The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is the only globally recognized organization that provides standards for identifying and accrediting legitimate animal sanctuaries.
Not all big cat sanctuaries are legitimate. Many “pseudo-sanctuaries” mislead the public, often buying, breeding and selling big cats. They exploit the cats for profit, allowing public contact in the form of picture taking and petting cubs. The cats often are neglected, receive poor care, and are forced to live in tiny, dirty cages which compromise their health. Many times, once big cat cubs get too big and are too hard and expensive to properly care for, they are sold into the black market, given away to other subpar facilities, or even abandoned. Tigers are perhaps the most abused in the United States: even though only about 3,200 are left in the wild, it’s estimated that up to 10,000 tigers are privately owned in the United States alone. The majority of these tigers that are privately owned do not live a life they deserve. Unfortunately, there is no federal law that bans private ownership or breeding of big cats, so people are able to buy tigers and other big cats pretty easily and breed them with no regulations. All that can change if the Big Cats and Public Safety Act is passed. Please take the time to support this important bill so we can put a stop to big cats being bred and sold and forced to live inhumanely. For all of these big cats that are bred for commercial reasons and live a neglected life, only a few lucky ones will end up at a true sanctuary, like those that are GFAS accredited.
So how does the GFAS work? The GFAS only approves sanctuaries that meet a grueling set of high standards, so that the public can be confident that their donations and support are truly going to a legitimate cause. GFAS maintains that a sanctuary provides shelter and care for animals that have been abused, injured, or abandoned and provides a lifelong home to the animal. Accredited facilities must adhere to the following standards: there can be no commercial trade, no invasive research, no public contact, no removal of the animals for exhibition, education or research and the facility should only be open to the public by way of guided tours which contain an educational component. There can also be no captive breeding, unless it’s for a bona fide release program to reintroduce the animals into the wild. You can read more details in this document that explains how the GFAS distinguishes between legitimate and pseudo-sanctuaries.
In addition to accrediting sanctuaries, who provide lifelong homes, GFAS also accredits rescue centers, who provide temporary homes until the animal can be placed in a forever home, and rehabilitation centers, who take in wildlife to rehabilitate them to eventually be released back into their native environment.
So before you visit a wildlife facility that claims it is breeding for conservation purposes or that the money they make from exploiting the cubs is helping to take care of the cubs so they live a good life, do your research! Too many facilities are taking advantage of the public simply because the public is uniformed. Don’t let yourself fall victim to this! You can visit the GFAS website and see a list of all accredited and verified sanctuaries here.