I have been asked on many different occasions why it took me so long to speak up about Safari’s/Lori Ensign, or what happened to get me to where I am just now speaking up about things involving her and/or the park. Here is my story……….
All supporting documents and photos to this blog post are available to read at Safari’s Truth Destination Facebook page through this link:
I am assuming most of you have read my USDA affidavit by now, and know what happened what really happened that horrible day that Pete was attacked—not Lori’s false version of events (if not, you should read those three pages in the photo album attached to this post before reading more of this story). This is what happened afterwards……..
The night of the attack, my husband and I made it to the hospital, and before I could even get up to the waiting room, Kurt Beckelman (Safari’s park manager) met me downstairs and handed me a piece of paper with a name “Jonathan” on it and a phone number. He told me he was from out of Africa and that he could help me feed and take care of the park for a couple of weeks till things calmed down. I, still being in shock from earlier that day, thought I was going to be working with a guy from Africa. I asked Kurt if he spoke English, and Kurt said “Yes, he is from out of Africa.” I was still thinking the guy was from Africa and couldn’t get a clear understanding from Kurt. I had no idea that there was a sanctuary in Arizona that was called Out Of Africa….till the next day!
I made it up to the waiting room, and Lori asked me if I could pick up Pete’s sister and other family members, which I did. I don’t remember much of that ride to the airport nor back to the hospital. I think the ride back to the hospital with Pete’s family was quiet. I was still in shock, and Lori had admonished me earlier not to talk about the liger attack with the family, that she wanted be the one to discuss it with them.
Waiting around in the waiting room for news was awful. Tons of people were there, and Lori was on and off the TV giving interviews. Pete’s family was in his hospital room with him all of the time. Friends were in the waiting area. There were lots of hugs being given out, and lots of people crying. Most everyone at Safari’s who wanted to see Pete was able to go in to see him, one at a time. I wanted to visit with him, too, but I was prevented from doing so. My husband even asked Kurt if I could go back and see him. Kurt just ignored him. When I asked Lori, she informed me that since Pete and I were not close friends, I didn’t need to go back there to see him, even though I was the one to keep him alive till the ambulance got there! [Now I understand the most likely reasoning behind Lori and Kurt keeping me away from Pete and his family—to keep his family from learning about what really happened before, during, and after the liger attack. It is also possible that Lori was already contemplating placing the blame for the attack on me (the meaning of this comment will be made clear later in this story). Lori did know what had happened during the big cat feedings and the attack on Peter because when Kurt was talking to her on the phone to tell her about the emergency, I was close by performing CPR on Pete to keep him alive, and one of the parents from the tour group was on the phone at the same time speaking with the 911 operator. Lori left work immediately after getting the news and rushed to Safari’s, whisking Kurt away from the scene shortly after EMSA arrived.]
I remember I sat down on a sofa, and Kurt laid his head in my lap, and we fell asleep together, shortly after hubby waking me up to make sure I was ok, because he wanted to admit me because I had been giving CPR to Pete, and I was covered in blood, also I had been in shock. I stayed a few more hours after that, but there wasn’t much for me to do, so my husband took me home for the night. It wasn’t till the next morning when I was going through my blood-stained clothes that I realized that I had been wearing Pete’s green, zippered hoodie, and my jeans were ruined. Going through the pockets of the jeans, I found at least $200, not knowing how it got there. I had given the tour group’s money back to them before they left, after the tour was ended abruptly because of the attack on Pete. I had suggested to the teachers and parents to buy the kids some ice cream and take them to a park or something, to make up for it. My husband informed me that he thought he saw Lori and her mom slip something in my back pocket as they were giving me hugs, but didn’t think anything of it. This was fine, because Lori had actually owed me for two weeks back pay, as I was not a volunteer but a paid employee. [I was hired in spring of 2001 at a rate of $9 an hour, as advertised in the Tulsa World job classifieds. Several key staff members were paid by Lori to work at Safari’s. The highest paid one that I knew of was Kurt, who bragged he made $800 per month while I worked there. We were paid as “contract labor.” I’m not sure how much of the park’s money went to Lori’s personal benefit. We were all told not to tell anyone we were paid to work at Safari’s because it would conflict with Lori’s statements that all staff at Safari’s were volunteers and that all money donated to the park went directly to the care of the animals. She still insists that’s the truth of how the park operates, but I suspect that some of the staff are still receiving payment for their work and keeping it quiet from the public.] Looking back, I wonder if there was another intention behind Lori and her mom giving me that money that way, at the hospital, when I later discovered they were not telling the truth about Pete’s attack and when I learned they were trying to blame me for it (again, more about that later in this story).
