Just outside of Keensburg, Colorado, over 400 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other large exotic animals roam on 720 acres of land. An unobtrusive walkway, mostly 30 feet tall, allows guests to safely observe the animals. These elevated paths are the first indication that this is no zoo.
The true purpose of The Wild Animal Sanctuary is to provide an environment for rescued animals to rest and be rehabilitated by staff and volunteers. For most of them it is a chance to peacefully live the remainder of their lives surrounded by people dedicated to their health and comfort.
Founder and executive director Pat Craig started the sanctuary in 1980. Originally, Craig had a small hobby farm in Boulder, Colorado that he used to house exotic animals in need. As it continued to expand, the sanctuary moved to Keensburg to take advantage of the rolling, open farmland that currently houses the animals.
“We find out about the animals through differents ways,” says Public Relations Director Jason Maxey. “It could be a concerned citizen that says, ‘I think my neighbor has a tiger in their backyard.’ It could be the USDA confiscating or shutting down a zoo that’s lost funding or is not taking care of their animals properly. It could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or any type of local agency that is confiscating an animal that is being held illegally.”
Due to the unique needs of captive exotic wildlife, most of the animals are unequipped to be released back into the wild.
Once the animals are brought to the sanctuary they go through intensive rehabilitation.
“After they have been here for a while and they start feeling comfortable, they find their voice and they start talking to their neighbors and they just look so much better,” said Volunteer Coordinator Julie Halvorson.
A majority of the meat fed to the carnivores is donated by local Walmart stores across the Front Range.
“It gets sorted into poultry, pork, and red meat for the animals,” Volunteer Anne Weiland explains. But not all of the animals on the sanctuary’s property are carnivores. “Bears get bakery products, deli products, fruits, and vegetables,” she says.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary survives because of their volunteers and private donors. They plan on expanding their walkway and acreage to continue their rescue of exotic and endangered animals.
Volunteers are crucial for The Wild Animal Sanctuary as they are responsible for preparing food for the animals, cleaning and maintaining the enclosures, and educating Sanctuary guests about the animal's individual stories. It creates a unique opportunity to bond with exotic animals that are not native to the region, while letting the predators feel at home in a large natural habitat.