2021 Spring Update
THE WILD ANIMAL REFUGE UPDATE
With the onset of COVID-19 being such a challenging ordeal, and the rest of 2020 being filled with chaos and political upheaval, we have all been looking forward to a saner and more productive year in 2021. Of course, we always work hard at the Refuge, but this year we found ourselves faced with a new sense of urgency.
Having already carried out numerous large rescues over the past few months we felt a need to shift into high gear so we could quickly build more habitats. Yet, by choosing to create large and diverse spaces, we still needed to invest significant amounts of time and energy laying out species-specific territories.
Deciding which species will benefit most within each unique area we develop at the Refuge can be both challenging and rewarding. Seeing rescued Lions enjoying an expansive view from atop one of their massive rock outcroppings… or watching a Bear gleefully spruce up a natural cave to suit their liking… there is no better reward!
Once we have a habitat laid out, and we’ve marked the exact pathways where our primary and secondary fences will go, it’s time for us to hunker down and get the job done. It all becomes worthwhile when you see how amazing each space turns out for the animals who get to live there.
Starting with the eleven Wolves we rescued from the failed Tiger King facility in Oklahoma, we set out to build numerous smaller habitats that were about 18 to 20 acres in size and featured varying topography, grass, trees, rocks and water. With many of the canyons having miles of beautiful scenery that possessed all of the amenities we were looking for, we began constructing numerous habitats between our existing 243-acre Black Bear habitat and the Alpaca barn that is located close to one and a half miles to the north.
Additionally, with more Tigers and Bears having arrived from the same Oklahoma contingent, as well as from Indiana, Louisiana and Pennsylvania… we had to begin building larger habitats as well. There is no doubt we have a need for more operations crew members, and will for some time to come!
Having the right equipment to create these special habitats is also critical, especially when you are working on such a massive scale. With miles of fencing to install for each new habitat, we rely not only on our staff’s physical strength, but also on their ability to operate incredibly large and complex machines.
Both men and machines are the key to building much of the infrastructure we need at the Refuge, while animal care staff and their specialized vehicles and equipment focus on caring for the hundred-plus animals that are currently living there. Both have very specific goals in mind, but also end up helping each other on a fairly regular basis.
For the eleven Wolves that arrived from the failed GW Zoo, we have five habitats set aside to help with the pairing and pack-building process. Most of the wolves we rescued from that facility were kept in pairs or singles, with the exception of one semi-geriatric group that had three members.
Wolves can group together and build packs that have anywhere from two to more than a dozen members. As such, we had to spend a fair amount of time observing each Wolf to get a better understanding of their potential to (1) fit well in a group setting, and (2) decide what potential each one had to function at a higher or lower level within the pack hierarchy.
Once we had a good idea of the personalities that existed within the group, and noted each member’s aggressive and/or submissive behaviors, we started forming theoretical packs. Of course, all of this was done on paper until the time we began to physically place the Wolves inside their new habitats.
Like all of our animals, including cats and Bears, we start with an introductory lockout enclosure located inside each expansive habitat which serves as a controlled space for letting animals get used to their new territory. After a number of days, the first members of the pack are let out to explore their new home and get used to its boundaries.
Once they feel at home, subsequent members are also allowed time in the introductory enclosure so they too can adjust the sights and sounds of the new space. This also allows more close up interaction between the existing and newly added members, but with an enclosure fence keeping them separated for safety.
Again, after a certain amount of time and with everyone showing proper signs of respect and correct placement within the hierarchal structure, the newer members are also released. At this point, we have a team of operations and animal care staff present to make sure all goes well.
It’s rare for the new pack to have fights or disagreements, but on occasion some of the members that were thought to be shy or more submissive may begin to stand up for their rights. In some cases, a member will push to take a higher rank in the pack, while at other times we might see a member choose to lower their station on their own accord.
In the end, we are almost always able to establish a new pack with an appropriately cohesive grouping. With such large natural habitats, the new packs find they have lots of territory to cover and begin to form a much tighter bond in order to protect the groups’ cumulative interests.
Having other Wolf packs in near proximity helps to give each pack their own sense of territorial importance, which manifests quite often in the form of long drawn out howling sessions. These howling sessions are very important and often serve as vocalized territorial markings.
