The Wild Animal Sanctuary: Keeping Creatures Safe in Keenesburg

Lions and tigers and bears – plus wolves, bobcats, coyotes and other large carnivores – call the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, home. The sanctuary, 30 miles northeast of Denver, provides 320 acres of grassland habitat and shelters to more than 200 animals rescued from horrible living conditions around the world.

Visitors can see these animals in their spacious habitats and learn about their wildlife rescue and care program while touring the sanctuary.

A lion cub is curious of the camera.

The sanctuary, open daily, was started in 1980, and is one of the oldest and biggest of its kind in the United States. A nonprofit organization, it relies on donations and private support to rescue and care for the animals, as well as maintain the facility and provide educational programs that raise awareness and additional support for saving captive wildlife.

One recent rescue was funded by former “The Price is Right” game show host, Bob Barker, who paid to have 25 Bolivian circus lions airlifted out of the country to the Wild Animal Sanctuary, where he would pay for their care and upkeep. In 2009, Bolivia passed a law banning the use of animals for entertainment because of the unhealthy and harmful living conditions the animals were often found in, leaving many animals with nowhere to go.

Another famous contributor is actress Jessica Biel, who helped found the Make the Difference Network, which features the sanctuary to help it gain support. Biel also makes a personal appeal on the sanctuary’s website, urging others to become a part of the movement to rescue captive wildlife by supporting the Wild Animal Sanctuary’s work.

The organization’s mission is to rescue wild animals from terrible and sometimes illegal captivity and provide them a spacious habitat with animals of their own kind, quality diets, veterinary care and, most importantly, freedom.

In addition, the sanctuary has created the Captive Wildlife Education Program to educate others about the issue. The sanctuary provides public presentations in its 1,200-square-foot education center about the animals living on the property, as well as the crisis of captive wildlife in the U.S. The sanctuary estimates that 30,000 large exotic animals exist in America outside of the nation’s zoos and more tigers live in Texas alone as “pets” than in the wild all around the world.

Hercules plays with a ball that just the right size for him.

The large cats and other animals living at the Colorado sanctuary were rescued and continue to be rescued from situations where they were abused and mistreated as pets or performing animals, from scheduled euthanasia due to over breeding or overcrowding, or from zoo programs that can no longer keep them.

Visitors can venture onto an elevated catwalk and observation platform system to see the habitats from above. But animal viewing at the sanctuary isn’t about getting up close and personal with animals (for that the Denver Zoo would be a better choice). The Wild Animal Sanctuary is primarily to offer a comfortable home to these rescued creatures, so exposure to humans is kept at a minimum. However, visitors can take a tour of the facility, participate in the educational programs, learn about what the sanctuary is doing and hear many of the animal residents’ stories.

The sanctuary continues to expand as it takes in more majestic critters that are desperately in need of a home, care and comfort. The volunteers and staff at the sanctuary are dedicated to transforming the life these animals have known into a happy one and welcome others to join in on their mission.

Cubs stop tuffing to take a look at some new friends.

If You Go

The Wild Animal Sanctuary
1946 County Road 53
Keenesburg, Colorado 80643

Visiting hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (except major holidays and bad weather).

Admission: adults, $30; children ages 3-12, $15