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world's best animal sanctuaries

Top 10 of the best animal sanctuaries in the world

More ethical than zoos, sanctuaries offer a chance to see animals in more natural and comfortable surroundings. They also make a great stop on a travelling trip and some rescue centres have even been founded by former travellers. Here are ten inspirational not-for-profit animal sanctuaries that promise an educational, interesting and uplifting visit. Many of these centres are also actively seeking volunteers, which might be an option for those looking for a more rewarding travel experience…

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Australia

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Founded in 1927, the Lone Pine sanctuary, Brisbane is the world’s oldest and largest Koala rescue centre. It’s also one of the very few places where you can hold a koala for a fee. A beautiful natural woodland reserve, the popular sanctuary generously offers a home to other animals including kangaroos, native Australian birds and platypus. You’ll also probably be surprised to see how fast the koalas move when the gum tree leaves are brought out at lunchtime.

Chengdu Moonbear Rescue Centre, China

Chengdu Moon Bear Rescue Centre

UK ex-pat Jill Robinson MBE  founded the Animals Asia Foundation when she discovered how thousands of Asiatic black bears were being raised in factory farm conditions on Chinese bear bile farms (the bile is sold for use in traditional medicines). After years of tireless campaigning, the rescue centre was established in 2000 following an unprecedented agreement with the Chinese authorities to release 500 farmed bears. The sanctuary is open to the public and visitors travel for miles to see the bears experience freedom after spending decades in tiny crush cages.

Sepilok orangutan sanctuary, Borneo

Sepilok orangutan sanctuary in Borneo

Only a few travellers leave Borneo without visiting the famous Sepolik Rehabilitation Centre and when seeing photos of the impossibly cute residents it’s easy to see why. The sanctuary was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans which were mainly victims of the illegal pet trade and logging industry. The large virgin rainforest reserve is home to around 60 to 80 orangutans and they are trained to survive in the wild again and released as soon as they are ready. Visitors are welcomed to the centre but handling of the animals is strictly forbidden. A good tip is to time your visit around feeding time.

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), Thailand

Boon Lot Elephant Sanctuary Thailand

BLES located in Sukhothai, Northern Thailand was founded by English animal lover Katherine Connor after she travelled across Asia. During her time spent volunteering at a Thai elephant hospital, she formed a very strong bond with a premature baby elephant. Instead of finishing her travels she decided to stay in Thailand to rescue her new friend from being sold to a notorious animal tourist show. After the elephant sadly passed away Katherine sold her possessions in England and with the help of her now-husband (a Thai elephant handler) set up Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in his memory. All the elephants at Boon Lott have been rescued from abuse or mistreatment and visitors enjoy a chance to interact with the elephants in a peaceful and secluded location. Staying guests are asked to be involved in all aspects of sanctuary life ranging from collecting food from the jungle to repairing pens.

Noah’s Ark, Georgia, USA

Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary, Georgia, USA

Noah’s Ark is a unique facility located in the US state of Georgia. It provides a home for abused, unwanted and orphaned children as well as animals. The centre is run entirely on donations and is open to the public. Guests arrive to visit the children and see the collection of over a thousand animals ranging from the very large and exotic to the very small and domesticated. Three of their furry resident’s have also made worldwide news. Baloo the bear, Leo the lion and Shere Khan the tiger have formed an unlikely and unusually strong bond after being rescued in a drug’s raid when they were just 2 months old. The predators (who would be enemies if they were ever to meet in the wild) are housed together and curious visitors travel from all over the US to see their affectionate friendship first hand.

Animal Kingdom, Philippines

Animal Kingdom, Philippines

The Animal Kingdom Foundation has a centre based in the Philippines which rescues dogs from the meat trade and a pretty gruesome fate. The charity was formed after a month-long surveillance by animal advocates Greg S. Quimpo and Veterinarian Samaniego and they now work to fight against the illegal meat trade after realising thousands of dogs in the Philippines get caught up in it every day. They set up a no-profit, no-kill dog shelter dedicated to saving abandoned, neglected, abused and slaughter-bound dogs. They welcome animal-loving visitors and the dogs are also available for adoption to good homes.

