The Wild Animal Sanctuary of Colorado is a wonderful day trip 30 miles northeast of the Denver area. It is a non-profit rescue and education organization and is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the United States dedicated exclusively to rescuing exotic and endangered large carnivores that were born in captivity. It houses over 220 rescued lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other large carnivores in a wonderful grassland habitat for each of these species. It educates the public about causes and solutions to the captive wildlife crisis.
This sanctuary was founded in 1980 by Pat Craig who lives near Boulder, Colorado. The current site near Keenesburg, Colorado is the third and largest site for this sanctuary. It is a state and federally licensed zoological facility and is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. This sanctuary is the first of its kind to create large acreages for each species with specific habitats for its rescued animals. The rescued animals living in this facility will be protected for the rest of their lives and will not be bred, bought, sold, traded or mistreated. The welfare and interests of each animal are foremost in this facility.
Why is there a need for this type of sanctuary? The illicit exotic animal trade is the third largest source of illegal profits in the world, behind illegal drugs and weapons. Did you know that in the United States there are over 30,000 large animal carnivores living outside of zoos? Many of these animals live in substandard conditions as in roadside stands, traveling magic shows and in small pens on owner’s property. Some of these animals suffer and die due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment and some die starving and alone.
There are 7,000 tigers living in the United States which is twice the number that exist in the wild in the entire world. There are laws in many states that prohibit the ownership of an exotic pet, but not in many parts of Texas. Four thousand of the American tigers live in Texas in private residences and were bought when cubs. In states that prohibit wild animal ownership, there are illicit purchases happening there as well.
People often don’t realize the high cost of feeding a growing wild animal with the many pounds of raw meat required three times per week. When the animals are cute and cuddly and small, there are not as many issues. But when they become mature adult animals, the cost of food each day becomes a factor for some owners (The sanctuary spends up to $8,000 a year per animal). The animals may become malnourished or fed the wrong food by their human owners. As they grow, they may be confined in pens too small for them to move freely and grow properly. There are dangers for the human owners with being injured when the exotic wild pet is “playing” with the humans.
Many of these exotic adult animals are euthanized by their owners when the food bill becomes too high or if the owner is injured by the animal. Others are left to starve in an abandoned pen or crate. The lucky animals are rescued by sanctuaries like The Wildlife Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. This sanctuary receives calls from across the United States and Mexico to rescue wild animal pets. Concerned veterinarians, owners, and people knowing about pet abuse issues can phone this sanctuary with details. Zoos that are closing may also call to place their animals in this sanctuary.
The currents animal residents at The Wild Animal Sanctuary are: African Lions, Black Bears, a Camel, Coati Mundi, Coyote, Emu, Foxes, Grizzly Bears, Leopards, Lynx, Mountain Lion, Raccoon, many Tigers and Wolves. The first rescued animal in 1980 was a jaguar named Freckles. One of the interesting things I learned was that the mountain lion or cougar is the largest member of the cat family that purrs when it is contented!
Some of these rescued animals think they are human and haven’t ever been with their own species. They were raised as family pets, so don’t know how to hunt and fend for themselves. So they cannot be returned into the wild as adults. When the rescued animals are first brought to the sanctuary, they are placed in small single pens to get acquainted with the other animals in nearby pens of their own species. They have to learn to live with the other animals of their species.
After a period of several months of socialization with the nearby animals, they will be introduced to live in a larger space with several other animals of their own species. If these animals are compatible as a group, they may then be released into a larger acreage to live out the rest of their lives with this newly formed social family. The grizzly bears roam in 10-20 acre habitats with trees, ponds and artificial dens. Wolves live in a 5 acre habitat with a covered shelter. Tigers swim in lakes, lie under a tree and live on a 20 acre habitat. Lions freely run over a 20 acre tall grass habitat for each pride. There are underground concrete “dens” for the animals with concrete pipe type entrances. These have year-round temperatures of near 55 degrees inside. This helps to combat the heat and cold in the weather in this area.
In order to keep animal stress low when humans are observing them, the sanctuary has elevated walkways over the lion, jaguar and tiger observation areas. If a person does not directly look the animal in the eyes, there is no attack or stress behaviors experienced by the animals. The entrance and gift shop area has an observation area on the roof of this facility to see the wolves, bears, emus and tigers in the distance. There are picnic areas with tables and an educational center on the elevated walkways, to provide a relaxed and informative visit.
The admission fee is only $10 per person (which covers only the costs associated with the visitors; funding for the animals comes from other private sources). The facility is open from 900am-400pm except on major holidays with group trips and school excursions welcomed. Be aware that there is a 3 mile dirt road drive to get to this sanctuary. People may not get out of their car and approach the animal enclosures by the parking lot. Large signs remind people to not approach any enclosure with animals present, to limit animal stress. Visitors may not bring their pet dogs.
What is the cost to run The Wild Animal Sanctuary? The overall cost is three million dollars per year. This is an example of some of the expenses incurred each year. In order to feed 165 large exotic animals, it takes 434,000 pounds of specially blended raw meats for all of the Carnivore diets which costs $450,000. For the bears and other Omnivore diets, it takes 260,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables, eggs, grains, dairy and other assorted foods to equal $75,000. It takes 16,000 gallons of fuel and propane for running equipment, going on rescues and heating all the enclosures which costs $62,000. To power machines, doors, water heaters to keep areas warm and prevent water dishes from freezing, it takes 250,000 kilowatt hours and cost $25,000. Many local Denver people donate peaches, apples, and fresh meat for the animals. Most of the buildings, dens, habitat supplies and fence supplies were donated by local people and corporations.
There are many ways people may assist at this wonderful sanctuary. Denver area people may volunteer to work here. People may also make a donation of any amount to support the cost of running this wildlife sanctuary. The mailing address is: The Wild Animal Sanctuary, 1946 County Road 53, Keenesburg, CO, 80643.
Also, see this link for five videos including a 60 Minutes Australia visit to this sanctuary on a snowy week. The other four videos include an Ohio bear rescue, a Mexican lion rescued from a concrete pit, Eddy the black leopard growing up and information on the The Wild Animal Sanctuary. Amazing animal rescue stories are also located on the main sanctuary link below.
The pictures included with this article were taken by Mike Oberg. You can view more sanctuary pictures here.