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An animal sanctuary is a facility where animals are brought to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. Unlike animal shelters, sanctuaries do not seek to place animals with individuals or groups, instead maintaining each animal until his or her natural death. In some cases, an establishment may have characteristics of both a sanctuary and a shelter; for instance, some animals may be in residence temporarily until a good home is found and others may be permanent residents. The mission of sanctuaries is generally to be safe havens, where the animals receive the best care that the sanctuaries can provide. Animals are not bought, sold, or traded, nor are they used for animal testing. The resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as natural as possible in a protective environment.
What distinguishes a sanctuary from other institutions is the philosophy that the residents come first. In a sanctuary, every action is scrutinized for any trace of human benefit at the expense of non-human residents. Sanctuaries act on behalf of the animals, and the caregivers work under the notion that all animals in the sanctuary, human and non-human, are of equal importance.
A sanctuary is not open to the public in the sense of a zoo; that is, the public is not allowed unescorted access to any part of the facility. A sanctuary tries not to allow any activity that would place the animals in an unduly stressful situation.
One of the most important missions of sanctuaries, beyond caring for the animals, is educating the public. The ultimate goal of a sanctuary should be to change the way that humans think of, and treat, non-human animals.
An example of a model sanctuary is the well known Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge located in Tyler Texas. Tiger Creek is a national sanctuary and has been documented in international rescue efforts in Africa, Mexico, and Iraq. The sanctuary is owned and operated by the Tiger Missing Link Foundation, a non-profit 501-C-3 charity. The Foundation was founded on September 3, 1995 by Brian Werner, Stacy Werner (prior spouse and mother of 4 of his 9 children) and a college student Sara Toutman along with 4 of the Werner children. The facility is one of the most documented sanctuary's in existence and continues to be featured by numerous media outlets. One testament that makes this facility stand out is the business model or long range plan and the constant and on-going construction with regards to improvements. The organization is overseen by 5 board members, and the daily management by Brian Werner and Terri Werner (unrelated by blood but were once also married). Terri [Sharp] Werner joined Brian Werner in 1997, it was at that time they both formed Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge as a dba. of the Tiger Link Foundation. Brian Werner is Founder, CEO and President and Terri Werner is Co-Founder, and Director of Operations. Brian Werner often serves as the lead developer or General Contractor of the facility's building projects while at the same time his partner Terri Werner advises him on the precise and detailed individual animal care needs that he then incorporates into those developments. One visit to the facility and you will recognize the attention to details set within and throughout the park. Tiger Creek clearly is a leader by example within the animal rescue industry. Tiger Creek is a permanent home that services big cats that have been abused, neglected, or displaced. The facility has had only one birth in its nearly 20 year history and that birth was unplanned and the tiger cubs remained at the site from cradle to grave. The company does not buy or sell big cats. Another unique detail promoted by Tiger Creek is the on-going advocacy for proper genetic management that the Werner's and other conservationist feel is needed to save the tigers from extinction. This advocacy work is promoted as a genetic managed breeding program even though Tiger Creek itself does not practice any actual breeding of big cats. Brian and Terri both say that this is a testament to the level of their commitments that they each have for true conservation work and thus further shows real responsibility. Worldwide there is no active genetic breeding program including within zoos and the need for it has been demonstrated and should be implemented. The general public is allowed to visit and see the animals but only by escorted tour guides.
There are several national and international organizations that have taken the responsibility of supervising numerous systems of non-profit animal sanctuaries in order to provide a general system for sanctuaries to follow. Among them, The American Sanctuary Association monitors and aids in various facilities to care for exotic wildlife. Their accredited facilities conform to high standards and rigid application processes to ensure that the animals under their care are enthusiastically cared for and maintained.
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