The Donkey Sanctuary, Devon, UK

Donkey Sanctuary in Devon

The Sidmouth donkey sanctuary is an English national treasure and a popular family day out. It was founded by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE when her donkey enthusiasm turned into a full-blown rescue centre when she saw some ill-treated donkeys at nearby Exeter market. Slade House Farm was purchased to house her fast-growing family of four-legged friends and since then 12,500 donkeys have passed through the sanctuary’s doors. Admission is free and many people come to see the previously neglected or abused donkey’s living happily in the picturesque Devonshire countryside.

The Vervet Monkey Foundation, South Africa

Vervet Monkey Foundation, South Africa

The Vervet Monkey Foundation in Tzaneen, South Africa is home to nearly 700 orphaned, injured, ex-laboratory or unwanted pet monkeys. The sanctuary (established in 1993) is a 23-hectare rescue, educational and rehabilitation centre as well as being a popular tourist attraction. Volunteers are welcomed from all over the world and accommodation and plenty of Vervet monkey interaction is offered in return for help with everyday activities.

Agra Bear Rescue Facility, North India

Agra Bear Rescue Facility, North India

Two major animal charities helped fund a sanctuary for ex dancing bears in Agra, North India which is located just a few kilometres north of the famous Taj Mahal. The initiative was such a success that by the end of 2009 many of the dancing bears forced to dance on the streets of India for entertainment had been rescued. After their harsh and often brutal treatment, the bears recover in large enclosures complete with freshwater bathing pools, climbing frames and other tools of environmental enrichment. Visitors are welcomed by appointment and guests speak of the enjoyment of seeing the naturally playful bears in their new comfortable surroundings.

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Utah, USA

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Utah, USAPhoto

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is located in 33,000 acres of exceptionally beautiful Utah landscape. One of America’s best-known animal welfare groups, it was founded in the late 1980s as an alternative to the ‘kill’ shelters in the US. The sanctuary now houses 1,700 displaced, homeless or unwanted domestic animals ranging from dogs to pot-bellied pigs. Best Friends is also very popular with visitors and volunteers who can’t seem to get enough of the great scenery and interaction with its often adorable residents.

With special thanks to all the sanctuaries for their help with this article.

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Born in England, with a few family roots from Bavaria, and a heart in Scandinavia I've always been a bit of a restless soul. My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I've lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up over 40 countries on trips and living in Dublin, South East Asia and Australia. I'm a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, easy-on-the-eye travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian - from cloudberry liquors to Scandi Noirs. When not wandering the world, you'll find me walking my rescue dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Laines on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about returning to my all time favourite places in the world; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Thailand and the frozen landscapes of a wintry Iceland. Follow Becky on Twitter and Google+.

36 Comments

  • Avatar

    Kate

    5 October, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Hi all….I am thinking of spending some time volunteering. Where should I start? Which one is the best in your opinion preferably in Central and South America.
    Cheers

    Reply
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      Becky Moore

      25 October, 2020 at 9:52 pm

      Try Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary, Protecting Animal Welfare Cat Sanctuary and Humane Society (Belize) Sibu Sanctuary or Animal A.W.A.R.E. in Guatemala.

      Reply
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    Frank

    12 December, 2014 at 5:12 am

    I’m happy to see you recommend an elephant sanctuary in Thailand other than Elephant Nature Park (which every other blogger mentions). There are other sanctuaries/foundations out there and they need support as well so appreciate seeing light shed on them. We’ll check them out next time in the area.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    Reply
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    Katie

    17 November, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Great list!! I’ve been to BLES and it was such an incredible experience. Well worth the extra effort and research it took to make more of an impact too.

    Reply

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