Share This Post

Activities / Denver Fun

Wild Animal Sanctuary Responds to Backlash Over Huge Payment Increase

Wild Animal Sanctuary Responds to Backlash Over Huge Payment Increase

A carnivore rescue facility on Colorado’s Eastern Plains increased fees for daily visitors this weekend from $15 to $50. Operators of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720-acre sanctuary 30 miles northeast of Denver, said the price increase is part of a necessary, cost-driven plan to encourage potential patrons to become long-term “supporters” of the facility.

The sanctuary is a 501(c)3 public non-profit—much like a Humane Society for cats and dogs—and has to rely entirely on private contributions, fundraising events, and grants from foundations to stay in operation. The vast majority of the money they raise each year comes from small donations by everyday people who care about the welfare of these animals enough to make a donation as often as they can. Someone who donates $200 to the sanctuary, over a 12-month period, is recognized as a supporter, said Pat Craig, the organization’s executive director. Supporters can visit the sanctuary without paying a daily fee. They can also bring guests, who will also be admitted sans daily fee. 

By Tuesday, more than 1,700 people had left comments on the Sanctuary’s Facebook page, many protesting but other supporting the tripled entrance fee. Their public statement:

“We want to address the recent changes to the visitor policies at the Sanctuary, as it has caused much grief for a certain demographic of people. Being a non-profit Sanctuary, we face unique challenges in order to exist.

Our mission to rescue and care for large carnivores requires an incredible amount of time, money and dedicated commitment by thousands of people, and it’s no small feat to successfully address the complexities that come with running a facility the size of The Wild Animal Sanctuary.

Following our secondary mission to educate the public about the Captive Wildlife Crisis is also something we hold dear to our hearts. Thus, we made the choice to open our doors to the public nearly 12 years ago in order to reach those people who never knew the problem existed.

Over the past 12 years, we have been able to greet well over 2 million people to the Sanctuary’s 720 acre facility, and we have seen the issue of Captive Wildlife spread throughout Colorado… the U.S… and even in dozens of other countries around the world.

We are extremely grateful for the million+ people who chose to visit us, and even more grateful to those that subsequently chose to continue their support of our mission by becoming regular donors. By doing so, they demonstrated their understanding of how important continuous support is to a non-profit.

Unfortunately, over the past 12 years, there has also been a downside to having people come to visit, as there is always a percentage of the population that chose to come to the sanctuary for entertainment purposes instead of to learn about the issues behind our existence. Sadly, these people felt we existed for their benefit, and not for the welfare of the animals living here.

Year by year, the percentage of people who came for the wrong reasons grew – while at the same time – true animal advocates continued to come and value the concept of supporting a worthy cause. Yet, as the scales continued to tip in the wrong direction, we held true to our commitment to educate the masses about the problem of Captive Wildlife.

But today there is a new beginning, as the Sanctuary has fulfilled its obligation to reach out to those who did not know, as the millions we have educated are now passing the message on in a way that is nothing short of viral. The time has come for us to focus on a culture of giving rather than taking.

Our past entry fees have a long and complicated history beginning with the early years when we used to not charge anything for people to come visit us. In those days, the visitors were people that had heard of the great work we were doing from a friend, family member or coworker.

Their intentions were to learn about us and the animals we rescued, and then choose to support us – or not – based on the level of value they perceived. It was a simple equation and more than 95% of the people who came saw great things happening and became life-long supporters.

Yet, as more people began to come visit, they constantly demanded we should have a set fee to get in. The idea was somewhat comical in nature, as they could always come for free… but somehow they felt the fee structure would save the animals (rather than just leaving a donation).

Of course no one would want to pay anything more than what they might expect at a similar facility (i.e. the zoo)… and so the new entry fee concept was born. Yet, for us, all we wanted was for people to learn about the Captive Wildlife Crisis and possibly become an ardent supporter in the process.

Over the next decade, the costs associated with having the public visit grew astronomically. Everything from the number of parking lots, bathrooms, employees and other items associated with the public ballooned. As a result, the fees that people paid to get in did nothing to help the animals… and rarely covered the costs of being open.

However, those people that did visit, and did become active donors, became the heart and soul of the organization, as they knew the true cost of saving lives. For them, they knew they had a responsibility to be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.

Today, the Sanctuary is proud to say we have one of the best facilities in the country, where more than 400 rescued carnivores live and thrive – all due to the dedicated supporters we have. There is no link to our being a Sanctuary for animals and that of a facility where people can go to be entertained.

So for those people that become upset their favorite entertainment venue has changed its policy, we want to remind you that the Denver Zoo is open 7 days a week. They have a wonderful array of species for you to go enjoy, and we hope you have a wonderful and entertaining visit.

For everyone else who realizes our Sanctuary has struggled and sacrificed enormous amounts of time, money and energy to save animals and give them a wonderful home, we welcome you to visit and consider becoming an active supporter. Please come join the thousands of other people that made that choice the first time they walked through our doors, and see how we will greet you with open arms.

You see, it’s not about the amount you donate – as that isn’t what is important. What is critical, is that you realize the nominal entry fees never did anything to help the animals and its time to begin supporting an organization that makes a real difference in the lives of animals.

