According to the Center for Biological Diversity, in the U.S. alone, 40% of wildlife and ecosystems are in danger. This means that nearly half of the country’s wild animals are edging closer to extinction. This highlights the need for sustainable wildlife sanctuaries. For eco-friendly travelers who love animals, it poses a moral question: How do you visit wildlife in their natural habitats without putting them at risk?
The good news is that there are a lot of ways to view wildlife responsibly. Before you head off for your next wildlife watch. We’ve put together a roundup of 11 amazing places around the world where you can see wildlife safely and respectfully. You’ll also find plenty of practical tips you can use to protect the wildlife you encounter.
Before you head off for your next wildlife watch, determine what you can do to practice responsible eco-tourism. We’ve put together a list of 11 amazing places around the world where you can watch wildlife safely and respectfully. You’ll also find plenty of practical tips you can use to protect the wildlife you encounter.
What are Wildlife Sanctuaries?
First, let’s outline what wildlife sanctuaries are and why they’re important.
Wildlife Sanctuaries are areas that protect and conserve natural habitats and the animals that live in them. They are safe havens for plants, animals, and many other living things. They give eco-friendly travelers all over the world opportunities to see wildlife without disrupting vital ecosystems. Beyond that, sanctuaries serve several purposes.
- Nature Conservation: Sanctuaries conserve the natural habitats of wildlife, including some of the world’s 9,000 critically-endangered species. They prevent species extinction and promote genetic diversity within populations.
- Habitat Preservation: Wildlife sanctuaries protect and maintain the natural habitats that different species rely on for shelter, food, and breeding.
- Research and Education: Many wildlife sanctuaries also serve as research and educational centers. Scientists and researchers study the wildlife and ecosystems within these areas to better understand the natural world. Additionally, they provide educational opportunities for the public to learn about the importance of wildlife conservation.
- Tourism and Recreation: Some wildlife sanctuaries allow supervised tourism and events. Sanctuary income is used to increase conservation efforts and raise awareness about wildlife conservation.
- Ecosystem Services: Sometimes, wildlife sanctuaries indirectly offer essential ecosystem services, like clean air and water, pollination, and pest control. These can benefit both wildlife and human populations.
Sanctuaries protect against climate change by isolating carbon, controlling local climates, and providing shelter for affected species.
Government agencies, non-profit organizations, or even local communities often run wildlife sanctuaries. They usually have strict rules to limit human disturbances and habitat destruction.
Ultimately, these protected areas protect the delicate balance of nature and wildlife so that future generations can enjoy the natural beauty.
11 Wildlife Sanctuaries for Responsible Wildlife Viewing
All around the world, there are a ton of great places to view wildlife safely and sustainably. This is great news for wildlife enthusiasts who are committed to traveling responsibly! We compiled a list of just some of the places you can go for a responsible wildlife watch.
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador boast a wide range of exotic animals. Here, eco-friendly travelers can safely observe giant tortoises, marine iguanas, flamingos, sea lions, dolphins and much more. Strict laws help protect both the animals and the people there to see them.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
If you’re thinking about Africa, put the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya on your list. You can view the “Big Five”: cape buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos, in their natural habitat. Money earned from your visit supports the reserve’s eco-friendly efforts.
The Borneo Rainforest
The Borneo Rainforest in Malaysia is teeming with orangutans, pygmy elephants, and many exotic bird species. You can stay at one of the eco-lodges on site and go on guided tours.
The Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica has a variety of animals like jaguars, macaws, sea turtles, and more. You can also stay on the peninsula in eco-friendly lodging. Here, your wildlife adventure can be as awe-inspiring as it is safe.
Yellowstone National Park
Head to Yellowstone National Park in the USA to see wildlife like bison, grizzly bears, and wolves. This protected park is as safe for the wildlife as it is for the visitors.
Explore Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Here you can snorkel responsibly among colorful coral reefs, manta rays, and whale sharks in clear waters. Visitors are also encouraged to help local conservation efforts.
If you want a real adventure, head to one of the most remote areas on the planet: Antarctica. Your wildlife watch includes sightings of penguins, seals, and whales in a beautiful and untouched place. Not many people live on the continent year-round; those who do are dedicated to studying and protecting the environment.
Volcanoes National Park
Let’s go back to Africa. This time, our stop is the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Here, you can experience a life-changing gorilla trek and contribute to the conservation of these endangered primates.
From Rwanda, head over to Madagascar, one of the best countries on Earth for wildlife watching. You may safely encounter lemurs, chameleons, and other unique species while staying in eco-friendly lodgings.
Next stop: Svalbard, Norway. Here you’ll find polar bears, Arctic foxes, and walruses in the high Arctic. Guides will supervise your wildlife watch so that you don’t interfere with the country’s eco efforts
The Amazon Rainforest
How Do You Know if Wildlife Sanctuaries are Ethical?
