“Hey Simba! Lion King, I talking to you! Simba!”
From her perch on the walkway, she yelled it into the wind.
I’m not sure what kind of response she expected. Perhaps she was hoping he would break out into a vibrant rendition of ‘Hakuna Matata’, thus inspiring a bit of spontaneous dancing throughout the pride. Alas, Simba just laid there. He didn’t even flinch.
Fortunately, my two-year-old didn’t care. She was thrilled to have ‘met’ Simba, Nala, Mufasa, and even Scar. As we moved on to the wolves, bears, foxes, and porcupines, her mind was still reliving the excitement of the lions. Throughout the rest of that day, and even the rest of the week, her lion encounter was the main topic of conversation. Each person she’s come across since then has heard about her day at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
A little over an hour from Fort Collins, on 720 acres of wide open space, there is a refuge devoted entirely to lions, tigers, bears, leopards, wolves, and more. The Wild Animal Sanctuary, located near Keenesburg, provides a home, comfort, and care for over 290 exotic animals and large carnivores. The Sanctuary rescues animals that have been abandoned, confiscated, or scheduled to be euthanized. In fact, some of the stories behind the rescues are appalling:
- Sally: This bobcat grew up with a truck driver, traveling around the country with him. When she got too large and destructive, he abandoned her at a truck stop.
- Irwin: A Texas truck stop was the previous home for this tiger, and he was quite the roadside attraction. The tigers there were permitted to breed at random, and the owners sold the cubs to customers who stopped for gas.
- Beau and Panda: A South Carolina Taxidermist raised animals to kill, mount, and sell. After his death, both of these black bears were rescued.
- Sierra: A Chicago gang member kept this tiger as a pet. Eventually, he was convicted of animal abuse and Sierra was rescued.
For the animals, the sanctuary is a safe and welcoming place where they can live out their lives in large acreage natural habitats. For visitors, the sanctuary provides a unique means of observing these magnificent creatures. Upon our arrival at the sanctuary, we were greeted by staff and given a brief overview of the facility. We wandered through the gift shop, and then made our way outside. We were greeted by howls from the wolves and an occasional roar from the tiger enclosure. We began our journey along “The Mile Into The Wild”, a mile-long elevated walkway that provides guests with excellent views, while also allowing the animals a sense of privacy.
We took our time. We lingered at the Tiger Roundhouse, a group of smaller cages for tigers who have recently arrived. Here, they are given an opportunity to adjust to their new surroundings before being introduced to the larger habitats. We also explored the Education Center, where movies and posters provide more information on the facility and the animals.
For the next two hours, we wandered along the walkway, viewing the animals and reading about their lives and their rescues. The more I read, the more thankful I was that they had finally found a good home.
- Maye: This grizzly bear was kept at a photography studio to be used in photos, until her owner decided it was not a lucrative endeavor.
- The Bolivian Lions: After a nation-wide ban on using animals in circus performances, eight circuses refused to comply. These 25 lions were rescued and flown to the United States, where they now roam 80 acres in four separate prides.
- Chloe and Jake: As infants, these spotted leopards were found in an air-conditioning duct where they had been hidden from authorities.
- Aslyn: Newlyweds received this African serval as a gift. She was kept as a pet until the couple’s first child was born, at which point the decision was made to find a more appropriate home for the animal.
- Masai and Mara: Both of these African lions came from Hollywood, where they were considered too uncooperative to work as actors.
We left the sanctuary only after spending every last dollar I had brought. And then some. The entry fee, snacks, and an abundance of souvenirs from the gift shop wiped us out. Happily, I should add. After our educational and enjoyable morning, we were happy to contribute what little we could to such a worthy cause. My children had fun, I had fun, we all learned a few things, and we will be return customers. If you haven’t yet experienced The Wild Animal Sanctuary, I highly recommend walking a “Mile Into The Wild.”
The Bottom Line
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is an excellent option for a family day trip from Fort Collins. It’s slightly over an hour away, depending on traffic, and an ideal visit will last at least two hours. I recommend calling ahead for information on feeding schedules. We were fortunate enough to be there during feeding time, and the animals were awake, alert, restless, and eager for their meal.
Keep in mind that it gets windy up on the walkway, so dress appropriately. It was chilly on the day we visited. Although this might not sound ideal, a volunteer informed us that it’s actually a better time to visit as the animals are more active in cooler weather. During warmer months, evenings may be your best bet. The sanctuary is open until sunset year-round, and exact hours can be found on their website.
Other suggested things to bring along include: sunscreen, a picnic lunch, camera, binoculars, and a stroller or wagon if necessary.
Adoption Program: Supporters can contribute, through monthly or yearly payments, to the care of a specific animal. Those who choose to adopt receive an adoption certificate, a framed photo of the animal, 5 passes to the sanctuary, a sanctuary t-shirt, and regular updates about the animal.
Rock Into The Wild: This summer 2013 concert series will be free and will include music, arts and crafts vendors, and an abundance of food.
Summer Safari Dinners: Enjoy a stroll down the ‘Mile Into The Wild’ with your own personal tour guide. You’ll then be treated to a full-course meal and a presentation about the sanctuary.
Run/Walk Into The Wild: On Saturday, June 29th, 2013, the sanctuary will host the first-ever “Run Into The Wild”, a timed 5K run with prizes and awards. This will be immediately followed by “Walk Into The Wild”, designed for anyone who would like to participate in support of the animals.
In addition to all of these events, the sanctuary has many ways to donate and offers extensive volunteer opportunities.
Adults are $15.00 and children age 3 to 12 are $7.50. Children under 3 are free.
The sanctuary is entirely stroller friendly.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
1946 County Road 53
Keenesburg, CO 80643