Bowie in new habitat. (Photo courtesy of Keepers of the Wild)
Mohave County

Director of Wildlife Sanctuary Doesn’t Blame Attacking Tiger

Bowie in his new habitat. (Photo courtesy of Keepers of the Wild)

VALENTINE, AZ – An unexpected spring thunderstorm and the relocation of a Bengal tiger at Keepers of the Wild may have contributed to an attack to the facility’s founder.

Executive Director Jonathan Kraft received multiple injuries on the afternoon of April 22 from Bowie, a 7-month resident of the non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of abused, neglected, abandoned and retired captive wildlife. Kraft suffered multiple wounds and two broken bones. He will be recovering for several months. Bowie is fine and resting in his habitat and we will not euthanize him because of the accident.

According to Keepers of the Wild, the severe weather prompted Kraft to instruct animal care staff to open transfer gates for the various animal species to have access to their nighttime den areas. This is the standard policy during extreme weather events. Keepers of the Wild is home to 50 different species and sub-species of exotic and native wildlife. The various habitats occupy over 60 acres of developed land and the big cat species occupy twenty individual areas.

Due to the increasing intensity of Monday’s thunderstorm, the wildlife sanctuary was closing the park to the public and initiating the standard animal safety procedures. Animal care staff members work in pairs when moving the various species to their holding and den box areas. Throughout the past 14 years, Keepers of the Wild safety protocols have been updated and staff training has focused on ensuring that park operations complies with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Welfare Act.

According to Keepers of the Wild, a detailed procedure is in place for big cat safety, but a slight distraction or error can quickly escalate into a serious situation. The facility has a triple-gated system and the public was never in danger.

Kraft made the decision to shift Bowie’s gates to allow him access to his den box area. During the process, the usually docile behaving Bowie exhibited unusual conduct by suddenly pushing the gates prior to Kraft being able to secure the safety clips. Animal care staff rushed to assist Kraft and remove him from the tiger’s grip. Although Bowie lacks front claws, he took advantage of his strong teeth to hold on to Kraft.

Medical emergency crews arrived on the scene and transported Mr. Kraft to Kingman Regional Medical Center. He was later transported to Las Vegas for further treatment.

“There are many photographs showing me having close contact with a variety of animals when they were young or ones that I had raised,” said Kraft. “Those are from ‘the old days’. Close contact with wild exotic and native species has not been a practice in many years. My accident with Bowie was my fault. I was concerned for his welfare and did not stay focused on him. It only takes a fraction of a second for a captive wild animal to revert to their instinctual behavior. These situations occur when there is human error.

Johathan Kraft, Founder and Executive Director. (Photo courtesy of Keepers of the Wild)

Bowie arrived at Keepers of the Wild in September 2018. He was one of three big cats that were previously owned as pets. Bowie was released into a large habitat when he arrived at the Valentine wildlife sanctuary. The 11-year-old tiger had been declawed as a young cub and the procedure resulted in progressive lameness to both front feet. Bowie is often observed gingerly limping as he enjoys his new home.

Keepers of the Wild’s veterinarian has been monitoring Bowie’s discomfort and regularly evaluates pain control prescriptions to help ease his condition. To further ease his condition, Bowie had been relocated to a new habitat more appropriate for his condition 5 days prior to the accident and adapted to his new environment very quickly. Though Keepers of the Wild does not suspect this had anything to do with the incident, it is part of the ongoing internal investigation.

The former Las Vegas illusionist was the first area entertainer to stop using big cats in his performances. He began urging other entertainers to quit, too. He developed Keepers of the Wild to provide a home for exotic animals. His life focus has been to provide the best care possible for former exotic and native species of pets, former performing animals, orphans, permanently injured animals and those that have been confiscated by various law enforcement animal agencies.

According to Keepers of the Wild, Kraft is known for having a heart of a lion because of his compassion and commitment to the hundreds of animals the facility has rescued over the past 24 years. Since the Monday afternoon accident, he now has the heart of a tiger as well.

Source: Keepers of the Wild