Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary

My niece visited in April during her Spring break.  Samantha watches Dr. Jeff on Animal Planet and he had visited The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS) to do some veterinary work on female lions.  She really wanted to make a visit to the sanctuary and it ended up being the highlight of her trip.

The sanctuary was created in 1980 by Pat Craig, just outside of Boulder.  Now, they are out on the eastern plains of Colorado and are the world’s largest carnivore sanctuary with 450 animals on 720 acres.  I highly recommend looking at their website.  The videos are both inspiring and heartbreaking.  It makes me so angry that these animals are taken from the wild to be pets or displayed in a zoo.  To me, the best practice for zoos is to buy animals from other zoos; I think that the wild should remain wild.  Do I even have to say that no private person should own a wild carnivore as a pet?  Sadly, I’m not the queen of the world, so we need rescues for large animals, too.

You travel about the sanctuary on an overhead walkway.  Being face to face with the animals causes them stress because you are at the edge of their territory.  However, the animals don’t think they own the air above them.  For the most part they just ignore the people on the walkway.  The habitats are pretty big, so sometimes the animals are quite a distance from the walkway.  On the other hand, a number of animals were right underneath it.

The visitor’s center was full of interesting displays and videos aimed at the whole family.  After walking 15,000 steps, we really appreciated the delicious meal at the food court, which was reasonably priced.  Samantha was over the moon with the ice cream parlor; especially nice on a hot day.  We also visited the gift shop and each of us bought a pack of picture postcards featuring professional grade photos of the animals.

Just out of the visitors center, you see a leopard habitat:

The black leopard is on the rightmost perch of the aerial platform.  We thought he was the only cat in this area, until on the walk back were we saw a spotted leopard seemingly stalking the black one, sneaking through the taller grass at the edge of the enclosure.  There are lots of hiding places, so there sure could have been more cats that we didn’t see since there are six leopards.  One thing that we noticed right away is that all of the enclosures have “enrichment” features depending on the type of animals.  For example, leopards like high places.  The concrete pipes or culverts are buried into berms for protection from the weather.  These dens stay at about 60ºF all year round.

This is a fairly new area built for foxes:


When animals are diggers, they either put concrete all around the fences, or install a rock moat.  This pen had lots of new trees, and a waterway for the foxes.  I think it will take a while for the trees to get established on the arid plains.  In the right picture, you can see the fox curled around the base of the tree outside of a shelter.  There are fourteen foxes at the sanctuary, of many different types.  They aren’t ALL in this pen, but it’s going to be a nice one.

There are 70 lions at the sanctuary at this time:


The newest, oldest, and sickest ones are kept in the Bolivian Lion House.  This was named after a big rescue in 2011 in conjunction with the Bolivian government, Bob Barker, and Animal Defenders International.  Circuses in Bolivia could no longer keep performing wild animals.  There were about 25 lions that needed homes, so they were moved to TWAS via a 747 jet, according to a volunteer.  Since the climate was so different, they built a separate fabric-covered building to help the lions acclimate to Colorado.  Most of the lions were eventually grouped into prides and they live in open pens.  This is where Dr. Jeff comes in.  You can’t neuter male lions—they lose their manes!  So, the staff captured the females and gave them long-lasting birth control shots.  TWAS does not breed their animals, and tries to use the least drastic form of birth control.

This is a pride eating:

They are fed every couple of days, and they eat chicken, beef, mutton, and pork, mixed with vitamins and other special additives.  TWAS gets some of the meat donated, thank goodness, as it costs about $8000 per year to feed one of the big carnivores.  A volunteer told us that she watches the female lions, and they are so satisfied with their diets that birds and rabbits safely live in their enclosures.

We asked a volunteer about the camels, ostriches, and llamas (?) we could see in a barn:

Apparently, the sanctuary doesn’t only take carnivores.  For instance, someone had a herd of alpacas that they could no longer care for.  They wanted to donate the herd to TWAS to be used as food.  The sanctuary took them, but couldn’t bear to feed them to the other animals.  The alpacas now live near the wolves and tigers, and seem none the worse for it.  In this picture, the tigers are being fed and were growling, which attracted the wolves, who in turn were howling.  The alpacas, being herbivores, were watching the whole show from a safe distance.

