Broken Arrow's Safari's Sanctuary owner giving up dream amid health concerns

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. - A big change for Safari's Sanctuary in Broken Arrow.

For nearly two decades, founder Lori Ensign has run the park. But now she's looking for someone else to take over.

Volunteers tell 2NEWS the change has been a long time coming, but circumstances have reached a point where the change needs to happen quickly.

Since 1995, Safari's has been home to everything from big cats to little critters. That's when Lori Ensign and her family founded the park. It's also the same year she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"Part of what keeps her going are the animals," spokesman Frank Gaddy said. "But the health concerns, the USDA constantly knit picking, changing their requirements every time they come out ... her health just isn't up to fighting that battle anymore."

Gaddy tells 2NEWS Ensign agreed to relinquish her license to the USDA in the next 60 days. In a statement displayed on her Facebook page, Ensign writes:

"I have been trying to find a legacy [organization] to take over. I tried to sell. But nothing legit transpired -- until now. I have a group of interns that are pooling together to take over, so I can retire and watch my dream continue."

Gaddy says Ensign is handpicking a board to form a new corporation that she can transfer ownership of the park to when she retires.

"Our mission statement from day one has been 'For the love of the animals' -- real simple," he said. "And she's making sure that whomever takes it over, that it's their mission too."

The new owners will need to apply for their own USDA license. That's why many of the original cages are in the process of being upgraded. It's part of an effort to ensure the license will be approved.

Gaddy believes the park will remain open to visitors as the changes take place.
        
"At this point it will remain open," he said. "But what happens down the road we don't know. It depends on how long it will take for [the new owners] to get a license. We are fully anticipating it being invisible to the public."

Gaddy hopes the new board will be in place by August so that the transition of ownership can be completed.

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