Denver-area Wild Animal Sanctuary a wild adventure!
posted by: Mile High Mamas
The elevated walkway ascends from the Wild Animal Sanctuary gift shop and orientation point. We step up the inclined path, passing above lazing leopards, tigers and mountain lions below, then continue past a green arrow pointing to the Bolivian Lion Complex.
The walkway is wide and sturdy and varies between 20 and 40 feet above the enclosures below, where 350 large carnivores roam this little-known, fenced-in Serengeti of the West, only 30 miles northeast of Denver. The height of the walkway is “so the animals don’t feel their territory or personal space is threatened,” explains my guide, Kent Drotar, who has been working at the Wild Animal Sanctuary for six of the 10 years it has been open to the public. This makes the creatures less stressed and more likely to act naturally, even though most were born in captivity and have only their instincts to follow.
We continue above a pack of sleeping timberwolves, a black bear eating a pumpkin, a distant prancing ostrich and a pride of African lions, perfectly camouflaged with the tan landscape of the plains. But more impressive than my proximity to these magnificent megafauna are the stories of how they each got here. Some were confiscated by law-enforcement officials from failing zoos or criminals; others were surrendered by people who could no longer care for their exotic pets.
This is how seven of the 155 bears arrived in Keenesburg:
“When the owner of a roadside attraction passed away,” reads the Wild Animal Sanctuary’s website, which catalogs all the stories, “his family no longer wanted to keep the animals. Chocolate, Heather, Hercules, Hillbilly, Megan, Smokey and Winnie were living together in a 30×50 enclosure before being rescued by The Wild Animal Sanctuary, but now they’re enjoying the kind of life they really deserve in their 15-acre habitat.” (The entire facility is currently 720 acres.)
As the winter cold hits, the bears will creep through concrete culverts into underground bunkers to sleep the winter away, a behavior most were never allowed to experience before coming to Colorado.
When we arrive at the lion house, Kent points over yonder to the enormous new visitor center they are constructing, along with another half-mile of walkway over more enclosures. The new features should open to the public in the spring, he says. Then we turn around and head back. The wind is picking up, but the animals below look warm and unfazed.
If you go
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is located at 1946 County Road 53, Keenesburg. It is open until sunset nearly every day of the year. Be prepared for slightly more extreme weather up on that exposed walkway. For more info, call 303-536-0118 or go to wildanimalsanctuary.org. Adults – $15; Children, ages 3 to 12 – $7.50