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All our lives we considered zoos to be a great way to see wild animals from around the world, as captive wildlife provides an opportunity to learn about the animal kingdom. And of course it’s a lot of fun to see exotic creatures up close.
Unfortunately, in the past few years we've become painfully aware of some serious problems with zoos: Inadequate enclosures, abuse, insufficient medical treatment, killing of "surplus animals" etc. And although some zoos conduct conservation and rehabilitation, most don't, meaning they keep wild animals in cages and other unnatural settings for the sole purpose of human entertainment and profit.
Things to look for to ensure it's a legitimate sanctuary
So first, look for these key indicators of legitimacy as you search for a sanctuary near you:
- Its first priority for injured or rescued animals would be to rehabilitate them in a way that gives them the best chance of surviving in the wild.
- It doesn't promote handling or interacting with wild animals. When animals become habituated to humans, they can no longer be released into the wild. Additionally, human interaction is often stressful to wild animals.
- For animals who have lived or been injured in ways that prevent them from returning to the wild, whether it be a bird’s inability to fly or a lion’s life in a circus, the facility provides plenty of species appropriate ground for living out their lives there.
With this in mind, I recommend the following animal sanctuaries if one is in your area.
If not, you now know how to determine if one in your area is legit.
1. Center for Great Apes (Florida)
This sanctuary is not open to the general public as an attraction, and it is one of the more limited options on this list. There is, however, a program that allows members two visits a year, and the Center offers educational tours. None of the animals can be returned to the wild, as they lack the necessary skills to survive. Apes can be observed in large, three-story enclosures in tropical forest surroundings.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the world. The center is specifically dedicated to rescuing exotic and endangered large carnivores, and they strive to bring awareness to the captive wildlife crisis: for instance, there are 4,000 tigers living in privates homes in Texas alone, which is more than the numbers of tigers in the wild. The Wild Animal Sanctuary also provides educational tours on their large, 720-acre habitat.
3. Big Cat Rescue (Florida)
Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world dedicated to abused and abandoned big cats. Home to more than 80 lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and more, they are working to end private ownership and trade in exotic cats through legislation and education. These animals, too, are unable to be sent back into the wild, as many of them have never lived there. Big Cat Rescue has guided, educational tours available.
Noah’s Ark, home to an infamous trio of friends – Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan – provides both self-guided and educational guided tours of their facilities. They host 100 different species of animals who have been abused, unwanted and neglected. If an animal’s injuries means s/he cannot be released, all in such cases will live out the rest of their lives at this sanctuary.
5. Performing Animal Welfare Society (California)
PAWS rescues abused, neglected, retired and needy captive wildlife through intervention and legislation designed to put an end to breeding exotic animals for entertainment. They are free to act naturally in enclosures designed to best mimic their wild habitat. For those with limited physical abilities, including animals with arthritis, specially designed areas allow them to move more comfortably. This sanctuary is generally closed to the public, but allows tours during special, limited events.
This sanctuary, unlike many on this list, is one that is designed for adoptable animals who need homes. Their core philosophy, and goal, is to save all animals. At any given time, there are around 1,600 animals at this sprawling 3,700-acre location. All the animals are rescues, and many — including pigs — await adoption. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is open for visits, and, of course, matchmaking between the rescued animals and their prospective humans.
7. Animal Place (California)
This is one of the oldest and largest sanctuaries for farm animals in the country. They do adopt out their animals to loving homes if possible, but otherwise they live out their lives in peace.
Unless you grew up on or near a farm, seeing these animals is more exciting than it might seem. Since they are domesticated animals, there isn’t the same concern about approaching them. Animal Place provides guided tours and education about treating these animals well, in addition to information about the meat and dairy industries.
All sanctuaries are also forever in need of volunteers, so if you’re interested, go to their websites for more information.
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