VALENTINE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- There is a lot of love in Valentine, Arizona, for wild animals. The "Keepers of the Wild Nature Park" is a sanctuary for nearly 200 rescued exotic animals.

Owner and operator Jonathan Kraft established the sanctuary more than 20 years ago after walking away from his show on the Las Vegas Strip. The retired magician says most of the animals he cares for have come from show business or some kind of abusive situation.

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"For an animal to live in a box, transported to a show and sit back stage, they get their 15 seconds on stage, then back in the box and back in a cage," explains Kraft about what he saw in his own show and others in Vegas. "It's just not a life for animals like this. So I decided to put my show on hiatus and started rescuing."

The big cats are a big attraction at the nature park, from Bengal and white tigers to lions and even a liger (cross breed of a tiger and lion). As Kraft showed us around, it is evident just how much he cares for the animals.

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"It's actually quite amazing how forgiving these animals are," he said. "They come out of terrible abusive facilities, and yet I bond with them within an hour."

However, Kraft says he has a healthy respect for the fact that these are wild animals.

"They're wild. They will always be wild. Can you socialize them? Yes. But are they dangerous? Absolutely," says Kraft.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, while trying to help one of the tigers get to a shelter during a thunderstorm, Kraft was attacked. He says he couldn't lock the gate fast enough before the animal lunged at him.

But in a statement, Kraft says he does not blame the cat, which he says acted on instinct, and Kraft has no intention of putting the animal down.

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Besides the big cats, Keepers of the Wild is also home to bears, both grizzly and black, including a baby black bear that got separated from its mother.  Arizona Game and Fish brought him to the Nature Park.

"They get a wide variety of fruits and veggies, as well as protein of course. It is very expensive feeding bears, because of the fruits and veggies, and they have special bear cookies in there that are protein," he said.

There is a special diet for the camels as well.

"Hoover came out of Scottsdale," says Kraft, as he hand feeds the camels. "These are weird looking carrots. But the reason we give them these carrots is because they have medication in them. He has some arthritis."

Often when animals arrive here, they are in bad shape. So the staff members do whatever they can to nurse the animals back to good health.

Several of the raptors at the park have had broken wings. If they can help them heal, workers release the birds back into the wild. If not, the animals spend their days there.

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A pack of wolves came to the sanctuary from Northern California, rescued after the Butte Fire.

"About 50,000 acres burned and about 500 homes. A biologist had four wolves on his property and everything fried. The trucks melted. It was so bad," tells Kraft. "So he basically went back to bury his animals, and low and behold, they had dug a 15-foot tunnel underground to escape the fire."

Kraft says Arizona is now their home. The staff removed any cactus in their area, as the wolves are not accustomed to the desert vegetation.

Monkey Village at the sanctuary is home to about a dozen primates. Kraft says one was found tied up in a bedroom in Nevada and eventually surrendered to the nature park.

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"Don't have one as a pet. They can be very nasty and they're mean and they're very dangerous. They have big teeth and they can do a number on you," says Kraft.

Besides providing a home for these animals to live out their days, Kraft also sees his animal sanctuary as an educational tool. The public can tour the nature park from Wednesday through Monday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Keepers of the Wild takes in animals from all over the world, as well as around the state and around the country. They rely on donations from the public.

Gina Maravilla appears every weekday on Good Morning Arizona keeping you up-to-date on your morning commute.  

Join Gina and the rest of the Good Morning Arizona family weekdays starting at 4:30 a.m.


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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