Each session is definitely enriching for all the Wolf packs, since entwined within the expected “this is our territory” message… there are also a few “and don’t even think of coming over here or we will kick your butt” challenges! Talking trash always plays an important part in the Animal Kingdom’s “tough guy routine”.
Of course, the Bears and big cats share a lot of the same steps within our well established introduction routine, including staging for a short time inside an introductory enclosure - as well as being released in stages. However, African Lions are the only ones that share the same need to employ the vocalization portion of this ritual.
Being incredibly social animals, the Lions have very similar pack (or in this case) “pride” dynamics, and definitely place great importance on having an established leader or “King”. Even though each pride might have as many as four or five adult males living in the group, there is only room for one dominant male.
However, as impressive as the males are, and as much pomp and circumstance that is made over their incredibly impressive physiques, the females in the pride definitely hold an enormous amount of power and control over the pride’s actions.
Most times, the ladies will decide when it’s time to move or change locations, or simply determine the current view has become boring and will reposition themselves. Once they stand and begin to move, the males will typically go along to ensure their precious cargo doesn’t fall into the hands of a competing pride.
Of course, from time to time, the males feel a need to go patrol the pride’s territorial boundaries and will be gone for an extended period of time. When they return, there is an inordinate amount of head butting and shoulder rubbing, as Lion reunions are always very physical.
For Tigers like “Clay”, “Daniel”, “Enzo” and “Thomas” – four Tigers rescued from Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo – they never roar or call out to anyone. Tigers do have a call or “roar” so-to-speak, but it’s more the females that call out quite loudly when in estrus, rather than the males warning off other challengers.
Yet, as “unsocial” as Tigers are thought to be, captive Tigers who are fed well and have lots of space to live in actually become very social. As long as their resources are plentiful and there’s enough space to hang together - or totally avoid one another whenever they feel like it – they get along famously.
Thankfully, with the addition of overnight housing at the Refuge, our volunteers are now able to travel to the remote sight for extended work sessions. As more and more animals begin to call the Refuge home, there is an ever growing need for manpower to help sort and process food into specific diets.
The same is true for our operations crew, as we always have more projects than personal to get them done. Finding qualified labor in Baca County is a challenge to say the least, as most everyone with skills either works on a ranch or has moved off to the big city in search of higher paying jobs.
Regardless, we do accomplish an incredible amount of work each week with the smaller crew that works there full time. Of course, there’s no doubt we could use another ten skilled workers to help build habitats non-stop… but that kind of windfall will likely have to remain a pipe dream for some time to come.
The Yaks, Alpacas and Donkeys remain thrilled to have so much room to roam, so there are quite a few hoofed animals that seem to be in heaven. Founders that have been able to visit at least once already can testify to how great they all are doing, and we hope many more of you will be able to come see the Refuge in person this coming June.
COVID or no COVID, our Founder’s Day Event will definitely be held this coming June 17th, 18th, 19th & 20th. Every year it’s hard to know what the weather will be like in June - since it’s extremely important that we try to schedule the event when we think it will not be too rainy – as well as not be too hot.
A May date would definitely be risky with the potential for rain and wet roads… and an August or September date would likely end up being too warm for the animals. If that were the case, all of the animals would be sleeping in the shade during the heat of the day, and be up all night.
This leaves the month of June as our best bet for a near perfect visit. So far, that hasn’t been the case, with the first Founder’s Day having one rainy day, and last year’s event being extremely warm and dry.
However, given the Refuge is more or less sandwiched between two regions of contrasting weather – meaning Texas to the south and Wyoming to the north – it tends to be very challenging when trying to nail down a date somewhere between cold and wet or hot and dry.
Either way, our Founders have proven to be quite adventurous and willing to brave whatever conditions exist. Thankfully, no one has gone missing or ended up having their picture put on a milk carton… but truth be told, it does take solid planning and being self-reliant to travel alone in the untrammeled wilderness of southeast Colorado.
Like all of our facilities, you really have to go there in person to truly understand and appreciate the scope and magnitude of what is going on. Aside from all of the Founders that have been there, you can ask celebrated National Geographic photographer, Steve Winter, just how amazing it is to see the Refuge in person… or even ask one of the numerous national or international animal welfare icons that have taken the time to visit as well.
