The mas­ter­class

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

How to spot eth­i­cal an­i­mal sanc­tu­ar­ies, so that you only give your cash to those places that re­ally de­serve it

Wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies are meant to be safe refuges for an­i­mals at risk in their own habi­tats. The very word ‘sanc­tu­ary’ im­plies a safe place. But this isn’t al­ways the case. Some hold an­i­mals in poor con­di­tions or ex­ploit them for profit. So, how can you find eth­i­cal refuges? And if you visit an un­eth­i­cal one, what should you do? Read on…

Know be­fore you go

Do­ing your re­search be­fore you go can help you find out whether the wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies you’re plan­ning on vis­it­ing are le­git­i­mate, says Ben Hoare of BBC Wildlife magazine.

“As a rule of thumb, check if a sanc­tu­ary is linked with a rep­utable in­ter­na­tional or na­tional con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion,” Ben ad­vises. “Or, if it is ‘go­ing it alone’, that can be a sign that it does not meet eth­i­cal stan­dards.”

Cast an ea­gle eye over their web­site – if it’s pub­lished its con­ser­va­tion aims and an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards, that’s one in­di­ca­tor of a rep­utable refuge. Good sanc­tu­ar­ies will also likely have lim­ited pub­lic visi­ta­tion times, to min­imise the im­pact on their res­i­dents.

“Get in touch with the sanc­tu­ary in ad­vance,” adds Yvonne Tay­lor of Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals (PETA). “Ask­ing them a few sim­ple ques­tions like ‘How are an­i­mals housed?’, ‘Do you have a visi­ta­tion pol­icy?’ and ‘Do you breed an­i­mals?’ can help you to de­ter­mine whether a fa­cil­ity is help­ing or ex­ploit­ing an­i­mals.”

An­other easy way to check if the re­serve is le­git­i­mate is to see if they’re reg­u­larly used by rep­utable tour op­er­a­tors on their trips.

The right ac­cred­i­ta­tion

Sanc­tu­ar­ies that come with the right cer­ti­fi­ca­tion are a surer bet to meet eth­i­cal guide­lines. “Check to see whether a sanc­tu­ary is a mem­ber of the Global

Fed­er­a­tion of An­i­mal Sanc­tu­ar­ies (GFAS),” ex­plains Yvonne. Be­ing recog­nised by GFAS means sanc­tu­ar­ies have ob­served a strict code of ethics and meet its an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards, where an­i­mals are granted spa­cious and peaceful ar­eas to roam with their own species.

If the sanc­tu­ary is ac­cred­ited but not by GFAS or a sim­i­lar or­gan­i­sa­tion, then dou­blecheck its cred­i­bil­ity. “Many coun­tries have weak reg­u­la­tions, and en­force­ment may be poor,” adds Ben. “Sadly, some sanc­tu­ar­ies are es­sen­tially re­branded zoos (known as pseudo-sanc­tu­ar­ies) with poor an­i­mal wel­fare.”

What to avoid

First and fore­most, ig­nore any­where that pro­motes ‘hands on’ time and phys­i­cal con­tact with an­i­mals – any eth­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion would never pro­mote that as an ac­tiv­ity.

“Avoid any­where that pro­motes photo op­por­tu­ni­ties with the wildlife,” ex­plains Ben. “Your self­ies might raise a smile on In­sta­gram, but it can cause stress and other se­ri­ous be­havioural prob­lems.”

Look at how they’re housed – that will give you an idea of the sanc­tu­ary’s real in­ten­tions. If they’re re­spectable, then they will do all they can to repli­cate an an­i­mal’s habi­tat. It sounds ob­vi­ous, but things like con­crete floors and cages are red flags. Wildlife should also be pro­vided with phys­i­cal stim­u­la­tion, such as huge wooden struc­tures for pri­mates to climb on, and pools for bears to bathe in.

Steer clear of any­where keep­ing big cats, bears, ele­phants or pri­mates un­less you’re cer­tain the sanc­tu­ary is eth­i­cal. These are very in­tel­li­gent crea­tures and need high stan­dards of an­i­mal hus­bandry when kept in cap­tiv­ity. If you sus­pect mal­prac­tice, keep an eye on the an­i­mals’ be­hav­iour; if they’re in­tim­i­dated by staff or ner­vously pace, then these are just two signs that they’re be­ing un­fairly treated.

“See­ing ba­bies will also ring alarm bells,” says Yvonne. “No rep­utable sanc­tu­ary breeds an­i­mals; they re­alise their lim­ited re­sources will be stretched even fur­ther when they have oth­ers in need of res­cue.”

Re­port dodgy go­ings-on

What if your re­search turned up no red flags but its clear to you upon your visit that there is some form of wrong­do­ing oc­cur­ring, how do you go about re­port­ing it?

“Do your best to take pho­to­graphic or video ev­i­dence,” sug­gests Ben. “But be un­ob­tru­sive and don’t put your­self or the an­i­mals in dan­ger.” The same goes for ap­proach­ing sanc­tu­ary work­ers. Do not be con­fronta­tional; you may find they’re in­no­cent and try­ing to do an hon­est job. When you’re ready to re­port the sanc­tu­ary’s be­hav­iour, stick the World Wildlife Foun­da­tion (WWF), In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare (IFAW) or Born Free Foun­da­tion at the top of your list, ready to tell them your con­cerns. Other or­gan­i­sa­tions worth get­ting in touch with are those devoted to look­ing af­ter a spe­cific species, such as orang­utans or sea tur­tles.

Your pity and anger might lead to a de­sire to post your find­ings on so­cial me­dia. But this can lead to mis­un­der­stand­ings, such as the spread­ing of un­fair claims and, even worse, abuse and le­gal threats. It’s best avoided.

“If you’ve found your­self at a pseu­do­sanc­tu­ary, ex­press your con­cerns, ask for a re­fund and leave,” rec­om­mends Yvonne. “Spread­ing the word by cau­tion­ing friends, fam­ily and oth­ers not to visit also helps.”

How­ever, make sure you recog­nise the good guys, too. “Be re­as­sured that the best wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies do great work and ben­e­fit from vis­i­tors,” adds Ben. He sug­gests the Ele­phant Or­phan­age Project, near Lusaka in Zam­bia, Se­meng­goh Wildlife Cen­tre in Bor­neo and the Man­dalao Ele­phant Con­ser­va­tion in Laos as good ex­am­ples.

Of­ten, by the look and feel of a place, you can sense whether it’s right for the res­cued wildlife you’ve come to see. But if you have any doubts prior to vis­it­ing, chalk it off your itin­er­ary and steer well clear. Avoid un­eth­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions if you can and you’ll be do­ing your bit to pro­tect the res­cued wildlife of to­mor­row, en­sur­ing your own ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t get ru­ined in the process.

‘Avoid any­where that pro­motes photo op­por­tu­ni­ties with the wildlife. Your self­ies might raise a smile on In­sta­gram, but it can cause stress and other se­ri­ous be­havioural prob­lems’

top tip

Do­ing re­search on­line and check­ing the back­ground and cre­den­tials of a sanc­tu­ary is the best way to avoid giv­ing your money to an un­eth­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion.

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