Animal experts question euthanizaton of lions and bears in Elbert County

KEENESBURG, Colo. -- A day after news that 11 exotic large animals had been euthanized last week in Elbert County, other animal sanctuaries around the country are alerting Denver7 that they could have stepped in to help the animals that were living at the former Lion’s Gate animal sanctuary.

“It was very selfish not to put a call out to experts to see what the options were for these animals,” said Tammy Thies, director of the Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota. “If we would have gotten a call, we would have been on the road in hours to help those animals or even to assess the animals.”

However Joan Laub, co-owner of Lion’s Gate, said the 11 animals, which included African lions and bears, were too old to move safely to another sanctuary. 

Laub squarely blames the three Elbert County commissioners for the animals' deaths because the county didn't approve her move to another property across the county.

Laub said the current site for the animals was in a flood zone and it was unsafe to continue moving the animals from one enclosure to another during flooding season.

“No one understands how much we went through caring for these animals through the months of flooding for two years. We wanted to move last year and have been in the process of applying for the permit since last May 1,” Laub said. "All the multiple agencies and governing bodies before them approved the permit based on the law. The three county commissioners based their decision on emotion and the desire for re-election.” 

The Elbert County commissioners told Denver7 they didn’t accept the new special use permit allowing Laub to move the animals because the new site was in a more populated area and the animals would be closer to residents of Elbert County.

Laub said the commissioners were well aware that euthanizing the animals was the plan if she wasn’t able to move them.

They voted her down anyway, Laub said.

But that's not what county commissioners said actually happened. In a prepared statement released Wednesday, they said the following:

 

"The decision by the operators of Lion’s Gate to euthanize all their animals comes as a total surprise to the County for two reasons. Only two weeks earlier, the operators of the facility assured the County in a public forum that if the application was denied, they would continue to operate at their current location as they had for the previous 10 years. Additionally, the Keenesburg Wildlife Sanctuary publicly offered to care for the animals at their facility if Lion’s Gate was unable to do so."

Other animal experts told Denver7 Laub should have called them for help in finding new homes for the animals, which isn’t out of the ordinary, said Pat Craig, who runs the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. 

“Taking care of animals that are either sick or have long-term issues is part of our daily thing that we do here,” Craig said. “We rescue what we can geriatric animals all the time where they’re definitely in the last phases of their life and most people think it would be traumatic for them to move and we move many animals and every one of them ends up very happy here, even in their elder years.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said all of the actions taken by Lion’s Gate were within their purview. 

The Elbert County Sheriff is still looking into the situation.


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