They will all tell you that the Refuge is not only massive in size, but also breathtaking in beauty and radiance. We definitely feel blessed to have such a natural landscape to give to the animals!
“We are blessed on this planet with small glimpses of the divine. They are all around us. We need not look far to find the beauty. Small miracles are all around us. We simply need to go outside and take a look around at all of the great creation to which we belong.” J. Renard
It has been wonderful to see all of the native wildlife continue to live and enjoy the Refuge over the past two years. Just the other day we were able to see four large Mule Deer bucks that were spread equally apart within one of the Refuge’s mile-long canyons.
With towering antlers atop their heads, each one stood confidently as our operations team drove by. Not a single one moved or demonstrated any sign of fear.
Three of the four were standing in the shade below a wall of towering cliffs, while the largest stood high above on a rocky outcrop. His massive silhouette adorned the skyline as it became generously outlined by the setting sun.
Since hunting has been banned in the canyons for many years, it seemed as if they were extremely grateful to have a safe haven where their impressive racks would no longer issue an immediate death sentence. So too have the Bobcats, Black Bears, Badgers and Mountain Lions, as all have been able to exist quite harmoniously outside the habitats where their new exotic neighbors reside.
With thousands of acres available to all, we can now see how well the Refuge’s layout and overall design is working in favor of the native species. With hundreds of cattle previously occupying the canyons for many decades, there was an extensive period where aberrant competition drained nearly all of the natural resources.
Now, with the cattle gone, incredible amounts of native grasses have returned and are thriving. The native wildlife has realized the bounty that now exists, as have many of the smaller beings we rarely think of.
Dung Beatles and bugs that were previously killed by the deworming and parasite medicines excreted in cattle dung are now able to live, thrive and balance the countless microhabitats that exist throughout the refuge.
There’s no doubt a major change has taken place at the Refuge, and we are very thankful for the opportunity to improve a great number of things we never knew were that far out of balance. It’s definitely worth seeing, and we hope more people choose to become Founders so they too can visit in person and bear witness to the amazing transformations that are taking place!
FOUNDERS DAY EVENT
Founders should only plan to attend one of the four days
Thursday June 17th, Friday June 18th, Saturday June 19th, and Sunday June 20th
Gates will open at 9:00 AM and close at 3:00 PM
Printed tickets, which you’ve received via email, will be requested to enter the property
Food and Drinks will be available – but no official lunch presentation will be made this year
Staff and Volunteers will be on site to answer questions and speak with Founders
Links to PDF maps for directions to the Refuge are available using the link below - maps of the Refuge itself will be given to Founders when they arrive for the event as well
Bathroom facilities (porta-potties) will be available at various locations throughout the Refuge
No pets will be allowed on the property or in your vehicle
The weather leading up to this event, as well as on each day of the event, will play a major role in whether the roads leading to the Refuge are safe and passable – as well as whether the roads within the Refuge are similarly affected. Everyone attending the event must check the Refuge’s web site one or two days prior to the event - as well as the morning before you head directly to the Refuge – since constant road condition updates and possible cancellations will be posted there. Wet weather can easily make the roads impassable and dangerous, and there would be little-to-no chance you could receive emergency help if anything were to go wrong.
Always travel with emergency food, water and medical provisions
What is Founder's Day?
Each summer, The Wild Animal Sanctuary hosts a special event for Founders where they can come see the amazing Refuge they have helped create.
How much does it cost to attend Founder’s Day?
This event is free, but is only open to Founders. Founders are those whom have donated toward one or more acres of land to complete the Refuge land purchase.
Where is Founder’s Day held?
Founder’s Day is located at The Wild Animal Refuge location in Colorado. The Refuge is approximately 190 miles southeast of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, situated partway between the towns of La Junta and Springfield, Colorado.
The Wild Animal Refuge
00431 County Rd Pp 5/10
Springfield, CO 81073, USA
It is strongly recommended when traveling to the Refuge to have a physical map and/or directions present. GPS is not reliable as there is no cell service near the Refuge. There will be road signs to help attendees navigate from select main towns to the Refuge. Founders can obtain directions using the link below.
