Wildlife sanctuaries provide a place of refuge and safety for abused, abandoned, injured, or captive wildlife. They are engineered to provide dignity and peace as these animals live out their lives.
Places that operate as true sanctuaries do not exploit their charges. They don’t use them to provide entertainment or for sport. They don’t sell the animals, their offspring, or any by-products of the animals. They respect the integrity of all animals they care for, as individual animals. They do this by offering safety, security, and seeing to the physical needs of the animal (food, health, etc.).
Unfortunately, there are plenty of facilities claiming to be wildlife sanctuaries that provide insufficient care for their animals, and often know little about the medical and physical needs of the exotic animals they serve. They often confine the animals and offer visitors the opportunities to buy “treats” for the animals which serve as their primary sources of nutrition.
True animal sanctuaries provide natural habitats for the animals and constant monitoring to ensure safety, feeding, and the good health of the animals. They do not breed animals, and many of them are not generally opened to the public.
According to National Geographic, while no one really knows exactly how many exotic animals are living in captivity in the U.S., it is believed that there are at least 5,000 tigers living in captivity today. That is more tigers than currently exist in the wild. Many animals, like tigers, find their way to wildlife sanctuaries when they become either too expensive or too dangerous for their private owners to keep.
The debate rages around facilities that claim to be wildlife sanctuaries yet display animals for entertainment or profit. Many people believe that this is the antithesis of the purpose of true wildlife sanctuaries.
Some of them operate like zoos. Federal regulations require these facilities that exhibit animals to the public are inspected at least once a year to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. This means they must have sanitary conditions, appropriate food, adequate enclosures, and veterinarian care. Private sanctuaries that do not show animals aren’t subject to the same governmental regulations.
The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries offers accreditation for wildlife rescue facilities. They believe that allowing visitors to pet young animals, feed adults, or interact with the young places the animals and humans in danger.
However, many wildlife refuges and wildlife reserves do offer limited interaction with animals. Some offer car tours through facilities where visitors can see animals in their natural habitats, and others operate much like a zoo. These animals are expensive to feed, and the facilities are expensive to maintain. Many of them do charge an admission rate while operating as non-profit organizations.
Below are some of the most respected wildlife sanctuaries, refuges, or reserves in the U.S.
Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska
Occupying 4.7 million acres of real estate in southwest Alaska, Togiak National Wildlife Refuge was designed to conserve fish and wildlife populations within the refuge, ensures water quality and quantity within the refuge, and fulfils U.S. treaty obligations.
The refuge is home to 30 terrestrial mammal species. Among them are wolves, brown bears, moose, caribou and more. There are also 17 different species of marine mammals, including the Pacific walrus, whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. The refuge is also home to fish, birds, and plants it is dedicated to conserving.
National Bison Range in Montana
Once roaming the land in numbers of 30 to 60 million, by the 1800s the North American bison population reached a low of only 100 roaming in the wild. The National Bison Range was created in 1908 and has been instrumental in the recovery of the bison population.
Today, the bison population in the National Bison Range alone ranges between 350 and 500. In addition to the bison population, the refuge is home to white-tailed deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bears, mule deer, coyotes, and more than 200 bird species.
Chimp Haven in Louisiana
Chimp Haven is located in the Eddie D. Jones Nature Park in Keithville, Louisiana. The GFAS certified facility serves as the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The facility provides a refuge for chimps that had been taken as pets as babies and then became too unruly for owners to maintain as they approached adulthood. Because they lack the survival skills necessary to survive in the wild, the sanctuary offers a safe and protected environment for them to develop and thrive.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee
Not open to the public, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a facility dedicated to African and Asian elephants. It is a GFAS certified facility located in Hohenwald, Tennessee. The purpose of this facility is to provide elephants with a natural habitat where they can receive individualized attention, and enjoy the opportunity to live their lives in safety and security.
The 2,700 acre facility houses the rescued elephants without requirements to perform or entertain the public. The goal is for them to simply live like elephants.
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida
The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1991. It occupies 20.5 miles between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach on the east coast of Florida. The purpose of the refuge, unlike many sanctuaries, is to provide a safe habitat in areas that are significant nesting areas for the loggerhead sea turtle and the green turtle, both of which were experiencing significantly dwindling populations.
The facility offers educational programs and exhibits about the sea turtles and the barrier island along with environmental education tours and programming along with opportunities to observe sea turtles. For those interested in viewing turtles, June and July presents the best opportunity to observe. During these months there are night-time programs offered to watch the sea turtles from 9:00 until midnight – reservations are required.
While each facility is different, each one has something special to offer the animals it serves. The U.S. is fortunate to have so many diverse sanctuaries, refuges, and reserves that offer such diversity in the landscapes they provide and the animal species they serve.
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