This sad story went on for many years.  Some of the news stories about it are posted below:

Killing captive bred tigers

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Press Release, November 13, 2001

HEADLINE: Five Indicted in Federal Court For Illegal Trafficking of Protected Tigers and Leopards

A federal court in Missouri unsealed indictments on Thursday, November 8, 2001, charging five people in connection with the illegal trafficking of six endangered tigers and five leopards protected by federal law. The indictments by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis followed a lengthy undercover investigation by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Attorneys Office.

Conspiracy and Lacey Act charges were filed against Todd and Vicki Lantz, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Freddy Wilmoth of Gentry, Arkansas, Stoney Elam of Fort Gibson , Oklahoma and Tim Rivers of Citra, Florida. The five are alleged to have illegally purchased, transported and sold federally-endangered tigers and leopards between January and August 1998.

The indictments allege that in February 1998, Todd Lantz, owner of Lazy L Exotics, in Cape Girardeau , Missouri purchased four tigers from Freddy Wilmoth in Gentry, Arkansas and transported them to the 5H Ranch in Cape Girardeau , Missouri , with the knowledge the tigers were to be killed. After the tigers were killed and sold, Vicky Lantz prepared federal forms (USDA Form 720) falsely stating the transaction was a donation.

Indictments also allege that in June 1998, Stoney Elam sold two tigers and three leopards in violation of federal wildlife laws. Similarly, Timothy Rivers, owner of Animals in Motion in Citra, Florida, is alleged to have illegally sold two leopards in August 1998.

If convicted each defendant face maximum penalties of five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000.

The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The five charged in Missouri are the second phase of indictments to be brought in the ongoing investigation. In January 2001, Woody Thompson Jr. of Three Rivers Michigan pled guilty in federal court in the Eastern District Missouri to brokering the interstate sale of three tiger skins. Thompson, owner of the Willow Lake Sportsmen’s Club in Three Rivers, was sentenced to serve six months home detention and two years probation; fined $2,000 and ordered to pay $28,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Save the Tigers Fund.”

Service investigators, working closely with U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Missouri, Illinois and Michigan, uncovered a group of residents and small business owners in the Midwest that allegedly bought and killed exotic tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars, mixed breed cats and black bears with the intention of introducing meat and skins into the lucrative animal parts trade. Tigers and snow leopards are listed as “Endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law also protects leopards, which are classified as either “endangered” or “threatened” depending on the location of the wild population. Although federal regulations allow possession of captive-bred tigers, the regulations stipulate activities involving their use must be to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. It is unlawful to kill the animals for profit, or to sell their hides, parts or meats into interstate commerce.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents were assisted in the Missouri investigation by law enforcement officers from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Bearcat Hollow co-owner pleads

Posted on Tue, Mar. 15, 2005


A Racine man who operated a wild animal park in southeastern Minnesota pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to seven criminal counts in connection with an illegal endangered-animal brokering business.

Kenneth George Kraft, co-owner of BEARCAT Hollow and Kraft Game Farm, admitted to buying and selling several animals, including an endangered white tiger, a spotted leopard and two tiger cubs, between 1998 and 2003 and then falsely labeling the transactions as either a “donation” or “breeding loan” to cover his tracks.

Kraft, 67, also admitted to one count of conspiring with his wife and co-owner Nancy Lee Kraft, 63, to sell endangered animals and one count of making a false statement to authorities.

Under the plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed to ask for around a two-year prison sentence. Last week, a federal jury in Minneapolis convicted Kraft on two counts of witness tampering in connection with the animal brokering case.

The Krafts and several other animal dealers who conducted business with the Racine couple were charged in a 55-count indictment in 2004. District Judge Ann Montgomery dismissed nearly half the charges last week on the eve of trial.

Nancy Kraft and the other remaining defendants will stand trial on the remaining charges starting Wednesday.

– Shannon Prather

Exotic animal merchant sentenced

Posted on Wed, Oct. 05, 2005

BEARCAT Hollow owner gets 18 months


Pioneer Press

A man who ran a wild animal park in southeastern Minnesota and illegally trafficked exotic and endangered animals was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison.

Keith Kraft, who had owned BEARCAT Hollow in Racine, Minn., had pleaded guilty to falsifying records and conspiracy and was convicted of two counts of witness tampering in connection with the case. Kraft and eight others, including his wife, Nancy Kraft, were accused of illegally trafficking animals, including 17 tigers, seven leopards, five grizzly bears and dead animals and animal skins between 1999 and 2003.

In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery added three years probation and ordered Kraft to pay a $700 special assessment fee.

His wife was sentenced in June to 15 months in prison after she was found guilty of falsifying paperwork to buy and sell the animals. Nancy Kraft was convicted in March of selling bears, tigers, lions and leopards while labeling the sales as donations. The seven others who worked with the Krafts pleaded guilty to felony charges.

BEARCAT Hollow housed as many as 300 animals at one time. In 2001, a Siberian tiger escaped a cage and attacked a 7-year-old girl in the park. The same year, a 10-month-old bear escaped and damaged a neighbor’s porch. And in 2003, a man was mauled by a tiger he obtained from the Krafts and raised in his New York apartment.

Prosecutors said the Krafts made more than $200,000 buying and selling the animals.

Racine is about 95 miles southeast of St. Paul.

Beth Silver can be reached at bsilver@pioneerpress.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 612-338-6516.

