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Arizona nature park provides haven for neglected animals

Keepers of the Wild Nature Park is a nonprofit organization providing a safe haven for indigenous and exotic animals that have been abandoned, neglected or abused. Located along one of the most scenic sections of Route 66 in Arizona, it offers a pleasant and educational experience for all ages.

Jonathan Kraft originally established the park in Las Vegas in 1995. Needing more room, the operation was moved to White Hills, Arizona, and later to its current location in Valentine. The 175-acre refuge is home to about 150 wild animals, including lizards, primates, bears and large cats. At the moment, it has more than 30 large cats, including lions, Bengal tigers, leopards and cougars.

All the animals that come here have a troubled story. One rescue, last May, consisted of five black bears who had spent their lives performing and posing for photographs, mostly shackled to chains and housed in small spaces. These bears are now living a better life, thanks to Keepers of the Wild.

You can grab a map of the refuge at its gift shop and take a self-guided walking tour, or sign up for a guided safari tour that lasts a little more than an hour. The tours are available daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., except Tuesdays. The advantage of the guided tour is that the guides are interesting. Their talking points include why humans need to coexist with wild animals rather than capturing them for pets or exploiting them for entertainment.

What to pack: Comfortable walking shoes and a picnic lunch. The park is located at about 3,800 feet elevation, so it tends to be about 10 degrees cooler than Las Vegas.

Length of stay: Day trip.

Admission: General admission is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and military, and $12 for children ages 3 to 12. Guided safari tours are an additional $10. All proceeds go to the food, shelter and medical care of the animals. For more information, visit keepersofthewild.org or call 928-769-1800.

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