Roberto and the Growing Demand for Legitimate Sanctuaries

By Kellie Heckman


Roberto, a juvenile howler monkey, who was rescued by tourists on a beach in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. “Roberto came in with burns on his hands, similar to an electrocution and this prevented him from eating normally, so he was dehydrated and weak,” said Dr. Barrantes of Rescate Animal Zooave, a sanctuary and rehabilitation center accredited by Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). “After eight weeks of recovery and the attention from the Center’s team, Roberto will be ready to enjoy freedom in the forest.”

Roberto, a young howler monkey, was rescued and provided rehabilitation at Rescate Animal, a GFAS-Accredited facility in Costa Rica, after being found with multiple burns – likely suffering as a result of contact with power lines.

Unfortunately, Roberto’s story is not unique. As executive director of GFAS, I have become aware of thousands of animals worldwide find themselves in need of short-term or permanent sanctuary. Nearly every form of abuse and exploitation imaginable results in animals that need sanctuary.

Increasing the horror, the quality of care for these animals is not consistent across those facilities that identify themselves as a “sanctuary.” Scratch under the surface or peek behind closed doors and you are likely to find conditions strikingly different than what is presented to the public.

Anyone can call itself an ‘animal sanctuary,’ whether it’s a roadside zoo or a backyard breeder. It’s a huge problem for the public, regulators, and media to distinguish real sanctuaries from phony ones. We were founded to solve this problem. But more work remains. Only six-percent of self-identified sanctuaries in the United States currently are GFAS certified.

The need for our accreditation is on the rise as the need for legitimate sanctuaries grows. In Roberto’s homeland, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís recently signed the Wildlife Conservation Law to require GFAS accreditation for all of the country’s wildlife facilities. In the United States, the New York Times recently announced: “Era of Lab Testing on Chimpanzees Officially Over.” The number of countries banning the use of animals in circuses is growing – recently Italy and India.

This month we are celebrating our tenth year as the only international animal sanctuary accreditation body. Over the past decade, GFAS has helped tens of thousands of horses, big cats, primates, and farmed animals by improving quality standards across four continents.

We need legitimate sanctuaries to provide homes for these retired animals to give them a second chance at life. They deserve this home to be one that provides humane and quality care and free of exploitation. And the public expects this.

For our 10th anniversary, GFAS has unveiled an innovative, high-tech new way for the public to support only legitimate sanctuaries. We unveiled the “Donation Jar.” It’s an innovative online giving tool to let donors contribute to one or multiple certified sanctuaries all at once. Savvy donors can make a big impact on the problem by supporting only those sanctuaries that demonstrate excellence.

Click to Find a Sanctuary and fill up your jar today!