That next morning (the day after the attack), I called Jonathan and asked him if he wanted to help me work the park. He agreed, and I picked him up. He told me about the sanctuary in Arizona called Out of Africa, and I laughed and told him I thought he was from the country Africa. Let me tell you, that man Jonathan, knew things I never learned in my 10 years of working at Safari’s! He knew his stuff. He knew the animals, and taught me so very many things! That first day just blew my mind! He also informed me that a few months before the attack, he came to Safari’s and was a paid guest, and Kurt was his tour guide. Jonathan said he had informed Kurt that someone was going to get hurt if they kept doing what they were doing. I remember him (Jonathan) shaking his head when he’d find a big problem and saying “I told him someone was gonna get hurt!”
Jonathan and I worked the park for about two weeks or so, with him teaching me numerous things. He and I came up with safety protocols and new observation methods, and made a list of stuff that should be dealt with ASAP. I was informing Lori of these changes as we went along, to which all she ever said was “if it makes it easier.” I just bumped that off because she was so busy with the media and Pete’s death. At the time, I didn’t realize she couldn’t be bothered or care less. I didn’t realize it, but I was pretty isolated from everyone but Jonathan. When Jonathan couldn’t help me, I had Kim Cooper, a volunteer for Safari’s, help me out. Then, one day, Kurt came back to work the park, and I was so happy to have the help, because it’s very hard for only two people to run that large of a park! I talked with Stacy (Lori’s husband) and told him I would prefer if Kurt stayed away from the big cats, and feed barnyard 1 and 2 instead. That worked great for a few days, until one day I noticed Kurt chopping up the meat for the big cats, and I thanked him for helping out. He informed me that he was going to feed the big cats. I asked him if Lori said it was okay for him to do that, and he looked at me and told me that it was okay with her, and he needs to do this to get past his issues. I informed him we don’t use the golf carts to feed the cats anymore, because the cats know that the carts are associated with food, and that we now use the cat walk, and we walk buckets down the hill to feed the others in cages in enclosures without cat walks. He informed me that the old way is how it has been done for years, and that is how it is going to stay, and no one has time to feed off the catwalk or walk up and down the hill a hundred times. We argued about it for a few minutes, until Jonathan stepped in and said to me “If he wants to kill himself, let him go ahead and do it. My advice to you, Ivy, is we see how this plays out just this once and make our decision afterwards.” Even though I had worked that park for 10 years, I knew when someone was more knowledgeable and more experienced then I was, so I took his advice. We helped Kurt feed the old way that day. After we were through feeding the big cats, Jonathan informed me that if Lori allows Kurt to continue to take care of the big cats, he does not want to come back ever. That night, I emailed Lori, and you can find a copy of my Nov. 15, 2008, email here:
Let’s just say, Lori’s response wasn’t pretty:
[You can read more emails sent from and to me related to Safari’s during that time period in the NOTES section of this Facebook page.]
I tried one last time to get her to change how things were done at the park. I even let her know the new things we were doing, that were safer and better. She wanted nothing to do with anything I said. I had no choice, with Kurt scaring the hell out of me during feeding that day, and Jonathan refusing to continue to volunteer there because of safety concerns, and Lori basically telling me that nothing is going to change, and that I was a problem: I quit. I could not jeopardize my life, or get hurt. I’m a mother and wife first before I am a zookeeper. I was never paid for the last few weeks I worked at Safari’s. That $200 back pay (or whatever it was meant to be for), slipped in my pocket at the hospital by Lori and her mother, was the last payment I received from them. I was still owed approximately $500 in salary by the time I quit.
