10 of the best animal sanctuaries to visit around the world

Berry, Hannah and Napoleon at Paccombe Farm

More ethical than zoos, sanctuaries offer a chance to see animals in more natural and comfortable surroundings. They also make a great stop on a travelling trip and some rescue centres have even been founded by former travellers. Here are ten inspirational not-for-profit animal sanctuaries that promise an educational, interesting and uplifting visit. Many of these centres are also actively seeking volunteers, which might be an option for those looking for a more rewarding travel experience.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Australia

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto

Founded in 1927, the Lone Pine sanctuary, Brisbane is the world’s oldest and largest Koala rescue centre. It’s also one of the very few places where you can hold a koala for a fee. A beautiful natural woodland reserve, the popular sanctuary generously offers a home to other animals including kangaroos, native Australian birds and platypus. You’ll also probably be surprised to see how fast the koalas move when the gum tree leaves are brought out at lunchtime.

Chengdu Moonbear Rescue Centre, China

Chengdu Moon Bear Rescue Centre on GlobalGrasshopper.com

UK ex-pat Jill Robinson MBE  founded the Animals Asia Foundation when she discovered how thousands of Asiatic black bears were being raised in factory farm conditions on Chinese bear bile farms (the bile is sold for use in traditional medicines). After years of tireless campaigning, the rescue centre was established in 2000 following an unprecedented agreement with the Chinese authorities to release 500 farmed bears. The sanctuary is open to the public and visitors travel for miles to see the bears experience freedom after spending decades in tiny crush cages.

Sepilok orangutan sanctuary, Borneo

Sepolik Orangutan Sanctuary on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto

Only a few travellers leave Borneo without visiting the famous Sepolik Rehabilitation Centre and when seeing photos of the impossibly cute residents it’s easy to see why. The sanctuary was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans which were mainly victims of the illegal pet trade and logging industry. The large virgin rainforest reserve is home to around 60 to 80 orangutans and they are trained to survive in the wild again and released as soon as they are ready. Visitors are welcomed to the centre but handling of the animals is strictly forbidden. A good tip is to time your visit around feeding time.

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), Thailand

Boon Lot Elephant Sanctuary on GlobalGrasshopper.com

BLES located in Sukhothai, Northern Thailand was founded by English animal lover Katherine Connor after she travelled across Asia. During her time spent volunteering at a Thai elephant hospital she formed a very strong bond with a premature baby elephant. Instead of finishing her travels she decided to stay in Thailand to rescue her new friend from being sold to a notorious animal tourist show. After the elephant sadly passed away Katherine sold her possessions in England and with the help of her now husband (a Thai elephant handler) set up Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in his memory. All the elephants at Boon Lott have been rescued from abuse or mistreatment and visitors enjoy a chance to interact with the elephants in a peaceful and secluded location. Staying guests are asked to be involved in all aspects of sanctuary life ranging from collecting food from the jungle to repairing pens.

Noah’s Ark, Georgia, USA

Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary on GlobalGrasshopper.com

Noah’s Ark is a unique facility located in the US state of Georgia. It provides a home for abused, unwanted and orphaned children as well as animals. The centre is run entirely on donations and is open to the public. Guests arrive to visit the children and see the collection of over a thousand animals ranging from the very large and exotic to the very small and domesticated. Three of their furry resident’s have also made worldwide news. Baloo the bear, Leo the lion and Shere Khan the tiger have formed an unlikely and unusually strong bond after being rescued in a drug’s raid when they were just 2 months old. The predators (who would be enemies if they were ever to meet in the wild) are housed together and curious visitors travel from all over the US to see their affectionate friendship first hand.

Animal Kingdom, Philippines

Animal Kingdom on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto

The Animal Kingdom Foundation has a centre based in the Philippines which rescues dogs from the meat trade and a pretty gruesome fate. The charity was formed after a month long surveillance by animal advocates Greg S. Quimpo and Veterinarian Samaniego and they now work to fight against the illegal meat trade after realising thousands of dogs in the Philippines get caught up in it every day. They set up a no-profit, no-kill dog shelter dedicated to saving abandoned, neglected, abused and slaughter-bound dogs. They welcome animal loving visitors and the dogs are also available for adoption to good homes.

The Donkey Sanctuary, Devon, UK

Berry, Hannah and Napoleon at Paccombe Farm

The Sidmouth donkey sanctuary is an English national treasure and a popular family day out. It was founded by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE when her donkey enthusiasm turned into a full blown rescue centre when she saw some ill treated donkeys at nearby Exeter market. Slade House Farm was purchased to house her fast growing family of four legged friends and since then 12,500 donkeys have passed through the sanctuary’s doors. Admission is free and many people come to see the previously neglected or abused donkey’s living happily in the picturesque Devonshire countryside.

