Animal sanctuaries may be on last legs

Fate of 300 at stake as 3 sites falter

By Joey Bunch
Denver Post Staff Writer

Weld County, Colorado – Maryanne Ranaudo threw her arms around Pat Craig’s neck the way one greets a fellow mourner at a funeral.

“I know how you must feel,” said Ranaudo, a visitor on the edge of tears in the dusty parking lot of Wild Animal Sanctuary on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re all right there with you.”

Craig’s refuge for 155 lions, tigers, bears and other beasts, the 27-year- old Wild Animal Sanctuary, is possibly shuttering in two weeks.

The Weld County park is one of three on the Front Range to announce this month that they are broke, which could cumulatively put more than 300 lions, tigers and other exotic animals on the street if the parks shut down.

None of Colorado’s 10 other animal parks are accepting more fanged mouths to feed, nor are others nationwide, Craig said.

If Craig finds them homes, he would need at least two months to deliver the animals, because other sanctuaries can’t afford to fetch them.

He avoided questions about euthanasia as he walked among the sprawling pens, handing out rubs like Halloween candy.

Prairie Wind Wild Animal Refuge in Elbert County and Big Cats of Serenity Springs in El Paso County seem annually on the verge of closing, staving off their demise each time with last-minute donations.

Nick and Karen Sculac, owners of Big Cats of Serenity Springs, lost their home to foreclosure last year, after Nick was forced to retire from his job as a contractor following a heart attack.

They moved into a cottage on the refuge grounds. Last weekend, Karen Sculac, 47, died unexpectedly from a blood infection.

After a memorial service Saturday, volunteers will schedule a meeting on how to keep the struggling refuge, home to 113 lions and tigers, afloat.

It costs “$20,000 per month to run the facility assuming nothing goes wrong,” said volunteer Collette Colvin. “Karen dying counts as a huge ‘wrong.”‘

Prairie Wind owner Michael Jurich has his 42-acre ranch, which houses the refuge, up for sale. He has fed his animals by refinancing his homestead for years, he said.

Craig recalls that two years ago he and the Sculacs offered to take Jurich’s 40 animals, when it appeared he was going under. “Now, we’re all in the same boat,” Craig said.

For years, Craig had great success raising donations. But since the 2001 terrorist attacks, donors have been putting money into single national causes, amounting to a 60 percent decline for the sanctuary, he said.

The sanctuary operates on a $750,000 annual budget, about $400,000 just for meat.

To last in the long term, however, Craig needs reliable major donors, said Christopher Cross, a Niwot- based consultant to nonprofits.

“There are plenty of people who support these kinds of causes, but it takes time to identify these large donors and secure their help,” Cross said.

Craig landed in a cash crisis when two donors offering more than $250,000 balked this summer. He took out a $50,000 personal loan.

That money is running out, and without an infusion of donations, the sanctuary will close on Sept. 2, Craig said.

“If 100,000 people gave us $5 each, that’s would buy us a year,” he said.

Endangered refuges

The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Keenesburg

Animals: 155 lions, tigers, bears, jaguars, leopards, mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, servals, Wolves, and other wildlife

Budget: $750,000 annually

Donations: Can be made online at, or by mailing checks to 1946 WCR 53, Keenesburg, CO 80643

Telephone: 303-536-0118


Big Cats of Serenity Springs, Ellicott

Animals: 113 lions, tigers, cougars, jaguars, leopards, mountain lions, lynx, bobcats and servals

Budget: $240,000 annually

Donations: Can be made online at Checks can be mailed to Big Cats of Serenity Springs, PO Box 112, Calhan, CO 80808

Telephone: 719-347-9200

Prairie Wind Animal Refuge, Agate

Animals: 40 tigers, cougars, African lions, black bears, lynx, bobcats, wolves, coyotes, foxes and a black jaguar

Budget: $100,000 annually

Donations: Can be mailed to Michael Jurich, 22111 County Road 150, Agate, CO 80101

Telephone: 303-621-2304.


Staff writer Joey Bunch can be reached at 303-820-1174 or


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