It’s hot and dusty; the sun is about to set; the grass that covers the plains is brown, wilting, wishing for rain that rarely falls. When the lions start to roar, you could forgive yourself for thinking you are in the African savanna.
But you are not. You are at the western edge of the North American Great Plains, stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River and from Northern Canada to Mexico, covering about 2.5 million square kilometers.
The roar of the lions is not a hallucination. Neither is the howling of the wolves, nor the growling of the bears. You can find all of these animals and more at The Wild Animal Sanctuary (http://www.wildanimalsanctuary.org/) just a few miles northeast of Denver, Colorado, in Keenesburg.
“Countless other great cats, bears, wolves and other large carnivores live in abusive conditions in roadside stands, circuses, magic acts, traveling shows, and other substandard situations. Untold numbers of animals suffer and die each year due to neglect, abuse or because they are abandoned and left to die, starving and alone,” says their website.
“Comprising 320 acres and sheltering more than 200 lions, tigers, bears, leopards, mountain lions, wolves and other large carnivores, it is the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for its rescued animals,” it continues.
We are told upon arrival that the facility is 100% non-smoking and if we choose to ignore this rule, we will be summarily removed from the site. This is because the bears in the Sanctuary that have been saved from roadside shows are nicotine addicts. The nicotine is what the trainers used to get the bears to do their tricks. Thus even the smell of a cigarette can have devastating consequences. It is a good thing no one in our group smokes.
The three main points of the organization’s mission are to rescue captive large carnivores that have been abused, abandoned, illegally kept or exploited; to create for them a wonderful life for as long as they live; and to educate about the causes and solutions to the captive wildlife crisis.
On site, it is obvious that they are committed to their mission. The animals that have completed their rehabilitation program roam freely in their large enclosures, encountering others of their kind. They look healthy from afar. As they are wild animals, I will obviously not climb into the enclosures for a close inspection, but trust in the organization to do what is necessary.