Keepers of the Wild will be a true sanctuary, he promises, a place where the animals can live out their lives in the dignity they deserve. “We have so many animals with such sad stories,” says Scott Burns. “That’s why this place exists.” Recent news accounts of the shooting of four “escaped” or abandoned lions in a backwoods hamlet in Arkansas are only the latest in a long litany of animal horror stories. The owner of a fly-by-night, partially fenced exotic-animal farm had moved his operation into that county because it required no permits or inspections. The lions, he has insisted, weren’t from his place. A nameless stranger, the park owner claims, turned the animals loose after he refused to take them. Neighbors doubt this version, but say they shot the “starved down” lions to protect their children. This small tragedy points to a larger one: the fact that, in this country, an estimated 6,000 tigers are kept as pets—as many or more than now remain in the wild. In addition, zoos are breeding and selling big cats and other predators to dealers in an almost unregulated market. Many of these animals end up in “canned hunts” on so-called safari parks, where hunters pay thousands of dollars to shoot a tiger or a lion at close range.
“It’s disgusting,” says Kraft of the killing parks. He wants his Keepers of the Wild sanctuary to educate every visitor to respect wild animals and their environments as well. “Why own one?” he challenges a crowd, as a Siberian tiger springs at the fence and the tourists fall back. “If you think you want a pet, go to the pound: get a dog or a cat. Do not get a cougar. That’s a macho thing. If you want to admire these animals, go to India, go to Africa. Or to a zoo or a sanctuary where you can enjoy them once or twice a week, and you don’t have responsibility for them. Then you’re no longer adding to the problem, you’re becoming part of the solution.”