In 2005 Marcus Cook told us that he was sending the two baby white tigers he was using for photo ops in Florida back to the Kraft’s who he said had moved to South Dakota.  Based on that, we believed that the cats from Bearcat Hollow had been relocated to SD.  The attornery for Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary wrote us on March 2, 2006 saying that “Aside from its acceptance of the seized animals, Spirit of the Hills has no other association or affiliation with Ken Kraft.”  He went on to “demand that you promptly remove the above-cited pages or alter them so as to make clear the distinct separation between Kraft and Spirit of the Hills.”  The following are just reports from the news and do not reflect our opinion on the matter as the above conversation with Marcus Cook, who we were asking to leave Florida, was the only information we had prior to these news reports about where the Kraft animals were going.  Marcus Cook did not say that the animals were going to Spirit of the Hills; he just said the Kraft’s were moving their operation to SD.  The article about Spirit of the Hills below is only presented to document where the animals went.

Animal sanctuary wants more beasts

By Steve Miller, Journal Staff Writer

SPEARFISH – An exotic-animal sanctuary near Spearfish is again seeking state permission to house more than two dozen lions, tigers and bears it wants to take in from Minnesota.

The South Dakota Animal Industry Board last year rejected Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary’s request to bring four African lions, 14 tigers, one liger (a cross between a lion and a tiger) and eight bears to the Spearfish facility.

The Animal Industry Board will hear the sanctuary’s request at 3:30 p.m. CDT Tuesday, April 26, at the Ramkota-Best Western in Pierre .

Last year, the board cited concerns about security at the sanctuary, both for humans exposed to the animals and for the animals themselves, according to state veterinarian Sam Holland, head of the Animal Industry Board.

The sanctuary since has taken steps to meet all of the Animal Industry Board’s concerns, sanctuary founder and director Mike Welchynski said this week.

The animals had been seized from a Minnesota man, Ken Kraft, who was facing a federal indictment relating to his possession of the animals. The charges since have been dropped, but Kraft said he wanted to find a new home for the animals. The animals have remained in his custody.

Welchynski said he was approached last year by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about taking Kraft’s animals.

He said none of the 27 animals had been captured in the wild and all had been raised around humans.

Holland said the board earlier had permitted the sanctuary to import a “fairly significant number” of nondomestic animals.

He said the board routinely permits the occasional mountain lion, leopard, bear or lion. “When we start talking about bringing in large numbers in one facility, it puts a different burden of responsibility on the permittee and us,” Holland said this week. “We’re concerned about the safety of people, and we’ve asked that group to provide good sound facilities. In addition, we’ve asked them to provide contingency plans for emergencies such as fire and weather-related events.”

Holland said the board wants to make sure adequate security measures have been taken, including secondary enclosures to prevent unsafe contact with visitors and intentional break-ins, as well as providing security personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The board also wants to make sure there are adequate resources at the sanctuary for humane care of the animals, including food, water, shelter and veterinary care.

There’s more concern because there have been some unfortunate escapes and events that have brought attention to these types of facilities even under the best of conditions,” Holland said.

Welchynski said the sanctuary staff has increased its containment and security for the animals, including 11-foot fencing topped with electric wire. “They’re contained in three sets of enclosures intended to keep them in and mischievous or naive people out,” he said.

The sanctuary has at least two people to provide security “24-7,” Welchynski said. Security also includes sensors and security cameras, he said.

Welchynski said the Spearfish community has supported the sanctuary, providing volunteers and donations. He said the sanctuary has no paid staff.

The private, nonprofit sanctuary occupies 300 acres southwest of Spearfish on the Tinton Road . Johanna Meier and her husband, Guido Della Vecchia, of the Black Hills Passion Play, donated the land.

It now houses 32 animals including foxes, coyotes, and small exotic cats such as ocelots, lynx, bobcat and a caracal. The sanctuary also has one tiger and one lion.

Welchynski said the sanctuary has never applied for city or county money. Donations and admission fees fund it.

Admission is $12 for adults, $7 for children and $9 for students. Family group rates are also available. Tours are given at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sundays. The facility is closed on Mondays.

Welchynski said the sanctuary is an attempt to care for exotic animals that people buy and then find they cannot take care of. “It’s a chronic problem in a wasteful society,” he said. “It’s buy, buy, buy and breed, breed, breed.”

“We’re saving the animals and still giving the kids and people something nice in Spearfish,” he said.

Holland said the Animal Industry Board likely would not make a decision on the sanctuary’s request at the April 26 hearing.

Contact Steve Miller at 394-8417 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ‘; document.write( ‘‘ ); document.write( addy_text51976 ); document.write( ‘</a>’ ); //–> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

MN Wild Animal Ban Expansion Considered

(AP) Austin, Minn. The Mower County Board will hold a public hearing later this month to discuss a possible ban on certain wild animals. It would expand on a year-long ban on bringing more wild cats, bears, wolves and primates into the county.

The one-year ban was approved last May. Sheriff Terese Amazi requested the moratorium after a tiger at a Racine’s BEARCAT Hollow animal park bit a girl in 2001. The incident set off a chain of events that resulted in killing the tiger so it could be tested for rabies.

Forty-one animals, including lions, tigers, bears and cougars, from BEARCAT were taken to the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Spearfish, S.D. BEARCAT has since been sold.

Check for yourself to see if they meet the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge.