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Many roadside and traveling zoos operate under the guise of nonprofit sanctuaries, preying on people’s sympathy while exploiting the animals in their care. Animals “rescued” from one tragic situation are sentenced to another when they end up in pseudo-sanctuaries.

Some “rescued” animals used as fundraising lures may actually have been purchased or bred. Facilities may accept unwanted exotic pets, promising to give them a home, and then sell the same animals for a tidy profit during frequent trips to auctions where a trailer-full of old exhibit animals are sold and new ones are bought.

Nonprofit 501(c)(3) status is no indication of whether a facility is truly a sanctuary or not. Some substandard facilities are run by well-meaning individuals who take in more animals than they have space or funding to provide for. If animals lack adequate care because of mismanagement or unrealistic goals, additional funding is not likely to correct the situation.

For decades, the Chimp Farm in Florida promoted itself as a nonprofit sanctuary dedicated to caring for aging and abused primates. The farm was actually a decrepit roadside menagerie that bred 58 chimps, five orangutans, and an unknown number of monkeys.

While most of these animals remained at the Chimp Farm, some were sold to circuses or laboratories. Even by the minimal standards of the Animal Welfare Act, the enclosures were filthy, rusty, and too small, with jagged edges that could hurt the animals. After PETA and local activists filed numerous complaints about the deplorable conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally revoked the Chimp Farm’s license and fined the owners $25,000 in 1998.

Finding True Sanctuaries

Check whether a sanctuary is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) before deciding to support it. GFAS is an accrediting organization that requires member sanctuaries to observe a strict code of ethics and far exceed the minimum standards of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Sanctuaries accredited by GFAS allow rescued exotic animals to live out the rest of their lives in peaceful, spacious, natural habitats with members of their own species and never breed or sell animals.