Distinctions Between Zoo, Sanctuary, and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers

For National Zoo Lovers Day, we would like to highlight the different ways that zoos help wildlife in comparison with wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers (like Greenwood). All of them have a similar mission related to helping wild animals but each does this in distinct ways. It is important to be aware of these differences so that you and your family can learn about wildlife and support them in the appropriate ways.

Colorado is lucky to be a haven for wild animals like bear, mountain lion, Fox Squirrel, Sandhill Crane, Bald Eagle and so much more. Our state also hosts wildlife beyond the well known native species of Colorado in zoos, sanctuaries, and (temporarily) in wildlife rehab centers!

Zoos

Many folks are familiar with The Denver Zoo. Their facility hosts thousands of animals from all over the world. The main purpose of this zoo and most others is to educate the public on all sorts of wildlife they may never be able to encounter on their own. They have Species Survival Programs that help manage threatened populations. Without these accredited zoos, animals like the California Condor would be completely extinct. Zoo animals will most likely spend the rest of their lives in these enclosures. Zoos like the one in Denver have teams of staff that make sure each animal has the correct diet and enrichment to live a healthy and full life at the zoo.

Sanctuaries

Sanctuaries like The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado are a place for wildlife that cannot survive in the wild on their own. Often times they have been rescued from awful captive situations. More than 25,000 large carnivores live in terrible conditions, like a cage in someone’s basement or horrific animal petting programs like the tigers in the new documentary miniseries: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. In fact, some of the tigers that were mistreated there were taken to The Wild Animal Sanctuary. A true sanctuary like the one in Colorado is much like a zoo in that folks can visit to learn about wildlife they may never encounter. The biggest difference between a sanctuary and a zoo is that the animals that reside there were rescued rather than bred. They aren’t kept in large glass boxes but rather vast swaths of lands for them to roam, hide, and play.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers

Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and others like us, are places where local wild animals that are injured or orphaned recuperate before returning to their wild home. We do not breed animals and they do not stay in our care for long. We strive to keep their wild nature untamed so that they can thrive when they are released. There are wildlife rehabilitation centers all over the world that care for a variety of different animals with the hope that they can be returned to the wild. At Greenwood, visitors do not come to our facility to learn about exotic animals they may never see, because you can observe the animals we care for in outdoor spaces throughout Colorado. We also want these animals to stay wild, therefore we don’t want them getting used to seeing humans poking at the glass or paying $.25 to “feed the raccoon”. That is not what our mission is about!


All of these organizations have the goal of spreading education and awareness about wildlife, from the animals in our backyard to the ones in exotic places that we may never have the chance to visit. Zoos inspire people to love all sorts of animals from around the globe while ensuring their DNA will be around for future generations. Sanctuaries rescue wildlife that were found in the most unfortunate situations and ensure they live the rest of their life in a more natural and comfortable environment. Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers aid the wildlife that inhabit their surrounding communities and offset human impacts to these animals through education and rehabilitation.

Notice all the amazing things these places do for wildlife when you visit an accredited zoo or sanctuary. Only about 10% of zoos in the U.S. have this accreditation. When the Association of Zoos and Aquariums gives a zoo this honor, you know that the animals there are being cared for at an extremely high standard. Find the accreditation logo on their website before you visit!

If you want to learn more about the animals right here in Colorado, you can always host Greenwood at your school or club function. All of us animal lovers are here to help!

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