Rescue centres and sanctuaries play key roles in animal welfare, supporting law enforcement, raising awareness, and nature conservation and biodiversity:

Animal welfare
Animals are brought to rescue centres and sanctuaries for a variety of reasons. Exotic (non-native and normally non-domesticated) animals may have been kept as pets, used by entertainment industries (e.g., circus, audio-visual companies, bars and night clubs, and street entertainer props) or kept in dilapidated zoos. There is substantive evidence of poor conditions and welfare of animals kept in sub-standard zoos [1] and used in circus [2]. Research demonstrates that exotic pet trading and keeping represents a threat to biodiversity and ecology, buyer health and safety, and animal health and welfare [3]. The diversity of exotic animals kept as pets conservatively involves over 1,000 species, including invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals (including non-human primates). Native wildlife face displacement and injury due to human disturbance and activities including traffic pollution, habitat destruction and local climatic change.

Many of the animals that arrive to rescue centres and sanctuaries exhibit serious physical and psychological problems. Professionally managed rescue centres and sanctuaries play an obvious role in animal welfare providing facilities and management regimes with the aim of restoring species-specific behaviour, and good physical and psychological health.

  • A rescue centre provides short-term shelter, care and rehabilitation with the goal of finding a more suitable placement for longer-term stay elsewhere.
  • Rehabilitation centres provide shelter, care and rehabilitation with the goal of releasing native wildlife back into their natural environment.
  • Sanctuaries provide lifetime or long-term shelter, care and rehabilitation. Many facilities combine the different approaches.
Law enforcement
In addition to advancing individual animal welfare, rescue centres and sanctuaries play other important roles. While sanctuaries and rescue centres by their very existence represent a visible gap in law enforcement, facilities receiving confiscated animals support national and regional law enforcement efforts. Where there are no rescue centres and sanctuaries there is little incentive for wildlife officials to seize illegally held and traded animals. Confiscated animals are used as evidence in smuggling cases and cases of animal abuse and cruelty. Rescue centre and sanctuary personnel provide expert testimony, helping the police, customs, and wildlife authorities pursue the prosecution of traffickers and animal abusers.

For law enforcement policy to have a deterrent effect, the individual or organisation must believe that there is a high probability of being caught, that response to violations will be swift and certain, and that the punishment will be severe enough to outweigh the benefits of non-compliance. Arrest, prosecution and prison sentence, and publicity of the enforcement action, may deter potential violators, facilitate reporting of criminal activity, and ultimately build public perception that trade, ownership, and animal cruelty is a criminal activity with consequences. Rescue centres and sanctuaries in providing a place for confiscated wildlife, and support for enforcement action, play an important role in the law enforcement chain.

Raising awareness
On a local level, rescue centres and sanctuaries open to the public provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the animals and why they were brought to the facility. The importance of education to develop empathy, and shape perceptions of nature and biodiversity, is widely accepted. Rescue centres and sanctuaries are ideally placed to play this role provided that animal welfare retains top priority. Not all rescue centres and sanctuaries are open to the public but they can also help to raise awareness through effective communications, outreach, lobbying, and involvement in campaigns and research.

Nature conservation and biodiversity
Rescue centres and sanctuaries support nature conservation and biodiversity, at national, regional and international levels by supporting law enforcement and raising awareness. Rescue and rehabilitation centres working with native wildlife may directly help to restore biodiversity through release back to the natural habitat.

[1] ENDCAP (2011). The EU zoo enquiry 2011. An evaluation of the implementation and enforcement of EC Directive 1999/22 relating to the keeping of animals in zoos. A publication of ENDCAP.
[2] Eurogroup for Animals (2010). Areas of concern. Analysis of animal welfare issues in the European Union. Use of animals is circuses. Report by Eurogroup for Animals.
[3] ENDCAP (2012). Wild pets in the European Union. A publication of ENDCAP.