To The Rescue

When Americans Put Their Care in the Animal World

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It is certainly easy to pay your local city zoo a visit for a glimpse of animals from both near and far. (Where else can you see a giraffe outside of Africa?) While zoos play an important role in animal research and the protection of endangered species, they aren’t the only places where animals can be found under human care. Across the country, there is a diverse number of animal sanctuaries—establishments and foundations with the same core ethos as zoos, but with a bit of a different approach.

Unlike a zoo, an animal sanctuary is a place where animals live in a free-roaming and almost completely natural way. Many of America’s animal sanctuaries operate with the goals of conservation and education at the forefront. Organizations like the American Sanctuary Association (ASA) accredit animal sanctuaries based on a stringent list of guidelines, from care to housing.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, there is a plethora of large and small-scale sanctuaries, many operating based solely on independent donations. These sanctuaries provide homes for indigenous species, like bears or bald eagles, and their non-native counterparts, like chimpanzees. They provide needed homes for abandoned and endangered animals to live out their lives in peace. Visits to animal sanctuaries are generally more restricted than those to a zoo or shelter, but making the trek to one of these beautiful spaces can offer you a new perspective on finding sanctuary—and how its purpose transcends the animal world.

The following animal sanctuaries are renowned for their work with a variety of species. Read on for a look at what makes them so unique, and consider a visit to an animal sanctuary near you.

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
High Falls, NY

In the quaint, historic town of Woodstock, New York, is a thriving animal sanctuary that was started in 2004 when founders Doug Abel and Jenny Brown rescued a group of chickens from a factory farm. Fast forward to 10 years later, and the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is now a thriving hub for rescued farm animals in the region. Most of the animals are brought to the sanctuary following farm investigations or are saved from slaughterhouses. Almost all animals were, at one point, victims of unspeakable cruelty. While most other pigs, goats, and chickens rarely roam free, the animals at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary not only have free rein, but they are also expected to live out the rest of their days there.

The sanctuary welcomes visitors on weekends from April through October, with a discounted admission price for seniors. Guests are given a full tour of the many different animals and pasture settings and have the opportunity to hear about specific rescue stories. The goal is to educate visitors about the unseen cruelty that farm animals face as well as the necessary work that the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary does to help better the lives of the rescues.

Should you find yourself in the Hudson Valley, be sure to stop by. Who knows, you may meet a turkey named Antoinette or a llama named Dolly. woodstocksanctuary.org

Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
Cle Elum, WA

Though far from their native habitat, seven chimpanzees are alive and well in Washington state. This 89-acre plot of land in the Cascade Mountains (just 90 miles west of Seattle) is an unassuming home for Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, and Negra—the chimpanzees that live here following their rescue from biomedical research. All seven of the current chimpanzees at the sanctuary arrived from Pennsylvania, where they had been used as testing agents for hepatitis vaccine research.

The mission behind Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest is simple: provide a forever home to chimpanzees that were once abused at the hands of humans and advocate for the lives of primates in general. And while the sanctuary is not generally open to the public, educational visits can be arranged during the summer. Contact with the chimpanzees (which are potentially dangerous) is limited, however.

Instead, guests are given the chance to see the indoor and outdoor facilities that have helped enrich the minds and bodies of the chimpanzees, one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Guests also learn about the many things that make each chimpanzee different (for instance, Annie loves green onions, and Missy likes to play tug of war). And if you can’t make it this far north and west, don’t worry; the folks at the sanctuary keep an updated blog that follows the lives of the chimpanzees. chimpsanctuarynw.org

Carolina Tiger Rescue
Pittsboro, NC

Cat lovers will rejoice at Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina, founded in 1981. This nonprofit animal sanctuary is devoted solely to the rescue and rehabilitation of large felines—that includes tigers, cheetahs, ocelots, and lions. Believe it or not, many of the big cats that wound up here were once kept as pets or lived in inhumane roadside zoos. Today they’ve been given 55 acres of land to roam on and an attentive community of caretakers who look after their well-being.

The cats at Carolina Tiger Rescue are kept in habitats that are similar to living in the wild. Ocelots, a cat species native to South and Central America (and a favorite pet of artist Salvador Dalí) are free to climb trees as they would in the wild, and cheetahs, known for their swift ability to run, are happy to do so at the sanctuary. Carolina Tiger Rescue is even home to nonfeline animals like the kinkajou (also playfully known as a honey bear—a nocturnal rainforest animal related to the raccoon) and the coatimundi (a furry omnivore whose native habitat stretches from the Andes to the American Southwest).

Public tours of the sanctuary are available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with private tours also available (if booked up to two weeks in advance). Volunteer work, such as helping to feed animals or guide tours, is also an option for people who would like to be more involved with finding sanctuary among these glorious cats. carolinatigerrescue.org

Grizzly & Wolf Discover Center
West Yellowstone, MT

Since 1993, those who venture around Yellowstone National Park have the option of getting to know the famed grizzly bears and wolves on a deeper level. The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center was started as a sanctuary for grizzly bears that had been removed from the wild because they faced greater susceptibility of early death, either due to being orphaned or having behavioral issues. One of the other major goals of the sanctuary is conversation of Yellowstone’s delicate ecosystem.

The sanctuary also functions to gain knowledge about grizzlies and wolves from an educational standpoint. The wolves at the center were all born in captivity and are therefore unable to be freed into the wild, but they are free to live out their lives with plenty of space to roam. In addition to wolves and bears, you can also get a glimpse of prey birds (like owls and golden eagles) and Karelian bear dogs (a species native to Finland and Russia). Visitors are welcome seven days a week yearlong (as these bears don’t hibernate). There is also a number of exciting programs for all age groups. More information can be found at grizzlydiscoveryctr.org.

Eagle Mountain Sanctuary
Pigeon Forge, TN

There is more to Dollywood than Dolly Parton. On the side of a steep wooded hill is the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary—the largest gathering of bald eagles that are not able to be released into the wild because they are either disabled or simply unable to survive. Today, the Smoky Mountain bird natives are cared for by the American Eagle Foundation and primed to live their lives to the fullest.

Should you find yourselves at Dollywood (seeking out some tunes, of course) be sure to ask about Challenger, the most famous resident eagle. Challenger was blown from his nest by a storm in Louisiana in 1989 and was rescued by humans. Because he experienced such profound care from his rescuers, he has been socialized on a level that most eagles are not. Another fun fact? He is the only eagle that is trained to free fly whenever he hears “The Star Spangled Banner” play.

Visitors can also catch sight of owls, falcons, hawks. The Eagle Mountain Sanctuary is open to the public from early April until the beginning January. Find out more at eagles.org.

Steven Casale is a writer and editor from Brooklyn, NY.

The Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
The Carolina Tiger Rescue
The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
The Eagle Mountain Sanctuary