HomeBlogZoos Versus Sanctuaries: Top Tips To Avoid Making Unethical Choices Abroad

Zoos Versus Sanctuaries: Top Tips To Avoid Making Unethical Choices Abroad

Experiencing exotic wildlife whilst abroad is becoming an increasingly popular part of every tourist’s agenda.

Wildlife experiences can be an opportunity of a lifetime; however, it is sometimes difficult to know which ones are, and which ones are not, responsible.

Most tourists wouldn’t dream of actively partaking in an activity where the welfare of an individual animal or the welfare of its species as a whole is compromised.

Spotting the good from the bad requires a little research, but we are here to give you a few tips and tricks to make sure your holiday is as ethical as possible.

Zoos VS Sanctuaries

  1. The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare
  2. Do your homework
  3. Are photo opportunities ethical?
  4. Look, don’t touch
  5. What’s the goal?
  6. Volunteering
  7. Follow guidelines
  8. Trust your instincts

The difference between zoos and sanctuaries is a hotly debated topic.

There is certainly a taboo behind the word zoo, but are they really as bad as people say?

The main difference between zoos and sanctuaries is how they acquire their animals – sanctuaries often get given animals or rescue them, whilst zoos often breed animals in captivity and then swap individuals with other zoos.

There are good and bad zoos and good and bad sanctuaries. It is all about the way they treat their animals and where they spend their profits.

The 5 freedoms

Firstly, let us talk a little bit about animal welfare, and what it means.

The best guide is the “five freedoms”. If these five basic conditions are met, we can assume that the animals are receiving the best care to ensure their wellbeing in captivity. These five freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
  2. Freedom from fear and distress.
  3. Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  4. Freedom from discomfort.
  5. Freedom to express normal and natural behaviours.

Once you’ve booked your holiday and you’re ready for the trip of a lifetime, follow these simple rules, and you’ll be the ultimate ethical traveler!

Female tourist touching an elephant's trunk

Do your research

Many animal attractions advertise themselves as sustainable and eco-friendly.

The best way to separate the ethical from the not-so-ethical is to check online reviews. Many websites such as Trip Advisor and Travel Supermarket allow you to browse through lists of animal attractions and read reviews from people that have visited in the past.

The best way to ensure attractions improve their animal welfare standards is by voting with our feet and leaving accurate reviews – attractions will take on board advice and improve based on their customers feedback to ensure people will visit.

Avoid Attractions that Offer Photo Opportunities

Photos with animals come in many forms. A

From sedated tigers in Thailand to macaques dressed in clown outfits in Morocco – this tourist activity fuels poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

Dangerous animals as part of this trade often have their claws or canines removed to make the encounters safer, but these procedures aren’t always done with an anesthetic and can lead to long term health complications.

As a General Rule: Look, Don’t Touch

Attractions that advertise animal experiences where you can stroke, cuddle or ride animals are generally not ethical.

Research has shown that close encounters with animals can cause them considerable stress and negatively affect their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Seeing animals acting normally in their natural environment is the way to go – and it is by far the most ethical way to experience wildlife.

caged tiger roaring

Ask Yourself: Is There an Opportunity to Learn Something New?

The great thing about good zoos and sanctuaries is that they have highly knowledgeable and experienced staff – and sometimes even hire education officers.

Places that offer educational talks and learning experiences are a fantastic opportunity to talk to experts, pick their brains, and learn something completely new.

Education is an important part of spreading knowledge on how to protect wildlife and is often an inclusive part of your experience and so won’t cost you any extra pennies.

Check What the Attraction Say Their Main Aim Is

Conservation and animal welfare are the main aims of any good wildlife attraction!

Many zoos and sanctuaries carry out conservation work to protect animals in their natural habitat, whether this be breeding species for conservation and releasing them back into the wild or protecting the habitat itself – there are many things that can be done with the money they make.

Checking your desired destination is transparent about where its profits go is a great way to make sure your money is going to the animals – not into peoples pockets.

Consider Volunteering

If you are really passionate about wildlife, there are plenty of opportunities to dedicate a bit of your holiday time to caring for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.

Across the globe, many sanctuaries offer the chance to benefit wildlife directly through volunteering experiences.

Just be prepared to put in a lot of hard work – however, these experiences are incredibly rewarding for both yourself and the animals you are helping.

Follow Guidelines

Follow guidelines set out by reputable charities and non-government organisations.

There are loads of great organisations that carry out research into animal attractions to discover where the problems are.

A great source is from World Animal Protection, who used a scoring system to report on which attractions were considered “bad” based on the welfare of their animals. They made a list of the ten cruelest attractions, and you can read the full report here.

Trust Your Instincts

If you have done your research and you are still not sure, make sure you contact the facility and express your concerns.

A good zoo or sanctuary will be happy to answer any questions you have and let you know all about their values and policies.

If you do choose to visit somewhere and are not convinced by the animal welfare standards once you arrive, be sure to ask for a refund, leave a reflective review, and contact any relevant authorities that can investigate further.

All animals in captivity deserve to be in a safe environment where those all-important “five freedoms” are respected and fulfilled.

Feel free to share your experiences with the world, social media is a great way to spread the word about how to make ethical choices on holiday.

As ethical wildlife tourism becomes more popular, more local communities will rely on this for their income, helping them to move away from work that is damaging for the environment (such as logging and poaching).

Both zoos and sanctuaries can be excellent centres for conservation and education, and thus a wonderful choice for wildlife-loving tourists.

Just remember to enjoy yourself and keep animal welfare in mind.

What are your thought on zoos vs sanctuaries? Let us know in the comments section below we would love to hear from you. 🙂



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