KEENESBURG, Colo. — Dozens of animals from Puerto Rico's only zoo are coming to Colorado.
The zoo is permanently closing, and several animals there will be transferred to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg.
Puerto Rico's zoo has been closed to the public since 2017, after hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged the island. Last week, the Puerto Rican government said it would close permanently, after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary had planned to rescue the large carnivores from Puerto Rico's zoo before the hurricanes hit. But there was so much damage on the island, that process had to be put on hold. Since then, many of the animals there have died due to the poor conditions.
Pat Craig, the executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, said they'll take in as many animals as they can, but some of the animals will need to go to other states because of Colorado's cold climate.
"Being in Colorado, it's not a great place for elephants, or rhinoceros, or hippos or primates that would have to spend the whole winter inside of a building," Craig said. "Our lions and tigers, amazingly, acclimate very well to cold weather, but the primates and things like that should go to sanctuaries that are in warmer climates, as well as the elephant."
Getting the animals to Colorado is a process in itself. Craig said many of the herd animals and livestock can travel by boat. But most of the animals will fly to Colorado in specialized planes.
"These are large cargo planes that are outfitted to take animals, so they have pressurized cabins, and they're either heated or cooled, depending on what time of year it is," Craig said. "We’ve flown many animals from all over the world before. We brought a lot of animals from South America and also even South Korea and made large airlifts like that, so we're very familiar with doing this."
The Wild Animal Sanctuary currently has about 700 animals throughout its locations. Their facility in Keenesburg is 1,200 acres, and is the only one open to the public. The sanctuary also has a 10,000-acre facility in southeast Colorado near Springfield, and they just bought 22,000 acres in northwest Colorado.
Craig says those locations are not open to the public because they're so remote.
"Some of the habitats down there are 300-plus acres in size, and it's all forested, so it's pretty neat to be able to see grizzly bears and black bears and all sorts of animals living naturally in these large habitats there. But it's so hard to get to that's just not open to the public," Craig said.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
The Wild Animal Sanctuary also has a specialized, 41-acre facility in the small town of Boyd, Texas, near Dallas.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a nonprofit, and relies on donations to help the animals and keep their operations running. You can donate on their website.
"It's always great to finally get them into the sanctuary in their new lives," Craig said. "And then you get to see the really good side of it, where they are recovered and doing well."
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