Tiger attacks founder of Arizona wildlife sanctuary
© Keepers of the Wild

A former Las Vegas entertainer and the founder of a wildlife sanctuary in Arizona was attacked by a tiger this week while moving animals during a thunderstorm.

Jonathan Kraft, executive director of Keepers of the Wild in Valentine, Ariz., suffered multiple injuries from a Bengal tiger named Bowie, the organization said in a Wednesday statement. The incident being investigated internally, according to the sanctuary. 

Kraft was attempting to move several of large cats on Monday during a storm that bought a flash flood warning, heavy rain, lightening, thunder and hail, the sanctuary said in a Facebook post.

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Kraft had reportedly instructed staff to open the gates to various animal enclosures so they could have access to their nighttime den areas, according to Keepers of the Wild, which said the move was in line with standard procedure. 

The sanctuary, which occupies more than 60 acres in Northern Arizona, includes 20 individual areas for big cats.

“During the process, the usually docile behaving Bowie exhibited unusual conduct by suddenly pushing the gates prior to Jonathan being able to secure the safety clips,” according to the statement. “Animal Care staff rushed to assist Jonathan and remove him from the tiger’s grip. Although Bowie lacks front claws, he took advantage of his strong teeth to hold onto Jonathan.”

Kraft was taken to Kingman Regional Medical Center before being transferred to a Las Vegas hospital. He suffered multiple wounds and two broken bones from the incident and will take several months to recover, the statement said.

The organization said the 11-year-old tiger was one of three large cats, previously owned as pets, that arrived at the sanctuary in September. The tiger had been declawed as a cub, resulting in lameness in both of its front feet, the sanctuary said. He is often seen limping around his enclosure, they added.

Bowie will not be euthanized over the incident, the statement said.

“Jonathan has been known for having a heart of a lion due to his compassion and commitment to the hundreds of animals that Keepers of the Wild has rescued over the past 24 years,” the statement read. “Since the Monday afternoon accident he now has the heart of a tiger as well.”

Kraft is a former Las Vegas illusionist and was the first area entertainer to stop using big cats in his performances, according to the sanctuary.

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

“My accident with Bowie was my fault. I was concerned for his welfare and did not stay focused on him," Kraft continued. "It only takes a fraction of a second for a captive wild animal to revert to their instinctual behavior. These situations occur when there is human error.”