Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary rescues and cares for wild animals in its ongoing effort to help alleviate the “Captive Wildlife Crisis” - in which an estimated 30,000 captive great cats, bears, wolves and other exotic animals are being subjected to terrible lives in substandard conditions outside the zoo system throughout the U.S. and worldwide.

Countless large carnivores live in abusive conditions, such as roadside stands, circuses, magic acts, and traveling shows. Many animals suffer and die each year due to neglect and abuse or because they are just abandoned and left to die. There are also surplus animals in zoos and other wildlife facilities that face euthanasia due to over-breeding and overcrowded conditions. In Texas alone, there are an estimated 4,000 tigers being kept as pets in private homes. Some states have taken action to eliminate this problem. Nineteen states now have laws that ban keeping large exotic animals as pets. Colorado banned big cats as pets in 1985.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary works closely with national, state and international law enforcement agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide safe and humane wild animal rescue services. They also work with zoos and wildlife facilities that are experiencing overcrowded conditions and need assistance.

The Sanctuary has special rescue vans, trucks and trailers, and custom built travel cages that have temperature controls - to provide comfort for rescued animals, during transport to their new home at the Sanctuary.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary was established in 1980 by Pat Craig, who is its Executive Director. It is a state and federally licensed zoological facility.

Pat said his organization has, “criss-crossed the United States and Mexico to rescue captive exotic and endangered large carnivores, “that have been abused, abandoned, exploited or illegally kept.” He said, “We have traveled thousands of miles through 42 different states on rescue missions, and even into Mexico, to save animals from dreadful circumstances. The rescued animals are brought to the Sanctuary, where they can live healthy lives in spacious habitats for as long as they live.”

Several recent rescues have included rescuing fifteen Bears from Ohio, and eighteen different animals from a USDA enforced closure of a zoo in Nebraska, where animals were being abused.

The Sanctuary’s biggest rescue mission came about after Bolivia passed a law prohibiting the use of wild animals in circus acts. Twenty five African lions confiscated from eight different circuses needed a safe home. The Wild Animal Sanctuary offered to rescue them. With the help of Animal Defenders International (ADI), game show host Bob Barker and numerous government agencies, the lions were flown 5,000 miles aboard a chartered cargo jet from Bolivia to Colorado.

Because the lions would not have be able to acclimate to the sharp climate change from mid-summer in Bolivia to winter in Colorado, when they would be shipped, the Sanctuary undertook a large construction project and built a special, temperature-controlled tent building in which to house the lions. The relocation project was completed with great success and the lions love their new home.

The Sanctuary, which originally started on Pat’s family farm near Boulder, now sits on rolling, rural grasslands, 50 miles east of Boulder and 30 miles northeast of the Denver Metro area. It encompasses 720 acres of open space, where the animals can live and roam. The Sanctuary’s habitats are being expanded to adjacent land as fast as funding permits.

The Sanctuary currently shelters more than 290 tigers, leopards, African lions, mountain lions, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, servals, bobcats, foxes, lynx, coyotes and coati mundi. It has excellent facilities to nurse rescued animals back to health and provide lifelong care for them.

The animals live in a variety of species-specific habitats on the Sanctuary grounds. The habitats, which range from 5 to 25-acres, include: three tiger habitats, three wolf habitats, two black bear habitats, a grizzly bear habitat, and an African lion habitat. The habitats have underground dens built out of concrete in order to supply temperature controlled housing or hibernation dens.

The Sanctuary has a unique, centrally located 7,000 square foot temperature-controlled round-house that provides optimal care for recent animal rescues. It is used as a primary staging area for the animal rehabilitation process, prior to moving them into their own habitats. There are gates that allow the cats to take turns in the tiger pool area, which features a waterfall and large zoo balls for play. The outside enclosures are covered with wood chips that are cleaned and changed on a regular basis.

The animals are fed on a random schedule - as they would eat in the wild, which helps address their natural biological needs. The Sanctuary feeds top quality USDA-inspected meats, including: beef, poultry, mutton, and pork - blended with vitamins and nutrients to its great cats and wolves. The bears are fed fruit, vegetables, eggs, and donated leftover hotel and cafeteria food.

Exceptional veterinary care is provided for the animals. The Sanctuary has its own veterinary hospital - buit with all the necessary specialized equipment to comfortably accommodate animals up to the size of the Sanctuary’s largest animals - the 1,500 lb. grizzly bears. The onsite veterinary hospital can handle most of the medical issues the animals face. In addition, a network of outside veterinarians is also used to provide medical treatment for the animals. For more serious medical issues, the animals are sedated and taken to Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins.

Upon arrival at the Sanctuary, the animals are checked and vaccinated, if necessary. Since there is no breeding done at the Sanctuary, male animals not already neutered have that procedure done when they arrive. African lions, which would lose their manes if neutered are the exception. To solve that problem, female African lions receive implants to depress their cycles.

The Sanctuary has a unique system of elevated cat-walks and observation platforms, which allow visitors to view the wild animals. Presently under development is a “Mile Into The Wild” walkway project, which is a network of elevated catwalks and decks over new habitats. It leads to the impressive new Bolivian Lion House. The mile long walkway is estimated to be completed by the end of 2011. Contributions from the public are needed to help fund this project.

The Sanctuary has a 1,200 square foot Wild Animal Education Center, which is used for public presentations to visitors, school groups and organizations - to tell them about the animals and to inform them about the captive wildlife crisis.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is open for visitors year round: daily, 9am-4pm, except during major Holidays and bad weather. Summer hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day are: 9am until sunset.

Edited by Mel Fenson from
information obtained from the
Wild Animal Sanctuary’s website.

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