We also recommend filling up on gas in La Junta, Springfield, or Las Animas, CO before completing your drive to the Refuge, as most commutes are four or more hours each way (from the Denver area).
When is Founder’s Day this year?
Founders can choose one of four days to visit The Wild Animal Refuge this year:
Thursday, June 17th
Friday, June 18th
Saturday, June 19th
Sunday, June 20th
Will there be another Founder’s event this year?
No. This will be the only Founders event in 2021.
Is there limited space for Founder’s Day?
Yes. This year we have expanded this event across four days to ensure all Founders can attend, however, each day has a max capacity. The Sanctuary staff will send out an email update if a date is reaching/has reached capacity, but be sure to sign up for your preferred date as soon as possible!
Can I bring guests to Founder’s Day?
Up to 1 guest is allowed per Founder, if you feel you cannot make the trip alone. This includes any family member, but we advise not bringing young children due to the lack of cell service on the trip to contact emergency services, if they are needed.
How do I sign up for Founder’s Day?
Founders can register for one of the four days using the link below:
Is an RVSP required in order to attend Founder’s Day?
Yes. An RSVP is required in order to obtain ticket(s) and attend this special event. Founders with a guest should select two tickets when registering for this event. Ticket(s) must be present when arriving for Founder Days, via print-out or screen-shot.
When do I have to RVSP by in order to attend Founder’s Day?
All Founders must register no later than May 21st, 2021, pending ticket availability.
What if I accidentally registered for the wrong day?
If you accidentally registered for the wrong day, please contact our Development staff.
What time does Founder’s Day start?
Founders can arrive any time beginning at 9:00 AM MST
What time does Founder Days end?
Founders should depart by 3:00 PM MST.
What is this year’s agenda for Founder’s Day?
Founders can explore the beautiful property by self-guided tours between 9:00AM–3:00PM MST. No hiking or off-roading is allowed, as designated paths around the Refuge and Operations Complex must be used. Sanctuary staff will be positioned at various points along the designated paths to assist with any questions. Founders must also remain in their vehicles at all times except at the Operations Complex, or if otherwise permitted by Staff.
Free light food options will be provided at the Operations Complex anytime between 10:00AM– 2:00PM MST, as well as the opportunity to chat with Sanctuary staff. Food will be inclusive of vegetarian and vegan options.
May I bring in food?
Light food options will be provided by The Wild Animal Sanctuary at no cost, but we advise to bring snacks and drinks for the trip. We encourage you bring your own food under special circumstances such as dietary restrictions and/or due to certain underlying conditions such as diabetes. Please contact our Development staff if you have questions.
Are pets allowed?
No pets are allowed, no exceptions. Our apologies, this does include service animals as well. There is a pet friendly hotel located in Springfield, CO, “J’s Motel”, if you have no other arrangements for your furry friend(s).
Are bathrooms available?
Porta-potties will be available at various locations throughout the Refuge.
Where do I park?
All Founders will be greeted by a member of the Sanctuary staff when arriving. Founders will be guided to the Operations Complex for all parking. Parking is not allowed outside of the Operations Complex.
Is alternative transportation available for Founder’s Day?
Transportation is available for Founders with special needs only. You must include this request in the respective field when registering for this event and/or contact our Development staff.
What lodging is available for Founder’s Day?
A variety of lodging options close to the Refuge are available (within an hour or so of). Founders can use the link below to find lodging options in Springfield, La Junta, and Las Animas, CO. We do not guarantee room availability, as local hotels will fill up fast.
Can Founder’s Day be cancelled due to weather?
Yes. Weather can create impossible driving conditions at the Refuge. In the case of inclement weather, this event or specific day(s) may be cancelled without a rescheduled ‘rain date’. Any cancellations or reschedule notices will be communicated by the Sanctuary staff via email. Please make sure to check your inbox (and junk mail folder) before making the trip in bad weather.
Can I still become a Founder and attend this event?
There is still time to become a Founder! Use the link below to purchase an acre or more of land and register no later than May 21st, 2021 in order to attend this year’s Founder’s Day.
Who do I contact for additional questions?
If you need any additional assistance or information, please contact our Development staff.
