Ariz. animal sanctuary's lion-coyote couple turning heads


by Jay Crandall

Video report by Steve Bodinet

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 7:24 AM

Map: Keepers of the Wild

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"They're a couple. They like each other."

VALENTINE, Ariz. -- One is king of the jungle; the other a desert dog.

You might think the fur would fly if you put a lion and a coyote together, but at one Arizona animal sanctuary, the two became furry friends.

Keepers of the Wild founder and director Johnathan Kraft says the sight of Riley the coyote and Anthony the lion can be confusing for some visitors to the park.

“We had some people in from Mexico and then the guy said to me, 'Oh that is food for the lion.' I said, 'No no, that is not food for the lion. They are a couple. They like each other," Kraft said.

Well it is no wonder visitors to Keepers of the Wild, just outside Kingman are a little confused. Riley and Anthony are a curious couple. Just ask some of the White Cliffs Middle School students, who saw them.

"I thought it was really weird. But really cool," one student told us.

"When I first saw that I thought it was a fake coyote, like a stuffed animal or something," a classmate added.

“I've seen coyotes behave a lot different than lions, and if they were ever together it would be a pretty wacky situation," a third student said.

Well wacky as it may be, Kraft says Anthony and Riley really are best friends.

"If I am looking for him or her…if I find one, I can find the other within 10 feet," he said. "They sleep together, eat together, do everything together. “

Kraft says they both arrived at his sanctuary as babies.

“Anthony is a victim of the animal surplus business that gets sold at exotic auctions," he said. "He was pulled from his mom at 2.5 weeks old”

Before being rescued, he had been sold several times -- a journey that took him from Virginia to Oregon.

At the same time, Riley showed up after being rescued by Arizona Game and Fish.

Anthony and Riley“We couldn't really put them in a habitat,” Kraft recalled. “We just raised them in our house until they were about 4 months old."

And when they were apart for Anthony to have surgery, Kraft says neither one could bear it.

"We noticed when he was in recovery in our care center, he would just tear his transport apart. I mean he just could not be away from the coyote, and she was howling all night."

Since then the two have shared the same habitat. They  even share treats, something very unusual for lions.

"I have never seen it with a lion because lions are a lot more aggressive," Kraft explained. "A lot more testosterone, more food aggressive."

In fact, Riley rules the roost, so to speak.

"But there are lots of times when things are left over, or we give them treats during the day.” Kraft told us. " I mean there is no aggression at all. She just steals it from him. He knows they are playing and that they are having a good time. And that is all I have ever seen them do."

While Kraft is used to it, the sight of these mismatched mates often leaves visitors tongue tied.

"Of all the zoos I've ever sawn, seen," she laughed, "I've never seen a coyote and a lion together."

Anthony and Riley, however, seem oblivious to the fact their friendship is just plain wild.

It's something Kraft says might  be a lesson those of us on the other side of the fence.

"If people would get along like animals get along, it would be a different world, you know?"

Keepers of the WildKeepers of the Wild, which does not breed or trade animals, has about two dozen big cats, primates and even reptiles. Most have been rescued from abusive situations and you can see all them right close up.

Keepers of the Wild is located just outside Kingman on historic Route 66. The address is 13441 E. Highway 66, Valentine, Arizona. The phone number is 928-769-1800.

The sanctuary is open every day except Thursday. Adult admission is $18. Senior tickets are $15 and kids' tickets are $12.

Drive time from Phoenix to Kingman is about 3.5 hours.