Yes, they do exist, and many are open to the public. In the United States, more than 100 facilities describe themselves as sanctuaries or rescues for big cats. Valerie Taylor, executive director of the D.C-based Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), says aggressive marketing campaigns have increased the need for differentiation. “Facilities that keep animals in deplorable conditions can identify themselves as comparable to those of the highest quality,” she said. And while the industry is poorly regulated — as amply evidenced by the show — it’s easy to research whether the sanctuary you want to visit is legitimate.
Would-be visitors can start by making sure it’s among the 15 in the U.S. currently accredited by GFAS. . (If it’s not, find out if it’s working toward accreditation.) According to Taylor, applicants must meet basic eligibility criteria and then go through a series of steps to be accredited. These include a site visit and an extensive review of organizational documents. “Facilities must also abide by GFAS Standards of Excellence for animal care and general operations for the species cared for,” she said.
The following are among the big cat sanctuaries to consider for post-quaratine travel:
Black Pine Animal Sanctuary
1426 W. 300 N., Albion, Ind.
Nearly 100 captive-raised exotic animals, ranging from big cats to bears to monkeys, are housed at this 18-acre sanctuary in northeastern Indiana. The public is welcome on weekends in the summer and early fall, and on additional dates listed on the website. Visitors can watch feedings, learn about the animals, explore the sanctuary and more; the cost for guided tours and programs ranges from $8-$17 for adults and free for children 3 and under. It also offers overnight camping on a limited basis.
Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch
12526 Co Rd. 3806,
This 1,400-acre facility about an hour outside Dallas houses more than 800 domestic and exotic animals rescued from cruelty and neglect. The public is welcome a couple of times a month for tours, where visitors learn about the big cats and other wildlife. Hay rides or buses (depending on the weather) take guests through the extensive property, where the animals live in large natural areas. Adults $49 per person, $20 kids under 18. Reservations required.
Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary
19620 Crown Ridge Rd., Sainte Genevieve, Mo.
This is both a tiger sanctuary and a hotel. Educational walking tours of the 40-acre facility about an hour outside St. Louis, which houses three tigers — including Gracie, a blind tiger rescued from a roadside zoo — cost between $10-$50 for adults (free for kids 3 and under) and require advance registration. And for $149-$199, visitors looking for an immersive experience can stay overnight in one of five sanctuary guest rooms.
Lions, Tigers & Bears
24402 Martin Way, Alpine, Calif.
This 93-acre sanctuary houses more than 65 lions, tigers, bears and other exotic and domestic animals about 45 minutes from downtown San Diego. It’s open to the public Wednesday to Saturday; tours of the facility start at $43 for adults ($26 for kids 12 and under), with special programs such as “Behind the Scenes” available at an additional cost. The sanctuary hosts an annual overnight camping event and offers stays in a two-bedroom cottage year-round.
In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Educational Center
3430 Skyview Dr., Wylie, Tex.
Founded by a veterinary technician, this 15-acre rescue center outside Dallas houses more than 70 animals, including tigers, lions, servals, lynx, and cheetahs. Self-guided tours (adults $12; seniors and children $8) and guided group tours (adults $15 and children and seniors $12; preregistration required) are available; the sanctuary also hosts special events throughout the year. Days and hours of operation vary seasonally.
Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary
9605 Route 400, Imlay, Nev.
Open daily year-round, this 160-acre sanctuary two hours northeast of Reno houses animals that range from lions to tigers to black bears and birds, many of them former illegal pets. It caters to children, and provides educational programs to school groups. Personal tours ($15 for adults, $7 for children 11 and under, 5 and under free) take about 90 minutes and do not require reservations. The animals are housed in large enclosures surrounded by mountains and wide-open spaces.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
2999 County Rd. 53,
This massive sanctuary 30 minutes from the Denver airport covers more than 10,000 acres within two Colorado facilities. It houses about 500 lions, tigers, bears and wolves in free-roaming habitats — some of which are up to 300 acres. It’s open year-round to visitors, who can view the animals via an elevated walkway. Visits take three to six hours and visitors should bring binoculars. Open daily; check website for specifics. The general entry fee is $30 for adults, $15 for children 3 to 12.
Braff is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @daniellebraff.