Our Major Programs...
To prevent and alleviate cruelty to animals which are abandoned or were subject to deprivation or neglect, by providing care and boarding.
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 the world’s captive wildlife crisis.
America and the world have a captive wildlife crisis. As many as 30,000 captive great cats, bears, wolves and other large carnivores are living in substandard conditions throughout the U.S. In fact, after illegal drugs and weapons, the exotic animal trade is the third largest source of illicit profits in America—and the world—today.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is all about saving the victims of this crisis. We crisscross the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Spain and the rest of the world rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores that have been abused, abandoned, exploited or illegally kept.
We have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles to more than 45 states, many multiple times, on rescue missions—and into Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Uruguay, Korea, Saipan, Argentina and many other countries over the years, as well—saving animals from dreadful circumstances and bringing them back to 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 is to give them a life of dignity and respect and to make their life as it would be if they could choose. TWAS also works tirelessly to educate humans about the causes of—and solutions to—the captive wildlife crisis.
Who We Are:
Established in 1980, The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a state and federally licensed zoological facility and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our educational facility is located outside of Keenesburg, Colorado, 30 miles northeast of Denver, on 789 acres of rural, rolling grasslands, sheltering more than 500 large carnivores! Our Refuge facility is a 9,684 acre property located in southern Colorado near the town of Springfield, CO. This facility is not open to the public and hosts rescued animals in amazingly-natural habitats ranging upwards in size of 100 -1,000 acres in size. TWAS is the largest and oldest sanctuary of its kind in the World.
For the past 39 years, TWAS 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. Our resident animals were abandoned, abused, kept illegally or were victims or other terrible situations. Most were the pets of private citizens, but were confiscated by law enforcement officials for being 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 closure due to inadequate finances.
Our 500+ residents include tigers, African lions, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, leopards, wolves, servals, bobcats, foxes, lynx, coyote, coati mundi, raccoon, porcupine, tortoise, ostrich, emu, camels, alpacas, yaks, horses, donkeys and rescued dogs and cats.
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, an estimated 30,000 large exotic animals live outside our zoos.
More tigers live as pets just in the state of Texas than currently live 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-- most of them in squalid and inhumane conditions.
While the number of captive large carnivores continues to increase, states finally have begun to impose regulations to slow the trade. Currently more than 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 almost 30 years ago, and in 2004 adopted some of the country’s toughest regulations and standards for big cat sanctuaries.
Of the roughly 20 accredited sanctuaries in the United States, only about a dozen take in big cats, bears or other large carnivores. Consequently, TWAS 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. Unfortunately, with tens of thousands of large exotics living outside our zoo system today and being bred annually, the need for our services is increasingly urgent.
Our Current Programs
Our facilities are some of the most state-of-the-art in the nation. We have built more than 60 species-specific habitats ranging greatly in size, for tiger, wolf, black bear, grizzly bear, African lion, leopard, lynx and bobcat. Other animals dwell in very large enclosures during their rehabilitation process and are carefully joined into cohesive groups that ultimately will 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 of about 60 degrees all year long.
Unlike many sanctuaries with wooden den boxes backed up to the animals’ cages, TWAS has designed and built multiple centralized animal houses within our complex for use as dedicated rehabilitation areas. These buildings, which house as many as 60 animals, provide year-round temperature-controlled environments, which can be important during extreme weather conditions and provide the perfect setting for the beginning stages of rehabilitation. It also allows for maximum efficiency when cleaning, delivering food or moving animals for veterinary care.
TWAS’s Mile into the Wild Walkway is a unique system of elevated walkways and observation platforms which allows visitors to view the animals roaming freely within their habitats. This elevated system is a critical part of our ability to accommodate visitors, as it prevents humans from posing a threat to the animals’ territory. In addition, within our 1,600-square-foot education center, we provide multimedia presentations about animal rescues and the captive wildlife crisis.
We focus on 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 animals illegally or find they are unable offer proper care for their animals: surplus from zoos, entertainment industry rejects or retirees, roadside attractions, exotic animal auctions, facilities that have been closed due to animal abuse, public safety concerns or financial problems. Most of the animals are confiscated by federal, state or local law enforcement officials.
