11 Amazing Wildlife Sanctuaries

Baby elephant being bottle-fed in David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya.
Baby elephant being bottle-fed in David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. / MichaelUtech/iStock via Getty Images

In a perfect world, nothing would stop wild animals from thriving in their natural habitats. But that’s often not the case; threats like poaching, deforestation, and the illegal pet trade leave many animals without homes or the skills they need to support themselves. That’s where wildlife sanctuaries come in. These charitable organizations provide everything from safe environments to medical care to the creatures who need it most. Some even invite human visitors to tour their grounds. Here are 11 wildlife sanctuaries doing amazing work around the world.

1. Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica // Costa Rica

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This Central American wildlife sanctuary focuses on one of the most laid-back species in the animal kingdom. At the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, sloths have been free to climb, crawl, and squeak in a safe environment since 1992. Many of the sloths in the sanctuary have been rescued from urbanized environments where they can no longer survive. The facility is open for tours, and there’s even an on-site hotel for guests interested in spending the night.

2. Chimp Haven // United States

The forests of Louisiana are home to a vibrant community of chimpanzees. There are more than 300 chimps living at Chimp Haven outside Shreveport, many of whom were rescued from biomedical research facilities. On the 200-acre sanctuary, the apes are able to do many of the same things they do in the wild, including climb trees, play games, and form social groups.

3. Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park // Australia

Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park is one of Australia’s best spots for wildlife-watching. Located an hour outside Melbourne, the park is home to iconic Australian species such as koalas, wombats, and wallabies. Unlike most other wildlife sanctuaries, Moonlit offers tours at night as well as during the day, so guests can observe the nocturnal residents when they’re most active. The sanctuary is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, so check their operation status before planning your visit.

4. Cornish Seal Sanctuary // United Kingdom

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The Cornish Seal Sanctuary started with one orphaned seal pup who washed up on the shores of Cornwall, England, in 1958. A local man named Ken Jones rescued the infant, and afterward he was inspired to rehabilitate more marine-life in the area. His single-pool operation quickly grew into a full facility with several pools and an animal hospital. Most seals who come to the sanctuary sick or injured are eventually released back to sea, but those who can’t be fully rehabilitated are given a permanent home there. The Cornish Seal Sanctuary rescues more than 60 seal pups most seasons in addition to other animals like sea lions and birds.

5. Dancing Bears Park Belitsa // Bulgaria

This Bulgarian wildlife sanctuary was founded in 2000 to care for brown bears that had been trained to dance and perform. As the practice has been phased out in Eastern Europe, the park has opened its gates to the formerly captive animals that would be unable to support themselves in the wild otherwise. Instead of living in cages, the bears of Dancing Bears Park roam across 120,000 square meters of forest in southwest Bulgaria.

6. David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust // Kenya

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is famous for its orphaned elephant rehabilitation program. Since the sanctuary was founded in Kenya in 1977, more than 250 orphans have been successfully raised. In addition to African elephants, the trust protects black rhinos, white rhinos, and giraffes under threat. Animal lovers can adopt and foster a baby elephant or rhino without visiting the site in person.

7. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center // Malaysia

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The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was founded in the Malaysian Sabah District of North Borneo in 1964 to protect the region’s vulnerable orangutans. Today, roughly 60 to 80 grown apes swing freely around the reserve. An additional two dozen or so young orangutans that have been orphaned by logging and poaching are housed in the nurseries. It takes orangutans six years on average to develop the skills necessary to survive on their own. The sanctuary cares for animals of other species as well, including gibbons, sun bears, and elephants.

8. Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary // South Africa

The Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary outside Bethlehem in South Africa houses more than 100 feline residents. They were rescued from abusive situations—including private homes, zoos, and canned hunting ranches—and brought to the 3000-acre reserve to live out the remainder of their lives. Big cats like lions, leopards, and Bengal tigers are the stars of the park, but they’re not the only animals that call it home. Visitors to Lionsrock may also spot ostriches, zebras, hyenas, and antelopes.

9. Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary // Canada

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Technically, the animals at this wildlife sanctuary in Alberta, Canada, are only half-wild. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary takes in wolfdogs (canines that are part wolf and part domestic dog) that were abandoned by their previous owners. Visitors to the site can walk the grounds and see the dozens of rescues that have made the 160-acre forest their home. One of the missions of the sanctuary is to educate guests about how to safely live with the breed. Some of the more domesticated animals that end up there are even adoptable.

10. Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary // Ghana

The remote village of Wechiau in Ghana is world-famous for its hippopotamuses. In 1999, local chiefs established a 25-mile stretch of the Black Volta River as a sanctuary for the hippos that live there. Today, the river is home to one of Ghana’s two remaining hippo populations. Visitors to Wechiau are invited to take nature walks, bird-watching tours, and river safaris of the area. Just make sure you go between November and March, as hippos are nearly impossible to spot during the rainy season.

11. Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary // Senegal

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Senegal’s Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary comprises nearly 40,000 acres of wetland. Consisting of lakes and streams, the land is a vital resource for many migratory birds traveling in from the Sahara. Dams constructed in 1998 have prevented the seasonal saltwater flooding that once made the region inhospitable to wildlife. The sanctuary supports 1.5 million birds today, and its ecological importance has earned it recognition as a UNSECO World Heritage Site.