Wild animal refuge again howls for help
By Joey Bunch
Denver Post Staff Writer
Agate – Michael Jurich finds it difficult to turn away scary, wild animals, even if keeping them has cost him his home. The owner of Prairie Wind Wild Animal Refuge says he is about to go under.
But that didn’t stop him from recently taking in five black bear cubs from a shuttering animal park in Idaho.
No one else, it seems, would.
"Almost every animal I’ve got has a different story," Jurich said. "A lot of them are real sad stories."
Hard times have hit exotic animal refuges across the country, especially those like Prairie Wind that don’t earn income from exhibiting or breeding the
"I’m not making babies to put in more cages," Jurich said Thursday, as he walked the perimeter of his maze of 100-foot pens, where lions, tigers, bears
and wolves waited for lunch.
He needs $50,000 in the next six weeks to make it through the end of the year, so he can feed and care for about 40 animals on his ranch northeast of
A "for sale" sign greets passers-by at the turnoff from the dirt road to his 42-acre spread. "I’ve been keeping this place going for years by refinancing my house," Jurich said.
Eleventh-hour donors came through last year, when Jurich thought he couldn’t make it, but now he is right back where he started.
Colorado has 15 sanctuaries or other types of parks for wild breeds such as wolves, as well as more exotic animals such as lions or tigers. Prairie Wind is feeling the same financial challenges as refuges nationwide, said Carole
Baskin, chief executive of Big Cat Rescue, one of the nation’s largest sanctuaries, in Tampa, Fla.
"There’s not nearly enough money being raised," she said, "so fundraising has become a full-time job for all of us."
Meanwhile, the demand for homes for unwanted cats and other wild animals has never been greater.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 big cats living as pets in the U.S. About half of new cat owners soon look to unload the beasts, the Humane Society estimates, as those cuddly
kittens grow larger than their owners and devour a quarter of a cow a day. The average cost for food, shelter and veterinary care for a lion or tiger runs about $50 a day.
Sanctuaries like Prairie Wind become a last resort for these cats. But many are closing down across the country as individual donations – "our bread and butter," Jurich says – have fallen.
Jurich turns away about a dozen animals a month, and he tries not to think about where they wind up. Baskin says she refuses 120 cats a year, and she doesn’t know of any nonprofit refuge in the U.S. that is willing to take in new
While Jurich hopes to find long-term backers to keep his refuge going, he hopes, at the very least, to find enough support to give him time to find his animals a good home.
"Euthanasia is not an option out here," he said, "unless they start with me."
Nick Sculac, who runs Big Cats of Serenity Springs east of Colorado Springs, said he agreed to take Jurich’s animals last year, but Jurich backed out.
"I don’t know why he just doesn’t quit," Sculac said.
Jurich would say only that "because of various issues" he chose not to hand over his animals to Sculac. "It’s a dead issue," he added.
Prairie Wind volunteer Debbie Brush, a Denver financial services representative, is looking for corporate sponsors to keep the refuge afloat. She hopes to find 12 backers willing to each donate $8,000 annually, with a
different sponsor giving each month.
"These animals came out of exploitative situations – fur farms, guaranteed hunts, roadside circuses, people who got them and couldn’t care for them," she said.
At Prairie Wind they have a place to live out their lives, Brush said. "It would be a tragedy for them to be displaced now."
Staff writer Joey Bunch can be reached at 303-820-1174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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