Denver’s Official Visitor’s Guide has 2 pages called “Wild Denver”. Featured on these pages is the Wild Animal Sanctuary. We traveled 30 miles northeast of the city to see it. Denver has become, over time, the wild animal rescue capital of the United States. This sanctuary established in 1980 is now home to hundreds of rescued lions, tigers, wolves, and more, and it already is planning a 9,000 acre expansion. Luckily, we visited this Wild Animal Sanctuary with 3 grandchildren.
Upsides to this visit included fairly close encounters with many wild, rescued animals and genuine excitement among the children who didn’t complain one time, and lots of talk with well prepared and excited volunteers. Kid loving souvenirs were lovingly collected. I appreciated exposure to an animal I had never heard of called the serval.
Downsides to this visit included a rather expensive afternoon. These rescued animals. after all, must be transported for long distances after being rescued and then fed and tended to. Good weather is no guarantee in a place that can have months of snow each year. Lots of walking is required to see the residents.
Over 85% of the animals we saw, and we observed more than 100 of them, have been rescued from circuses and private ownership following legal interventions. These interventions included judges issuing arrest warrants and court orders. Many of the animals observed have been victims of abuse during captivity.
The TV series called “Tiger King” has actually helped. Its 70 million viewers and exposure to Joe Exotic, who ended up with a prison sentence of 22 years and is serving time, has opened eyes to the world of abusive breeders and foul animal treatment. Some of Joe Exotic’s animal characters have ended up in this rescue facility. The man who called himself exotic has shared details of illegal activities and practices that hurt animals. He has willingly spoken to investigators.
The director of this facility, Pat Craig, shares his thoughts with interested citizens via letters and news releases. To date, he and his staff have rescued more than 120 mostly large animals and brought them to Colorado to live unencumbered. This refuge has already grown to 9,000 acres and more habitat space is needed.
Rescued animals include 2 white tigers that were in a Buenos Aires’ zoo and 2 grizzlies that arrived in 2018. Bears and several other large animals did not need to adapt to Colorado’s climate, but tigers and lions needed time to acclimatize to this area’s weather, sights, sounds, and smells. Their new habitats range from 25 to 75 acres, and adapting takes time. Two of the newer residents of this Wild Animal Sanctuary include a couple of wolves named Arlo and Blue that were rescued from an exotic animal breeder and seller in Indiana.
This kind of facility depends on many volunteers. The ones who love what they do here are especially willing to share their views. One verbose male advises all to, “Take advantage of the knowledge of the volunteers on the walkway.” An enthusiastic female named Thea says that volunteering is the most rewarding thing she has ever done.
Those who work or volunteer here at the Wild Animal Sanctuary claim it would not be opened to the public unless a way could be found to reduce stressors. Early on they discovered that large carnivores and other animals do not consider air or sky to be territory, so elevated platforms are not a threat to residents. This means that visitors must be willing and able to walk long distances on raised walkways to see the residents. Be aware of this before making the journey.
Also feeding large animals is not easy. Most residents feed 3 or 4 times a week and large cats can eat 30 to 40 pounds of meat per feeding. One volunteer told me that this refuge requires 80,000 pounds of food each week. Almost all of the food is currently donated by Walmart stores and picked up by refuge drivers each week.
As pressure is put on individuals to abandon the practice of adopting and housing wild animals and zoos lose favor, places like this animal refuge will be increasingly needed. This one near Denver is one of the first of its kind to deal with this growing need.