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Friday, September 23, 2011

One Person Can Make a Difference: Pat Craig

Did you know that in the United States, 15,000 tigers live outside of the zoo system under private ownership? That's more than double the world population of wild tigers, estimated to be around 7,000!

Did you also know that another 15,000 non-tiger wild predators (bears, lions, lynx, wolves, etc.) also live in the US under private ownership?

What do I mean by private ownership? These are animals owned by people like you and I, people who breed and raise these wild predators as "pets," showpieces, or even status symbols. Your neighbor down the road may have a tiger or two kept in small cages on his property, or someone a few miles away may be keeping a grizzly bear as a "pet" in a small shed in her backyard. Still another might have a wolf tied to a stake, living out its life in solitude and misery at the end of a 10 foot chain.

These animals are often abused, neglected, and live lives of pain, suffering, and anguish all because someone thinks it's cool to have a wild predator for a pet. Well, one man doesn't think it's cool and for the last 30 years has been doing something about it. His name is Pat Craig.

Pat grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and at an early age became aware of the captive wildlife crisis in the US. And it is a true crisis. With over 30,000 wild predators kept by private citizens (over 575 animals per state) in spotty, often dangerous and abusive conditions, it's a true crisis. Right now, the illegal trade in exotic wildlife in the US is third only to drugs and weapons in scope.

Pat hopes to change all of this. He had an early start by legally rescuing and giving sanctuary to his first animal, a jaguar cub, when he was a college student of 19 years old. Today, Pat's passion and vision has become the 700+ acre Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado.

Pat continues to lead the nation in bringing attention to the captive wildlife crisis in this country. He has pioneered how we go about rescuing and rehabilitating these animals, how best to give them long-term sanctuary so they can live out their lives in peace, and also the use of truly large enclosures (10-20 acres or more) combined with a stimulating environment to allow these predators room to roam and a chance to remain mentally sound (or in some cases, regain sanity).

The circumstances he and his team rescue these animals from are often horrific. I won't recount all of the stories here but you can read about many of them on their website:

Most of the animals Pat rescues have come from situations of extreme abuse and neglect - a pair of adult African Lions kept as "pets" in the back of a horse trailer....a female black leopard caged on a fur farm in Minnesota...a mountain lion chained by the neck in the backyard of a Montana man....a pair of grizzly bears who were housed in a truck and were kept addicted to nicotine (used as a training aid)....I guarantee that if you have any kind of heart at all and read some of these stories, you will feel sadness and disbelief - probably a healthy dose of anger too. And perhaps you'll also be left with a need to help in some small way.

While Pat and his team have a passion for rescuing these animals and giving them a loving, safe place to live out their lives, his main goal is to make himself and the sanctuary obsolete.

Yes, you read that right!

His hope is that someday soon, his educational efforts will help everyone realize that keeping wild animals, especially wild predators, as pets is just not a good idea...that we as a society will give up our need to have these animals in unsafe and inhumane conditions  and prefer to see them as part of thriving, wild populations: free, in the wild, where they belong.

Pat's leading the way but you can help: support his efforts at the sanctuary; teach your kids and their friends that domestic cats and dogs are fine as pets but tigers and bears are not; support the passage of laws that restrict or eliminate the keeping of wild predators by private citizens.

He wants his sanctuary to be unnecessary. Soon.

We can all help him. Start by educating your own family and friends and see where that takes you.

Friday, September 9, 2011

One person CAN make a difference!

Several weeks ago, one of my acquaintances was feeling pretty low about the state of the environment. She said that it seemed as though all of the environmental news kept getting worse, and did our efforts actually have a positive influence at all? I've heard similar sentiments from other environmentally-conscious people I know. These are folks with their hearts in the right place who want to make a difference for future generations, but get discouraged at the overwhelming negative news.

Can one person really make a difference?

Yes, I can honestly say that one person CAN make a difference. I'm going to explore this question for a few posts to, I hope, encourage and inspire everyone to continue efforts to make a difference for their chosen causes. My primary concerns are wildlife & the environment, as well as the treatment of women & children worldwide. Your causes are probably different but the message is the same: one person can be a catalyst for positive changes.

Instead of profiling well-known motivators like Rachel Carson, Rev. Martin Luther king Jr., or the Dalai Lama, I'll focus on people who could easily be your neighbors - people like you and me who have decided to forward a cause and whose passion and persistence has made a difference.

Bicycle Shop Owner, Environmental Activist, Catalyst for Change

Let me introduce you first to a humble man from Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose quiet leadership has helped to spur positive change locally.

Pike's Peak looms over Old Town Bike Shop, owned by John Crandall. Although he looks 20 years younger, John is somewhere between 65 and 70 years old and has owned his shop since the early 70s. John is the neighbor we all wish we had: quiet, kind, accepting, energetic, logical, rational, positive, outspoken, encouraging, and inspiring.

His shop serves as an informal meeting place for like-minded, rational, environmentally-concerned citizens of this small city. One day I might find John speaking with a retired PhD chemist who was instrumental in having CFCs removed from aerosol propellants. Another time it's a congressional candidate who's also a retired USAF Captain, or perhaps a Native American healer, or even a recently-graduated college student who has convinced her new employer to remodel their offices to LEED standards (and helped them make it a reality). I know I'm not alone in having had many thought-provoking, insightful, and mind-bending discussions in John's shop while overlooking racks of shiny, new, road and mountain bikes.

John quietly influences the community through action, not through hateful rhetoric or fear. His was the first business in Colorado Springs to install PV panels because "it was the right thing to do," and he's happy to give tours of the installation to anyone interested. He leads by gently showing what's possible. Being able to back up his stance with logic and data doesn't hurt either.

He is also a tireless letter-writer whose well-researched content is an example for any of us who wish to influence others through our writing. John knows that emotional appeals don't consistently create positive change for the environment. Science, research, and data go much further in influencing thinking and action than do purely emotional appeals.

Another thing I admire in John is his unflagging example of patience and persistence. He knows that change is often measured in baby steps, and that patience and persistence will often "win" where fear-based appeals fail. He also knows and demonstrates that small changes over time do make a difference. After being quietly vocal about renewable energy for many years, and backing up his words with actions (installing the PV panels and choosing to have his electricity sourced 100% through renewable sources), one by one other businesses in Colorado Springs are beginning to follow his example.

Perhaps John's most important contribution to the community is in his encouragement and support of both individuals and local sustainability projects. John is a great sounding board, encouraging each person to make a difference and inspiring each of us to think beyond limitations or boundaries. He very willingly shares his experience, knowledge, lessons learned, and often personal contacts in order to make a project or an idea a success. He sponsors causes and events that further his environmental interests. And many times he has put me in touch with just the person I needed to speak with in order to finish a bit of research or make a decision on a project.

John and his business have been recognized locally and throughout the state of Colorado for lifetime achievement in Green Initiatives and Sustainability, but that's not why he does what he does. To him, making a difference AND helping others to make a difference are just the right things to do.