The dictionary defines sanctuary as “a place of refuge and protection”, and that is exactly what The Wild Animal Sanctuary founder, Pat Craig, has built in southern Weld County.
Bothered by the fact that these majestic animals were being euthanized, Craig contacted both the state and federal government to ask what could be done to stop the practice. He was told to start a zoo. As a 19-year-old college student, Craig recalls wondering what he could actually do to help these animals.
Having grown up on a farm, Craig had access to some infrastructure and began to obtain the appropriate licenses to start a rescue facility. He initially sent letters to all the zoos in the country asking them to contact him if they were going to euthanize a animal. He received 300 responses in the first month!
Later, Craig began receiving rescue requests from law enforcement agencies who were finding large animals being kept in people’s basements and garages.
Thirty-three years later, Craig has built the largest and oldest large-carnivore sanctuary in the country. He has rescued more than 300 lions, tigers, bears and wolves from dire conditions, and now these animals roam freely on approximately 320 acres of habitat in the Weld County countryside.
It is estimated that approximately 30,000 large carnivores are being kept in substandard conditions throughout the United States, so Craig’s commitment to rescuing these animals continues. Sometimes, the rescues even extend beyond national borders. In 2011, Craig and his team traveled to Bolivia to rescue 25 abused and malnourished ex-circus lions, some of which were forced to live in a trailer so small that they had to sleep on top of one another.
With the assistance of Animal Defenders International, Craig brought the lions back to Keenesburg where they touched grass for the first time and now have free reign of several 20-acre enclosures. A far cry from the sad conditions they were forced to live in as circus performers.
At the Sanctuary, each animal has a story, and thanks to Craig, his staff, the volunteers and most importantly the donors, each animal now has an opportunity to thrive in a new chapter of their life.
The Sanctuary is located just south of Highway 52 near Keenesburg, Colorado (1946 WCR 53). Open seven days a week, the Sanctuary is a great place to take the entire family. Plan on spending at least a few hours enjoying the animals; many people end up spending the entire day at the facility. Picnic lunches are welcome and there are benches and tables located throughout the Mile into the Wild walkway – which gives visitors a bird’s-eye view of the animals in their habitats.
For directions, hours, and prices, please visit www.wildanimalsanctuary.org