Not all places that call themselves sanctuaries are truly save havens for wildlife. Some engage in business practices that actually harm the land and the animals that live there. So, how do you know that you’re visiting an ethical wildlife sanctuary? Here are some tips to determine if the sanctuary you want to visit is really safe for the animals it houses.
- Mission and Goals: Check the sanctuary’s mission statement; you can do this easily on their website. If it doesn’t focus on wildlife conservation, education, and rehabilitation, you may not want to visit.
- Reputation: Has the sanctuary won awards? Is it accredited by organizations like the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) or the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)? A sanctuary recognized by trusted organizations like these will likely have higher ethical standards.
- Transparency: Ethical sanctuaries are open about their operations, finances, and animal care practices. Their records should be available to the public.
- Habitat and Space: Make sure the sanctuary provides large natural habitats and space for animals to move, socialize, and act naturally.
- Animal Welfare: Observe the health and well-being of animals. Ethical sanctuaries prioritize proper nutrition, veterinary care, and enrichment activities.
- Breeding and Cub Petting: Avoid sanctuaries that breed animals for profit or offer cub petting experiences. These practices often exploit animals and harm conservation efforts.
- Rescue and Rehabilitation: Many ethical sanctuaries rescue and rehabilitate injured or orphaned wildlife. Their goal is to releasing them back into the wild whenever possible.
- No Contact with Wildlife: This should go without saying, but no credible sanctuary will encourage you to interact with the wild animals. They should actively caution against it.
- Conservation Education: Look for educational programs that focus on the importance of wildlife conservation and the sanctuary’s role in it.
- Eco-Friendly Practices: Assess the sanctuary’s commitment to the environment. Are the facilities eco-friendly and focused on waste reduction? Do they use renewable energy sources?
- Local Community Involvement: Ethical sanctuaries often participate in events with local communities to support conservation and provide employment opportunities.
- Ethical Funding: Verify that the sanctuary doesn’t rely on unethical funding sources, such as selling animal products or exploiting animals for profit.
- Non-Profit Status: Organizations have to meet a lot of requirements to reach non-profit status. If the sanctuary you want to visit is a non-profit, it indicates that they are dedicated to protecting animals.
- Independent Reviews and Recommendations: Look for reviews and recommendations from reputable experts to get an balanced rundown of the sanctuary’s ethics.
- Visit and Ask Questions: Visit the sanctuary if you can. Ask staff about their practices, conservation efforts, and animal care. Ethical sanctuaries are usually open to questions.
A bit of research and some legwork is all you need for a responsible, sustainable wildlife adventure.
11 Tips for Responsible Wildlife Tourism
Excited to explore the world’s wildlife? Before you pack your bags, remember that viewing these exotic animals in their homes is a privilege. To be an eco-friendly traveler you need to know how to stay safe and protect wildlife. We’ve put together a list of tips for how to watch wildlife respectfully.
- Learn about the habitats: It’s always good to learn about the animals and the site rules before your trip. This helps you understand the local wildlife and how to observe them.
- Use an experienced guide: While some places will have guides on hand, you can always hire one yourself. There are a lot of authorized experts who are well-versed in the region’s wildlife. These guides can give you a safe and educational experience.
- Keep a Safe Distance: Maintain a respectful distance from animals to avoid stressing them or encroaching on their territory.
- Stay Quiet and Be Patient: Avoid loud noises and sudden movements. Turn your phone ringers off. This will give the animals time to get used to your presence naturally.
- Respect Restricted Areas: Obey signs and rules that limit entry. Stay on marked paths. These signs are there to protect nesting grounds and delicate habitats.
- Binoculars and Telephoto Lenses: Use portable equipment to view wildlife from a safe distance without disturbing them.
- No Feeding or Touching: Never feed wild animals. Not only is this not safe for you, it also disrupts the animals’ natural diet and behavior. Never attempt to touch or handle them. If you see something that may need attention, let your guide know.
- Leave No Trace: Limit what you bring into these environments. And when you leave, make sure you take your trash and litter with you. Leave the habitat as clean as you found it.
- Avoid Flash Photography: Flash photography can distress animals, disrupt their natural behavior, and harm their sensitive eyes.
- Use Eco-Friendly Products: Choose eco-friendly and recyclable toiletries to minimize pollution in sensitive environments.
- Donate or Volunteer: Help protect wildlife and their homes for future travelers by donating or volunteering for local conservation efforts. Learn more about responsible eco-tourism.
Respecting wildlife is all part of being a conscious traveler. Discover more tips on sustainable travel. For expert advise on responsible wildlife watching, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services. Together, we can protect these fragile ecosystems and the incredible creatures that call them home.