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Austin Hill: Public Relations Associate at The Wild Animal Sanctuary

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the largest and oldest of its kind, housing hundreds of animals and educating the public about the Captive Wildlife Crisis. Their state of the art facilities are expansive, safe homes for exotic animals to escape cruelty and captivity to roam free. With a combined facility size of 10,000 acres, the Sanctuary is determined to give rescued carnivores the best possible retirement experience.

How do you find an animal in need of rescue?

There are a lot of ways that animals end up in our care. It can be from animal welfare agencies like PETA, individuals who find animals in need, law enforcement, humane societies, or justice departments. Sadly, we don’t have to go looking for animals in need, they find us. The animals come from living in abusive or unsafe situations like roadside zoos, shopping malls, apartments, basements– you name it and we’ve seen it. We specialize in rescuing large carnivores like lions and bears and give them a safe environment for the rest of their days.

Can you explain the difference between a sanctuary and a zoo?

It’s apples and oranges, really. Most zoos care very well for their animals but they have older facilities and don’t have the option to expand them. Sanctuaries don’t sell, trade or breed animals. Since zoos are more conservation oriented, they sometimes breed to try to keep populations alive. Our habitats are also a lot larger than zoos, they range from 5-25 acres and animals can do whatever they want in them. Our animals have been through a lot and we try to give them the best lives possible. No one is on display, they get health care and maid service, and are given a comfortable and peaceful retirement.

The Captive Wildlife Crisis unfortunately isn’t talked about often. Can you explain it’s prominence today?

We all know that there are animals that need help around the world but we don’t realize that it can be in our own communities. “Pay to play” is advertised as being able to take a picture with a cute baby animal, but many people don’t realize that those animals are being bred and mistreated. We’re really grateful for the show Tiger King because 70 million people suddenly saw what captive wildlife means and were shocked. We actually rescued many animals from their facility. There are facilities like those all over the country that are breeding hundreds of animals a year. To help the crisis, you should support places that are accredited and licensed to be taking care of animals, not exploiting them. You have to do your research, make sure the nonprofit is transparent about what they do and why.

What do you educate people about at the Sanctuary?

We started rescuing in 1980 but didn’t open to the public until 2000. Our founder decided to open specifically for educational purposes. We’re educating about where our animals come from and why they had to be rescued. We have animals who have never seen grass before, have never been in sunlight, or have never met animals of their own species. We teach people about their journey because those stories are really powerful. Even though the animals require a lot of rehab and healing, they are now free and happy and it’s wonderful to see. The Sanctuary exists because of the worst kind of people, but it’s filled with the best kind of people. It’s a really therapeutic place where people do the right thing just because it’s right.


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