Four of the best: Ethical wildlife attractions

Plenty of wildlife sanctuaries and attractions say they're rescuing animals from harm and contributing to conservation, but how can you be sure their claims are genuine?

By Emma Gregg
Published 6 Apr 2016, 16:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 12:16 BST
Max the bear at Libearty Bear Sanctuary, Romania.

Max the bear at Libearty Bear Sanctuary, Romania.

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According to a recent study published by World Animal Protection, based on research from the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Unit (WildCRU), only 25% of the world's wildlife attractions provide a high standard of care for their animals and up to 95% of the 560,000 wild animals kept in captivity suffer some form of cruelty — usually away from public view.

As a rule of thumb, any wildlife attraction that offers hands-on interactive experiences and shows — think turtle-handling, lion cub-cuddling, elephant rides, tiger selfies and circus tricks performed by orcas, monkeys or bears — is likely to be harming the animals in its care. Look out instead for those that allow animals to live as naturally as possible and invite visitors to watch, but not touch.

01 Bears: Libearty Bear Sanctuary, Romania
In Romania, bears used to be caught as cubs and kept in inadequate zoos or confined in cages at restaurants, hotels and petrol stations to entertain customers. Now that this is illegal, the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in the Carpathian Mountains has stepped in to provide a healthier home for over 70 bears. Well-informed guides will show you around while the bears climb trees, swim and forage.

02 Orangutans: Samboja Lestari, Borneo
Since 1991, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) has rescued more than 2,200 orangutans including orphans, adults whose habitat has been destroyed and illegally kept pets or performers. The foundation's goal is to release as many of these creatures as possible into the wild and to provide a safe haven for the remainder. At Samboja Lestari, BOSF has created an area of restored tropical rainforest on once deforested land. It has planted more than one million trees and built climbing frames to create a stimulating sanctuary for the orangutans in its care. Stay at Samboja Lodge and watch the wildlife from a distance.

03 Turtles: Kélonia Marine Turtle Observatory, Réunion
A former turtle farm, Kélonia is now a rescue and study centre for green and hawksbill turtles, with pools that recreate their natural Indian Ocean habitat.

04 Elephants: Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
Over the past few years, public discussion about cruelty to elephants in Thailand has prompted many tour operators to drop elephant rides from their itineraries. Elephant Nature Park offers an ethical alternative. It rescues mistreated Asian elephants and allows them to live peacefully, training them by positive reinforcement rather than by inflicting pain. Visitors can spend a morning or longer in the company of a small herd. Although World Animal Protection has reservations about tourists washing an elephant (one of the experiences on offer), the park is widely respected.

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