Animal sanctuaries: More than just a name

Daniel's Blog: Animal sanctuaries: More than just a name

(Photo: Ape Action Africa,

Over my 20 years working for improved animal welfare, a common question I have often been asked, concerns animal sanctuaries, and how to distinguish a genuine sanctuary from a bogus one?

Unsurprisingly these can be tricky to differentiate. Many facilities keeping animals in captivity include words such as “sanctuary”, “rescue” or “rehabilitation” in their name or description. By example I refer to the hundreds of so-called elephant sanctuaries in SE Asia (the subject of my May Blog), which loosely use such words. However, from first-hand experience, few of these facilities appear to conform to the operations consistent with an animal sanctuary. ANIMONDIAL advises all travel businesses, seeking to include an animal sanctuary into their holiday offerings, to first identify whether their operations and objectives are consistent with recognised best practice.

From the definition in the Collins English Dictionary we understand a sanctuary to be ‘a place where [animals] are protected and allowed to live freely’. Whilst the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and the European Alliance of Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS), organisations that certify animal sanctuaries, recognise these facilities as providing temporary or lifetime shelter, care and rehabilitation to animals in need. Namely animals that are injured, confiscated, orphaned or abandoned. This was the definition I used when drafting ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines: the comprehensive guidance for travel businesses and suppliers of animal experiences (ABTA 2013).

Genuine animal sanctuaries prioritise the welfare of the animals in their care. Whereby each animal is provided:

  • A nutritious diet and an environment consistent with their specific physical, social and behavioural needs;
  • A non-exploitative environment, where animals should be able to ‘live freely’, with limited human disturbance (unless for a valid medical or welfare need).

Genuine animal sanctuaries follow operational protocols, which should be readily available, that define their procedures and safeguards to uphold:

  • Long-term financial and operational viability;
  • Quality animal husbandry and veterinary care;
  • A non-breeding policy (where actions are taken to prevent breeding);
  • A non-exploitative environment, whereby animals are not bought or sold, used in public interactions or required to perform.

Overall, running an animal sanctuary is hard work. They usual operate on limited resources, constantly fundraising and are run by impassioned people, who constantly strive to improve animal welfare and tackle the very reasons that necessitate their existence. Unfortunately, there are many facilities that do not operate as above, predominantly only sanctuaries by name, appealing to travel businesses, volunteers and tourists through the use of words we associate with kindness. It is vitally important that facilities are investigated or audited before procurement; a service that ANIMONDIAL provides.

During my experience working in the animal welfare protection sector I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some inspiring people who operate animal sanctuaries. A reason why ANIMONDIAL supports many animal sanctuaries, which provide credible alternative experiences to inappropriate animal activities that may no longer be acceptable to travel businesses.

By way of the ANIMONDIAL Blog, it is our hope to inform and guide travel businesses through the minefield of issues that arise when considering tourism’s impact on animals and the natural world. There is little doubt; this is a complex topic. However, ANIMONDIAL exists to provide travel businesses with complete and accurate information, through impartial advice and practical guidance, to enable informed decisions. Everything your business needs to improve its animal and environmental protection credentials.

Please get in touch to learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s work.
Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL