Major Programs


Mission:  To Prevent and alleviate cruelty to animals which are abandoned or that are subject to deprivation or neglect by providing care and boarding for such animals.

America has a “Captive Wildlife Crisis!”  There are estimates as high as 30,000 captive Great Cats, Bears, Wolves and other large carnivores living in substandard conditions throughout the US.  In fact, after illegal drugs and weapons, the exotic animal trade is the third largest source of illicit profits in America…and in the world…today!

The Wild Animal Sanctuary, TWAS, is all about saving animals who are victims of America’s “Captive Wildlife Crisis!”  We criss-cross the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central & South America rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores who have been abused, abandoned, exploited or illegally kept.  We have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles to more than 45 states (many times) on rescue missions… and into Mexico, Panama, Bolivia and other countries over the years as well… saving animals from dreadful circumstances, and bringing them back to live in the wide open space of large acreage habitats where they have plenty of space, exceptional diets and proper veterinary care, for as long as they live.

Our goal for the animals we rescue is to give them a life of dignity and respect, and make their life like it would be if they could choose.  TWAS also works tirelessly to educate about the causes of…and solutions to…the Captive Wildlife Crisis. 

Who We Are

Established by Executive Director Pat Craig in 1980, Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, DBA The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a state and federally licensed zoological facility and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  We are located outside of Keenesburg, Colorado, 30 miles northeast of Denver. We are located on rural, rolling grasslands, comprising 720 acres and sheltering more than 290 large carnivores alone!  TWAS is the largest sanctuary of its kind and one of the oldest in the United States.  

For the past 33 years, The Wild Animal Sanctuary has responded to more than 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States, and other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.  Our resident animals were abandoned, abused, illegally kept, or were victims of other terrible situations.  The vast majority of our rescues come from situations where private citizens have tried to keep exotic animals as pets - and were confiscated by law enforcement officials for being kept in illegal or abusive situations.  Others were surplus animals from zoos and other wildlife facilities, where they faced euthanasia due to over-breeding, overcrowding or closings due to inadequate finances.  

Our 350+ residents include tigers, African lions, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, leopards, wolves, servals, bobcats, foxes, lynx, coyote, coati mundi, raccoon, porcupine, ostrich, emu, camel, alpaca, horses and rescued dogs & cats.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary’s mission is to rescue and provide life-long homes for large exotic and endangered captive wild animals, and to educate the public about the causes of, and solutions to America’s captive wildlife crisis.  (to top)

Why Our Work Is Important

Illegal trade in exotic and endangered species is a problem of epic proportions…

  • Only the drug and gun trades are larger in terms of their scope and profit throughout the world today! 
  • Just in America, there are an estimated 30,000 large exotic animals living outside our zoo system.
  • There are more tigers living as “pets” in just the state of Texas than currently exist in the wild all over the world. 
  • The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 big cats are in private hands, from cages in basements to roadside zoos.  Sadly, most of these animals live in squalid and inhumane conditions.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Leopard Killed In "Canned Hunt"

While the numbers of captive large carnivores continue to increase, states have finally begun to impose regulations in an attempt to slow the trade.  Currently 40+ states have varying laws that ban or hinder keeping large exotic animals as pets.  Colorado, the home of TWAS, banned big cats as pets nearly 30 years ago... and in 2004 adopted some of the country’s toughest regulations and standards for big cat sanctuaries. 

Of the roughly 70 accredited sanctuaries in the United States, only about a dozen take in big cats, bears or other large carnivores.  Consequently, The Wild Animal Sanctuary plays a critical role in providing a safe haven and maintaining long-term shelter for many large carnivores.  We work closely with city, state, and federal agencies to provide relief when they confiscate animals, and thus have developed excellent working relationships with them.  Unfortunately, with tens of thousands of large exotics living outside our zoo system today and many of those being bred annually, the need for our services is increasingly urgent.  (to top)

Our Current Programs

Our facilities are some of the most contemporary in the nation.  We have built multiple species-specific habitats ranging from 5-acres to 25-acres in size, and currently have more than 21 Tiger, Wolf, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, African Lion, Leopard, Lynx and Bobcat habitats. Other animals dwell in very large enclosures during their rehabilitation process, and are carefully joined into cohesive groups that will ultimately have new habitats built for them to live in.  These roomy, comfortable environments offer our rescued animals unprecedented freedom and more natural living spaces.  All of our large-acreage habitats have unique underground dens that are spacious, comfortable and maintain constant temperature – as the temperature underground stays around 60 degrees all year long. 

