As vegans, we might want to spend time visiting animal sanctuaries but we often feel conflicted about whether they will meet our standards especially as there is usually no legal meaning regarding the word sanctuary.
We do not want to give our money (or our time if we are volunteers) to places that might end up being glorified zoos that do not have the best interests of the animals at heart. Visiting these types of places can also be very upsetting and disappointing and we are supposed to be on our holiday having a break from all that.
What can we do to help avoid this?
Search on google for terms such as ‘sanctuaries COUNTRY’ or ‘Animal Rescue COUNTRY’ and get your list together. There are often helpful bloggers who have created list blog posts for countries around the world.
Check out the web sites
Look on the websites for the sanctuaries. Does it seem that their motivation is to help animals? One way to know this is to see if individual animals’ stories are shared. Do you get a sense that they are trying to educate visitors? Do they share their history?
Amazing Soi Dogs based in Phuket
Look on Instagram. Many organizations will be highlighting any rescues they do. Engage with them. Do you get responses that feel you with confidence?
… and Trip Advisor
Look on trip advisor reviews. Search for animal welfare, vegan, or do searches for behaviors that might red flags for example if you are searching for elephant sanctuaries, you might search ‘riding’ or ‘chains’.
Ask the locals
If you are looking to volunteer at a place, consider reaching out to some vegan groups in the country. The people here usually have their ears to the ground and might have some information that might be helpful in making a decision. Ask if they know anyone who has volunteered there and you can perhaps ask some more questions if you still have doubts.
Happy people after visiting happy elephants at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Go and see
If you’re happy, then go! Chances are the sanctuary will be wonderful and you are going to leave it feeling inspired, grateful, knowing more than when you went in.
Talk to the staff
If it wasn’t all that you expected, talk to the people there. We once heard that some visitors were horrified to find chains being used at a very reputable elephant sanctuary. So, they asked and found out that the owners had not yet been able to fundraise for the very secure and high fencing needed to keep elephants in at night. The use of chains at night made sense! If you’re not so happy with the responses to your concerns, calmly explain how you see the problem and suggest how they could improve things.
Write a review
Whether your experience was positive or negative, take the time to write a review for others. Try to include keywords that will be helpful for potential visitors. Upload any photos you have that illustrate what you are trying to say. Shout your experience from the rooftops, through a blog post, Facebook page, on Instagram, to your friends at home. Try reviewing on lesser-known sites which, paradoxically, may ensure your perspective stands out more! The 10,000th Trip Advisor review stating the sanctuary is amazing and doesn’t use chains, may be less useful than the 20th review on Google Maps.
We here at World Vegan Travel often take our travelers to sanctuaries on our amazing group tours and this is the exact process that we use ourselves when deciding to take our travelers to a sanctuary, although we also visit the site ahead of time and look at it through a very critical lens.
We really hope this long list doesn’t fill you with overwhelm and if you are not successful at having the experience you were expecting, please try not to be hard on yourself, that you have failed in some way. Getting involved and volunteering with organizations that support humans and/or animals is definitely a fun thing to do and is often the most memorable experience of our holiday.