school tour packages. They will have a schedule of available tour dates and tour times. You can also request a tour package by e-mailing us if your school is not one of these. Daycares and Church groups have also asked for tours. Hopefully this will streamline the process of scheduling for everyone involved.
For those of you who have read about Samson and Delilah, our two beautiful Bengal Tigers, you know that they had a very difficult beginning. When Tim got them they were quite a sad sight. They lived in a very small pen with no shelter from the elements and living in their own waste. They were emaciated and Samson could not even walk. If he did walk it would be just a few steps and then he would fall. Tim nursed him back to health by hand feeding him milk and meat. Samson is the beautiful animal you see now on our website.
As far as Delilah, well, she could walk. She was also quite thin and sickly looking. But, on another sad note when she was just a young kitten, she was thrown into a swimming pool before she could truly grasp what was going on and she was not ready to swim. In the wild the mother tiger will ease her kitten into the water and teach them. Delilah pulled all her muscles as a result. She never went into the water again. It has always been a sad thing for us at Yogie and Friends to watch her buddy, Samson, enjoy playing and splashing in the pool and Delilah not also enjoying this. She would watch on the side and often put her paw in, but she would never go in.
Good news! Much to our delight and surprise Delilah went into the pool on August 30th. She went in full body and has even been splashing and playing with Samson. You cannot imagine our delight. Delilah has finally come to the point, after almost three years with us, of feeling loved and trusting enough to see that she has a safe and permanent home where she can play freely, have enough food to eat, and not be harmed. Now Samson and Delilah can live the life they so richly deserve.
Recently, the previous owners of Bubba, the Cougar, came down from Arkansas to visit him. They really love and care about him. They rescued him from being killed, but were not financially able to keep him. They had the sense and foresight to recognize their limitations so they did the most loving thing they could do for him and found him another home. We appreciate them and thank them for caring so much about Bubba.
The word about Yogie and Friends is getting out more and more each day. Word of mouth, the great billboard on I-49, meeting people at the Shreveport-Bossier Tourist Bureau and the Bossier Chamber of Commerce are also helping us. But, we need your support. I know that many of you have been on vacation and getting in your last minute trips before the school year started. Finances are tight and there are no Federal Grants available for sanctuaries like ours. Believe me, I have beaten the bushes on this. Things can only happen on the support and generosity of the public. You can never give too much money or time. Always remember that your donations are tax deductible and this can help you at the end of the year as well. Please remember these wonderful animals when you are thinking of giving. We will always use the money wisely and it only goes to the care of these animals. None of us receives any compensation.
As many of you well know when things go wrong they often go wrong in numbers. Well, the four-wheeler is in the shop for repairs and this is something we desperately need when it comes to building fences. It is too heavy to just haul around to build the pens. We also had a flat on the flat bed trailer that we use to pick up the fences at the fence place. We are waiting on the tires to come in for that. Our rider lawn mower also died on us. So, now we have a problem there too. If anyone is feeling the urge to give in this area, then we can surely use a new lawn mower and flat bed trailer.
As always, please make sure your animals have “fresh” cool water, shade to get out of the sun and a veterinarian check up every year. Remember, they have no one to look after them but you.
There is so much to do and say here but I will add this: If you see anyone abusing an animal, please call the police. It is against the law to abuse animals, and make sure they come out and do something about it. We are the only ones the animals have to help them, we are their voices.
We are also in desperate need of volunteers. There are several different things our volunteers can do. Much of the work is labor intensive, such as putting up new fencing and hauling dirt to the pens to do maintenance. Other work can be things such as mowing, weed eating, and general lawn maintenance. Volunteers will NEVER be in any danger and will not be working hands on with any animal. Marketing and computer skills are other ways you can help.
I hope to see you all out here soon. You will enjoy your visit.
Jenny Senier, Vice President
Yogie and Friends
Here is a little information about me, Jenny Senier
I was born and raised in Boston. I joined the Air Force when I was 17 and I retired from it in 1998. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Board Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, and Nationally Certified Counselor. Phew! Thats a mouthful isnt it? I work at a mental health rehab in Shreveport and I work with several children. I have found several of the children I work with are often very withdrawn and wont talk much. But, when I bring them to see these cats I can hardly shut them up. These animals do wonders to help others as well. I started working with Tim to help write grants. Sadly, I found that there are no grants for sanctuaries such as ours. Yes, Chimp Haven has, but they qualified because of the research chimps they will house. So, we depend on the public and our own salaries to do this. I am the person who conducts tours and gets out to the public to try and educate. This is a team effort and lots of work. It is very rewarding once you see these beautiful animals and then to see them get better, like Delilah. We need your help. We hope you will.
Posted in Monthly Newsletter and tagged 2003 September News, Latest News, Yogie and Friends News