The 5 alternatives to the zoo

Do you like animals? Forget zoos and aquariums, consider these 5 ethical options.

Zoos and aquariums may have shaken your imagination and left fond childhood memories. But now, far from the first innocent moments of life, you understand that these tourist places have nothing ethical and beneficial for animals. Torn from their natural environment (sometimes violently), cut off from their natural instincts, alienated from their peers: the lives of animals in captivity are far from satisfying.

However, there is no need to give up your love for animals and your desire to approach them. Fortunately, there are several responsible alternatives to zoos and aquariums. We list some of them in this article. For adults and children, these organizations allow them to observe and engage with wildlife while respecting the living.

However, it is important to clarify that no solution is perfect. Each of the selected organizations, in France or abroad, must be the subject of a scrupulous research on its part to verify its good faith.

Why boycott zoos and aquariums?

Land and marine animals introduced to zoos, circuses and aquariums are often brutally uprooted from their natural environment. This traumatic and dangerous extraction takes different forms. For example, certain rare fish exposed to humans are captured thanks to a toxic product that puts them to sleep and leaves scars.

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Andywak

In addition to being diverted from their natural habitat, certain species (cats, dolphins, elephants, etc.) are sometimes trained with violent methods to perform fun tricks for visitors. When it comes to space, captive animals find themselves with much less room to move around. They can no longer indulge in the most basic and instinctive activities.

Furthermore, it is clearly the puppies or the cutest species that attract the public. Thus, the structures that house the animals do not hesitate to exchange, sell or even kill the elderly residents. Finally, do you know about zoochosis? A mental illness developed by some animals in captivity. It causes a feeling of frustration and boredom and the onset of depressive symptoms.

Animal victims can then adopt aggressive, regressive, or even self-destructive behaviors. These are all the reasons that drive us today to present you the refuges, sanctuaries or even nature reserves that combine your pleasure with that of ecosystems.

However, even when choosing local sanctuaries or animal shelters that are more or less geographically close, do some research. Make sure the facility is legitimately rescuing animal species, not breeding them or offering for-profit activities. Check:

  • Accreditations
  • Opening hours (a reduced capacity is a good sign)
  • The organization’s social networks
  • The condition of spaces and facilities
  • The activities offered (petting a feline or climbing on an elephant’s back is unnatural)
  • The degree of stimulation offered to residents
  • The skills and experience of recruited volunteers
  • The animal acquisition system

Nature reserves and national/regional parks

A pair of binoculars in hand, accompanied by a local guide, enters a nature reserve in search of rare and endemic animals. A national or regional nature reserve has the mission of protecting all living beings and exceptional or threatened ecosystems.

Fauna and flora, soil, water, minerals and fossils, on land, in the sea or even buried under our feet: the balance of all is important. Caring for fragile and precious universes requires solid knowledge and strong commitments. The nature reserves thus offer permanent restoration and maintenance work, environmental awareness programs and monitoring of natural areas by a dedicated police force.

natural reserve

Photo credit: Photograph of Jesus Noguera

Many of the best national and regional parks in the world are found in Africa, including the must-see serengeti national parks in Tanzania and Kruger in South Africa. At the top are also the parks in Wyoming in the USA (such as Grand Teton and Yellowstone), the chitwan national park in Nepal or that of Jim Corbett in India.

Rest assured, France is not to be outdone with its dozens of nature reserves, including those of Vanoise, Pyrenees, Ecrins, Calanques and Overseas. The Mercantour National Parkcentered on the protection of the wolf, and the Cevennes National ParkBiosphere Reserve by UNESCO, are among the best students in the world.

animal sanctuaries

Animal sanctuaries are probably the biggest zoo counter. These ardent supporters of the animal cause and deep connection to nature invite visitors to interact and understand the species in a peaceful, natural environment.

In France, we recommend the Aiseirigh sanctuary, the Arche refuge, the AVA association or the Co&xister sanctuary, which are particularly renowned. To quench your thirst for distant travel, why not head to Africa or the United States?


Photo credit: Shutterstock – Sourabh Bharti

For example, the SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife rehabilitation center and nature reserve spread across 6,000 hectares in South Africa. While the reserve is home to and protects local wildlife, today it is home to many wild animals rescued from poachers: giraffes, elephants, impalas, zebras, blue wildebeest, rhinos, hippos and more. The sanctuary is entirely designed to accommodate vegans.

