"Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"
That's what kept running through my mind the first time I visited the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Spearfish.
Established as a safe haven and release site for injured or orphaned indigenous animals, the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is home to more than 300 animals of 40 different species including tigers, leopards, bears, African lions, mountain lions, coyotes, lynx, domestic animals and more. It is maintained completely through volunteers.
There are many stunning, big cats at the sanctuary. The white tigers are majestic looking. The male lions roar when you come near their pride - which in the case of one lion is a domestic beagle mix. There is a neat set-up for the mountain lions that allows them to move from one pen to another through a Plexiglas tunnel positioned at the top of two pens. Visitors can stand underneath the tunnel for a unique vantage point of these animals. While all these cats are great, the one I find most interesting is the serval. It is a beautiful, medium-sized African wild cat with tiger-like markings. But most interestingly, the one at the sanctuary happily lives side-by-side with its best friend, a domesticated house cat.
If big cats aren't your thing, don't worry. The sanctuary has plenty of animals to peak your interest. You can happily view everything from parrots to bears to lamas.
The sanctuary sits on 200 acres of rocky, forested terrain, three miles southwest of Spearfish. When you arrive at the sanctuary you'll park your car and then embark on a tour. The tour involves a lot of time on your feet and the route you follow is a dirt path, not handicapped accessible - so it may not be the best activity for less agile visitors. The tour takes about one and a half hours and is available Tuesday - Saturday at 8:30 and 10 a.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tours cost $15 for adults and there are varying discounts for military, students, seniors and youths. As a reminder, it is an animal sanctuary, not a zoo. Your admission fee helps to sustain the care of the animals. For more information or to schedule a group tour you can call the sanctuary at 605-642-2907.
-Jill Broecher of Visit Spearfish, Inc.