A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from my attorney asking me a bunch of questions about Lori and Safari’s, and the day Pete died. I answered them honestly. He asked me if there were witnesses who could verify my story, and I laughed and told him about 50 preschool children and 20 adults that were with the tour group! He informed me that Lori was trying to sue me for wrongful death of Pete and that with the information I just gave him, she doesn’t have grounds to stand on. I couldn’t believe it! Lori was attempting to put the blame on me for Pete’s death, when I had nothing to do with the cause of the attack—not being present when it actually occurred because I was busy leading the tour. Kurt was the one who was with Pete, feeding the big cats that day. Kurt was the one who opened the gate to the Rocky the liger’s enclosure. [Contrary to Lori’s assertions to the public, the media, and the USDA, it was common for Safari’s staff to open most of the big cats’ enclosures, even Rocky’s, to feed them (still done to this day, if you look at photos we’ve posted on this page recently). If lock-outs were available, sometimes they’d get used but when in a hurry, then not—even when feeding Rocky. Rocky’s neighbor next door was the tiger Twister, who had an aversion to men in ball caps because his owner who abused him often wore one. Pete always wore a ball cap, which pissed off Twister. This animosity toward Pete rubbed off on Rocky, who ‘hated’ Pete. Almost everyone, including Kurt, knew how Rocky felt about Pete. It was one more reason that Kurt should never have opened the gate for him and Pete to feed Rocky that day.]
I went about my life, taking care of my family, and enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom. One day, I got a phone call from a friend, informing me that the USDA was looking for me. This was in 2011, almost two-and-a-half years after I quit. I asked her, “Why would they be looking for me?” My friend informed me that the USDA heard that I was out at the park the day Pete was attacked and wanted my statement. Apparently, Lori and Kurt never informed the USDA that I was on the scene immediately after the mauling attack and helped keep Pete alive until the ambulance service arrived. I simply emailed them the USDA to let them know who I was and that I heard they wanted to speak with me. The very next morning, on March 15, 2011, I had a USDA officer meet with me who took my statement. It took all day! I had no clue what was going on or the lies Lori and Kurt had told them. You can find my USDA affidavit on this page (in the photo album attached to this post) if you care to read it.
I did get back in touch with Kurt, because he was my best friend and even gave me away at my wedding. I loved that man so very much. I took my family out to see him at his house, and tried to reconnect the friendship that had been shattered. After a couple of months, I realized that he would never be the man I once loved, that he had become just like Lori and had decided lies and deceit were the better path to follow in life. I was (and still am) done with all of that, and I couldn’t have that in my life any more. It took me a long time to admit it, but the friend I had once loved so much is now gone and had died along with Pete that fateful day.
People ask me how it was possible that I didn’t know what was going on, that it was all over the news with Lori falsely stating that Pete broke protocol during feeding time. It is very simple. I’m not much for television, and my husband is a big video gamer, so if the TV is on, he is usually playing his video games, or we are watching the history channel or the DIY network. So, honestly, I did not see the news coverage, and if it was on the radio, I seriously would change the station.
I was advised that I was to testify in court on the USDA’s behalf, but when the date got closer, I found out Lori took a deal and would shut the park down instead of going to court and try and battle it out. Then I learned that she was trying to blame the USDA and everyone else for her misfortune, which angered me, because she knows that it was her fault, but refuses to take responsibility, and still does to this day.
For those of you who ask me, “How can you do this to the animals?” it’s really very simple. Those animals do have other sanctuaries to go to. I have personally called around and lots of sanctuaries have offered to take them in and give them loving and good homes. And some of those animals are in such poor health and conditions that the only humane thing to do is put them down, but as I have heard, a lot of them are slowly dying off out there. It’s very sad, but if I let my love for those animals blind me to Lori’s lies and her poor, pitiful-me act, then nothing will ever change, and someone else is going to get hurt. I don’t want anyone else to go through what Pete, Kurt , or I have had to deal with. It may have happened years ago, but it still affects my life to this day, and I still have nightmares. I could not live with myself if I stepped back and did nothing.
For those of you who want to know why I stayed around the park for so many years and turned a blind eye to Lori’s corrupt ways, I am not going to lie to you. Those exotic and majestic animals get to you. It’s like an addiction; they pull you in and it’s hard to break away. I’m sure many people who have worked at Safari’s or still do work there can relate to that and it could explain why they, too, stick around, regardless of Lori’s behavior. I’d have to say the main reason I stayed is because Kurt kept begging me back, and Lori promised me pay (it’s a very long drive from where I live to Broken Arrow).
If you have any questions, you may contact me through a private message through the Safari’s Truth Destination Facebook page. (You might have to ‘like’ the page first, in order to do so.)
Thank you for your time and understanding.
Ivy Campbell Cook