What Is the Difference Between a Zoo and a Wildlife Sanctuary?

What Is the Difference Between a Zoo and a Wildlife Sanctuary?

Going on holiday provides the perfect opportunity to see native wildlife that you might not find anywhere else. Seeing animals in person rather than in photographs can be a breath-taking moment that you remember for the rest of your life, so you want to make sure you find the right place to do it. At first, zoos and wildlife sanctuaries might seem synonymous, but there are some very distinct differences between the two.

What Are the Differences?

Obviously, sanctuaries and zoos both provide a home for animals, many of which are exotic. They also both allow the public to see their animals, although this can be restricted at a sanctuary. Despite their similarities, their purposes and methods are often very different.

What Is Their Purpose?

The main difference between the two types of organisations is their very reasons for existing. Sanctuaries aim to rescue and rehabilitate injured or captured animals and give them a lifelong home. The focus is on the animals entirely.

On the other hand, zoos focus on human enjoyment with animals as a source of entertainment. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the animals aren’t well-cared for, but it does mean that they are exploited because they are unable to lead their natural lives for the benefit of humans. Essentially, at a zoo the most important creatures there are the humans whilst at a sanctuary, it is the animals themselves.

How Do They Acquire Animals?

Because of their different purposes, the way in which zoos and sanctuaries source their animals differs. As rescue centres, sanctuaries only take in animals that need help in some way. This can include injured wildlife, confiscated illegal pets and animals rescued from circuses, zoos and laboratories. Sanctuaries would not take in an animal unless the animal was suffering in some way.   

Zoos very much differ from this approach as they acquire animals that will be entertaining for the public. This means that they care less about the background of the animal. They are likely to sell and trade animals, and some places even capture perfectly healthy animals from the wild. Excessive animals are sold or traded again and again, whereas sanctuaries ensure that animals have a home for life unless they are able to be released into the wild, which would always be the priority.

How Do the Habitats Differ?

Because sanctuaries always try to release healthy animals back into the wild, they focus on creating an environment that replicates their natural environment. Habitats offer physical stimulation to enrich the life of the animal, rather than the experience of visitors. Sanctuaries also provide emotional stimulation for the animals by pairing them with species they are familiar with, so they don’t get lonely or bored.

Often the conditions at zoos are not adequate for the animals who get bored, lonely or scared and can develop a condition called Zoochosis which involves behaviour such as swaying, pacing and hurting themselves. Some zoos keep animals in small cages that do not resemble their natural habitat at all, so naturally, their mood and behaviour are affected. No confined space is enough for a wild animal, but sanctuaries at least know they are keeping the animals for their own benefit.

Do They Breed Animals?

Breeding animals is a controversial subject as it can be beneficial for endangered animals’ population numbers, but animals born in captivity might not be able to survive if they are then released into the wild. Animal sanctuaries don’t tend to breed because of this, and because they have limited resources that they would rather direct towards animals that need them.

Zoos, on the other hand, have often been criticised for overbreeding. Baby animals attract more visitors, so staff have a tendency to breed the animals, which results in overcrowding. Excess animals will then be traded or sold again, adding to the crucial problem that the needs of the individual are not considered as important as the overall appeal of the zoo to visitors.

Why Should You Visit an Animal Sanctuary?

It’s obvious that zoos do not create the same safe place for animals to live as sanctuaries do, where they care more about the needs of the animals rather than the wants of the humans visiting them. It is always better to visit a sanctuary rather than a zoo and donate towards a place that helps animals in need.

Visiting an animal sanctuary when you travel can be a great opportunity to see animals you’ve never seen before in real life, such as bears, lions and elephants. You will usually be given a tour by a guide who can give you more information on the heart-breaking backstories of the animals and how they are cared for now, something you wouldn’t get at a zoo. 

Sanctuaries might be restrictive for public access, some sanctuaries don’t even open to the public and some require booking in advance because they need to keep the number of visitors small. Check for nearby sanctuaries when you book your next trip!

Support a Sanctuary!

Now you know all you need to know about the difference between a zoo and a sanctuary, there’s nothing stopping you from a wildlife adventure of your own. Go out there and support the people who want to help animals, not put them in a cage.

Kiwano can help you towards the first step of becoming a green traveller, by providing a list of green accommodations for you to stay at and giving you further tips on how to stay green as a traveller.

Take a look at Kiwano’s green hotels here, or for green lodges here. For more green travelling tips and resources, check out our blog.

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