Shelley, UCAR's Accounts Payable and Travel supervisor, operates one of the nation's most unusual animal shelters with her husband, Pat Craig. The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Center is a welcoming home for animals who must leave zoos or other private facilities due to illness, age, overcrowding, government confiscation, or mistreatment. Since many of the Craigs' cared-for animals are endangered species, the center is monitored and licensed--exactly like the Denver Zoo--by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Agriculture and Interior departments.
Shelley Richards-Craig and Pat Craig enjoy a sunny day with Tisha, a Bengal tiger. (Photo by Bob Bumpas.)
Shelley and Pat moved the center last fall from a 5-acre plot near Lyons to a 160-acre retreat just southeast of the town of Hudson, about 40 miles east of Boulder. There, on a virtually treeless plain crisscrossed by gullies, they're in the process of creating a haven for the 14 large animals they now care for.
Currently, the Craigs have four African lions, two Bengal tigers, three mountain lions, a bobcat, a jaguar, a coyote, and two black bears. Many others have come to the center in various states of illness and have been nursed back to health to be placed into another facility. Leo, a 13- year-old male African lion, suffered a severe calcium deficiency at the hands of a previous private owner. "His fur was practically bleached white," recalls Pat. Leo still struggles to walk due to several fused discs in his back.
Much of the hands-on work of the reserve falls to Pat, an auto mechanics teacher who has taken this academic year off to construct his charges' new home and play area. In place already is a 20-meter- diameter concrete house with radial enclosures that open into private outdoor runs. On the drawing board is a 20-acre enclosure with a pond that will allow the big cats or bears to take a dip or snooze in the sun.
Pat, raised on a farm in eastern Boulder County, began taking on ailing and unwanted animals in the early 1980s. Shelley had a marketing company in California and occasionally represented Pat's animals to the film industry. When Shelley came to Boulder in 1983, the two worked closely together in several ventures and married in 1987. The two owned and operated service stations until Pat obtained his credentials and began teaching in 1991. Meanwhile, Shelley started temporary work with NCAR in 1985 and joined UCAR full-time in 1987.
You may have seen some of the Craigs' cats on commercials for American Furniture Warehouse. The animals have also been featured in the series "Wild America" and "Wild Kingdom." "If it is entertaining for the animals," Pat says, "then we'll do the spots. In the furniture commercials they have a blast running around and tearing up couches."
Pat and Shelley's philosophy in managing their animals is "affection training." According to Pat, once an animal is in captivity there's no point in denying it the comfort of human bonds. "Zoos are fooling themselves [in avoiding human connections] because what you want is for an animal to be as happy as possible."
The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Center is entirely self-funded, which poses its own challenges. The new shelter cost the Craigs $70,000 to construct; their out-of-pocket costs to maintain the center are more than $30,000 per year. Still, the Craigs charge nothing for visits from Scout troops, schools, church groups, or just about any other group or person that wants to visit, see, and learn. The center does accept private donations, which come from most of those who visit and from those who just wish to help.
Since Shelley gets many requests for visits, the Craigs plan to hold an open house for any interested staff and friends on the weekend of 20-21 May, weather permitting. Watch for details in This Week at UCAR. -- BH