Our animals may look the same as those you see at the zoo, but in reality, they are vastly different in many ways. Ours were not bought, traded or surplused… and would be deceased today had we not been there to rescue them.

Unfortunately, most of them existed to entertain people in their former lives, which caused them great harm. Once we were able to rescue them, and provide them with a wonderful home were they no longer had to perform, we made the conscious choice to always protect them from being used for entertainment.

So the time has come to re-foster and solidify a culture where people value the lives of the animals living here. If you don’t, then there is no need to visit the Sanctuary. Remember, our support does not come from admission fees, and that is why we will always allow active supporters to visit for free!

If you need a place to take your relatives or out-of-town guests, or feel the need to go see wild animals, please choose the appropriate venue for your personal entertainment. Conversely, If you cherish the lives of rescued animals and want to see them live out their lives in peace and harmony, please become an active supporter of The Wild Animal Sanctuary!”

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

Share This Post

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.


  1. I understand and support your mission, and I have no problem paying $50 per person to visit the animals in order to help off-set your administrative and overhead costs. I also understand your need to avoid admitting people who believe that the animals are there for their entertainment. However, you should understand that raising the cost of admissions will only limit the volume of people at your facility, not necessarily the “type” of person who visits. If you want to limit volume of people and control specific behaviors, you can do what many other sanctuaries already do – offer guided tours that are limited in size and duration, led by volunteer docents who are familiar with the animals and can educate the group. You can offer “exclusive” tours to attract more affluent donors, while still offering affordable tours for families and more casual visitors. My husband and I visited last October and very much enjoyed ourselves. We would certainly return, if our schedules permit, because we believe in your mission and enjoying seeing the animals moving about freely in large, natural enclosures. But I see from the many angry responders here that you are doing more alienation than outreach at this point.

  2. Everyone complaining about how it is now too expensive to take your kids/etc are totally missing the point. Go to the zoo. These are animals that have been through torturous situations and neglect and have been brought here to have a peaceful life. It is an act of redemption for the human soul, in my opinion-and it isn’t for YOU or ME. It is for those animals that have been wronged. I fully support their decision to not allow visitors. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is simply staying true to their mission. I have never had the opportunity to visit but they have just gained a sponsor out of me. I never need to see one of the animals to want to be a small part of the collective of people who work in their favor. Thanks for the great work.

  3. I’m still shocked at this, and this only adds to that.
    $450 for my family of 9 to visit (7 are children). Who are you to decide who is fit to visit your sanctuary?!?!
    I have always admired your work-until now. I will happily continue to support the Denver Zoo-as all “demographics” are welcome there.

  4. As a nonprofit professional, I fully support your new policy. If I understand correctly, the $15 entrance fee might have covered the costs associated with general public admittance, but had no net benefit for the animals (no net revenue for their care) and a possible negative net benefit. TWAS is not in the business of public spectacle or its associated messes and problems, but rather providing the best care possible for abused large carnivores. This policy shift will allow folks to still enjoy those magnificent creatures while at the same time allow staff to focus on the primary mission. And, the threshold is very reasonable, this single mom of 3 included.

  5. Thank you for everything you have done, but sadly, I am no longer able to afford to visit your Sanctuary. I’m proud to be in the certain demographic that you apparently don’t see the need for their support anymore.
    My only question is, how did you determine what demographic you want involved in your sanctuary and which ones you did not.

  6. I brought my son for a visit last summer and we learned a lot and are grateful for the work you do. In addition to the entrance fee we paid we did also make a small donation (what we could afford at the time). I have also educated others about the great work you are doing. We were hoping to come out and see you again this summer, but sadly won’t be able to afford $100 to do so. I understand your commitment to the animals comes first, as it should, but I think you may also be excluding more than just the one demographic you are referring to with your new policy. Keep up the great work, and best of luck to you.

  7. I am very saddened to read this. I’ve made as many trips as I can, driving about an 1 1/2 hrs each way because I love reading about the rescues and then seeing them enjoy their new habitats. I’ve been often enough over the years that there are certain animals that I love and watch until I get sunburned. I buy food and usually something in the store while I’m there. Should I feel ashamed that I’ve come to love these animals and want to watch them enjoy life? Because I don’t have the money a donor does? I’ve recommended TWAS to all my friends. But now, regardless of WHY any of us go, my circle and I have become part of your certain, unwanted demographic. Now a visit would cost me about $100 just in gas and entry fee.

    I’m heartbroken. In some ways I understand your point -entry fees didn’t go to the animals but paid to support visitors- but overall I think this move is closing the doors on an opportunity for so many people/kids who can no longer come.

  8. I completely agree with the choice of this wonderful Sanctuary. I wish all who truly cared about the animals can save the entrance fee. I suspect that having fewer concerned guests will cut down on the mess and vandalism this sanctuary also experienced. All that took funds from the animals

  9. if the government would make stricter laws on people owning wild animals and not being able to care for them and just turning them over to the sanctuary, if these laws are stiffer we would have less need for sanctuaries. the government is just creating more financial problems for the sanctuaries.
    people should not be allowed to acquire wild animals and don’t know how to take care of them and have to get rid of them or just turn them loose.
    animal sanctuaries do an incredible service and the incredible amount of work that’s involved with that! I hope they get something from the government beings they’re causing all their problems.

Leave a Reply