No running. No jumping. And keep your hands to yourself. Three rules that don’t usually go well with kids. Or so I thought when we were given a short introduction by staffers at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
I’ve visited countless zoos and driven through different types of animal parks but never have I visited a true animal sanctuary, until now. This Spring Break the Princesses and I, along with some friends set out on an adventure – to see big cats and lots of bears at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
What is The Wild Animal Sanctuary?
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is an organization that has been rescuing exotic wildlife and endangered species since 1980. The actual sanctuary is made up of 720 acres and is home to more than 300 carnivorous animals – bears, lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, etc. Each species has its own specific habitat ranging from 5-acres to 25-acres in size. It is the largest sanctuary of its kind and one of the oldest in the United States.
While it was interesting to see the animals what I found more fascinating was how and why these animals came to the plains of Colorado. When I think of lions and tigers and bear (oh my!) I tend to think of them at the zoo or in their natural habits – not living in someones basement, apartment or being kept in a cage alongside a gas station. There aren’t exact figures on how many exotic animals now live in captivity in the United States but it’s estimated that there’s at least 5,000 tigers—more than what exists in the wild.
The animals at the The Wild Animal Sanctuary have all been rescued from private owners who have the animal illegally or find they are unable to properly care for it (go figure, not knowing how to take care of a tiger), road side stands, animal auctions or worse… More often than not, the animals are confiscated by law enforcement officials and instead of “putting the animals down” The Wild Animal Sanctuary provides an opportunity for a new, safe life. Something we all deserve…
Touring The Wild Animal Sanctuary is fairly easy and provides a great way to get in a little exercise at the same time. Known as the “Mile Into The Wild” Walkway – a unique system of elevated cat-walks and observation platforms – visitors can view the rescued animals and see them living and interacting with one another in their habitats.
When we first arrived at The Wild Animal Sanctuary we were given a brief overview of the grounds and a few rules. 1. No running. 2. No jumping. 3. Keep your hands to yourself (aka inside the fencing). I was a bit confused about the first two. Yes, I understand if you run around a wild animal they may try to chase you down BUT we were in an enclosed, elevated walkway so what’s up the the rules? Apparently, the animals can “feel” the movement and it can get make then anxious and nervous. I have to admit, the no running rule was a hard one for my kids to follow.
The first area you walk through at The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a series of smaller enclosures. A number of tigers, who have been recently rescued, live in these areas before they are released into the larger habitats. These smaller enclosures are used more for rehabilitation and the newly rescued tigers as a way to help them become familiar with other tigers and their new surroundings before releasing them into the larger habitats/groups.
There are several observation decks and binoculars for visitors to see the animals who might be hanging out in the back areas of their enclosed habitats. I would recommend you bring your own binaculors if you have them. Make sure to grab one of the tour guide books before you venture out. They contain a lot great information on the animals, how there were rescued, their names and more. There are also several volunteers throughout the walkway who can answer questions for you – you just have to ask. If you need to rent a wagon, you can do so in the gift shop, where you purchase your entry fee. Pricing in $5 per wagon.
You should also check out the Free Audio Wildlife Tour they provide. You simply dial a phone number and for each station you stop at there is a sign with a specific code you punch in. The tour picks back up each time you enter this code. You do have to leave your phone going though – which drains your battery – unless you dial the number and code at each individual location.
Once the animals have been rehabilated and are ready to enter the larger group settings, they are released into one of the large-acreage habitats. Each of the habitats have unique underground dens that are spacious, comfortable and maintain constant temperature – the temperature underground stays around 60 degrees all year long.
There really aren’t a lot of trees, which makes seeing the animals a lot easier. But I do have to wonder if they stay in the dens more during the hot summer months. Keeping that in mind, if you plan to visit The Wild Animal Sanctuary in the summer, you may want to shoot for earlier in the day since it will be cooler.
Things to Know When Visiting The Wild Animal Sanctuary
- This is not a zoo. Do not expect to be able to get up close and personal with animals. There are more than 300 WILD carnivorous animals here so be respectful of the rules the sanctuary has in place.
- Take binoculars. The 720 acre park is big. There are hundreds of animals here but they are at a distance. Having binoculars helps enhance the experience AND gives kids a little control of what they are looking at. The gift shop has plastic, child ones for $10.
- Pack a lunch (and carry it with you). There are several spots along the walkway with elevated picnic areas. You can also stop and eat in the Bolivian Lion House and watch a few of the videos they have playing on some of the rescues the team has conducted. You will have to walk back the way you entered to get your lunch if you leave it in the car.
- There are two snack shops on the walkway if you (or the kids) need a little pick-me-up.
- Wear good shoes. The walkway is about 2 miles in length so you do a lot of walking. The walkways and decks are wheel-chair and stroller accessible. You can rent wagons there for $5.
- Know the rules. 1. No running. 2. No jumping. 3. Keep your hands to yourself (aka inside the fencing). The one rule they didn’t mention but was plastered alongside the drive way (multiple times) and throughout the parking lot – NO DOGS ALLOWED. I figured that made sense as dogs may bark and that would stir up the animals, but upon entering and walking around a bit I saw at least 10 dogs who lived on the grounds. What??? So I had to ask. My first reasoning was correct. But I was also told that leaving your dog in your car (which you shouldn’t do any way) can actually draw the animals into the parking lot – surrounding your car, stomping and scratching your car – all for a tasty little treat, aka your dog. So, leave your dogs at home.
- You won’t see any cubs or young animals here. Most of the animals are neutered as soon as they arrive at the sanctuary. There is no breeding taking place here – it’s a rescue mission.
- Keep your receipts as your admission is tax deductible since The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a non-profit.
- You may just spark interest in your kids becoming more of an explorer.
Visiting The Wild Animal Sanctuary
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is located outside of Keenesburg, Colorado, 30 miles northeast of Denver. It is located on rural, rolling grasslands, comprising 720 acres and sheltering more than 300 large carnivores animals. This is not a drive through type of park. It is one where you get out of your car and walk – in a secured location.
Hours: Open daily from 9am to sunset except for: New Years Day – Fourth of July – Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Day
Location: 1946 County Road 53, Keenesburg, CO 80643
Pricing: Adults – $15; Children, ages 3-12 – $7.50
(Keep your receipts as your admission is tax deductible since The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a non-profit.)
Have you visited The Wild Animal Sanctuary? Other animal sanctuaries? What did you think?