Captive Crusaders pull weeds and solicit donations to sponsor wild animals

Five youngsters who call themselves The Captive Crusaders recently "adopted" a wolf, a goat and a Capuchin monkey from Keepers of the Wild, a wildlife refuge north of Kingman.

"They received their 'adoption' certificates when they visited Keepers of the Wild Saturday," said Ellen Love, who accompanied the crusaders ages 3 to 14 to the refuge.

"They are already starting to collect money for next year's animals."

The program allows someone to sponsor an animal for a year.

In return, the sponsor gets an official "adoption" certificate, an 8-by-10 photo of the animal, a Mother's or Father's Day card, an annual newsletter and scheduled escorted visitation rights for one year.

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

The group did yard work and solicited donations from the Valle Vista community to help raise $200 toward adoption of the animals.

In his quest for donations, one of the crusaders, 9-year-old Jordan Toso, in his first official speaking engagement, appealed to Valle Vista Property Owners Association members to raise funds.

"He really wanted to adopt Misty, the hybrid wolf," Love said.

Not only did the children raise the $100 to adopt Misty, they also raised enough to adopt two other animals.

"They adopted the Sassy the goat, because they said most people wouldn't pick a goat because it is not an exotic animal and therefore needs someone to adopt it," Love said.

While visiting their adoptees Saturday, The Captive Crusaders took a tour of Keepers of the Wild facilities.

"They learned about greeting noises animals make," Love said.

"But they also learned that these are still wild animals, and no matter how pretty, they must be respected, and can be dangerous."

For more than a dozen years, Jonathan Kraft, the founder and director of Keepers of the Wild, has rescued hundreds of exotic animals, including Siberian tigers, cougars, lions, leopards, monkeys, Bengal tigers, African jaguars, wolves, ostriches, turtles, iguanas, pythons and a buffalo named Cody.

Some were victims of mistreatment at the hands of abusive animal trainers or private owners.

Others came from the backyards of Las Vegas residents who could no longer care for the animals because they had become too big to manage.

Others found their way to Kraft as a result of over-breeding at zoos, he said.

A former Las Vegas entertainer, Kraft and his staff in 1999 moved 120 exotic animals from three and a half acres in Las Vegas to the White Hills area about 47 miles north of Kingman along U.S.

Highway 93.

Along with 40 or so volunteers, Kraft and a small staff are developing 32 acres of natural habitat for these creatures of the wild.

It will be expensive, about $500,000 an acre, Kraft said.

"They are moving dirt all around," Love said.

"They built a mountain for the wolf habitat south of the main compound."

Kraft said they are working on a two-acre habitat complete with hills and two waterfalls for the pack of six hybrid and six pure-breed wolves.

Seven tigers - some Bengal, the rest Siberian - will also get their own habitat, as will the cougars.

The animals will be in cages until habitats are designed and built with each animal's indigenous locale in mind.

Trees, vegetation, ponds, steams and hills all will be incorporated into the habitats.

The park will be designed with safety in mind, Kraft said.

There is also a strict training program for volunteers, who must read safety manuals and attend seminars.

Kraft also works round the clock to keep the animals healthy and happy while they wait for their new homes, a task made more difficult by the fact that many of these animals were unhealthy to begin with, some still suffering from permanent health problems.

"The sooner we can get them into their natural habitats the better off they will be," Kraft said.

When all habits are completed and Keepers of the Wild is open to the public, it will employ about 75 workers, according to information from the facility.

Love said the children became interested in adopting an animal after Fi Bullock, a Keepers of the Wild volunteer, and staff worker Jennie Cornwell spoke to children at the Mohave County library in Valle Vista on July 10.

"She talked about the animals at the refuge.

Many are abused or abandoned animals, and some are endangered species," she said.

"She talked about why people should not have exotic animals as pets, what special problems and dangers they present and what kind of habitats they need to be healthy and grow up strong."

The children, with the help of Jordan's mother, Kathy Toso, decided to raise the money to "adopt" an animal.

"They raised $75 pulling weeds in 100-degree temperature," Love said.

"We are very proud of them.

The certificates of adoption and the photos will be on display at the Valle Vista library."

To find out more about sponsoring an animal, or becoming a volunteer at Keepers of the Wild, call 1-877-456-4004.