Animal sanctuaries

Posted Date: 13 June 2016
Unique animal sanctuaries

What’s better than going on holiday? Going on holiday where you get to meet a bunch of new animal friends and knowing that in some way, you’re helping them. So we‘ve put together some unique animal experiences from around the world that help give something back. 

1. Dog sanctuary - Costa Rica

What an exhilarating feeling it would be to join a pack of around 1,000 dogs as they romp across the warm countryside of Barbara, Costa Rica! The Territorio di Zagatas or “The land of strays” is a free range sanctuary for dogs. Their no kill policy means that there are plenty of pooches to play ball with.

Dog lovers are welcome to come and play most days, it’s good for the dogs who love the human company. There are volunteers on site at all times to manage any canine disagreements and they work hard at preparing the dogs for a new home.

However, if you just can’t fit it into your plans, check out their Facebook page. Here they share stories of the dogs they’ve rescued and heart-warming videos.

If any of the dogs look to have behavioural issues, use your common sense and leave them be, spend some time with the friendlier ones instead.

2. Fox village - Japan

In Japan, the fox is considered much more than just the fussy little terror of the chicken coop. Kitsune, as they are known, are believed to have mythical powers - bringing fertility and a good rice crop.

At the fox village, these cute little critters are left to romp and play while you wonder amongst them. Visitors are given a small bag of food but are encouraged not to hand feed the foxes, they are still wild animals after all.

There are a few different types of fox in the village, all of which are super cute and a little cunning, so watch your food - some are known to be accomplished pickpockets. They are mostly tame so there is plenty of opportunity to get right up close and even pet some of them! Watch this YouTube clip from a visitor to the village - Take me there now! 

3. Bora Bora Turtle Center - French Polynesia

This is a wonderful sanctuary that all started when the hotel decided to rehabilitate a bale of turtles. They have developed it into an official sanctuary with its own nursery and feeding program. 

They have a touch pool where you can get to know some of the sea life; a museum with artifacts and videos about turtles; and aquariums where you can see all sorts of marine life up close. But the highlight of the centre is the private lagoon where you can watch daily feeding and even better, join the young turtles for a swim!

Turtle Centre is open to day visitors or if you want the full experience, spend a few nights at the resort. The Bora Bora Turtle Centre’s Facebook page is a great place to start planning your adventure.

4. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre - Borneo

Imagine getting to see one of these majestic animals up close, while knowing that you being there is actually helping to save them.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was set up in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans and is open daily to the public. It covers 43 square kilometers and is home to around 70 orangutans. They are dedicated to reintroducing the apes into the wild, a long process due to the fact that young orangutans spend the first six years of their lives with their mothers, learning to climb and forage.

In the absence of parent animals, they use a buddy system where a young animal is shown the way by an older companion. The centre also serves as an education facility and welcomes visitors to wander the walkways among these great apes.

You can get quite close, but because they are being rehabilitated they can’t be approached or touched. It’s a fantastic experience and one that can change how you see primates forever. Find out more on their website. 

5. Cat island - Japan

Where there is a fishing village there are cats. Over the centuries, Japan has had an abundance of fishing villages, many located on small islands with little else around. Several of these have become ‘Cat Islands’, the most famous of them being Aoshima.

Back in the 1940s, the village was home to around 1,000 villagers, who brought in a few cats to control a persistent mouse problem. The fishing eventually dried up and the human population shrunk to around 100 villagers. The cats left behind began to breed until they out-numbered the villagers 6 to 1!

Because the Japanese are mad about cats (think Hello Kitty), they have turned the island into an unofficial tourist attraction. Each day the cats wander down to the wharf to greet the latest shipment of treat-bearing feline fanatics who spend the day fussing over them.

Imagine wandering around a quaint little fishing village with a group or rather a “clowder, clutter, pounce, dout, nuisance, glorying or glare” of cats following you. See the kitties in action here

6. Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary - USA

Everything about these little birds is simply amazing. They are the smallest bird in the world. Their hearts beat 1,250 times a minute and they take 250 breaths per minute. What’s probably more incredible is that they sustain all this frenetic activity on an exclusive diet of flower nectar.

As fascinating as these little birds are, they can be quite difficult to spot, some are as small as a bumble bee and they zip about so quickly that you’re just as likely to be looking at where they were most of the time.

That’s where the hummingbird sanctuary in Riverhead, New York can help. It’s flowers that hummingbirds seek, so this garden is their nirvana. And what better way to get a hummingbird to sit still (or rather hover still) than a lush garden teeming with plants and flowers that are specifically chosen for their nectar.

However, these difficult little birds can only be visited during August and only by prior appointment. If you’re up for the challenge, start planning your trip at their website

7. The National Bison Range - USA

The buffalo must be the greatest symbol of the wild west – but hang on a moment, are they buffalo or bison? Well apparently the early American settlers confused the many thousands of bison roaming the west with their African cousins the buffalo and the name just stuck.

If you are wanting to get a sense of what it must have been like crossing this county in the 1800s, the 18,500 acres of reserve has it all. You can spot herds of up to 500 bison as well as elk, deer, antelope, bears and even coyotes!

There’s a 30 km self-drive tour that takes you high up into the Red Sleep Mountains with stunning views. Be warned though, it’s a steep and winding road that isn’t for the faint of heart. This is a very different experience as the reserve is un-fenced and the animals are roaming free. If you’re planning to recreate an old cowboy movie by spending the night sitting around a campfire eating beans, you’ll be disappointed – there’s strictly no camping in the park, which is just as well because under the TravelCare policy, you are only covered for day trips. 

Tips for staying safe around our furry friends

Don’t let the cute factor fool you, we see many claims every year from animal scratches and bites.

Here are a few simple precautions you can take to keep your holiday from going feral.

  • Always obey the signs, if it says no feeding or keep hands inside the car make sure you do!
  • If you’re embarking on a day trip, spend some time in the visitor centre. They’ll be able to tell you where the best places are to view the animals and can advise you on how to get the most out of your trip without endangering the animals or yourself.
  • Babies usually mean protective mommas, so avoid approaching young animals, unless you’ve been told that it’s ok.
  • If you’re taking children with you, ensure they’re aware that any high pitched screams/squeals of excitement or sudden movements can upset the animals. Avoid letting kids pet animals around the face area. If you have young children and you’re at all worried about animals nipping or scratching, it may be best to view the animals from a safe distance.

Cover under the TravelCare policy:

  • If you do happen to get bitten by an animal, there is cover under policy for injuries – this is of course provided you followed the advice of the staff, listened to and observed any safety instructions.
  • If you’re volunteering at an animal sanctuary, you won’t be covered. The TravelCare policy doesn’t cover you if you work, whether it’s paid or not, however you will be covered for any other unexpected event (not related to work) that could happen while you’re away.

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