Some surprising facts:

  • Any facility can call itself a “sanctuary.”  The facility may be breeding animals, it may be allowing the public to pay for photos of themselves with tiger cubs, it may be selling animals, it may be housing the animals in subpar facilities, but it can still call itself a sanctuary. GFAS does not consider such places legitimate sanctuaries, nor should any donor.
  • In the US, state laws regarding the keeping of wildlife vary greatly, with some states having no laws. Color coded map on state laws from Born Free USA.
  • In the US, a USDA permit is not required for every facility with non-native wildlife. For example, if a sanctuary isn’t open to the public and they are not breeding, and they are in a state with lax or no laws regarding “exotic” animals, there may be NO inspections required by any authority. Details here.
    Photo courtesy of Duchess Sanctuary

    Photo courtesy of Duchess Sanctuary

  • In the US the USDA and state laws allow enclosures that are much smaller than those required by GFAS.
  • In the US, captive native wildlife is sometimes protected by state laws or federal laws, but not always.


Unfortunately, today no one is too surprised to discover something is a scam. When it comes to those with less power than others, such as the elderly, children, or animals, scammers seem especially adept at coming up with exploitive practices. Consider these real life examples:

  • A US website showed horses munching in beautiful pastures, yet the whole website was bogus, allegedly being run by a woman living in her car, using the funds donated to the rescue, for her personal use, not to help horses.
  • A US nonprofit was allegedly taking in wildlife as rescues, which brought in donations, then euthanizing older, but still healthy, wildlife, to make room for more rescues to get additional donations.
  • Volunteer projects’ for which volunteers must pay a fee to participate are allegedly, in SOME cases (not all), simply for-profit businesses, disguised as a nonprofit. This can happen in any country.
  • A US equine rescue was found guilty of fundraising for discontinued programs, claiming they checked up on horses after they adopted them which was not true, and more. There were also charges that the executive director used funds for personal expenses. This was an organization raising more than one million dollars a year. 

Sometimes one can easily spot a pseudo-sanctuary/rescue/rehab center by something obvious:

  • Its posting of photos of the public petting baby wild animals or paying to have a photograph taken with the baby. Legitimate sanctuaries don’t allow this.
  • Breeding.  A legitimate sanctuary doesn’t breed, unless it has a rehabilitation section that is carrying out a bona fide breeding program, with the offspring actually being released into the wild as part of a monitored, legal and sanctioned program.
  • Woefully inadequate housing

Photo by Kim Haddad

Yet, it is not always easy to spot which sanctuaries are legitimate with ethical policies regarding:

  • acquisition and disposition
  • not allowing commercial trade
  • not removing animals from their enclosures for exhibit
  •  not allowing contact with the public

It takes an in-depth examination to determine which sanctuaries/rescues/rehabilitation centers:

  • Are solvent
  • Own the sanctuary property or have a long-term lease and contingency plan for what would happen if they have to vacate the property
  • Have reasonable financial reserves
  • Have written policies and protocols and adequate veterinary care, all designed  to insure humane care and treatment of the animals
  • Have a disaster plan
  • Have adequate insurance
  • Have a safe and secure facility
  • Have a knowledgeable Board which carries out its
    responsibilities with due diligence
  • Have solid human resource policies
  • Have avoided inappropriate self-dealing

These items and more are vital for facilities which care for animals, because if such a facility fails, the animals are the ones who pay the price, with slowly deteriorating care, possible transport to another facility (again), and certainly possible death.

If the process for determining all these matters were easy and quick, there would be little need for accreditation. It is a rigorous process, which:

  • reassures donors that they are supporting a facility that is most likely going to be there for the animals for the long haul
  • is a service to the organizations going through the process. Our standards and process are designed to help insure that an organization isn’t inadvertently making a mistake that might mean its demise at a later date, and that it gets the credit it deserves for having solid practices and policies in place.
  • helps evolving facilities with good intentions get the assistance needed to become the humane and responsible organization each aspires to be!

Check to see which organizations are GFAS Accredited or Verified.

If an organization is not GFAS Accredited or Verified, ask why not, and urge them to apply!