created over 2 years ago | Tagged:
When Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a law last year banning live animals from traveling circuses, it posed a problem. What to do with the liberated lions? It didn't take long to find a fix: 50-year-old former high-school math teacher Pat Craig.
Mr. Craig shares his three-bedroom house here on the plains of eastern Colorado with 13 dogs, five cats and three parrots. He has other creatures in his backyard: three packs of wolves, 66 black bears, 13 grizzly bears, two prides of lions, 70 tigers, 14 mountain lions, five leopards, eight bobcats, five coati mundi, five lynx, three foxes and a coyote—all scattered across 320 acres of rolling prairie.
Mr. Craig just can't say no to needy carnivores. So when he got the call in early December asking whether he could put up 25 lions being airlifted from Bolivia, he didn't hesitate. "It wasn't a hard decision," Mr. Craig says. "I've got the room. This is what I do."
He got his first big batch of cats when he was 20, after police seized eight lions, three leopards and a jaguar from a Colorado doctor who was raising them for their pelts. "I guess you could say, after a while, I got a little carried away," Mr. Craig says.
His Wild Animal Sanctuary, as he calls it, is the largest of its kind in the U.S., he says, with a food budget alone of nearly $500,000 a year. In all, the not-for-profit relies on donations to support most of its nearly $2 million-a-year budget. Visitors, who pay $10 apiece, can view the animals from an elevated walkway. Mr. Craig has also amassed a thick sheaf of hospital records, which he keeps stashed in his office. He has been set upon by wolves, tackled by tigers and mauled by lions—and he holds no grudges.