What IS a "Sanctuary"?
Navigating the different labels so often used today when discussing captive exotic animals can be confusing, to say the least. Everyone has an agenda, and no one wants to be seen as a "bad guy". Some will use whatever term best suits their agenda, or will use a particular term to influence others.
In truth, there are no widely accepted definitions. On October 19, 2011, a private owner in Zanesville, OH released dozens of dangerous animals then committed suicide - sending 49 animals to their deaths when they could not be safely captured. In the months that followed, Black Pine joined discussions with others who provide refuge to captive exotics, including private owners, 'for-profit' owners, educators, rehabilitators, performers, and and more. A greater understanding emerged from many of those discussions, and many agreed on some broad definitions of different kinds of facilities that exist. The following information is provided not as the "end all, say all" of definitions, but as a guide to help you navigate the terminology and to foster efforts to become more informed about the realities of how and where captive exotics are kept in America:
Private Owner: a private citizen (or family) that keeps exotic animal(s) at a private residence. Private owners who do not exhibit, breed, or use animal(s) for commercial purposes are not required to obtain a federal permit (USDA) or to comply with the Animal Welfare Act. Depending on where they live, private owners may be subject to local or state laws that regulate ownership as well. These laws vary widely across the nation, and in many areas of the U.S. there are no regulations. Born Free USA maintains updated state by state laws for reference here.
Zoo: a zoo is an entity that exhibits a collection of animals for the enjoyment of, and to educate the public, and often times to aid in endangered species survival (Species Survival Plan). Most zoos strive to present a wide variety of animals. Zoos may be privately funded, non-profit organizations funded by donations, and/or supported by tax dollars. Zoos often breed animals, buy from breeders, and sell surplus animals. All zoos must obtain a federal permit and comply with federal care standards. The most well-respected zoos are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), though other membership organizations and/or accrediting organizations also exist. Many will refer to a non-AZA accredited zoo as a "roadside zoo".
Sanctuary: A "true" sanctuary is an entity that does not buy, sell, breed, trade, or use animals for commercial purposes. Sanctuaries have a mission, and responsibility, to educate the public. Educational efforts may include the plight of captive exotic animals, the exotic animal trade, and endangered wildlife and habitats, among other topics. Sanctuaries are typically non-profit organizations funded by public support and grants, but not tax dollars. Many sanctuaries are not open to the public, however others who operate with a significant reliance on private "individual" donations are. Those that are open to the public must have a federal permit and comply with federal care standards - the same standards as any zoo. Currently, two organizations exist and offer opportunities to receive accreditation, the American Sanctuary Association and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. The AZA also has a program that offers the opportunity to be recognized as a "certified related facility", which sanctuaries that are not open to the public may seek.
Pseudo-Sanctuary: A 'pseudo-sanctuary' is an entity that may appear to be a sanctuary, but upon closer evaluation is found to prey on people's sympathy while exploiting animals. Some may claim an animal was rescued when it was, in fact, purchased or born on site. Some may 'rescue' an animal, only to take it to an auction later to sell for a profit. Some mean well, but lack the business planning necessary to ensure long-term viability, resulting in overpopulation, substandard care, and even bankruptcy, placing animals in great jeopardy. Pseudo-sanctuaries may be non-profit or for-profit, neither indicates the quality of care for the animals. If they are open to the public they must obtain a federal permit and comply with federal care standards. Many animals placed in "true" sanctuaries today have come from pseudo-sanctuaries when they have failed to meet standards of care, and/or failed financially.
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