A walk over the wild

Tammy Kranz
Posted 7/5/12

In less than seven months, The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg helped rescue 25 African lions from Bolivia and three African lions from Panama. …

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A walk over the wild

Posted

In less than seven months, The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg helped rescue 25 African lions from Bolivia and three African lions from Panama.

National Geographic and other media outlets documented both of these international rescue missions. It’s this type of exposure that has caused the Sanctuary’s annual visitor numbers to double, from 50,000 in 2010 to 100,000 in 2011, said Katie Vandegrift, the Sanctuary’s public relations director. “We wouldn’t be surprised if that numbered doubled again this year (to 150,000),” she said.

The Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization established by Pat Craig in 1980, but has only been open to the public since 2003. Its facilities include species-specific habitats for the variety of wild and exotic animals it takes in; funding comes in part from animal-adoption and pledge programs.

The Sanctuary participated in the Bolivian lion rescue in February 2011 after the government banned the use of animals in circus acts. Twenty-five African lions were rescued from eight circuses. In September 2011, the Sanctuary took part in rescuing three female lions from Panama.

The Sanctuary, which is 30 miles northeast of Denver, extended its existing walkway structure by an additional 3,600 feet to connect its Bolivian Lion Complex on the northern edge of the property to its visitor center

at the south end.

“Education is a crucial aspect of our mission so it was very important to expand our educational capacity as we continue to grow every year,” said Pat Craig, executive director. “The more people we can educate about the captive-wildlife crisis, the greater the likelihood of us putting an end to this tragic plight.”

The “Mile Into The Wild” walkway opened a couple of months ago and spans 4,800 feet. It took less than a year to construct and came in under $1 million. Half of the funds were raised through the Sanctuary’s bronze-plaque program, Vandegrift said. People can buy a plaque and have it inscribed, then it is mounted along the walkway.

Vandegrift said the nonprofit is becoming a world-class destination.

“There is no other place in the country where you can see prides of lions roaming freely, bears playing or packs of wolves living together in large-acreage habitats,” she said. “As we continue to develop more habitats on our new land, we’ll extend the walkway.”

The 720-acre refuge houses more than 290 lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other large carnivores that have been rescued from illegal or abusive situations. Because these animals cannot be released into the wild, once they are relocated to the Sanctuary, they are there for the rest of their lives.

As part of making their home comfortable, the Sanctuary only allows observation from the elevated walkway, which is less invasive for the animals, Vandegrift said.

“They don’t see air as territory. They’ll look up to us, they’re curious but we’re not invading their space,” she said. As visitors walk from the visitor center to the 15,000-square-foot lion house, they can use their cell phones to hear Craig narrate stories about the animals.

The Sanctuary also built an additional entrance and parking lot on the northern end of the property.

There are plans to build a new 30,000-square-foot, two-level visitor center next summer.

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