We would like to thank you for your kind and generous support, as well as your patience in waiting for another update on the Refuge. Throughout 2019, we worked day-in and day-out on new habitats at the Refuge, and continued to add more infrastructure for our operations crews that work there.
Although we wanted to provide more timely updates for you, there were long periods of time where we were spending months building the endless miles of fencing that was needed to create incredibly large habitats. Our goal was to complete over 300 acres of natural habitats for bears - which was a daunting task to say the least.
With the help of dedicated staff, and additional help from a non-profit organization called “Rescue Rebuild”, we were able to get over 12 miles of specialized fencing installed. Once the habitat fencing was in place, we were able to get a more precise measurement of the two habitats that were created.
The Grizzly Bear Habitat ended up encompassing 103 acres, and the Black Bear Habitat came in at 243 acres. These incredibly natural spaces are completely forested in pine trees and feature hills, bluffs and other enormous rock formations, as well as beautiful canyons and meadows where the bears can roam, play and relax.
Hundreds of natural caves, rock outcroppings and other shelters exist where the bears can live, relax and make dens, and we also added dozens of man-made dens to augment the choices they have in overall amenities. These are truly amazing spaces that are custom made for bears, and are designed to leverage the natural landscape that could have been their native home if they had never been removed from the wild.
Now that we have 346 acres of habitat completed for bears, we took the opportunity to release eight rescued Grizzly Bears into their 103-acre habitat. Six of these Grizzly Bears were rescued from a facility in California named the Wildlife Waystation, where they lived for decades in tiny concrete and steel cages. Two other Grizzly Bears were rescued from a failed facility in Texas, where they too suffered for years in similar enclosures.
These eight Grizzly Bears now roam freely within their amazingly natural habitat and spend each day exploring the habitat’s seemingly unending expanse. Of course, for months after each set of Bears were rescued, they spent time in temporary holding enclosures so they would not be overwhelmed by the sudden move – let alone the change in surroundings.
Each set of Bears needed time to adjust to their new home and were allowed all the time they needed to become comfortable with residing at the Refuge. Once they were comfortable with the sights, sounds, feeding schedule and caretaking staff, we were confident they could begin exploring their new home in full.
As usual with captive raised Bears, they were cautious with their new found freedom and tended to come and go from their smaller enclosures, making sure they weren’t taking too large of a risk. Yet, over the first few days, they all ventured into the habitat with varying degrees of confidence.
Two of the Grizzly Bears named “Miss Montana” and “Miss America” that were known to be exceedingly confident, ventured to the far side of the habitat and back almost immediately. This was no easy feat, given the habitat is over ¼ mile wide and more than ¾ of a mile in length.
Needless to say, none of the Grizzly Bears were in top physical shape after having spent their entire lives to-date living in 400 sq. ft. enclosures. So it wasn’t long before a number of them were seen laying in the shade under large Juniper trees where they could take in the beautiful landscape while giving their tootsies a rest.
Yet, over the next few days, we could see their stamina increasing and their feet becoming more resilient to the sudden increase in mileage. It is all part of what any of the animals we rescue go through, as every one of them has come from places where they were forced to live in very small cages with unnatural substrate.
With its location in southeastern Colorado, the Refuge is incredibly peaceful and serene. There are no cars, trucks, trains or planes to create unnatural sounds, so other than the occasional “caw” heard from Crows that lovingly call these canyon lands home, there is simply no noise pollution.
We can testify to the amazing silence that exists, as we have spent hours standing atop one of the bluffs listening to the gentle breeze whispering through the pines as we waited to hear the slightest crack of a twig that might reveal one of the Grizzly Bears walking through the woods.
Finding them in such an expansive wilderness would normally be quite the challenge, but given their lives have always revolved around human care, they still choose to come to their caretakers whenever they hear the familiar sound of a service vehicle. Of course, our small drones with infrared technology are always great when the times comes to observe all of the Bears during the day or night, especially since they can spot them much faster than the naked eye.
We look forward to seeing how these Grizzly Bears, and the Black Bears that are soon to be released, will continue to adapt to such a natural lifestyle. Other than our providing them with plenty of food, water and medical services, they can now have an opportunity to become the Bears they were originally born to be.
