The Wildlife Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the world dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered carnivores, whose numbers are estimated at 30,000 in the U.S. For the last 35 years, the Wild Animal Sanctuary—based in Colorado—has served as a relentless advocate for these exotic and endangered carnivores, including tigers, lions, leopards, and lynx. Since opening, the Sanctuary has responded to more than a thousand requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the U.S. and around the world due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or other nefarious acts against these innocent creatures.
Back in 1980, when TWAS first opened, the sanctuary was completely off limits to the public. “Protecting the rescued animals was the reason for not opening our doors to the public,” explained Founder and Executive Director Pat Craig. “Knowing that these animals are very territorial, whether in captivity or the wild, we didn’t want to stress them out by having visitors around them.” However, Craig and his colleagues made a remarkable discovery. “Early on, we discovered that large carnivores, and most another animal, do not consider air or sky to be their territory. Thus, if people are up on elevated platforms or walkways, they are not considered a threat. To them, ‘territory’ exists only at ground level.”
With this surprising revelation, Craig and his supporters knew the only way they could ever open to the public for educational purposes would be if they could create an elevated viewing system. Though a great idea, a project of this magnitude would be costly.
As such, it wasn’t until 2002 that the TWAS director and his colleagues at the Sanctuary garnered enough resources to build an initial observation system. Once this series of walkways and platforms was finished, TWAS opened to the public. It was a monumental success. “The animals living at the Sanctuary did not care about the number of strangers strolling overhead, just a few feet away,” said Craig.
The magnificent “Mile Into The Wild” Walkway now stretches more than 5,100 feet. It allows visitors unprecedented access to nearly 400 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores roaming freely throughout the bucolic 720-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary northeast of Denver.
The walkway connects the Sanctuary’s first complex at the South end of the facility to the 4,000 square foot observation deck inside the state-of-the-art Bolivian Lion. Today, more than 200,000 visitors experience the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary annually, and the numerous positive testimonials depict the overwhelming public support.
“I owe every visitor to the Sanctuary a debt of sincere gratitude for taking the time to learn about the captive wildlife crisis and the work we do to combat it—and for discerning the difference our elevated viewing system makes in the lives of every animal we have saved,” said a grateful Pat Craig. “We will continue to take their success stories and employ them as motivational fuel in our ongoing efforts to save the lives of other animals in need.” ■