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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.

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