Oh my! Lions and tigers and bearcats near Kingman

Inhabitants of Keepers of the Wild are not ordinary zoo animals.

"Elvis," an 800-pound lion, was neutered when he was young, resulting in a hormonal imbalance that left him without a mane and with stunted legs that barely support his abnormal bulk.

Lola, a monkey, is somewhat neurotic and "Baby," a beautiful female cougar, was once kept by her owner in a Los Angeles apartment.

Other inhabitants of this wildlife sanctuary include an 11.5 foot Burmese python "with an attitude" and various other victims of abuse or neglect, said Keepers of the Wild marketing director Marsha Sailer.

About 120 inhabitants of the sanctuary now have a new lease on life, thanks to executive director Jonathan Kraft, a former Las Vegas entertainer who began rescuing animals about 11 years ago.

Kraft and his staff moved the animals from three-and-a-half acres in Las Vegas to a new location about 45 miles north of Kingman on Highway 93 between Dolan Springs and Hoover Dam last year.

They are still in the process of developing 32 acres of all-natural habitats.

"The move was not an easy one.

We had to load all the animals up and cross over Hoover Dam.

The lions were all roaring at each other.

It was a big adventure, but no accidents," Sailer said.

In the past 11 years Kraft has rescued hundreds of mistreated or abandoned animals, including Siberian tigers, cougars, lions, leopards, monkeys, Bengal tigers, African jaguars, wolves, ostriches, turtles, iguanas, pythons and a buffalo named Cody.

"Jonathan gives all the animals personal attention.

They all know him and trust him when he goes into their cage to play," she said.

Some of the animals came from the backyards of Las Vegas residents who couldn't care for the animals any longer because they had become too big to manage.

Other animals are a result of over-breeding at zoos; still others were rescued from abusive animal trainers or owners, she said.

"Some of our animals come to us in horrific condition," Kraft said.

"We had to fight hard to return them to good health.

I am in favor of love and kindness therapy."

"Kenya" is a male lion that responded to the therapy.

Rescued by Keepers of the Wild when he was two years old he had been living in a Las Vegas backyard in a windowless barn for three years, and given little to eat.

Although his growth was stunted due to his prior condition, Kenya is now handsome and healthy, Sailer said.

"Sabu," a lion who was so badly treated he weighed less than 100 pounds when he was found, when he should have weighed about 400 pounds, was also nursed back to health by Kraft.

Not all the animals at the sanctuary are large.

While in Las Vegas, and about to finish feeding the animals one evening, a Las Vegas Animal Control officer presented the crew with a pygmy baby goat.

"She was so skinny and weak she could hardly hold her head up.

They had received the call because she was left in a cage in the sun with no water or food.

We nursed her back to health.

Meantime Jonathan took the owners to court.

They were found guilty of animal abuse and fined $1,250 and we were awarded custody," Sailer said.

Other creatures at the sanctuary include ferrets, iguanas, corn snakes, a boa constrictor and a bearcat named "Popcorn," that smells just like buttered popcorn, she said.

Other inhabitants range from exotic birds - sun conures, Sengal parrots and African greys - to animals such as "Billy," a badger, "Stanley B," a potbellied pig, "Caesar," a donkey and "Norma," a calf.

Currently the animals are housed in cages until habitats are designed and built with each animal's indigenous locale in mind, Sailer said.

The Lazy Lion Deli and the Rainforest Gift Shop are already open from 9 a.m.

to 6 p.m.

seven days a week.

Kevin Davidson, a planner II at the Mohave County Planning & Zoning Department said Keepers of the Wild were approved for the gift ship and deli about four months ago.

"Rather than do everything at once, Keepers of the Wild opted to develop the park in two phases.

We did see a sketch layout of the park, but they have not as yet presented the final site plan to us," he said.

"It will probably take about 30 days to review the plans.

It usually takes two reviews to approve a site plan."

To give the animals something to do while they are waiting for their new habitats, Kraft has purchased two exercise arenas for the animals with money donated by Las Vegas entertainers Sigfreid and Roy, who use tigers in their act.

The public will get a chance to see Kraft interact with, and exercise some of the larger animals when "Wild Animal Workout" begins in late February.

There will be two sessions, 11 a.m.

and 2 p.m.

daily, except for Tuesday and Wednesday.

There is a $10 per person donation and the workout lasts about 45 minutes, Sailer said.

She said that Keepers of the Wild also has an "adoption program" which allows someone to sponsor an animal.

In return the adopter gets an official adoption certificate, an 8 x 10 photograph of the animal, a mother's or father's day card, an annual newsletter and scheduled visitation rights for one year.

Fees run from $25 for "Sassy," the pygmy goat or "Katie," the Ball Python to $600 to adopt a Siberian tiger.

Sailer said the most dangerous animals at the sanctuary are the wolf hybrids.

"In some ways they are more dangerous than (purebred) wolves.

They act like dogs, and they wag their tails – they suck you in, and then the next thing you know the wolf part comes in.

Just cleaning the cage is dangerous," she said.

"I have known of situations where someone has been attacked.

'Moondance,' a hybrid, is beautiful.

Yet I have known him to turn on people."

Because Keepers of the Wild is non-profit, they are counting on money from the gift shop, deli, and donations from the public to develop the open-air natural habitats with ponds and streams flowing through the area.

They have also purchased trees to plant.

Sailer lives on the park premises with her husband, Zone, who is the chief of security, as do Kraft and his wife Tina, who manages the deli and gift shop.

While the facilities are under construction, no one gets a paycheck, but when the wild animal park is up and running, in early 2002, it will employ about 50 people, she said.

Sailer added that Betty White, of "Golden Girls" fame has lent her support to the sanctuary, and Keepers of the Wild has been featured on CNN and local television stations across the country.

In addition, an unusual friendship that has developed between "Cody," the buffalo, and "Annie," the ostrich will be featured in the March edition of National Geographic, she said.

For more information, to adopt an animal or to become a Keepers of the Wild volunteer call 1-877-456-4004.