While visiting Denver for a concert (Sebastian Bach with Santa Cruz opening), we decided to go visit the Wild Animal Sanctuary outside Hudson, CO. I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life and never heard of this place until about a month ago when a friend on Facebook posted pictures. I love animals and this place sounded right up my alley. I admit I barely gave the website a glance prior to the visit, mainly to get directions on how to find it.
As we drove down back country roads, we wondered exactly what it was we were seeing. Strange towers of wood, giant pieces of cloth stretched between supports, large fences, walkway snaking across the green prairie, all seeming to go for miles. As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed signs asking visitors to stay away from the fences and not to view the animals through the fence.
An enthusiastic young woman met us as soon as we walked into the main building, asking if this was our first visit to the park, how did we hear about them, pointing out where to sign their guest book, explaining about how the park is 100% non-profit and that they rely solely on donations to take care of the animals. After we paid, she took out outside to the beginning of our amazing journey….
The first thing animal she introduces us to is a gorgeous black leopard lounging peacefully in the shade. Then she hits us with the animal’s horror story: declawed in such a brutal fashion she was barely able to walk when the park rescued her, teeth shaved down, malnourished, sick…my stomach twisted at how purely evil man can be. No other being that inhabits this planet has the capacity to take great joy in inflicting pain of another living thing.
The gorgeous animal is flourishing now, and isn’t alone anymore. She shares a temporary enclosure with another leopard and the two couldn’t be happier.
The animals are rescues or turned over voluntarily by their “owners”. Many of the animals have stories similar to the black leopard: brutally abused, living in tiny environments, sick, malnourished. The animals that are first brought to the park are kept in small enclosures to acclimate them as well as to allow them to receive medical care and to get healthy. Most have known only confinement and have never been with other animals so putting them into a 20 acre plot with others of their kind would stress them out. The park takes their time allowing the animals to get to know each other in small doses, finally allowing them to meet in a small enclosure, before releasing them into the larger plots when a group has become acclimated (size of the group depends on the species).
The park is designed for maximum comfort of the animals NOT the viewing public. Rather than walking on the ground right next to their enclosures, the park has walkways that go over the enclosures. The animals aren’t afraid of us if we’re up high as they don’t have natural predators that hang out in the air. While we walked over the park, most of the animals didn’t even seem to take note of us at all.
Most of them were dozing away in the shade of various shelters built in the larger enclosures. Even the smaller acclimating enclosures are far larger than anything these animals have ever known. Their final home in the multi-acre plots? It’s pure heaven for them! Lots of room and enrichment (the tigers enclosures have large pools they can play in), even custom-built dens that run about 60 degrees year-round that allow them to shelter from the heat as well as the cold.
The walkway only extends a mile out (so a two mile walk out and back) but work is underway to extend the walkways over some of the 40 acre plots where the lions, and tigers, and bears go (oh MY!) after they’ve acclimated into their social groups.
I was blown away by this sanctuary and how much the volunteers care about the animals. Everywhere we looked were people in orange shirts doing a variety of tasks.
What this park needs to keep running is donations and for people to visit the park and get the word out about the plight of these rescued animals. One of the fun ways to help is to adopt your very own animal! The larger the animal (lions, bears, tigers) the larger the adoption amount but even adopting your very own wild animal only costs $30 a month! The smaller animals (leopards, mountain lions) are $20 a month and things like coyotes and bobcats are $10 a month. Hell, I know people that spend $30 a WEEK on Starbucks! A few hundred dollars a year is totally worth it to keep these gorgeous animals living in bliss for the rest of their lives. If you are interested in adopting an animal, go to the website, click the About link, then the Contact link. If you adopt (depending on the animal and the amount), you’ll get a description of your animal, a picture of your animal, updates, a T-shirt, and active supporter status.
But there are lots of ways to help. A quick visit to their website and clicking on the Ways to Help link, you’ll see that you can do thing like donating old printer cartridges to buying a bronze plaque that will be placed on the walk-way, to booking travel through the Travel to Give site (they donate a portion of hotel, flights, etc to the Wild Animal Sanctuary)
Check out the website and see for yourself the heartbreaking and amazing stories of these gorgeous animals. If you live in the area, consider volunteering. With 700 acres of land to develop into enclosures, they need all the people they can get! And consider a visit to the sanctuary. I guarantee you it will change you forever.