Stern: Animal Sanctuaries give wild animals a safe place to live


Before my spring break, finding homes for stray tigers was not on my list of pressing issues in the United States.

After my Alternative Spring Break at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS) and In-Sync Exotics, my eyes have been opened to how much animal sanctuaries do for our society and the need for them in our society. Animal sanctuaries provide a natural, permanent home for animals to live out the rest of their lives. Sanctuaries differ from zoos because they are not open to the public. Also, most animal sanctuaries have education and conservation as core values.

Unfortunately, the only time that animal sanctuaries really make the news is when an animal attacks. I have heard countless reactions to these news stories, including proclamations about how wild animals are not meant to interact with humans. Too often, the blame is placed on the animal sanctuary, with many believing these attacks should just be expected.

However, many people are unaware of the multiple safety protocols in place to prevent accidents. At IEAS, no gate is opened or closed without a second person verifying that all safety precautions are being met. All the gates are set up so that no person/volunteer/keeper has to be in the same cage as the large cat.

Animal sanctuaries are probably the last group of people that need to be told that lions and tigers are wild animals. For example, a tiger at the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, Sajani, was trained to lift his paw up and look to the sky, presumably for photo-taking purposes. The interns are told not to reinforce this behavior and leave once Sajani begins to put his paw up. Animals that have imprinted on humans and can no longer be released in the wild are common residents at animal sanctuaries. Imprinting occurs when people are under the false impression that wild animals would make a good pet, but then these animals become unmanageable adults.

It is unbelievable how many people obtain wild animals as pets. In-Sync Exotics promotes education on “the realities of irresponsible captive ownership practices and the need for conservation.” In an informational video about In-Sync, they talk about turning down rescues a couple times a month due to lack of space. There are other sources of these animals such as circuses and other animal sanctuaries with a lack of space or licensure.

We are so aware of the homeless dogs and cats yet sometimes the abused and neglected exotic animals are overlooked because they are not in our everyday lives. With wild animals, the possibilities of mistreatment increase. Most people do not know the necessary nutrition needs of an exotic cat and would see no harm in giving cat food to a tiger. Mistakes like this not only lead to malnourished animals but to injuries such as hairline fractures in bones. Animal Sanctuaries take these animals in and meet all of their needs through appropriate diet, habitat, and care.

I asked other participants on my alternative break to give their opinion as to why animal sanctuaries are important in our society.

“They are an educational source to teach people about wildlife,” Junior Dillon Klahr said. “It shows people that animals are not pets. It’s not like they caught the tigers; sanctuaries are beneficial to the cats that do not have the same opportunities as other cats.”

“I think they are important because they need to go somewhere and they can’t go back to the wild,” Junior Ramona Yoder said. “Animal sanctuaries give them a home close to their natural environment that won’t put them at a disadvantage that they would have in the wild.”

Whether they are providing a safe haven or educating the public on the dangers of domesticating wild animals, animal sanctuaries are an asset to be appreciated.

Jenny Stern is a sophomore majoring in biology from Lawrence. Read more from .

  • Updated Apr. 4, 2013 at 12:28 am
  • Amy

    Many sanctuaries do in fact offer public tours, viewing and activities. Also, “can’t go back to the wild” is incorrect, as they did not come from the wild and in they are predominately captive born and raised. Importing has very strict licensing and rules, many species unable to be imported at all, except under special and limited circumstances.

    • Brianna Masako

      Actually, I believe she was referring to the fact that these exotics would not be able to be released into their natural habitat, where members of its species do exist in the wild. Some of the exotics do, in fact, come from the wild, which is why the international black market trade for exotic pets is ranked 3rd under drugs and guns. I’m sure you can imagine in light of this information, why strict licensing and rules don’t catch all of the animals coming in or exiting the country.

  • Brianna Masako

    Nice article, Jenny. It was great meeting you at the sanctuary, and good luck in school!