There is also the Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, USA. This huge sanctuary opens its doors to animals that have been rescued and reintroduced to huge natural areas to heal. Visitors admire lions, tigers, bears, wolves, hair, lynx, etc. from an elevated walkway that crosses the property. Many of the animals come from zoos, circuses and amusement parks that mistreat species in captivity.

the farms


Photo credit: Shutterstock – Alliance Images

Farms are an integral part of the collective imagination. How many country stables are at the center of childhood stories or movies that are good to watch under the duvet… But instead of reading them or seeing them on a screen, why not come and live on the real farm?

Today, many farms are opening their doors and creating a great alternative to circuses and zoos. Most of them offer fun and memorable activities: bottle feeding small sheep, milking cows, making goat cheese, etc. In France, there are many platforms specializing in farm holidays, in houses or camps, in the heart of the farm.

  • oh damn
  • welcome to the farm
  • Gîtes de France
  • domestic farmer

In addition to getting your hands dirty and putting yourself in the shoes of a farmer, this bucolic stay allows you to offer a small additional income to committed producers and breeders.

And if you want to test the farm across borders, why not in the US? Head to upstate New York where the mythical Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is located. Take in animals that have survived abuse on farms, slaughterhouses or animal markets.

Cows, pigs, goats and even chickens are cared for in a specially designed hospital. This sanctuary offers educational visits to school children and shows us that the farm animals are as affectionate and cute as the dogs and cats that invade our social networks.

Health centers and shelters

Reception centers and shelters are alternative and ethical places where the visitor is really useful. The sheltered animals are usually weak and in need of love. To get involved in everyday life, just find a shelter near you and, why not, take charge of a few hours of walking or playing with countless cats, dogs and other surprising species. During the trip, you will also have the opportunity to find amazing service structures along the way. Here are some.

In France :

  • Maison des Loups, in Orlu, which works for the conservation of wolves and offers visitors the possibility to approach them through observation towers perfectly inserted in their natural habitat.
  • The Monkey Forest of Rocamadour that allows the conservation and freedom of the bearded monkeys.
  • Ours de Borce Park welcomes mountain animals such as bears, injured, mistreated or threatened by environmental problems.

Asia is well known for its elephants. However, few encounters with pachyderms are ethical. These animals are among the most exploited and abused in the world. Fortunately, some centers allow visitors to meet these majestic animals with full respect for their well-being.

monkey forest

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Emre Ucarer

Among these places is the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. This is a rescue center located in Chiang Mai province. Its founder, “the man who whispers in the ear of elephants” has been fighting since 1996 against the abuse and exploitation of animals. On site, you will be able to approach the animals completely free in their natural environment. You can also feed them and participate in the daily mud bath.

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Australia is the oldest and largest koala care center in the world. The refuge also collects kangaroos, reptiles and injured birds. At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, visitors can get up close and personal with snakes, feed kangaroos and hug koalas. They can also improvise as a “day caretaker” and take on the role of a koala caretaker.

Aldabra giant tortoises are reptiles endemic to the Seychelles. They are protected, in particular, by the L’Union estate in La Digue, which is home to at least twenty adult giant tortoises. The place also has a small nursery where baby turtles grow and evolve in complete safety. Visitors can live with the turtles or feed them large green leaves.

natural environments

forest animal

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Milan Zygmunt

The most authentic and respectful way to observe animals remains in their natural environment, with full respect for their environment and lifestyle. It doesn’t take much: a walk in the forest or in the open sea aboard a softboat or during a snorkeling session. Add to that a little calm and patience and the magic will work.

Few sensations are as wonderful as those experienced when, around a bend, you find wild reindeer or, behind a coral reef, the silhouette of a sea turtle. Around the world you will find hundreds of responsible tours and visits alongside experts and committed naturalists.

Depending on where you want to be, you can spot rare birds in Costa Rica, look for the Big Five in Africa, meet llamas in the Andean countries, admire whales, sperm whales and seals in St. Lawrence in Canada, swim with the Menta Rays in Fiji or watch the great apes in Bora Bora. All this, as lucky, humble and invisible spectators.

In general, these observation tours (both at sea and on land) should ensure that tourists do not get too close and do not touch the animals. In addition, the latter must not provide any food.
Finally, prefer organizations with a limit on the number of matches.

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