When I was younger I loved going to the zoo; now that I’m older I still love it. In Colorado we’re blessed not only with several nationally renowned zoos, but with animal care facilities that are leaders in rehabilitation, conservation and education. A day at any of these five facilities is not only a day spent enjoying the outdoors and animals, but also a chance to improve our world and our relationship with the animals we share this world with through education and support.
- Denver Zoo (Denver) What began with an orphaned black bear tied to a tree in City Park has become one of Colorado’s most popular attractions with 1.6 million visitors annually. Now occupying 80 acres in Denver’s City Park, the Denver Zoo is home to over 3,500 different animals representing 650 different species (3 of which are extinct in the wild). Its Bear Mountain was the first naturalistic habitat of its kind in North America in 1918 and since then the zoo has strived to be on the cutting edge of animal care and conservation. Its mission to “secure a better world for animals through human understanding” does not stop at its gates; the Denver Zoo also participates in more than 40 Species Survival Plans, cooperative breeding and conservation programs as well as supporting 75 field conservation and research projects in 22 countries around the world. Regular admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors over 65, and $10 for children 3-11; however, there are also eight free admission days every year.
- The Wild Animal Sanctuary (Keenesburg) After guns and drugs exotic animals are the third largest source of illicit profits in America. Taking care of these often abused, abandoned, exploited or illegally kept creatures has been the mission of the Wild Animal Sanctuary since 1980. Occupying 720 acres on the plains of Colorado 30 miles northeast of Denver, this refuge seeks to provide a life-long home for exotic animals as well as educate the public about this large yet often overlooked problem. Though the Wild Animal Sanctuary specializes in large carnivores like bears, large cats and wolves it also takes in other large animals like emus and camels. Visitors start their tour at the Welcome Center then work their way around the property on a series of elevated walkways and observations decks. This unique viewing arrangement allows visitors to observe the animals without infringing on their space. Regular admission is $15.00 for adults and $7.50 for children 3-12.
- Butterfly Pavilion (Westminister) As the nation’s first stand-alone, non-profit insect zoo, the Butterfly Pavilion is an innovator in the world of invertebrates. This unique bug-topia gives its guests hands-on education about a group of animals that encompasses 97% of all animal species on earth. Visitors can see thousands of invertebrates from butterflies to starfish, and a few vertebrates too (like turtles and birds) in the four indoor exhibit halls or outdoors in the garden or on the nature trail. The Butterfly Pavilion also offers special events like educational courses, summer camps, birthday parties and even a nature-centric yoga series. Regular admission is $8.50 for adults, $5.50 for children 2-12, and $6.50 for seniors 65 and older.
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Colorado Springs) Named for the mountain it sprawls across, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs is known for its natural landscape and interactive exhibits. In the African Rift Valley exhibit visitors can feed giraffes from the largest giraffe herd in America (if you can’t make it to the zoo you can also watch the giraffes on the zoo’s live Giraffe Cam ). In the Budgies Buddies indoor aviary visitors wonder among a 100 free flying Australian birds including budgies, finches, cockatiels, rosellas, and princess parrots. Pay $1 for a seed stick and many of those birds will land on your hand for a nibble; a truly up-close and unforgettable experience. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo also gives its guests a one of a kind aerial view of its facilities on the Mountaineer Sky Ride (a chairlift service available to both zoo patrons and the general public). Additionally your zoo entrance fee also covers a trip up Cheyenne Mountain to the Will Roger’s Shrine of the Sun for some spectacular views of Colorado Springs and the zoo below. Regular admission is $17.25 for adults, $12.25 for children 3-11, and $15.25 for seniors 65 and older.
- Colorado Gator Farm (Mosca) Set up as a combination farm, educational facility and reptile rescue, the Colorado Gator Farm holds its own among the many unique attractions in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado (its neighbors include the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the UFO watchtower). Visitors can see over 400 alligators including Bo Mangles, a rare albino alligator, as well as a variety of fish, reptiles and large birds like emus and ostriches. In addition to the animals kept on location the geothermal pools on the property also attract wild birds such as the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret. Visitors wanting a more hands on experience can sign up for an reptile handling class or a gator wrestling class. Regular admission is $15 for adults and $7.50 for children 6-15 and seniors 65-80.