Unlike many sanctuaries that have wooden den boxes backed up to the animals’ cages, TWAS has designed and built a large centralized round animal house located within our rehabilitation area.  This building, which houses as many as 60 animals, provides a year-round temperature controlled environment, which can be important during extreme weather conditions, and provides the perfect setting for the beginning stages of rehabilitation.  This design feature also allows for maximum efficiency when cleaning, delivering food or moving animals as needed for veterinary care. 

TWAS also has what is known as the "Mile Into The Wild" Walkway - a unique system of elevated cat-walks and observation platforms - which allow visitors to view our rescued animals enjoying their ability to roam freely within their habitats. This elevated system is a critical part of our being able to have visitors - as it removes humans as a threat to the animals' territory.  In addition, we have a 1,200 sq. ft. education center, where we provide multi-media public presentations about our animals and the captive wildlife crisis.  (to top)

We offer three specific programs to advance our mission:  

Wild Animal Rescue

Since 1980, The Wild Animal Sanctuary has answered the call to rescue captive exotic and endangered large carnivores living in backyards, apartments, tiny cages, garages, crawl spaces, horse trailers, barns and other terrible situations. 

Our rescued animals come from private owners who have the animal illegally or find they are unable to properly care for it…surplussed from zoos…entertainment industry rejects or “retirees”…roadside stands…exotic animal auctions…other facilities that have been shut down due to animal abuse, public safety concerns, or financial problems.  More often than not, the animals are confiscated by law enforcement officials, including the USDA, US Fish & Wildlife and various state and local law enforcement agencies.

TWAS has specially designed and outfitted rescue vans, trucks and trailers, along with custom built travel cages, all providing temperature controlled comfort for the animals during transport to their new home at the Sanctuary.  Rescues have been small - from saving an African lion, two tigers and a mountain lion from a crawl space under a house here in Colorado – to medium - rescuing 25 Bears from a failed facility in Texas - to huge - bringing back 28 rescued African Lions from Panama and Bolivia.   

The Wild Animal Sanctuary works closely with national, state and international law enforcement agencies; local, state and national agencies (zoning, health and welfare, for example); and government entities such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  These organizations depend on us to provide safe and humane wild animal rescue services.  We also work with zoos and wildlife facilities that are experiencing overcrowded conditions and need assistance.

TWAS provides short-term foster care during pending court action, and permanent guardianship of the animals after legal custody is obtained.  We rescue many animals each year, depending on the space we have available.
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Wild Animal Care Program

It is the Sanctuary’s goal to get all the animals into a large acreage habitat with others of their own kind, so that they can experience life with plenty of space, diets of exceptional quality, expert veterinary care, and freedom from performing, traveling, or otherwise doing things Nature did not intend for them. 
Once the rescued animals arrive at The Wild Animal Sanctuary, they are given time in seclusion to get adjusted to their new home.  Depending on the level – and type – of abuse they have suffered, the animals are rehabilitated with loving care, so that they learn they can trust humans and other animals again. 

