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Black Bear

Our Programs

We 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.

Red Foxes


The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit Sanctuary in the US dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores.

A Pack of Wolves

Mile Into the Wild Walkway

By mid-summer 2011, the Sanctuary had begun the initial phase of its “Mile Into The Wild” walkway project. The new system of elevated walkways and observation decks.


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.

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.

Coyote Grizzly Bear

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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. To the Top

Tiger on a Tree

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



The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit Sanctuary in the US 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.

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 nonprofit organization. Originally started on Pat’s family farm 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 in that location, TWAS was forced to move again due to a limestone quarry moving in nearby. The Sanctuary currently sits on 720 acres 50 miles east of Boulder. There is plenty of space for the animals’ 21 large acreage habitats, along with room to grow while still maintaining large grassland buffers.

TWAS is now located near Keenesburg, Colorado, and we are open for visitors year round, daily, 9am-4pm, except major Holidays and bad weather. During summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, we extend our hours from 9am – sunset.

The Sanctuary is located on rural, rolling grasslands northeast of the Denver Metro area. Comprising 720 acres and sheltering more than 290 Lions, Tigers, Bears, Leopards, Mountain Lions, Wolves and other large carnivores, it is the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for its rescued animals.

Emu Mountain Lion

Since January, 1980, The Wild Animal Sanctuary has responded to nearly 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States and in Mexico. Our furry residents were abused, abandoned, illegally kept, or were victims of other terrible situations.

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…its causes and solutions…is critical to changing social consciousness today, in order to provide a better future for captive wild animals. TWAS welcomes visitors, 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 – 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 stands, 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… to rescue captive large carnivores who have been abused, abandoned, illegally kept or exploited… to create for them a wonderful life for as long as they live… and to educate about the causes and solutions to the Captive Wildlife Crisis… these things are what we commit to for the animals, and for the humans who help to make a positive difference for them. To the Top

Red Cub Foxes

Mile Into the Wild Walkway

Coati Mundi

The Wild Animal Sanctuary has been in operation for over 31 years. However, the Sanctuary was not open to the visiting public until 2003. The reasons behind our not being open hinged entirely on our desire to protect the animals’ health and welfare. Once the Sanctuary was able to create the proper setting - ensuring our animals’ health and happiness - we were glad to have the public visit and learn about our work.

Traditional viewing of captive large carnivores – as in typical zoo situations – is done with relatively small enclosures that are designed to offer visitors an up close view of the animal. This kind of display is usually great for visitors, but provides no respect for the animals’ comfort.

Large carnivores are very territorial and extremely intelligent. Their comfort depends on feeling safe and unrestricted within their territory. This includes having the freedom to choose how much interaction they want to have with each other… as well as how much they would like to have with humans.

In a typical zoo setting, the carnivores are outside and relaxed prior to the facility being opened to the public each day.

In these off hours, animals are allowed to move from their indoor areas, to their outdoor areas, uninhibited. During this downtime the animals are generally calm and well adjusted. However, just prior to the gates being opened for the public - in most situations - the animals’ den doors are purposely closed. This procedure “locks” animals on exhibit, and is done to keep them in direct sight of the visiting public. Yet, this restriction creates serious problems for the animals.

Camel Leopard

In one respect, they feel enormous pressure as wave after wave of people continue to encroach on their territory... and on the other hand, they find they are unable to move to a safe and secluded space when their den doors are closed.

This is usually when stereotypical pacing so common to zoo settings begins. This nervous behavior emerges when animals feel trapped between the pressures of having strangers infringing on their territory… and their escape route being purposely blocked.

These kinds of pressures are unacceptable, and in order for the Sanctuary to open for public education, a solution had to be found. First and foremost, the animals’ territorial instinct would have to be respected. And secondarily, their freedom would have to be protected at all costs.

After decades of working with large carnivores, the Sanctuary’s Founder and Director, Pat Craig, knew that large carnivores did not consider air or the sky to be territory. This meant the invasive pressure from humans could be alleviated as long as visitors were relegated to elevated walkways and decks.

In addition, giving the animals the option to move away from people if they wanted to – by never restricting their movement - would also help alleviate pressure. And finally, giving the animals’ large acreage habitats with natural vegetation and other amenities would also be an important part of the equation.

In the beginning, as a small non-profit organization, the Sanctuary relied heavily on volunteer labor, as well as donated supplies and cash contributions. Building the necessary infrastructure of elevated walkways and observation decks would be costly, so the Sanctuary had to wait until it could garner the resources needed to complete such a project.

In 2002 the Sanctuary had gathered enough resources to build an initial system of elevated walkways and observation decks. This allowed the Sanctuary to be open to the public – while protecting the welfare of the animals it rescued. A balance was struck between the Sanctuary’s desire to educate people about its mission… and wanting to continue providing the very best environment possible for the animals.

Initially, the system worked extremely well – creating an environment where the animals felt no pressure from the visiting public… while providing unprecedented access for the Sanctuary’s modest number of visitors. The main compound and open habitats created a wonderful educational platform for visitors, and the animals enjoyed plenty of freedom.

However, in early 2011, with the arrival of the 25 Lions rescued from Bolivia, the Sanctuary expanded its habitat system by another 80 acres, and also added a state-of-the-art 15,000 sq. ft. lion house. With extensive national and international media coverage, the Sanctuary’s annual attendance figures quickly doubled to over 100,000 visitors. It was clear the “Mile Into The Wild” walkway expansion project needed to be initiated sooner than expected. To the Top