Encountering animals in their natural habitats can be some of the most fulfilling, unforgettable travel experiences out there. But we’ve all seen and heard about the darker side of wildlife tourism. Cramped zoos, barbaric circuses, stoned tigers staring blankly for photo ops. So how do you make sure your wildlife encounter is an ethical one?
Don’t fret. Here are 10, vetted, not-for-profit sanctuaries and projects around the world (including our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experiences) that give you the wildlife wow-factor, without the uncertainty or guilt that often comes with it. You’re welcome.
1. The Giraffe Center, Kenya
The Giraffe Center in Nairobi is a not-for-profit conservation and education program to protect the endangered Rothschild Giraffe species. Visitors can hand-feed the long-necked beauties from a raised platform, and even get a kiss from one, truly a once in a lifetime experience. Giraffe Manor is an exclusive hotel associated with the centre, where guests can dine and lounge in their rooms… while giraffes might poke their heads through the many windows of the hotel to say hello.
2. Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi
In Nairobi, Kenya, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage rehabilitates baby elephants who have lost their mothers through human actions or natural causes. They prepare elephants for reintegration before releasing them back in to the wild. Visitors get the chance to meet these gentle giants and find out more about the incredible work done by the keepers. Check out more of Contiki’s ethical experiences in Africa and the Middle East.
3. Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
Elephants from all over Thailand are rehabilitated in the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Travellers can watch the rescued elephants play, learn about ethical animal experiences and find out how the park cares for these incredible animals. An affiliate of the Nature Park, The Elephant Haven Sai Yok in Kanchanaburi shares the same mission in rescuing and rehabilitating elephants from across Thailand.
4. Reef HQ Aquarium, Australia
The Reef HQ Aquariam in Townsville in Australia is home to the National Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef. Travellers can pay a visit to the Turtle Hospital, where they can learn about reef protection with the marine crew and even see the turtles up close! Trust us when we say, it’ll make you think twice about using single-use plastics.
5. National Kiwi Hatchery, New Zealand
The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua is the largest and most successful kiwi hatching facility in the world! The organisation is aiming to grow the population numbers of the endangered species, native to New Zealand. Visitors can learn more about this unique species and their entrance fee to the Rainbow Springs Nature Park will go towards the rehabilitation project.
6. Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, India
The Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura is a must-visit during your trip to India. It’s home to more than 20 rescued elephants and is the only elephant hospital in Asia. The centre aims to rehabilitate severely abused captive elephants in distress. With open fields, natural vegetation, water pools and trees, the founders have created an environment as close to the natural habitat of the elephants as possible.
7. Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre, Sri Lanka
A quick drive from Galle and Unawatuna in Sri Lanka, and you’ll find yourself at the adorable Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre. With an aim to protect turtles and increase hatching rates, the centre takes eggs off the beaches where they are vulnerable to poachers and predators. The eggs are monitored in a secure facility and the baby turtles are sent back in to nature just days after hatching!
8. Hetta Huskies, Finland
Hetta Huskies is dedicated to the ethical care of sled dogs and aims to raise the overall dog sled industry to their standards. They provide an ethical and sustainable husky sledding experience with safari tours through the breathtaking landscapes of Finland and priceless sights of the Northern Lights. Hetta Huskies received a World Responsible Tourism Award for their high standards of dog welfare and minimising their environmental footprint on the arctic region.
9. Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary, South Africa
This animal sanctuary is a rescue centre for over 100 lions rescued from zoos, circuses and abusive domestic environments, from all around the world. You can visit for a day trip or book accommodation at their lodge, where you can take part in hiking trails and observe these beautiful big cats.
10. Donkey Sanctuary, UK
The Donkey Sanctuary provides welfare and wellbeing for these intelligent animals, that often face mistreatment around the world. They have care centres around the UK in Sidmouth, Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds and Manchester, where they run guided walks and allow roaming and interaction with the donkeys.
One of their key operations is providing donkey-assisted therapy to children with physical, social and behavioural difficulties. This interaction benefits their emotional and physical development while also being rewarding for the donkeys, many of whom have been rescued from a life of neglect, mistreatment or abandonment. Win-win.