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Lions and tigers and bears - Oh my!

October 10, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


Lions, and tigers and bears – Oh my!

Northeastern Colorado’s arid high desert is home to the world’s largest carnivore sanctuary. The 720 acre facility houses, feeds and otherwise cares for more than 400 animals; lions, tigers, and bears among others.

According to their website:

“A shocking statistic about America’s Captive Wildlife Crisis…the illicit exotic animal trade is the third largest source of illegal profits in the world today, just after illegal drugs and weapons! In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 30,000 captive large carnivores living outside the zoo system. There are 4,000 Tigers living as “pets” in private homes in just the state of Texas – more Tigers than exist in the wild throughout the world. Countless other Great Cats, Bears, Wolves and other large carnivores live in abusive conditions in roadside stands, circuses, magic acts, traveling shows, and other substandard situations. Untold numbers of animals suffer and die each year due to neglect, abuse or because they are abandoned and left to die, starving and alone.”

Founded in 1980, the Wild Animal Sanctuary, a non-profit 30 miles northeast of Denver, is operated by Pat Craig and his family, and an army of volunteers. I am here today to photograph the facility for AAA Colorado Encompass Magazine.  Pat’s son, Casey, graciously provides a private tour for me and two friends.

We bump along in a large ATV below the mile long raised walkway built entirely by donation as Casey explains that wild animals do not consider the air above them as part of their territory, and therefore are less threatened by the many thousands of visitors; tourists, school children and other groups, that come here each year. Donations that built the walkway were earmarked specifically for that purpose. Donations intended for the animals’ care and well being go directly to the animals.

A fleet of trucks, specially outfitted to transport large animals safely, are stored at the facility. Rescues have taken place all over the world. Taking calls from government agencies, private parties and animal rights activists, TWAS will travel wherever is necessary, even transport by air, to bring these animals to a safe place to live out their lives.

We learn that is costs about 40,000 dollars per week to feed the animals, and fortunately, much of that is donated by local Walmart stores. Two trucks visit 37 of these stores every day, bringing back the meat that you and I reject as we flip through looking for longer ‘use by’ dates. The meat is processed on site, adding nutrients specifically required by each species.

We stop at an enclosure housing Max, a huge grizzly bear rescued after his back was severely injured in an accident at a roadside circus. Barely able to move when he was brought to the sanctuary, Max has recovered enough to get around, although he will always be slow and move awkwardly. We stand outside the enclosure and watch as Max ambles toward us and lifts his massive bulk into a large galvanized tub of water for a cooling dunk. Casey brings our attention to Max’s eyes. Noticing how very small his eyes are in relation to his overall size, we learn that a bear’s eyes do not grow bigger as the bear grows into adulthood.

Two other grizzlies, rescued from a Russian circus, lived in a truck for 17 years.  The bears were purposely addicted by being given nicotine infused taffy so they would perform tricks on demand. Now addiction-free, they play freely in a wide open space.  For this reason, smoking is strictly prohibited anywhere on the property.

Gigi, a rare white African lion, was rescued from Mexico when the man keeping her as a pet finally realized it wasn’t such a good idea and turned her over to a zoo. The zoo, luckily one that works closely with TWAS, contacted the sanctuary. She’ll live out her life here, on a large acreage habitat with others of her kind.

Gigi was fortunate. We hear about animals bought illegally and kept in tiny cages, animals chained in backyards, those infested with parasites and left to starve, and those beaten and abused in unthinkable ways, all rescued by TWAS.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is doing really good work. Visit their website to learn how you can help:

The Wild Animal Sanctuary





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