Tiger bites wildlife refuge founder, who blames Arizona attack on his ‘human error’

Screengrab from Facebook

A flash flood warning Monday during an Arizona thunderstorm had Jonathan Kraft worried about the tigers at his Keepers of the Wild animal sanctuary, The Arizona Republic reported.

Kraft, founder and executive director of the refuge near Kingman, decided to move the big cats to safer ground at 2:30 p.m., KNXV reported.

But when Kraft opened a gate to allow Bowie to enter his night den out of the rain, the Bengal tiger pushed open the gate before Kraft could secure a safety latch, KPNX reported.

Bowie bit Kraft, causing multiple injuries and breaking two bones, KTVK reported. Other refuge workers quickly freed Kraft, who was hospitalized in Las Vegas and will require “several months” of recovery, said Nichole Walls with Keepers of the Wild.

“My accident with Bowie was my fault,” Kraft said in a statement on the refuge’s Facebook page. “I was concerned for his welfare and did not stay focused on him. It only takes a fraction of a second for a captive wild animal to revert to their instinctual behavior.

“These situations occur,” Kraft continued, “when there is human error.”

For Bengal tiger trainer Vicenta Pages, bringing her big cats to the 2016 Georgia National Fair displays their natural abilities and allows her to talk about their declining population in the wild, how hers were born in captivity and how she cares

Bowie, an 11-year-old tiger declawed as a pet who came to the refuge in September 2018, is resting and will not be euthanized, sanctuary officials said, according to KPNX.

The tiger, who limps as a result of the declawing surgery, had been relocated to a new habitat five days before the incident Monday to help him move around easier, refuge officials wrote on Facebook. It’s not known whether the change contributed to the attack on Kraft.

The sanctuary said on Facebook that Kraft is a former Las Vegas illusionist who became one of the first entertainers “to stop using big cats” in his act and encourage others to do the same before going on to found Keepers of the Wild.

“There are many photographs showing me having close contact with a variety of animals when they were young or ones that I had raised,” Kraft said in his statement. “Those are from ‘the old days’. Close contact with wild exotic and native species has not been a practice in many years.”

Keepers of the Wild has 50 species of exotic and native wildlife on 60 acres, refuge officials wrote on Facebook.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.