How To Tell If An Animal 'Sanctuary' Is A Fake
With summer warming up, it's the perfect time to visit the many sanctuaries and facilities that are helping animals. But how can you know if the place you're visiting is really a haven for animals - rather than a prison?
Here are five questions to ask yourself to make sure your favorite sanctuary is a legitimate one. While there are always exceptions, these guidelines should help you sort out the good from the bad.
Are there baby animals?
Good sanctuaries don't breed animals. While there are rare exceptions, a good rule of thumb is to always ask if a center if they allow breeding; if they say yes, walk away.
"No legitimate sanctuary will have babies," Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary in Florida, says. "If you see a facility that often has babies, then you know they are part of the problem, not the solution."
Of course, some sanctuaries will have babies whom they rescued, or whose mothers arrived pregnant - especially at farm sanctuaries. But all adult animals should be on birth control or separated when possible.
While many facilities will say it's OK because they're breeding animals for conservation purposes, particularly with big cats, don't fall for it. These animals are rarely, if ever, returned to the wild, and often exist only to draw traffic.
Are the animals trained?
Do you see big cats or monkeys doing tricks? Elephants being ridden? If so, back away.
Wild animals aren't obedient, and usually can't be trained without negative enforcement - which means whips, shackles, food deprivation or other questionable methods, even if the keepers tell you otherwise.
Real sanctuaries allow animals to live in as close to their natural environment as possible. This means giving them the choice of when and how to interact with humans - and letting them hide whenever they want.
Do the animals have enough room?
Many self-proclaimed sanctuaries or roadside zoos boast that they meet or exceed the USDA requirements for keeping animals - but that's not enough. USDA regulations are the bare minimum, and under these standards animals barely have enough room to turn around.
Use your judgment. Does the animal have enough room to indulge in natural behaviors for their species, whether that's running or swimming or climbing? Does their home look like where you'd see them in the wild?
Take a look at their enclosures. They should always be clean, and drinking water should be fresh and clear.
Do keepers interact with them?
Of course, there's nothing wrong with snuggling up to a rescued sheep or cow. But when it comes to wild animals or exotics, contact should be kept to a minimum.
At legitimate sanctuaries, keepers will never be allowed in the cages with wild animals, particularly dangerous ones like lions, tigers and bears. Not only is it dangerous for the humans, but for the animals as well.
If you see a keeper interacting directly with a dangerous animal, it's a good sign to walk away. Good sanctuaries keep animals as wild as nature intended.
Can you pet them?
It's even worse when facilities allow visitors to pet wild animals, particularly young lion and tiger cubs. In the case of big cats and other exotics, the animals are often torn away from their mothers as infants to prepare them for handling; older animals are sometimes drugged to make them calmer.
Of course, it's different for a farm sanctuary that has domestic animals like pigs or goats. But if a sanctuary permits wild or exotic animals to be passed around to tourists, or cuddled like a pet, it doesn't have the animals' best interests at heart.
Go with your gut.
The most important question of all is whether the animals are happy - but that can be a hard question to answer. The best thing to do is to try to figure out if the animals' physical and mental needs are being met.
Physically, make sure the animals don't look skinny or ill, and that there are no visible wounds. Mentally, make sure the animal has toys to interact with or terrain to explore to keep them from being bored. If you see an animal exhibiting repetitive behavior - like pacing up and down their enclosure, or shaking their head back and forth - it could be stereotypic behavior and a sign of stress.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of facilities out there that claim to be saving animals or working toward conservation, but are really just roadside zoos. But if you know what to look out for you can make sure you're supporting the real sanctuaries - and, if you feel something is off, trust your instinct.