Saturday, April 24, 2010

Call of the Wild

If you talk to the animals
they will talk with you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them,
you will not know them,
And what you do not know you will fear.
What one fears one destroys. 
~Chief Dan George

Eye of the Tiger ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
Not so long ago, I had the great fortune to learn of a sanctuary for exotic wildlife located practically in my backyard—the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado, just on the other side of Denver—so I went there to visit these four-legged friends and see what the rescue was all about. And there I found a refuge beyond my wildest expectations, a world-wide movement of recovery, healing and hope.

Play Therapy by Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Driving into the facility, situated on some 320 acres in the middle of nowhere, I felt as if I were driving through the rolling grasslands of a real African safari, passing acres of wild animal habitats on either side of the graveled road until I came upon the large, temperature controlled, round-house facility, centrally located on the property and designated as the educational center and receiving area for newly rescued animals. This is the first point of rehabilitation—fabulously staged playgrounds and swimming pools—where the abused animals are allowed to recuperate, play and readjust to life before being integrated into their new habitats.

Walking Wounded:  African Male Lion ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
And it was here that I learned the truth about the Captive Wildlife Crisis facing many lions, tigers, bears, leopards, jaguars, wolves and other exotic animal friends that find themselves out of their element and living in basements and backyards of private homes as a result of the careless attitudes and behaviors of another great species—the human. I had no idea how serious the issue was.

The problem looks like this: Man has a great desire to study wildlife and understand these rare and often endangered creatures from far and distant lands. Teams are sent out to capture these fascinating animals for public zoos around the world where everyone can enjoy them. But it doesn’t stop there, for in an effort to increase zoo attendance, more and more animals are captured then bred, producing cute and precious little baby animals that draw large crowds of zoo-goers, but which ultimately endangers their lives; for these exotic captive populations grow beyond what is manageable and sustainable and, soon, the zoos either have to euthanize their captives or sell them to private animal traders to keep populations in check.

Spotted ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
These careless practices pave the way for breeding, commercialization and abuse. Some people even think they can keep these great cats as house pets! Insane, right? But prevalent; so the issues of licensing and the humane care and treatment of captive wildlife present additional problems to contend with.

Black Bear in the Wild ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2008.
That’s where the Wild Animal Sanctuary comes in. This 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is committed to exotic animal rescue, care and public awareness through education. They take in these “cast-off, unwanted, abused, abandoned and exploited wild creatures which man brought into civilization, bred and profited from, and no longer has use for.” And they’re really making a difference.

As I explored the sanctuary, I was overwhelmed with the sense of calm these animals reflect in their new, healthy environment—a place that honors their right to be cared for with dignity and respect. Lions, tigers, leopards, bears and wolves greeted me with yawns and roars while lounging in the setting sun, sharing with me their scars and histories of abuse. 

Scarred ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
Like this guy, who had been kept in a cage much smaller than his size—where he couldn’t fully stand up or turn around—in the parking lot behind a gas station somewhere in Texas, where for a small fee patrons could go out back and gawk at him through the bars of his prison; and where he was beaten by his “owner” for doing what was in his nature to do; for being irritated by his show-and-tell life.  Why do people feel the need to dominate animals in this way? 

Still, notwithstanding his scars, here in the spaciousness of his sanctuary den, he portrayed a sense of relief as he lounged peacefully in his new environment.

Rest Easy: You Are Safe ~ Photo by MJohnson © 2009.
I stood in awe as I watched him, amazed at nature’s splendor and the telepathic way that animals communicate with us. I believe they want us to know them—their struggles, their pain—and we can, but we must quiet our minds enough to listen with our hearts and engage their living spirits, an ability that goes far beyond any act of anthropomorphism that we may conjure up. It is to connect to the essence of Life itself. And when we do—when we open ourselves to these healing connections—we see beyond our impermanent human condition into a shared mystical experience of life, even if for just one moment.

And as the sun prepared to do its disappearing act in the night sky, the wolves gathered round to howl a great “goodnight.”

Good Night ~ Photo © 2009.

By Melissa Johnson

To get involved or find out how you can help, please visit the Wild Animal Sanctuary and follow them on Twitter at  All photos except for Black Bear in the Wild were shot on location at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado © 2009.

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Karen Anderson said...

Thank you so much! I have visited this sanctuary and you captured this perfectly.

Your friend,

JJ said...

Yes - these gorgeous creatures. We all see their cages from time to time. I've seen tigers on display at a individual's business before. A guy who lives below me has a large black cat that I've heard about but not seen. In Florida I remember baby alligators for sale! Even as a a kid I thought, why? Who wants a grown alligator for a pet? Yet a couple of years ago, there was one found in a pond - full grown - in Portland, Oregon. Somebody bought a baby that grew up and they didn't know what to do with it, apparently... Stupid. People around here catch wild cats & cage them. I've decided I'm not keeping my mouth shut anymore. It's a start.

Met with a lady tonight (and her group) who wants to enlist me for a project to educate parents at risk. So many causes. Mother says I should care more about people. I tell her they can talk. Animals can't. Love your blog on this one. If I ever make it out your way, I'd like to go to this sanctuary. Love you, Melissa. Keep writing. -Jenna

Flora said...

Melissa, another brilliant piece of work!  I love the photos along with the story.  I think it will raise the conscienceness of many.  The animals are powerful, yet intricately designed, each with it's own pattern of beauty.  Keep up the good work, girl.  Love, MOM