Sanctuaries, friend or foe? The answer is both. Sanctuaries have been set up for the protection of wildlife but in some cases, are actually masked and target the entertainment industry. I write this as an afterthought from visiting the liberty bear sanctuary in Romania.
This was not my first visit to a rescue centre but something stuck with me here. The establishment is wonderful. They have rescued over one hundred bears mainly from cages (some are wild that would venture into town too many times) and some wolves. To save money, and what I see as waste, animals are fed produce from nearby supermarkets that is slightly out of date. They can be found in large enclosures, no this can’t mirror the wild however these rescued bears could not survive. Any young are released where possible.
It was not the sanctuary that stuck with me, it was the public. I could not believe the total lack of respect shown to these beautiful creatures that had been chained up, tortured and laughed at their entire lives. Instead of showing the vast amounts of respect these animals deserve the average visitor was ogling, making loud noises, running around and using flash photography something expressly forbidden. The prime example. A terrified bear inhabits one of the enclosures. When it was a cub its “owner” blinded it with hot tongs to make sure it stayed relaxed at all times. Instead of people giving this young bear space and being silent the 40-strong crowd saw it as if a circus bear. Throughout the visit members of the public were constantly warned that they would have to evacuate the premises if they continued to show a lack of respect (this did not happen, I cannot blame the person in charge these grown adults were just uneducated about the woes of these animals despite having to watch a documentary beforehand).
So, what lesson was learnt for me. The sanctuary although doing an amazing job will have to place new fences around the premises not because of the bears but for the real monsters, us humans.
Turn however to a few years ago when, in Borneo, I visited the Sepilok orangutan sanctuary. Slightly different, the orangutans are semi wild yet the numbers of tourists are higher and the noise levels were lower. There is not much of a difference in both establishments, both show documentaries, both have fencing, Libearty even imposes time restrictions only allowing the public in in the mornings. Yet the bears gathered less respect. This could be that the places are continents away although tourists are from around the world in both cases. I may be totally off the mark stating I believe the case to be that we have more respect for orangutans. The awesome red apes have a bigger media presence than the caged bears so perhaps we show more compassion.
It does not, however, make much of a difference. If you can take anything from this topic it would be the following points:
- Been mindful. These animals are not there for entertainment, they have led stressful lives and deserve respect
- Research. Before visiting any sanctuary, you should know the agenda. One general rule of thumb, if you can play with the animals this is probably aimed at entertainment NOT rescue