Keenesburg sanctuary hopes to save Cancun tigers
By Joey Bunch
The Denver Post
Posted: 10/20/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT
Updated: 10/20/2009 01:12:08 AM MDT
The operator of the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Weld County will meet with lawyers in Mexico and the U.S. in the next few days to plot the next move in a bureaucratic struggle to rescue 15 tigers in Cancún.
"They're in really bad shape," said Pat Craig, founder and operator of the 29-year-old Keenesburg sanctuary that is home to 220 exotic animals, including more than 100 big cats.
The caged tigers in Cancún have been scrounging by in squalor and an unhealthy diet since Hurricane Wilma wrecked the restaurant where they were displayed in 2005. They still are housed in the decaying restaurant, Craig said.
"Animal organizations have been trying for years to get them out, but a big question has been where they would go," he said.
A veterinarian-attended rescue and airlift to Keenesburg was arranged two months ago, Craig said. At nearly the last minute, the Mexican government backed out, unsure whether it could revoke the restaurant owner's animal permit, seize the cats and allow them to leave the country.
Craig said he and animal-welfare attorneys in both countries are trying to persuade the Mexican government to relent.
"They don't really have (animal) welfare laws in Mexico," he said. "We're basically trying to educate them that we do this all the time in the U.S. We hold them as though they're wards of the court.
"I think we have to convince them that we can safely take the animals, care for them and return them, if we have to. But I think if the animals ever leave, the owner isn't going to try to get them back."
Besides the Colorado sanctuary, the Gente Por La Defensa Animal in Mexico City and California-based Last Chance for Animals have set up a website to encourage letter writing, phone calls and other efforts to persuade the Mexican government to move fast on saving the tigers: savethecancuntigers.com.
Joey Bunch: 303-954-1174 or firstname.lastname@example.org