7 secrets of the Animal Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesburg

Founder Pat Craig houses 350+ animals

KEENESBURG, Colo. - The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg is growing in size this spring with what Executive Director Pat Craig is calling a record-breaking addition.

The sanctuary is in the process of building 10 new habitats, on 400 acres, to house 33 lions that will be moved from Peru to Colorado in April. The lions are being rescued from circuses and zoos.

As the sanctuary expands, we want to take you behind the scenes to learn seven secrets about the Wild Animal Sanctuary. 

Secret No. 1: While the sanctuary is known for its lions (61 of them), tigers (65 of them) and bears (108 black bears, 31 grizzly bears), the sanctuary has a lot more animals. There are 16 mountain lions and 26 wolves, and there are lynx, servals, bobcats, leopards, and even one ostrich, one emu and one camel. Oh wait, as of last week, there are now three ostriches. Pat said the ostrich got two girlfriends when a private owner in Sante Fe couldn't care for two ostriches anymore.

Secret No. 2: 22,000 pounds. That's the amount of food that Pat and his team need each week to feed all these animals.

For years, Pat had to raise money to buy food. Then, four or five years ago, Walmart decided to start donating its old food to sanctuaries. Now Pat has two full-time drivers who spend their days driving to 38 Walmarts on the Front Range, from Castle Rock to Fort Morgan, collecting vegetables and meat to feed the animals. While the donations help the food budget, Pat does have to raise money to pay the drivers, buy the gas and insurance, and to maintain the trucks. By the way, the animals are on a “random” feeding schedule. The animals do not get fed every day in order to emulate their natural, wild diet.

(That's Mansell the bear, above)

Secret No. 3: While Mansell the bear is a baby (he was born at the sanctuary last year), there are actually very few babies at the sanctuary. Pat doesn't allow breeding at the sanctuary. Instead vets neuter, spay, or insert contraceptive implants into the animals when they arrive.

"Usually the males are neutered -- since it is the least invasive surgery available, and also reduces aggressive behavior in most males," Pat explains on the sanctuary's website. "We do not neuter the male African Lions because their beautiful manes are linked to testosterone levels…which means they would lose their manes if we neutered them. So, for the African Lions, we usually use contraceptive implants to keep the females from becoming pregnant (much like the "Norplant" that is used in humans)."

Secret No. 4: While visitors can't touch the animals, Pat and the staff sometimes do.

"Most of these animals were raised by people," Pat said. "We scratch and pet certain ones."

Secret No. 5: Only one group of animals at the sanctuary really hibernate -- the bears. Pat said they typically hibernate from November to March, but sometimes they venture outside even during hibernation months at the sanctuary.

The sanctuary has 100 to 120 underground dens (see above). While most of the animals are from cold weather climates, the sanctuary has built temperature-controlled dens, just in case. 

Secret No. 6: The best time to visit the Wild Animal Sanctuary in the summer evenings.

Pat says visitors are welcome anytime, but he really recommends nights from late June to August. He said while most places have to be visited during the day, the sanctuary is a great place to come in the evenings to watch the sunset and listen to the animals. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is open daily except four days a year: New Years Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Day. Adults are $15, children are $7.50.

Visitors walk an elevated walkway called "A Mile into the Wild." In several spots along the boardwalk, signs tell the story about how the animals were rescued.

Pat believes that the animals at zoos pace from the stress of having visitors/people at their level. Pat says "large carnivores, and most other animals, do not consider the air or sky to be their territory, so if people or the 'strangers' are up on elevated platforms or walkways - they do not consider them to be a threat."

Secret No. 7: How much does all this cost? The larger animals (lions, tigers and bears) each cost about $8,000 per year to feed, house and care for. The medium size animals (leopards, mountain lions, and wolves) each cost about $6,000 per year. The small animals (bobcats, servals and coati mundi) each cost about $4,000 per year. Multiply that by 350+ animals and you understand that running the animal sanctuary can be very expensive.

Pat relies on more than 140 volunteers and donations from visitors and supporters, fundraising events, and grants from foundations. Learn more about the sanctuary's Into the Wild run in June, their summer dinners and other ways to help here. Learn more about visiting the sanctuary and get directions here.

Check out more of our secrets of Colorado stories:

Got a place you want us to go inside and learn the secrets of? Email Debbie@TheDenverChannel.com.

Print this article Back to Top