Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my! – The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Who knew there were some 300 large carnivores, African lions, Indian tigers, and the like,  living out their lives in relative comfort out on the plains of CO?

Well, OK, truthfully I guess I did – I’d heard about this place years ago, and had always meant to go out there. But just recently, a chance encounter at dinner with someone who volunteered at the sanctuary gave me renewed impetus to make the trip, and a friend and I had Sat afternoon free.. so.. off we went.

Apparently, the sanctuary was started some 30+ years ago by Paul Craig, who lived with his parents on a farm in the Boulder area. A young man at the time, he had somehow ended up taking a behind-the-scenes tour of a traveling circus/zoo. The public likes to see young and healthy animals, in the prime of their lives, so at the time it was not unusual for the older animals to be kept in not-so-nice conditions in the back or euthanized.

Appalled at what he saw, Mr. Craig when back to his parent’s farm as said “I want to start a wild animal sanctuary.” And  they agreed. Nice parents, I guess.

Fast forward 30 years and the Wild Animal Sanctuary now occupies some 720 acres out on the plains of Colorado and is home to around 300 large carnivores – Lions, and tigers and bears (Oh my!) along with wolves, bobcats, African servals, leopards,  etc.. it’s a pretty amazing place.

The animals come from small road-side circuses that were shut down or outlawed (25 lions came from the country of Bolivia which outlawed the keeping of such animals in circuses and confiscated the animals from 8 circuses that refused to give them up). Many of them come from private idiots… err… owners who thought a tiger cub would make a cute pet – until said tiger cub grew up and wasn’t so cute anymore.  It’s apparently a huge problem in this country – some 30,000 exotic animals are kept as pets (often illegally) and live in pretty miserable conditions for an animal whose natural instincts is to roam the savannah unfettered in search of it’s next meal.

Many of them come to the sanctuary in bad condition –  malnourished and poorly socialized. A lot of them have never stepped foot outside of a cage, or had any meaningful interaction with another member of their own species, before.  Their first stop is typically a indoor/outdoor enclosure in the round house where they’re given medical attention as needed, proper nutrition and allowed to interact with their neighbors in a controlled manner.

Eventually family units form and the resulting pride is given its own 20 acre habitat out on the plains to live out the rest of their lives on in relative peace and comfort. The animals are given birth control to prevent breeding, and supplied with underground “dens” in each habitat to take shelter during bad weather, but are pretty hardy and spend most of their time out of doors.

For visitors, there’s an indoor visitor’s center and and an above-the-ground walkway with allows you to walk over the habitats from a safe vantage point some 30 feet in the air. For the most part, the animals seem to care less about the people walking up high overhead. Although the day was fairly chilly,  the animals were out doing what large carnivores spend most of their time doing, I guess – lounging around, sleeping in the grass, checking each other out and looking for their next meal – only here, it comes in the form of 10 lb frozen “meatsicles” – made up mostly of day-old meat from the local Walmart (yes Walmart!) because they can’t sell it as fresh any more.

For more information, to donate, or adopt an animal, check out:

As for me, I’m going back out sometime in the spring, when it’s warmer, with a longer lens. And volunteering, or even animal adoption, may be in my future.