Both The Wild Animal Refuge and The Wild Animal Sanctuary stand as prime examples of what captive wildlife not only deserve, but should have no matter what entity has them or where they are kept. There is a new paradigm in captive wildlife care, and thankfully, you chose to be part of it.
Thanks to your love for animals and clear understanding of what we are creating at the Refuge, there is no doubt the world will see how all captive wildlife can and should be treated. We are incredibly grateful for your help in purchasing this amazing land and helping us develop it for the animals’ benefit.
Together, we are changing lives daily, and creating a world where suffering and abuse can be extinguished through compassion and a true opportunity for freedom. The Lions, Tigers, Bears and other animals that live at both facilities are living proof there is a better life waiting for all.
Please follow the link that goes to our special page for the upcoming Founder’s Day Event (in June) that will be held at the Refuge this year. We’ve expanded the opportunity to include two weekdays, along with a Saturday and Sunday, so that every Founder has an opportunity to see this amazing place in person.
We have raised enough funds to pay for ¾ of the Refuge, and appreciate everything you all have done to accomplish amazing feat. However, we need to continue to push to the finish line and raise the remaining funds, so we can then focus entirely on creating more habitats like these.
Each year that we have to commit major funds toward paying for the land, we are conversely restricted in what we can do toward building these wonderful spaces. This is why we all need to continue sharing the successes we have accomplished to-date, so that others will learn what we are doing and hopefully join us in completing the purchase.
There are other links included that enable additional donations toward the land, as well as a general donation link for those that wish to help with purchasing more fencing and other much needed building supplies. Additionally, there is a link to the Sanctuary’s Amazon.com wish list for those who would like to help buy purchasing some of these supplies directly.
We do want to thank many of the individuals and companies that have already contributed toward this need, as they have helped with everything from donations of massive quantities of sacked concrete and concrete dens… to other substantial purchases that include fencing and steel products. Our accomplishments to date would not have been possible without their help, so we remain forever grateful!
With the expanded Founder’s Day Event encompassing four days instead of two, our hope is to spread attendance across a wider envelope so that everyone has an unforgettable experience. Certain aspects of how the event will be carried out have changed this year, so we are listing the general details that, of course, will be repeated each of the four days.
In general, Founders should only plan to attend one of the four days offered, and reservations are absolutely required. Each Founder is allowed to bring one guest, as it is important for us to restrict the number of people attending for numerous important reasons.
If you attended last year’s event, we will be addressing some of the minor issues that came up, so your overall experience this year will be even better. If this will be your first time attending the Founder’s Day Event, please be sure to pay close attention to the FAQ section and warnings about bad weather and associated road hazards.
We want to thank you again for being a Founder and caring enough to help create this wonderful new home for rescued animals. We have a very busy year ahead of us, so we plan to send more Founder updates as often as possible. Thank you so very much!!!
Time To Layout Habitats
Now that the Roads, Power and Carnivore Nutrition Center are complete and in place, it was time to start building the habitats for our animals to live in.
Planning their layout was the first step toward construction, and helped define the overall workflow for this coming summer.
Grading Pathways for Fencing
The second step was to grade clear pathways for our special fencing.
Clean paths that surround unique features help create the outline of each habitat.
Each habitat includes high ridges and hill tops as well as canyon bottoms where the habitat fencing travels as it surrounds each feature.
From the air this 35 acre habitat looks relatively small. However, it is 10 acres larger than the biggest habitat we have in Keenesburg.
The next three habitats being built will range between 45 to 310 acres in size.
Although they look like bushes, those are actually One Seed Juniper Trees that average 14' to 16' in height.
Thousands of Fence Poles
With miles and miles of habitat fencing being installed, we are thankful that all of our poles are donated by Excel Energy. The only snag is, we have to cut them at our Keenesburg site and then haul them to the Refuge on a weekly basis.
Along with building habitats, we also need to install multiple water supply systems - both for the animals and the workers/staff who are busy building everything.
Although the winter snow storms have slowed construction, we are reaching a point where those will lessen and allow us to get much more done on a daily basis.
Construction on the habitats will continue all summer, but we hope to have the first animals arriving (to live in the 35 acre habitat) by sometime in May or June.