Photoshopped images show how the new Wild Animal Refuge will provide large carnivores with a more natural habitat. (Photos courtesy Pat Craig)

Land in southern Colorado will add an additional 9,000 acres

Boulder native Pat Craig is the executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colo., which is now the biggest sanctuary for large carnivores
in the world. When he was a teenager, a career working with the animals he loved didn’t seem possible.

“Growing up on a farm, I always loved animals,” says Craig. “Back then, your career choices for working with animals, besides farming, were to work at a zoo or become a vet, and I didn’t have the money to go to vet school.”

A friend invited Craig to visit a zoo where he worked. This behind-the-scenes tour led Craig to discover a term that would change his life: “surplus tigers.”

The zoo had tigers for display, as well as “extra tigers,” which, unless they could be sold, were doomed for euthanasia. The fate of these beautiful animals gnawed at Craig, so he called the Denver Zoo, only to learn that it had its own surplus tiger issue.

Undeterred, Craig created his own facility for these unwanted animals. That was no small task. There were zoning challenges to overcome and licenses to obtain. But then- 18-year-old Craig pressed on. He built a fence on his family farm and began writing letters to zoos across the country, offering a home for excess tigers. When zoos responded to his letters, he drove across the country picking up refugee carnivores.

Photoshopped images show how the new Wild Animal Refuge will provide large carnivores with a more natural habitat. (Photos courtesy Pat Craig)

Today, federal regulations manage animal populations more responsibly, but small businesses and private parties still help a steady stream of animals from around the globe in need of rescue. What began as a stopgap measure in 1980 to help a few tigers soon outgrew Craig’s Boulder farm. The sanctuary relocated to Keenesburg, just 26 miles from Denver, and still operates as a nonprofit dedicated to education and animal rescue.
The sanctuary includes a 1.5-mile walkway enabling visitors to observe the animals in their natural habitat without causing stress to the 400-plus lions, tigers, bears and other wildlife. “What’s great about our education efforts is now, instead of getting a call to pick up a tiger or a bear, the public advocates for these animals,” says Craig. “They see an issue and start a GoFundMe page to get the animal to us.”

Recently, the sanctuary purchased a large parcel of land in southern Colorado, which adds an additional 9,000 acres with a good water supply for rescued animals. The sanctuary has spent $2 million on the new Wild Animal Refuge already, but needs help paying for the rest. For $777, individuals can help pay for an acre of land.

The Keenesburg location will remain as an area where the public can visit and learn about the animals. There are no immediate plans for public access at the new Wild Animal Refuge, but as Craig puts it: “With Colorado’s growth, who knows? Access might become easier.” For now, Craig is thrilled to have plenty of land for these animals to live out their days in peace. For information or to purchase an acre of land, visit www.wildanimalsanctuary.org.

—Kerry Parry