Sanctuaries play a vital role in giving lifelong care to rescued animals, but this title can also be deceiving. Many pseudo-sanctuaries present a false representation of what a true sanctuary is. So before visiting any wildlife facility claiming to be a sanctuary, please keep these defining factors in mind.
A true sanctuary is a nonprofit organization that (according to IFAW):
- rescues abused, neglected, unwanted, or displaced wildlife
- provides lifelong care to the animals
- does not use animals for commercial exploitation
- does not buy, sell, trade, auction, lease, loan, or breed any animals, except with accordance to the Species Survival Plan of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA)
All of these factors help ensure sanctuaries are not contributing to the Big Cat Crisis (in short, the over population of big cats in captivity).
Where are big cats rescued from? Big cats are rescued from many situations in the United States. Many are rescued from back yard breeders, circuses, cub petting operations, people trying to own a tiger as a pet, road side zoos, and other poor conditions.
Besides rescuing, what do sanctuaries do? Aside from keeping animals safe, happy,and healthy, sanctuaries prioritize educating the public on the plight of big cats in the wild and captivity. By educating the public about the problem of overpopulation of big cats in captivity, more people will avoid situations that contribute to the big cat crisis. Many sanctuaries advocate for legislation to protect big cats and raise awareness of the problems animals face in their native habitat.
Why do sanctuaries not breed? Sanctuaries provide lifelong homes to abused and neglected animals. If sanctuaries were to breed, these animals would take up space for animals in need. There are already more big cats in captivity than in the wild; big cats do not need to be bred to live in cages. Breeding tigers and other big cats outside of a American Zoological Association (AZA) accredited species survival plan (SSP) does not help conserve the species. Conservation efforts are focused in tiger’s native habitats to recover the wild population naturally.
How do I know I’m supporting a true sanctuary? Always do your research first to see if the facility follows the guidelines of a sanctuary (ex. no public contact, safety of animals and people first). You can always call the facility or during your visit feel free to ask questions about their mission and position statements. Staff will be impressed that you are educated in animal welfare and should be more than happy to answer any questions.