TWAS has specially designed and outfitted rescue vans, trucks and trailers and custom-built travel cages, all providing temperature-controlled comfort for the animals during transport. Rescues have been small—saving an African lion, two tigers and a mountain lion from a crawl space in Colorado - to huge - rescuing 40 tigers from a roadside zoo in Oklahoma and bringing 28 rescued African lions from Panama and Bolivia.
TWAS works closely with national, state and international law enforcement agencies, state zoning health and welfare agencies and 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 need assistance with overcrowding.
TWAS also provides short-term foster care during pending court actions and permanent guardianship after legal custody is obtained.
Wild Animal Care Program
It is our goal to place all our animals into large acreage habitats where they can experience life with plenty of space, diets of exceptional quality, expert veterinary care and freedom from performing, traveling or doing things Nature did not intend.
Once the rescued animals arrive at TWAS, they are given solitude to adjust to their new home. Depending on the level and type of abuse they have suffered, they are rehabilitated with loving care, so they learn to trust humans and other animals.
Animals live in a variety of places on our grounds, based on their species and time at TWAS. Those living in the main compound have inside/outside enclosures, with heated areas in winter. They have a wide variety of place structures, including pools for the tigers. The main animals’ house has gates that allow the cats to take turns in the tiger pool area, which features multiple pools, waterfalls and streams for animal play.
Habitats – TWAS Keenesburg has over 60 habitats, ranging in size from five to 25 acres, on rolling prairie grasslands with pools and seasonal lakes. They all include underground dens that stay about 60 degrees year-round, shade shelters and play structures with all kinds of toys and enrichment.
Diet – The animals are fed on a random schedule, as they would eat in the wild, to address their natural biological needs. Every week TWAS feeds more than 32,000 pounds of top quality, USDA-inspected meats (beef, poultry, mutton, pork, etc) blended with vitamins and nutrients to great cats and wolves, about two-thirds of our animal population. The entire amount (approximately 3.7 million dollars worth) is donated. Yet, this food doesn't get here magically, so the Sanctuary operates a fleet of trucks with professional drivers that go to more than 63 donating stores across the Front Range of Colorado. The cost to pick up this meat twice per week and maintain the drivers, trucks, fuel, insurance and equipment maintenance for this program is more than $300,000 annually.
We feed another 35,000 pounds to our bears each week. While the fruits, vegetables, eggs, raw fish and grains for the bears is also donated (another 3.9 million dollars worth), it costs an additional $300,000 annually for the transportation of their food.
Veterinary Care – We provide exceptional veterinary care for our animals. Upon arrival, they are checked and vaccinated if necessary. Since there is no breeding, male animals not already neutered undergo that procedure when they arrive, except for African lions which would lose their manes. Female African lions receive implants to depress their fertility cycles.
The Sanctuary has its own Veterinary Hospital dedicated to caring for its hundreds of residents. The facility is state-of-the-art and has nearly every type of medical equipment there is, other than the largest of machines like MRI or Cat Scan units. For serious and rare medical issues requiring larger diagnostic equipment like an MRI machine, our animals are able to be transported to Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
TWAS's Veterinary Hospital was built with specialized equipment to comfortably accommodate all of our animals including our biggest residents, the 1900-pound Kodiak bears. Our onsite hospital handles nearly all of animal medical issues, relying on in-house veterinarians. Our hospital also provides educational opportunities for outside veterinarians and students who want to specialize in large carnivore care.
Captive Wildlife Education Program
Education about the captive wildlife crisis--its causes and potential solutions--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 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. Every visitor to TWAS receives an orientation to help them understand the need for sanctuaries like ours and what they can do to help alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of captive large carnivores living in substandard conditions throughout the U.S.
Our Education Center features numerous videos about the animals, the Captive Wildlife Crisis, the 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 nearly 160,000 visitors each year, we offer group tours to students and scouts, organizations and businesses. Groups must schedule their tours in advance, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 303-536-0118.
The Sanctuary Speaker's Bureau, made up of staff and volunteers, travels throughout Colorado’s Front Range giving presentations to businesses, service clubs, universities and other agencies, 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, please contact us or call, 303-536-0118.