Mar 30, 2023 - News

Colorado sanctuary to rescue hundreds of animals from Puerto Rico zoo

A lion lies in the sun at the Colorado Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg in 2017. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Colorado Wild Animal Sanctuary has its work cut out for it.

What's happening: The nonprofit located in Keenesburg, about 45 minutes north of Denver, is preparing to receive and relocate hundreds of animals from Puerto Rico's only zoo.

  • The 45-acre zoo was ordered to close earlier this year amid a federal investigation into complaints of animal abuse. It hasn't been open to the public since hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the area in late 2017.

Why it matters: This is estimated to be the largest airlift transfer of exotic animals in the world, sanctuary spokesperson Derek McCormick tells Axios Denver.

Details: Sanctuary staff are scrambling to nail down a slew of logistics, from building and shipping animal crates to Puerto Rico to lining up flights and ground transportation, preparing enclosures, and securing other safe spaces to place them across the country.

  • Puerto Rico's zoo houses roughly 500 animals, including chimpanzees, lions and an elephant.
  • Many of the large carnivores β€” including tigers, bears and wolves β€” will come to Colorado. But primates, birds, and other animals that can't handle the cold will be relocated outside the state.

The intrigue: The sanctuary was chosen to help because of its experience. McCormick says it has performed thousands of emergency operations, including island-based rescues β€” an especially useful skill when it comes to moving animals out of Puerto Rico.

  • The sanctuary's executive director, Pat Craig, has also worked with the federal government on cases in the past and is well connected with other sanctuary operators.

What they're saying: Craig "has been around so long. He knows everybody in the animal world," McCormick tells us.

  • He was even tasked with rescuing animals from Netflix "Tiger King" Joe Exotic's park in Oklahoma.

What's next: The sanctuary is planning to begin receiving and relocating animals in May, McCormick says.

  • Animals brought here will be housed in Keenesburg as well as at the sanctuary's newer private property in southern Colorado that's just under 10,000 acres.
  • "It's going to be a lot of work," McCormick says. "But we're ready."

Of note: The sanctuary accepts donations and volunteers β€” and the need for both will likely grow after the latest arrivals, McCormick notes.


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