Valentine, Arizona, USA
Probably the worst hardship of running a rescue sanctuary for entertainment animals and exotic pets is that so many of them have spent their lives being mistreated, malnourished and/or abused. Many of the entertainment animals are surrendered only near the end of their lives when their “usefulness” has run out for their owner. They are lucky to live out the rest of their lives in the fresh air and space and care of the Keepers of the Wild sanctuary, but the caretakers endure a perpetual heartbreak as the elderly and ailing animals take their earthly leave to happier hunting grounds.
A pack of 5 wolves arrived at the sanctuary several years ago, all the same age, which means all 5 wolves will pass away at about the same time. Three died in the last year, and the remaining two are not projected to hang on much longer. Their habitat is interesting because they have dug extensive dens beneath the surface. The keepers say they can stand up inside the dens. If you think wolves aren’t ingenious creatures, consider that after a particularly heavy rainfall, the keepers were concerned the dens might flood. They went in there to see what they could do, and found the wolves had dug a small side channel in their den network to carry away excess water. Here is Tewa, one of the two wolves remaining.
Akila is a wolf hybrid. She and another sweet creature, Moondance, with eyes like marbles, are former pet hybrids. As the keepers here say, the wolf will always come out in a hybrid. Hence, many of them end up in sanctuaries after their owners can’t handle them anymore. Akila had also suffered tumors inside her mouth. I saw pictures of her poor little tongue. Savor this photo in particular, because the quality of her elderly life has now deteriorated and she will be put down next week if she doesn’t pass on her own accord.
During the middle of my stay, an older leopard who had suffered abuse much her life was so malnourished she had osteoporosis, and in the course of her regular daily activities she broke both of her legs … the bones just snapped. The keepers hoped, actually, to save her if possible with surgery, but in the end, it would have caused too much suffering for her and she would only break another bone any day. They feel the loss of each and every animal so keenly, but like all of us, must learn to let go.
Smelvin is a champagne skunk. You may be making an exclamation right now at his girth. He’ll be tested for a thyroid problem soon. Poor guy has expanded so much the middle of his back can’t support fur and he’s bald down the middle. Baldness aside, his fur is very beautiful.
Speaking of weight gain, when this monkey (I have a very hard time remembering all the names ...) arrived at the Keepers, it was thought she was pregnant because she also began expanding in girth. They fed her more, thinking she needed to support her pregnancy. But the time during which she should have given birth came and passed. Turns out, she’d just been porking out and gaining weight. So they’ve had to put her on a diet. Here she's meticulously grooming her tail.
Precious is a lemur and she ended up at Keepers because she couldn’t get along with any other lemurs at the zoo that was her former home. She’s one of the few animals who lives as a solitary animal in her cage. Another one is Billy the baboon, a member of my nemesis species. Precious looks just like her name. Looks completely sweet and well-behaved, like a princess with her beautiful tail she seems to show off with pride. She will let humans touch her, but is a grade A trouble-maker with other lemurs. I would wait until she was at the far end of the cage before approaching to put my camera lens through the bars (another privilege I had with backstage access to the animals by my association with Doreen). This gave me time to step back when she leaped from her perch with impressive speed and landed with silent grace vertical on the bars, her hands and feet gripping them.