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Maimed Woman Backs Wildlife Refuge

June 5, 2000

DENVER (AP) _ After a Siberian tiger tore off Renee Black’s arm, she returned to the wildlife refuge and publicly pleaded to keep the tiger alive and the facility open.

``If they close it, all the work I’ve done and all the money I’ve contributed would be washed down the drain,″ Black said. ``Then I’ve lost my arm for nothing.″

Black, 28, had been a volunteer at the refuge near Agate, 55 miles east of Denver, for two years. Two weeks ago, she was showing a potential volunteer around the refuge when she reached into the tiger’s cage to scratch his head. The tiger bit her arm off.

The incident spurred state and federal officials to call for investigations of the Prairie Wind Wild Animal Refuge, opened in 1991 and home to tigers, lions, wolf hybrids, foxes, mountain lions and bears that were raised in captivity and abandoned.

At Black’s urging a week after the attack, authorities decided against killing the tiger. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to determine whether refuge owner Michael Jurich has violated federal laws, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife is investigating conditions at the facility.

Black admits reaching into the cage was unwise since the tiger, named Boris, had been at the refuge for only two weeks.

When Black tried to rub his head, Boris began nibbling at her hand. She jerked back instinctively, and the tiger bit down, tearing off her right arm just below the shoulder. Doctors said the quick action of refuge workers who made a tourniquet with a belt to slow the bleeding saved Black’s life, but her arm could not be reattached.

Black’s stitches were removed on Friday, and on Wednesday, she will be fitted for a prosthetic arm. She says she still has to raise much of the $40,000 to pay for it, and she hasn’t been able to help her husband at their sandwich shop where she used to work the register and take customer’s orders.

Still, Black says her top concern right now is the fate of Boris and the other animals. She said the owner has devoted his life to the place and has the support of 20 to 40 volunteers who feed the animals and clean their cages.

Jurich, the owner, refused to allow federal investigators to inspect the 40-acre refuge after the May 20 attack on the grounds that it is private, no longer open to the public and no longer licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A U.S. magistrate on May 26 issued a warrant allowing the inspections.

The USDA previously cited Jurich for ``repeated failure to provide an adequate diet″ to the animals, a charge he has denied. He accuses the agency of ``capricious and arbitrary″ inspection procedures and says he loves the animals in the refuge.

The tiger ``didn’t know what he was doing,″ Black said Friday. ``If they were to close down this animal refuge, that would break my heart.″


On the Net: Prairie Wind: http://home.earthlink.net/ 7/8artofwords/PrairieWind.html

Animal Welfare Act: http://warp.nal.usda.gov:80/awic/legislat/usdaleg1.htm

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