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Tiger King’s happy ending –

Animals enjoy sanctuary in Colorado

By Lisa Nicklanovich; photo by Terri Wiebold

Photo of boys with Tiger

Long-time residents may remember when Colorado businessman Jake Jabs, owner of American Furniture Warehouse and author of “An American Tiger,” used to feature big cats in his commercials, marketing campaigns and photo shoots. More than 15 years ago, he stopped bringing in exotic animals following animal rights legislative changes.

A friend recently said, “You’re not really in quarantine until you’ve watched Tiger King.” According to the data firm Nielsen, the Netflix series, billed as a true-crime documentary, was watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release. The huge viewership was likely aided by stay-at-home orders and remote working and learning.

If you have not watched the series, you have still most likely heard the names Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin within the last few weeks. The premise of the series focuses on the life of zookeeper Joe “Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, the flamboyant owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo) and Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue. Without spoiling it, the series focuses on their feud, which escalates over the seven episodes into an appalling and outrageous crime story.

Among the many cringe-worthy moments in Tiger King involving murder threats, romance, political campaigns and undercover investigations, there are moments highlighting the beauty, power and majesty of the tigers too. The series has increased awareness about a number of issues around the exploitation, private ownership, breeding, cub handling, and care of big cats – many of which are now living in sanctuary in Colorado.

Thirty-nine of the tigers and three black bears formerly owned by Joe Exotic were given a new home here in Colorado at The Wild Animal Sanctuary (The Sanctuary). The Sanctuary, featured in the April 2016 issue of The Castle Pines Connection, is located near Keenesburg, approximately 30 miles northeast of Denver. According to The Sanctuary, the tigers came in needing care, from proper food to dental work, some even suffering from mobility issues as a result of poor de-clawing.

The Sanctuary maintains 789 acres of natural habitats and care facilities for large predators that were in illegal or abusive situations. Each rescued animal is rehabilitated and released into natural habitats with others of their own kind. The Sanctuary has an elevated, protected walkway which is more than 1.5 miles long spanning numerous habitats for visitors to observe the tigers, lions, bears, leopards, mountain lions, wolves and other large carnivores roaming freely.

Since 2018, The Sanctuary has also operated another facility, The Wild Animal Refuge (The Refuge) near the town of Springfield, Colorado. The two facilities together provide more than 10,000 acres of land hosting more than 520 animals, making it the largest carnivore sanctuary in the world.

With Tiger King being as hugely popular as it has been, it is reassuring to know the series is creating awareness surrounding animal rights and that some of the animals have found shelter in Colorado at The Sanctuary and The Refuge.

As of press time, The Sanctuary was closed due to social distancing. The Refuge is not open to the public. For more information, visit



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