Animals live in a variety of places on the Sanctuary grounds, based on their species and their relative newness to the Sanctuary.  Those living in the main compound have inside/outside enclosures, along with heated areas for winter.  They also have a wide variety of play structures, including pools for the tigers.  The main animal house has gates that allow the cats to take turns in the tiger pool area - a rehabilitation area featuring multiple pools, waterfalls and streams for the animals to play in.    (to top)

Habitats – TWAS has 21 habitats, ranging in size from 5 to 25 acres.  These natural habitats are on rolling prairie grasslands, complete swimming ponds and seasonal lakes.  The all have underground dens (that stay about 60 degrees year round), shade shelters and play structures, and all kinds of toys and enrichment. (to top)

Diet – The animals are fed on a random schedule, like they would eat in the wild.  This feeding process helps address their natural biological needs perfectly.  The Sanctuary feeds 9,500 lbs. of top quality USDA-inspected meats (beef, poultry, mutton, pork, etc...), blended with vitamins and nutrients, to its great cats and wolves (about 2/3 of our animal population) each week.  The cost of this meat diet is around $450,000.00 annually. (to top)

We feed another 10,500 lbs. of everything to our bears each week.  While most of the bear food (fruit, veggies, eggs, raw fish and grains) is donated, it costs the Sanctuary another $100,000.00 a year in transportation and cold storage costs (fleet of vehicles, gas, maintenance  and insurance, cold and freezer storage units).  As you can imagine, costs of food, transportation and storage make up the “lion’s share” of the Sanctuary’s budget! (to top)

Veterinary Care – We provide exceptional veterinary care for the animals.  Upon arrival, the animals are checked and vaccinated if necessary.   Since there is no breeding, male animals not already neutered must have that procedure when they arrive.  (All except for the African lions, who would lose their manes, so female African lions receive implants to depress their cycles.).  For more serious medical issues, the animals must be taken to the Sanctuary's on-site Veterinary Hospital, or in extreme cases, to Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, about  1 ½ hours away.  (to top)

TWAS Veterinary Hospital -  The Sanctuary has its own Veterinary Hospital that was built with all the necessary specialized equipment to comfortably accommodate animals up to the size of our largest animals - the 1,500 lb. grizzly bears.  The onsite Veterinary Hospital can handle the vast majority of medical issues the animals face, and utilizes a network of dedicated Veterinarians to cover the spectrum of animal medical issues.  Another goal of the Hospital is to provide educational opportunities for veterinarians and students who want to specialize in large carnivore care.  For serious medical issues requiring major diagnostic equipment such as MRI machines, the animals must be sedated and taken to Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where expert teams and state-of-the-art equipment can be utilized. (to top)

Captive Wildlife Education Program

Education about the Captive Wildlife Crisis – the causes of and potential solutions to - is critically important to the alleviation of suffering endured by millions of animals worldwide.  It may sound idealistic, but The Wild Animal Sanctuary wants to change social consciousness – so that people learn to understand that captive large carnivores do not make good pets…they are not entertainment…and their skins and body parts are not products. 

The way to achieve this change in social consciousness is through Education.

Education is part of the orientation given to all visitors at the Sanctuary.  It is important that visitors understand the need for sanctuaries like ours, as well as what they can do to help alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of captive large carnivores living in substandard conditions throughout the US. 
TWAS has an Education Center containing plenty of information, posters and videos about the animals, the Captive Wildlife Crisis, the kind of life we provide for our rescued animals, what and how we feed the animals, how we construct their habitats and shelters, and a whole lot more.   In addition to welcoming 100,000+ visitors each year, the Sanctuary also gives group tours to students and scouts, organizations and businesses.  Groups must schedule their tours in advance, by emailing, or by calling 303-536-0118.

The Sanctuary Speakers Bureau, made up of staff and volunteers, travels throughout Colorado’s Front Range, giving presentations to businesses, service clubs, universities and other agencies, as well as participating in town fairs and other public gatherings.  Government agencies and professional organizations involved with captive wildlife issues frequently seek our advice on the animals’ care, transportation and behaviors.   To schedule a presentation, call the Sanctuary, 303-536-0118. 

The Sanctuary’s web site – – is visited by millions of people annually, and we stay in touch with supporters via My Space, Facebook, and Twitter. TWAS is also sponsored by actress Jessica Biel and singer song writer Keb Mo.  (to top)

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