The obvious answer is, of course, the Denver Zoo. Or the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, both especially handy for BackCountry residents. Even if you consider yourself an ardent animal lover, you may not be aware that Colorado is home to several wildlife sanctuaries. These home-away-from-home facilities do an outstanding job of taking in wildlife in need of care. And good news for humans: visitors are welcome too.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
Located outside of Keenesburg, 30 miles northeast of Denver, The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a haven on 720 acres of rural, rolling grasslands. Established in 1980, it’s the largest sanctuary of its kind and one of the oldest in the United States. Who lives there? More than 350 animals, including tigers, African lions, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, leopards, wolves, servals, bobcats, foxes, lynx, coyote, coati mundi, raccoon, porcupine, ostrich, emu, camel, alpaca, horses, and rescued dogs and cats.
And why? Most were exotic “pets” confiscated for being kept in illegal or abusive situations. Others were surplus animals from zoos and other wildlife facilities, where they faced euthanasia. The animals enjoy life grouped with their own kind in large, open fields, underground dens, and inside/outside enclosures depending on species. Each day, the facility welcomes between 600 and 1,200 visitors. Elevated catwalks and observational platforms give a good view of the grounds and include coin-operated binoculars. Stop by the 1,200 sq. ft. education center, too.
Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center
Out of approximately 250,000 wolf-dogs born in the US each year, 80% will likely die before they reach their third birthday. When these adorable pups grow into semi-wild adults, they’re often surrendered to a shelter, where they are typically euthanized within 24-72 hours. The Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center helps save these animals. The center is on a 35-acre property in Divide, populated by arctic, timber, and Mexican Grey wolves, along with coyotes and red and swift foxes. Take a one-hour standard tour and learn about hunting, howling, hierarchy, and even communicate with the pack in a group howl. Check out the monthly Full Moon Tour and Full Moon Feeding Fests, too.
Photo courtesy of The Wolf and Wildlife Sanctuary Facebook
Serenity Springs Wildlife Center
Big cats feel right at home at Serenity Springs in Calhan (22 miles east of Colorado Springs). This safe place specializes in caring for more than 120 felines, such as lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, cougars, and other exotic animals that have been in a situation where their well-being or life was in jeopardy. Serenity Springs also provides educational outreach. Guided tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays.
Photo courtesy of the Serenity Springs Wildlife Center Facebook page
Mission: Wolf is an intentionally remote sanctuary in Westcliffe (southwest of Pueblo) geared to captive wolves and wolf-dog mixes. All residents were born in a cage—part of the more than 250,000 wolves currently living in captivity. (For perspective, fewer than 10,000 wolves still live in the wild.) This fact inspires the organization to tour the country with “ambassador wolves” to educate people not to put wolves in cages or keep wild animals as pets. Mission: Wolf has more than 200 acres of land: 150 are in conservation and provide a buffer zone, 50 acres are fenced for wolves. Everyone over the age of six is welcome. Tours are free. Their nature center and tent campsite is free of charge.
Photo courtesy of the Mission: Wolf Facebook page
Rocky Mountain Wildlife Federation
Wolves and wolf-dog hybrids have a happy home at Rocky Mountain Wildlife Federation just outside of Guffy, on 35+ acres complete with sweet views of Pikes Peak, the San Juan Range, and the Collegiate Peaks. RMWF provides sanctuary, rehabilitation, and environmentally-natural housing for captive-born wolves and wolf-dogs who have suffered from injuries, neglect, or abuse, and cannot be released back into the wild. Tours at this sanctuary are free and impressively interactive, including visits with the animals inside their cages.
Photo courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Federation Facebook page