The Vervet Monkey Foundation, South Africa

The Vervet Monkey Sanctuary on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto

The Vervet Monkey Foundation in Tzaneen, South Africa is home to nearly 700 orphaned, injured, ex-laboratory or unwanted pet monkeys. The sanctuary (established in 1993) is a 23-hectare rescue, educational and rehabilitation centre as well as being a popular tourist attraction. Volunteers are welcomed from all over the world and accommodation and plenty of Vervet monkey interaction is offered in return for help with everyday activities.

Agra Bear Rescue Facility, North India

Agra Bear Rescue Facility on GlobalGrasshopper.com

Two major animal charities helped fund a sanctuary for ex dancing bears in Agra, North India which is located just a few kilometres north of the famous Taj Mahal. The initiative was such a success that by the end of 2009 many of the dancing bears forced to dance on the streets of India for entertainment had been rescued. After their harsh and often brutal treatment the bears recover in large enclosures complete with freshwater bathing pools, climbing frames and other tools of environmental enrichment. Visitors are welcomed by appointment and guests speak of the enjoyment of seeing the naturally playful bears in their new comfortable surroundings.

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Utah, USA

Best Friends on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is located in 33,000 acres of exceptionally beautiful Utah landscape. One of America’s best known animal welfare groups, it was founded in the late 1980’s as an alternative to the ‘kill’ shelters in the US. The sanctuary now houses 1,700 displaced, homeless or unwanted domestic animals ranging from dogs to pot-bellied pigs. Best Friends is also very popular with visitors and volunteers who can’t seem to get enough of the great scenery and interaction with its often adorable residents.

With special thanks to all the sanctuaries for their help with this article.

With roots in Bavaria, a home in England and a heart in Scandinavia I've always been a restless soul. My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I've lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up over 35 countries on trips and living in both Dublin and Australia. I'm a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, easy-on-the-eye travel destinations away from the crowds and all things Scandinavian - from cloudberry liquors to Scandi Noirs. When not travelling, you'll find me walking my rescue dog in leafy South West London, wandering the Brighton Laines on random day trips, hunting around for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about returning to my all time favourite places in the world - Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Iceland, Thailand and the frozen landscapes of a wintry Iceland. Follow Becky on Twitter and Google+.

38 Comments

  • Frank

    12 December, 2014 at 5:12 am

    I’m happy to see you recommend an elephant sanctuary in Thailand other than Elephant Nature Park (which every other blogger mentions). There are other sanctuaries/foundations out there and they need support as well so appreciate seeing light shed on them. We’ll check them out next time in the area.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    Reply
  • CeeJay

    16 September, 2013 at 3:04 am

    Did you check out BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary in Mae Chaem Northern Thailand???
    You should – http://www.bees-elesanctuary.org/ Having been to nearly ALL the ele sanctuaries in Thailand, I can say BEES is the most unique, offering a true rainforest habitat for their rescued Eles. By far the best I have seen!!!

    Reply
  • Diane

    14 September, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Interesting and inspiring. Wonderful efforts! I would encourage people to also learn about David Sheldrick Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya. They have been rescuing orphaned elephants, fighting poachers and educating locals for decades.

    Reply
  • Alice

    12 September, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Amazing article!! How did you BEGIN to choose?? 🙂
    We’re here in Port Charlotte, FL….and have an amazing wildlife sanctuary dedicated to small wildlife. For those visiting this area…please be sure to stop and visit this beautiful and amazing sanctuary!
    Thank you for ALL you’re doing to raise awareness!!

    “Tucked neatly into the mangroves overlooking Charlotte Harbor at Ponce de Leon Park, the Peace River Wildlife Center (PRWC) is a non-profit organization

    Peace River Wildlife Center Started in 1978, dedicated to the rescue, care, protection and preservation of native small wildlife”

    Reply
  • Leopold Bienkowski-GIbbs

    25 February, 2012 at 3:39 am

    I volunteered at Elephant Nature Park for 1 week. It costs 12,000 BHT ($350 or so CDN). It costs a lot of money to feed and care for 36 elephants rescued from tourism and injuries, such as landmines. But the money is well spent and they take in almost any animal that needs a home (seriously, once you go there you’ll see just how hard this organization works to save animals!!) It was one of the highlights of my 2 months in Northern Thailand. I went on to volunteer with Elephant Nature Organization for about another 3 weeks at an emergency dog shelter in Bangkok after the flooding there and another sanctuary they are currently setting up in Cambodia. I can’t say enough about how great this organization is and if you have the chance and the means, I hope you go.

    http://www.elephantnaturefoundation.org/

    Reply
  • Melissa

    18 September, 2011 at 6:03 am

    Hello! I am helping a terribly underfunded horse rescue/shelter, Begin Again Farms, in Ellerslie, Ga, raise money. Would you help us out by sharing our link with your readers?
    The horses and I thank you! 🙂
    -Melissa
    http://fundraisersonline.net

    BTW- Contact me to put together a free online fundraiser for your favorite shelter!!

