The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit Sanctuary in the world dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores, providing them with a wonderful life for as long as they live, and educating about the tragic plight faced by an estimated 30,000 such animals in America today.
How We Got Here...
Established in 1980, The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS), is a state and federally licensed zoological facility and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Originally started outside Boulder, CO, TWAS soon moved to Lyons, CO, where there was more room for the animals, and to provide for future expansion. After eight years at that location, TWAS was forced to move again due to a limestone quarry beginning rock blasting operations on adjacent land.
The Sanctuary was relocated to Keenesburg, CO in 1994 and continued its operations on an initial 160 acres located just 30 miles north of Denver (50 miles east of Boulder). The new site offered plenty of space for large acreage habitats to be built, as well as additional grassland buffers that could be used as pasture for rescued horses, camels, yaks and other various hoof stock.
The Sanctuary was not open to the public at that time, but did allow supporters and their guests who wanted to learn about the Captive Wildlife Crisis to visit on special occasions. By 2001 the Sanctuary knew the overall need for educating the public had begun to outweigh its desire to remain closed to public visitation. As such, Sanctuary management and Board of Directors agreed to build an initial elevated walkway and observation deck so that interested people and the general public could begin visiting on a regular basis.
Since 2001, the Sanctuary has been open daily from 9:00 AM to Sunset, except for major holidays and during bad weather.
The Sanctuary remains located on rural, rolling grasslands northeast of the Denver Metro area. Currently, this facility occupies 1,214 acres and shelters more than 550 Lions, Tigers, Bears, Leopards, Mountain Lions, Wolves and other large carnivores. It still remains the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for rescued animals.
Since January, 1980, 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 around the world. Our furry residents were abused, abandoned, illegally kept, or were victims of other terrible situations.
By 2017, nearly all the surrounding land that had previously been available for purchase at the Keenesburg site was gone. The Sanctuary had been fortunate to grow from 160 acres in 1994 to more than 789 in 2017. Yet, the time had come where future growth was no longer possible in Keenesburg. In order to continue its mission of rescuing animals and providing life-long care, additional land at a different location would need to be procured.
Fortunately, the Sanctuary was able to find a 9,752-acre parcel of land located in southern Colorado near the town of Springfield. A second site was proposed and a fundraising campaign was put into place to purchase the 9,000-plus acre property. In 2018, the Sanctuary closed on the property and began building what is now known as The Wild Animal Refuge.
With such a massive amount of land, the possibilities were endless when it came to creating large acreage natural habitats for the animals. Ranging from 5 acres to over 300 acres in size, The Wild Animal Refuge represents the future home for animals that will be rescued going forward.
The Sanctuary in Keenesburg continues to be home for hundreds of rescued animals, and will continue to educate hundreds of thousands of people per year about the Captive Wildlife Crisis. However, the majority of animals that will be rescued going forward will, for the most part, go to the Refuge where they can live in amazingly natural habitats.
Older animals that are too weak, or are in need of special medical attention, still come to the Sanctuary where they can be closely monitored. Younger, and more healthy animals currently go directly to the Refuge.
In 2018, TWAS took over the 41-acre facility located in Boyd, Texas known as The Wild Animal Sanctuary Texas (TWAS-Texas). This 41-acre Sanctuary is home to 70+ Lions, Tigers, Bears, Wolves, and other rescued captive wildlife.
The Sanctuary's newest addition acquired in early 2023 includes our 22,450-thousand-acre facility in Craig, CO known as The Wild Horse Refuge! The Wild Horse Refuge was created entirely for rescued Wild Mustangs that were victims of the BLM. The Wild Mustangs get to again, and for the rest of their lives run, buck, and explore freely with no worries!
Today, The Wild Animal Sanctuary encompasses more than 33,000 acres of space, with over 120 habitats. At TWAS, the animals come first! Providing expert care and rehabilitation, exceptional diets and enrichment, and large spaces in which to roam make life for our rescued animals the kind of life they would have if they could choose it.
Education about the Captive Wildlife Crisis and its causes and solutions are critical to changing social consciousness today, in order to provide a better future for captive wildlife. TWAS welcomes supporters, school groups and organizations to our Education Center at the Sanctuary, and also has a Speakers Bureau whose members do presentations for a variety of businesses, universities and other organizations.
A shocking statistic about America’s Captive Wildlife Crisis; the illicit exotic animal trade is the third largest source of illegal profits in the world today, just after illegal drugs and weapons! In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 30,000 captive large carnivores living outside the zoo system. There are 4,000 Tigers living as “pets” in private homes in just the state of Texas – which is more Tigers than exist in the wild throughout the world. Countless other Great Cats, Bears, Wolves and other large carnivores live in abusive conditions in roadside zoos, circuses, magic acts, traveling shows, and other substandard situations. Untold numbers of animals suffer and die each year due to neglect, abuse or because they are abandoned and left to die, starving and alone.
Public safety is also a serious issue. Every year, people get hurt or killed by captive wild animals that have not been properly housed, or because the people were allowed to be in unsafe situations by the animals’ owners or keepers. TWAS is called upon by local, state and national law enforcement agencies to ensure public safety in situations where the public and/or animals are at risk.
The three main points of our mission…(1) to rescue captive large carnivores who have been abused, abandoned, illegally kept or exploited…(2) to create for them a wonderful life for as long as they live…and (3) to educate about the causes and solutions to the Captive Wildlife Crisis… are what we commit to for the animals, and for the humans who help to make a positive difference for them.