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The Difference Between a Zoological Facility and a Sanctuary

Why Animals Do The Thing

The Difference Between a Zoological Facility and a Sanctuary

Rachel Garner

(Photo Credit: M. Hummel)

Zoological facilities and sanctuaries in the United States tend to appear to the general public to be fairly similar enterprises, separated in their minds mainly by semantics and the origin of the animals in their collections; in reality, they're very distinct business types that appear to be superficially similar. As no standardized definition of the two types of businesses appears to be extant within the animal management field, WADTT offers these lists of defining characteristics as as starting point for discussion. 


Zoological Facility:

A business that maintains a stationary collection of exotic animals for the primary purpose of public exhibition.

 

Major characteristics of all zoological facilities:

  • Majority of animal collection is exotic animals
    • Zoos exist to exhibit exotic animals, although they may also have small numbers of domestic or farm animals in their collections. 
  • Owns and/or borrows animals
    • Zoo collection animals are either owned by the zoo business (or the organization that runs it) or are on loan from the organizations or people that owns them.
  • May trade commercially in animals
    • Zoos often buy, sell, and exchange animals in addition to loaning them to other facilities. This can happen for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: adding new species to the zoo collection, bringing an animal in for use in a breeding program, giving elderly animals access to habitats designed for geriatric animals, or enhancing an existing social grouping. 
  • Open to the public
    • The public must be able to visit a zoo, either on a scheduled tour or during open hours.
  • Licensed by the USDA if exhibiting mammals
    • Any facility that exhibits mammals to the public must have a Class C exhibitor's licence and be inspected for compliance with the regulations set for the in the Animal Welfare Act, therefore almost all zoos must be USDA licensed. Facilities that maintain collections of only reptiles, birds, or fish are without any mammals do not require a USDA license. 
  • Animals are primarily viewed by the public in appropriate, permanent, primary enclosures
    • Zoos have stationary habitats built for all their animals to live in - while some animals may leave those habitats for short programs or educational demos, guests see the majority of the animals in their enclosures. 
  • May be a zoo or aquarium
    • Zoo collections are comprised of primarily on terrestrial animals, while aquariums have  collections comprised of primarily aquatic animals. 

 

Aspects of many zoological facilities: 

  • May have educational programming related to the animals in the zoo collection
    • Zoos will often have signage, trained interpreters, or presentations that educate guests about topics related to animals (e.g., conservation, wildlife biology, ethology). 
  • May participate in conservation breeding programs
    • Some zoos actively breed animals for conservation breeding programs, whereas others may house surplus animals not currently recommended for breeding or help raise young animals from the program. 
  • May allow guests to touch collection animals
    • Many zoos have specifically raised and trained collection animals that guests are allowed to interact with during there visit. Others allow guests to handle or interact with babies or adult animals outside of educational programming, sometimes for photo opportunities. 
  • May train collection animals
    • Many zoos train collection animals for multiple reasons, including but not limited to: husbandry behaviors, voluntary participation in veterinary treatment, participation in educational or outreach programming. 
  • May or may not belong to an accrediting body or trade organization
    • Many zoos voluntarily join the membership body of trade organizations or accrediting bodies that exist in the zoological field. 
  • May or may not be accredited or certified 
    • Many zoos choose to go through an accreditation or certification process offered by trade organizations and external third-party organizations. 

Sanctuary:

A non-profit business that maintains a stationary collection of rescue animals for the primary purpose of providing them a permanent home.

 

Major characteristics of all sanctuaries:

  • 501(c)3
    • The extant federal definition of 'wildlife sanctuary' from the implementation of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act requires all such businesses to be registered non-profits. All major sanctuary associations also define their business structures as requiring non-profit standing. 
  • Collection may be comprised of a combination of domestic, native, or exotic animals
    • Sanctuaries are not limited to just housing exotic animals - some choose to focus only on one group or taxa, while others may take any type of animal in need of placement. 
  • All collection animals are rescues
    • Sanctuaries identify themselves as rescue organizations for abandoned / unwanted / surrendered animals. 
  • Does not trade commercially in animals
    • As rescue facilities, sanctuaries do not buy, sell, or trade animals in their collections - all animals that arrive at a sanctuary have been given a permanent home at that facility. 
  • Does not allow collection animals to breed
    • Sanctuaries do not breed their collection animals because the primary purpose of their existence is to provide homes for rescue animals; any animal born at their facility would preclude another animal in need of rescue from having a home. 
  • Animals are primarily viewed by the public in appropriate, permanent, primary enclosures
    • Sanctuaries have stationary habitats built for all their animals to live out the rest of their lives in. While some animals may leave those habitats briefly for various reasons, they spend the majority of their time in their enclosures. 
  • May or may not be USDA licensed
    • Any sanctuary that is exhibiting a collection containing mammals to the public must have a USDA Class C license and be inspected for compliance with the regulations set for the in the Animal Welfare Act; sanctuaries that are not open to the public are not under USDA jurisdiction and therefore are not licensed and inspected for AWA compliance. In addition, sanctuaries maintaining entirely non-mammal collections may be open to the public without USDA licensure. 

 

Aspects of many sanctuaries:

  • May have educational programming related to the animals in the sanctuary collection
    • Sanctuaries will often have signage or trained tour guides that educate guests about topics related to their animals (e.g., ethology, exotic pets, legislation). 
  • May allow guests to touch collection animals 
    • Many domestic and farm animal sanctuaries encourage guests to touch and interact with collection animals; this practice is much less common at facilities with a majority of native and exotic animals in the collection. 
  • May train collection animals
    • Some sanctuaries train collection animals for husbandry behaviors and voluntary participation in veterinary treatment. Sanctuaries generally do not train animals for participation in programming that involves performing behaviors for the public. 
  • May or may not belong to an accrediting body or trade organization
    • Some sanctuaries voluntarily join the membership body of trade organizations or accrediting bodies that exist in the animal management field. 
  • May or may not be accredited or certified 
    • Some sanctuaries choose to go through an accreditation or certification process offered by trade organizations and external third-party organizations.