    Reply
  • Deepti

    24 August, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    SO CUTE!!! I enjoyed watching pictures of the protected animals with the infos about them. Besides, this page helped me in my lendy homework!!

    Reply
    • Becky Padmore

      31 May, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks Shannon, I’m pleased you like it. I was inspired to write it after reading about Katherine Connor (who founded BLES) and her moving story. She is an amazing person and started the elephant sanctuary in Thailand from nothing. You can find her and BLES on facebook – she writes some very interesting updates! I also regularly support Animals Asia who can also be found on facebook.

      Reply
      • jane

        25 May, 2016 at 11:11 pm

        I was lucky enough to visit BLES last year and have another trip planned for 2017. BLES is beyond words, the most wonderful place on earth and Katherine is equally as amazing x

        Reply
  • travellyn

    25 April, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I had seen TV programs on the ex dancing bears of Agra, the Chengdu Moonbear as well as the Sepilok orangutan of Borneo and it is good to be reminded of the plight of these animals.The others I am not familiar with. I’m pleased the Lone Pine Sanctuary in Australia has been mentioned as it has been established since 1927 and does good work. A really worthwhile article.

    Reply
  • Belinda

    17 April, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Sanctuaries are such a good place to visit if you want to see animals. I’ve found that many zoos tend to have cages too small for the animals. Sanctuaries have the health and well-being of the animals in mind rather than profit.

    Reply
  • Anna

    16 February, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I would add Phnom Tamao Animal Sanctuary in Cambodia to the list. A really amazing place which houses animals freed from the black market and sunbears rescued from restaurants in China and other parts of Asia.

    Reply
  • Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

    15 November, 2010 at 11:06 am

    One of the most pleasant places near Brisbane was the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary was established in 1927, and is the oldest and largest Koala Sanctuary. There are 130 koalas in the sanctuary, and in addition to dogs Dingo Kangaroo, Wombats, Echidna, Cockatoo, Tasmanian devils, kookaburra, EMU, Cassowary, bats, parrots, birds, snakes, lizards and various reptiles . The sanctuary is one of the few places of pilgrimage in the world, where guests are welcome to take part koala. Regulations to ensure that everyone has not seen in more than 30 minutes a day.
    http://www.travelaustralia360.com/lone-pine-koala-sanctuary.html

    Reply
  • Jen

    9 November, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I’ve volunteered at Best Friends a few times, and it’s fantastic (they are very good to their sanctuary volunteers). That looks like Dakota in the photo (I think he’s with one of his adoptive parents there!), and the woman on the right is a dog caregiver in the Lodges area — point being, they’re very warm and memorable people and dogs to work with! They let you handle dogs even if you can only go for an afternoon… but if you stay awhile, you’re entrusted with a lot more responsibility and get to know the people quite well. Food onsite is reasonable, and tasty, too.

    Anyway, if you get the chance, go!

    Reply
    • Michelle Bryant

      4 December, 2011 at 8:43 pm

      wow.. lucky you.. i want to go to asia early january.. can you recommend this and is it expensive to volunteer, anywhere else you can suggest, thanks, michelle

      Reply
  • Lisa

    8 October, 2010 at 1:54 am

    Great list. Always good to see the good being done. Animals can’t speak for themselves, we need to speak for them and educate!
    I’ve visited Best Friends…just one of this great group. Hopefully next will be Farm Sanctuary in NY. I also visited an animal sactuary in Egypt run by a Brit.
    Thanks for this post!
    Lisa

    Reply
  • Travelfusion

    23 August, 2010 at 8:36 am

    This is a wonderful post and what a reassuring thing to see! The people who run these sanctuaries are really angels for what they do, and I’m happy to know of some of these places close to home (had no idea about the donkeys in Devon!) so that I might visit or make a donation.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Jun Zhu

    16 August, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for introducing the Chengdu Moonbear Rescue Centre – one fine example of Chinese people’s growing awareness of animal protection. Hope to see more places like this or more ethical zoos in a vast country like China. Upsetting memories are still vivid from seeing depressed animals locked up in cages in my childhood… the world is changing for better.

    Reply
  • Jenny Bates

    14 August, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I have the great privilege to be close to The Donkey Sanctuary in heart and mind, even though I live in the USA. The Sanctuary has truly changed my life, through their dedication, expertise and loving and gentle care. An amazing place, indeed! I write poetry and I am a regular writer/contributor to The Donkey Sanctuary website. One of the best features for me living so far away is the live webcams! I can visit each day and see the Donks I love. Feeling like I am there. My newly published book of poetry entitled, “Opening Doors: An equilog of poetry about Donkeys” is dedicated to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, and features many Donks I have come to know and care about, some, sadly, no longer with us. I am planning on visiting during Int’l Donkey Week in May 2011. My book is available through Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, and Barnes and Noble Books. Partial proceeds always go back to The Sanctuary in Devon. May the Sanctuary’s template of grace be an example for all. Thank you, – Jenny B.

    Reply

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