More lions, tigers and bears are moving to Colorado

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KEENSBURG, Colo. -- It’s only 35 miles from downtown Denver, but the Wild Animal Sanctuary feels like a world away.

It is home to nearly 500 animals that have been bred and held in captivity, often in abusive or neglectful environments.

“We specialize in rescuing animals like bears, lions, tigers,” Kent Drotar said. “Basically, animals, as I like to say, that have sharp claws and sharp teeth.”

The animals are typically rescued from places such as fur farms, taxidermy shops, roadside zoos, gas stations and people’s homes.

One young male lion cub ended up as a rescue after he was given to a 3-year-old girl for her birthday.

“We end up rescuing these animals and we give them a home for life,” Drotar said.

TWAS is the largest facility of its kind in the world. The animals are given permanent homes in large acreage enclosures ranging from 5 to 25 acres.

“We don’t exist to display the animals,” Drotar said. “We are primarily concerned with giving the animal just the best life possible.”

However, it is now at its maximum capacity and there is no room to grow.

“When we moved out here 24 years ago this was just a vast ocean of wheat, but all you’ve got to do is just look behind us and you can see the Denver metro area creeping out here,” he said.

The problem is, there are still thousands of large exotic animals that need help.

With at least 4,000 privately owned tigers in Texas alone, there are more tigers in Texas than there are living in the wild in the rest of the world.

“It’s a huge problem. Most people don’t realize there are about 25,000 large carnivore-type animals outside of the zoo system in just the United States,” Drotar said.

To be able to continue to help, TWAS purchased more than 9,000 acres of undeveloped land in southeastern Colorado near Springfield.

The rugged landscape features cliffs, forests, water features and an array of other natural formations the animals will be able to use.

The land in Keensburg, which is built on wheat fields, requires staff to plant trees for shade, place boulders for climbing and other structures for the animals to interact with.

“Bears will have natural areas down there that they can dig their den in and hibernate in and so we’re really excited,” Drotar said.

The refuge is not open to the public, but The Wild Animal Sanctuary is open to visitors.

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