Official Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary website.

A Sanctuary for Animals

Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary was founded in 1999 by its Director, Michael Welchynski, to provide a permanent home for unwanted, neglected and abused animals. Prior to establishing the Sanctuary in Spearfish, South Dakota, Michael Welchynski founded and directed Spirit Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. Spirit Valley was an animal refuge facility for injured and orphaned wildlife and for unwanted domestic and exotic animals. Along with badgers, birds of prey, moose and Black bears, Spirit Valley was also home to a Barbary lion named “Hercules”, who needed a permanent home after outgrowing his adopted family’s city apartment, and a Siberian tiger named “Tane”, who was confiscated by Canadian authorities when her owner was caught walking her on a leash in a suburban neighborhood in Saskatchewan. Upon the invitation of Johanna Meier and Guido Della Vecchia, owners and directors of the Black Hills Passion Play, Michael Welchynski transported some 200 animals, including the lion and tiger, across the international border to establish Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Spearfish, South Dakota.

Located in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota, the Sanctuary sits on 200 acres of rocky, forested terrain. It is currently home to over 300 animals of 40 different species including tigers, leopards, bears, African lions, foxes, mountain lions, coyotes, lynx, an ocelot, a caracal, and myriad domestic animals including dogs, cats, pigs, goats and horses. Coming to the Sanctuary from South Dakota and its five neighboring states, many of the residents at the Sanctuary were injured or orphaned in the wild (at the hands of people) or have been rescued from illegal breeding operations, fur farms, irresponsible “pet” owners and the entertainment industry. The Sanctuary provides a lifelong home for these animals, free from further abuse and exploitation.

The Sanctuary is licensed by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the finest veterinary care for the animals and the utmost security and quality of the animal enclosures. The Sanctuary serves not only as an animal care facility, but also offers a vital community outreach component. Walking tours and educational demonstrations by Sanctuary volunteers tell the life stories of each of the residents and provide important information on the plight of their wild brethren, many species of which are now threatened or endangered. The Sanctuary is also partnered with local and regional school districts and each year nearly 3,000 students participate in the Outdoor Learning Center. This outdoor classroom integrates ecology, animal welfare and conservation in a unique hands-on learning experience, and allows rural school children from South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska the distinctive opportunity to experience this menagerie of wild animals up close and personal outside of an often inaccessible metropolitan zoo setting. In light of the recently sanctioned mountain lion sport hunting season in South Dakota, the Sanctuary is dedicated to raising awareness about human and pet safety living in mountain lion country and the vital importance these great cats play in our surrounding ecosystem.

The Sanctuary survives financially on tour admission fees, the generous donations from visitors and local businesses, and the volunteer veterinary care of Dr. David Elsom, DVM. The labor force is made up entirely of hard-working volunteers. Under the direction of its founder, Michael Welchynski, and with the continued support of the local community, Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary will carry on its vital mission to care for society’s unwanted animals by providing them with a lifelong home and a reason for hope.

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