All around the world there are people fascinated with the animal kingdom. Zoos are attractions in almost every major city. The best of these zoos are not only places where we can admire representatives of the vast biodiversity of our planet, but also places where scientists can do valuable work conserving species that are rapidly becoming rare in the wild.
There is another side to the wild animal game though. The worst zoos and circuses neglect or even abuse animals in the name of financial gain. Adding to these crimes are individual owners that illegally own non-domesticated animals in their homes, usually finding that most wild animals make poor pets. Of all of these animals, it is the large carnivores that often captivate our attentions the most. As a result, these animals are the most likely to be exploited and often among the worst treated. Oftentimes, these animals need to be rescued.
Enter Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary and organizations like it. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is devoted to saving these animals from cruel existences. Some of the individual stories of particular animals are truly tragic. As just one example at this sanctuary, a serval, which is a graceful African cat, had her teeth filed down and her claws removed at the last joint in an attempt to make her a better pet. The rescue stories of bears, tigers, lions, leopards, wolves and yet more animals make an impression on all visitors. Standing on the viewing platforms at the sanctuary, a huge sense of gratitude for the work done here begins to grow. These animals were all wronged by people. Now people are taking care of them. Giving them space to range, quality food and often the companionship of others of their kind. The animals seem happy and content.
One of the best side effects of this work is the amazing opportunity it affords us to view some of these large carnivores. I grew up not far from one of the best zoos in the world and have been to many others in various places. Still, I saw more bears and big cats in five minutes at the the Wild Animal Sanctuary than I ever had in all my life. I have always made efforts to see wild animals. I’ve been lucky to see them on African preserves, zoos on three continents and more national parks than I can remember. A glimpse at a large carnivore is a rare and lucky thing. I saw scores of big cats, many bears and even a pack of wolves. Those wolves all howled at one point in an eerie, haunting chorus. Viewing these animals is not even the primary purpose of this facility. It is there to give loving, comfortable homes to animals who had been plucked from the wild and can no longer return to wild habitats as a result. Even as just a side effect, this chance to view large carnivores must be unparalleled in the entire world. Even if you cannot make it out to see the facility, you might want to contribute to their worthy cause. One glimpse at these beautiful animals and one ear towards the stories of the conditions that some of these animals endured will convince you that it is worthwhile.
photos by Martha Menk