The Wild Animal Sanctuary: A Refuge from Their Plight

Copyright © Michael Fulks

These rescued tigers find comfort and companionship in a shared pen.

There’s a place in Colorado that takes in the unwanted, the abused, and the slighted and gives them back the majesty which is their birth right. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is home to large carnivores that are caught up in the captive wildlife crisis, a crisis that is quickly becoming an epidemic in the United States today.

Currently, great cats and bears can be found in public zoos, research centers, wildlife centers, rehabilitation facilities, the entertainment industry, and private ownership. In fact, there are an estimated more than 30,000 lions, tigers, bears, leopards, wolves, and other large carnivores being kept in private facilities alone. Of these animals, more than 7,000 are tigers. Fewer tigers exist in the wild today. Most are no longer wanted and are often kept illegally.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a 501c3 (a public non-profit) that caters to the great cats and bears that have nowhere else to go. The facility is one of fourteen sanctuaries in the entire U.S. able to provide homes to these discarded animals. Housing more than seventy-five tigers and thirty bears, it’s one of the largest in the nation. It was founded in 1980 by Executive Director Patrick Craig. He started with one jaguar named Freckles. Now, after twenty-eight years in existence, the facility provides loving homes for more than 150 animals.

When animals first arrive at the sanctuary, they’re often malnourished, emaciated, and terrified of the world around them. With lots of patience and infinite respect on the part of sanctuary staff, a healthy USDA-approved zoo diet, and plenty of clean, quality space, the animals begin to recapture their grandeur and a trust in their environment. Take Ricky and Savannah, for example, two tigers that were discovered in Oklahoma being kept in a horse trailer. They had been living in the trailer for five years. With no outdoor pen, they hadn’t seen the light of day for that many years. Local authorities ordered the owner to find them another home or have them euthanized. The Wild Animal Sanctuary was contacted to rescue them. Ricky and Savannah arrived filthy and malnourished—petrified to venture outside. Now that they have lived at the sanctuary for some time, they’re both beautiful–mentally and physically. They maintain healthy weights, are clean, and have an abundance of energy. When they’re not chasing each other around their pen in play, Ricky is swimming in his pool–waiting to send a tiger tidal wave splashing over the top of the next person who walks by his enclosure.

Copyright © Michael Fulks, Photographer & Marla Meier, Photo Collage Designer

These beautiful creatures may not be living in the wild or have the capacity to be reintroduced back into the wild, but they have been rescued from a life of fear, abuse, or exploitation and will thrive with respect and in the comfort of their new home, outside of the wild, for the remainder of their days.

Gaika and Masha are two grizzly bears that were being used for entertainment in a Russian circus. They lived in a truck for seventeen years, allowed to come out only when it was time to perform. Their trainer would roll tobacco in taffy and feed it to them. Their addiction to nicotine kept them motivated to do tricks for more taffy. After the trainer died, the circus closed. The Wild Animal Sanctuary took in the two bears. Finally nicotine-free, they presently live in a large acreage habitat with two other grizzly bears, spending the majority of their time basking in the sun or running through the fields.

Copyright © Michael Fulks

It takes employees and volunteers hours of backbreaking labor to feed all those hungry mouths. The wagon is loaded with hundreds of pounds of frozen blocks of meat and chicken legs in preparation for feeding time.

Great effort and dedication are required to care for the animals in the sanctuary. The annual budget is 1.2 million dollars per year, of which about $700,000 is designated for animal feed. The cats and wolves are provided with about 6,000 pounds of high quality meat weekly. The bears are fed approximately 4,000 pounds of food per week—consisting of produce, grains, eggs, and meat.

The animals at the sanctuary will stay there for the rest of their lives. Once born in captivity, these animals can no longer return to the wild, although they’re neither domesticated nor tame. From birth, they’ve been deprived of many of the tools that would be essential for them to have in order for them to hunt. Born in captivity, they’ll die in captivity. It’s the sanctuary’s first priority to give them the very best possible home, outside of the wild. Therefore, the majority of the animals who call the Wild Animal Sanctuary home live in large-acreage habitats with others of their own kind, creating social family groups (similar to lion prides) for animals that would normally lead solitary lives in the wild. Sanctuary workers are able to accomplish this because of the trust they instill in the animals. There is no need for the animals to compete over food, water, or space. They know they’ll never be abused or mistreated.

The trust that’s the result of the animals’ optimal care is reflected in the posture they use to sleep in the sun–on their backs with their bellies exposed. It’s demonstrated when they cuddle up to the other animals they reside with and use each other as “pillows.” It’s plain when they come to the fence to greet Patrick Craig and all those who care for them. Their trust is expressed in the way they live in harmony with others of the same species.

For Ricky, Savannah, Gaika, Masha, and all the other animals that call the Sanctuary home, this is their permanent residence. They will never be exploited and forced to perform for someone’s entertainment. They will never be bred. The Sanctuary exists to save these animals from degradation and to treat them with the reverence they deserve.

by Ashley Watson

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.