Keepers of the Wild director helps care for abused animals at Riverside County facility

Something went horribly wrong at Tiger Rescue in Colton, Calif., and Jonathan Kraft, who has spent the past 12 years rescuing and caring for abused and neglected wildlife, recently witnessed the aftermath.

"We were stepping over carcasses of dead tigers," Kraft, the director of Keepers of the Wild, a wildlife sanctuary north of Kingman, said.

"It was one of the worst cases of animal abuse I have ever seen."

In May, Paul Dickerson, the Riverside County deputy district attorney, and Chuck Traisi of the Fund for Animals asked Kraft to come to Tiger Rescue after authorities found abused animals at the facility.

Approximately 50 dead tigers also were found at the Glen Avon, Calif., home of Tiger Rescue's operator John Weinhart, Dickerson said.

Weinhart faces 14 misdemeanor charges in San Bernardino County of neglecting animals at Tiger Rescue.

Dickerson said 63 counts were filed against Weinhart and his partner, Marla Smith - including 16 felonies of alleged cruelty of tiger cubs, two house cats, two donkeys and one goat found at their home.

Kraft said there was little shade and almost no water for animals at the Tiger Rescue facility, and tigers, some severely underweight, were allowed to breed freely, resulting in the births of many cubs in just the last month.

"This was the most appalling situation I have ever seen in my life," he said.

Even though Kraft and personnel from other wild animal facilities offered a hand in cleaning up, a Hazardous Waste Material team had to be called to clean the Tiger Rescue facility.

"I toured the Tiger Rescue facility in 1996 and it was appalling then," he said.

"This never should have happened.

I informed the USDA and we worked to get the place shut down."

However, Kraft now blames USDA for not inspecting the Tiger Rescue facility closely enough and not following through when neglect and abuse was found.

The U.S.

Department of Agriculture is the entity that inspects animal facilities, including Keepers of the Wild.

"They come by every two months," he said.

"They check our medical files, the drugs and medicine, the kitchen, even the butcher knives to make sure there is no meat in the crack next to the blade.

"Yet, they let this happen.

"It is an absolute travesty, and there are a lot more facilities like this in the U.S.," he added.

"We need to toughen the laws, and those people who abuse these animals must be held accountable.

"The people who inspect these facilities should also be held accountable."

As a condition of bail, Weinhart and Smith were ordered not to control or care for any animals, and keys to the facility were turned over to Kraft on May 21.

"We much appreciated his help," Dickerson said.

Kraft has returned to the Tiger Rescue facility several times - once with three large freezers, a power washer, and clean-up equipment.

The bill for cleanup of the facility and the rescue and rehabilitation of the remaining animals are anticipated to be about a half a million dollars, Kraft said.

The care of the remaining animals is his prime concern, and he has petitioned to transport the 100 animals to the Keepers of the Wild facility as soon as the case is settled.

Dickerson said the case goes to court for a preliminary hearing Friday.

The fate of the 60 tigers, 10 leopards, one cougar, two lions, llamas, miniature donkeys, goats, emus, ostriches and one camel at Tiger Rescue is up to the California Fish and Game Department and Weinhart, Dickerson said.

Once a Las Vegas entertainer who worked with exotic cats, Kraft said he felt a connection to the animals he worked with that transcended the animal/trainer relationship.

After years of rescuing and caring for wild animals, Kraft and his group of volunteers have finally been able to build all-natural habitats for the 100 creatures of the wild currently at the Keepers of the Wild refuge.

To find out how to help Keepers of the Wild with cash, tools, or food for the animals contact www.keepersofthewild.org, or call (877) 456-4404.