Speaking of wolves, there are 20 of them at the sanctuary:


They also accept wolf-dog mixes that are too wolfy to live in a home.  They are broken up into several large packs that were unfazed by visitors.  In addition to raw meat, there were piles of Kibble in the enclosures to tide them over.  The wolf pens had dead trees on top of rocks for the wolves to climb on:


I should say here that they aren’t kidding with the fencing on the enclosures.  This has fencing going in at the top to prevent wolves from jumping out or climbing the chain link.  My niece and I were impressed with the height of the leopard and lynx pens; they were over twelve feet high.

A couple of happy wolf pictures:


It’s nice that we’re all winners here—visitors can see wolves up close, and the wolves have some more shade if they want it.

TWAS rescues more bears than any other animal:

They have 110 black bears and 43 grizzly bears.  They eat over 19,000 pounds of fruit, veggies, meat, and pasta per week!  There are a couple of black bear enclosures, seeing as there are so many bears:

This enclosure is being worked on while the bears are, hopefully, hibernating:

There were several teams out there with earth-moving equipment and shovels.  It was warm out so the water looked pretty inviting.

A grizzly bear had been rescued in February or March and when put into its enclosure, it went into the den and started to hibernate.  The volunteers hadn’t seen it, but it came out the day we were there:

That is one honking big bear!  I’m glad his pen was so close to the walkway.

The bears all seem to have water of some sort in their enclosures.  Here is a new pond in a bear pen, but we didn’t see what kind of bear(s) were living here:

It looks perfect to me.  We laughed pretty hard at the gnome at the top of the rock feature.  We saw several gnomes in enclosures.

I gathered that tigers are the most difficult of the big cats to rehabilitate.  A volunteer told us that they usually take up to two years to become acclimated and work their way into a group:

Until this happens, they live at the tiger roundhouse either by themselves or with another tiger they have bonded with.  Right now there are about 55 tigers, including several white tigers.


A lot of them were kept in small cages, so even this outdoor living area seems big to them.  They also have an indoor pen to get out of the weather.

The roundhouse is exactly that with pie-shaped pens all the way around it:

Every enclosure has a big water tank that the tiger can get into, plus logs, beds, and even big balls to play with.

Once they tigers get used to the sanctuary and other tigers, they end up in big enclosures:

This tiger is living the life on his kitty jungle gym.  I would rather be in one of these pens with their big water features:


We really wanted a tiger to jump in the water, but no such luck.

There were some inventive mountain lion pens.  They were fairly small but there was a covered walkway that the lions could get into that lead to a big enclosure.  All of the small enclosures had balls and toys for the mountain lions to play with.  The day that we were there, most of the cats seemed pretty lazy.

The lynxes also had cool pens with towers for them to climb.  The towers were almost as high as the walkway, so there were big Plexiglas screens at the top of the towers to prevent an escape. The lynxes seemed pretty content with their beds:


I loved visiting this sanctuary, and plan on going again soon.  There are many volunteers on the walkways to talk to about the animals; they had lots of great stories.  On their advice, I’m going later in the day to make sure I’m there for feeding time.  That’s when the animals are the most active and vocal.  It was so cool to hear lions roaring at the same time wolves were howling!  I hope you’ll make a visit to the sanctuary to see all the carnivorous awesomeness.


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5 Responses to Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary

  1. Anny says:

    Great article! I’m so happy to hear about a place like this for the animals. It sounds like they really care about the specific animal’s needs. What town is this near?

    • kathy & deb says:

      Thanks Anny. Actually, it’s way east of Boulder now; it’s on the east side of I-25 off of state highway 10. The nearest town is Keensburg CO. Their website has great directions if you ever want to visit.

  2. Anny says:

    Re-read and see its outside Boulder. Thanks.

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