The 5 alternatives to the zoo

Do you love animals? Skip the zoos and aquariums, and consider these 5 ethical options instead.

Zoos and aquariums may have lulled your imagination and left you with fond childhood memories. But now, far from the first innocent moments of life, you understand that these tourist attractions are neither ethical nor beneficial for animals. Torn from their natural environment (sometimes violently), cut off from their natural instincts, distanced from their peers: life for animals in captivity is far from fulfilling.

But there’s no need to give up your love of animals and your desire to get close to them. Fortunately, there are many responsible alternatives to zoos and aquariums. We’ve listed some of them in this article. For young and old alike, these organizations allow you to observe and get involved with wildlife, in a way that respects all living things.

However, it’s important to remember that no solution is perfect. Each of the selected organizations, whether in France or abroad, will need to be scrupulously researched by you to verify their good faith.

Why boycott zoos and aquariums?

Land and sea animals introduced into zoos, circuses and aquariums are often brutally torn from their natural environment. This traumatic and dangerous extraction takes many forms. For example, some rare fish exposed to humans are captured using a toxic product that puts them to sleep and leaves them with after-effects.


Photo credit: Shutterstock / Andywak

In addition to being diverted from their natural habitat, certain species (felines, dolphins, elephants, etc.) are sometimes trained using violent methods to perform tricks that entertain visitors. Question place, captive animals find themselves with much less space to move around. They can no longer indulge in the most basic, instinctive activities.

What’s more, it’s clearly the baby animals or the « cutest » species that attract the public. As a result, the structures that keep the animals don’t hesitate to exchange, sell or even kill aging residents. Finally, have you heard of zoochosis? A mental illness developed by certain animals in captivity. It causes frustration, boredom and depressive symptoms.

Victimized animals can then adopt aggressive, regressive or even self-destructive behaviors. For all these reasons, we’d like to introduce you to the refuges, sanctuaries and nature reserves that combine your pleasure with that of ecosystems.

However, even when choosing local sanctuaries or animal refuges that may or may not be geographically close, do plenty of research. Make sure the structure legitimately rescues animal species, does not breed them or offer activities for profit. Check out :

  • Accreditation
  • Visiting hours (reduced capacity is a good sign)
  • The organization’s social networks
  • Condition of living spaces and facilities
  • The activities on offer (petting a feline or climbing on an elephant’s back isn’t natural)
  • The level 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, enter a nature reserve in search of rare and endemic animals. The mission of a national or regional nature reserve is to protect all living things and exceptional or threatened ecosystems.

Fauna and flora, soil, water, minerals and fossils, on land, in the sea or even buried beneath our feet: everyone’s equilibrium counts. Caring for these fragile and precious universes requires solid knowledge and strong commitments. Nature reserves offer ongoing restoration and maintenance work, environmental awareness programs and surveillance of natural areas by a dedicated police force.

réserve naturelle

Photo credit: Jesus Noguera photography

Many of the world’s finest national and regional parks can be found in Africa, including Tanzania’ s Serengeti and South Africa’s Kruger. Other top performers include Wyoming National Park in the USA (including Grand Teton and Yellowstone), Chitwan National Park in Nepal and Jim Corbett National Park in India.

Rest assured, France is not to be outdone, with its dozen or so nature reserves, including the Vanoise, Pyrenees, Ecrins, Calanques and Overseas. The Mercantour National Park, which focuses on wolf protection, and the Cévennes National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, are among the world’s best.

Animal sanctuaries

Animal sanctuaries are probably the biggest counterpoint to zoos. These fervent defenders of the animal cause and the deep connection with nature invite visitors to interact with and understand species in a peaceful, natural setting.

In France, we recommend the Aiseirigh sanctuary, the refuge de l’Arche, the AVA association and the Co&xister sanctuary, which are particularly well known. To quench your thirst for distant travels, why not head for 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 over 6,000 hectares in South Africa. While the reserve initially shelters and protects local wildlife, it is now home to many wild animals rescued from poachers: giraffes, elephants, impalas, zebras, blue wildebeest, rhinoceroses, hippos and more. The sanctuary is entirely vegan-friendly.

Then there’s the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, USA. This immense sanctuary opens its doors to rescued animals reintroduced into huge natural areas in order to heal. Visitors can admire lions, tigers, bears, wolves, hair, lynx, etc. from an elevated walkway that crosses the estate. Many of the animals come from zoos, circuses and amusement parks that mistreat captive species.

The farms


Photo credit: Shutterstock – Alliance Images

Farms are an integral part of our collective imagination. How many country cowsheds are at the heart of childhood stories or films that we like to watch under the comforter… But instead of reading about them or seeing them on a screen, why not come and live on a farm for real?

Today, many farms open their doors, creating a wonderful alternative to circuses and zoos. Most of them offer fun and memorable activities: bottle-feeding sheep, milking cows, making goat’s cheese, and so on. In France, there are a number of platforms specializing in farm vacations, in gîtes or campsites right on the farm.

  • Oh dear
  • Welcome to the farm
  • Gîtes de France
  • Accueil Paysan

As well as getting your hands dirty and feeling like a farmer, this bucolic holiday allows you to offer a little extra income to the producers and breeders involved.

And if you’d like to take your farm experience across the border, why not to the USA? Head north of New York to the legendary Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. It takes in animals rescued from mistreatment in farms, slaughterhouses or pet markets.

Cows, pigs, goats and chickens are cared for in a specially designed hospital. The sanctuary offers educational tours for schoolchildren, and shows us that farm animals are just as affectionate and cute as the cats and dogs that invade our social networks.

Care centers and shelters

Care centers and shelters are alternative, ethical places where visitors can make a real difference. The animals we take in are generally sickly and in great need of love. To get involved on a daily basis, simply find a shelter near you and, why not, take on a few hours of walking or playing with countless cats, dogs and other surprising species. When traveling, you’ll also have the opportunity to find some incredible care facilities along the way. Here are just a few of them.

In France :

  • La Maison des Loups, in Orlu, is dedicated to the conservation of wolves, and offers visitors the chance to get up close to them via observation towers perfectly integrated into their natural habitat.
  • The Rocamadour Monkey Forest, where Barbary macaques are kept free.
  • The ParcOurs de Borce, which takes in mountain animals such as bears that have been injured, mistreated or threatened by environmental problems.

Asia is famous for its elephants. Yet few encounters with pachyderms are ethical. These animals are among the most exploited and mistreated in the world. Fortunately, a number of centers offer visitors the chance to meet these majestic animals in a way that fully respects their well-being.

foret des singes

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Emre Ucarer

One of these places is the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. This rescue center is located in Chiang Mai province. Its founder, the « Elephant Whisperer », has been fighting against the mistreatment and exploitation of elephants since 1996. On site, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the animals, free to roam in their natural environment. You can also feed them and take part in their daily mud bath.

Australia‘s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the world’s largest and oldest koala care center. The sanctuary also takes in injured kangaroos, reptiles and birds. At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, visitors can get up close to snakes, feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas. They can also improvise themselves as « guardians for a day » and step into the shoes of koala caretakers.

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

Natural environments

animal foret

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Milan Zygmunt

The most authentic and respectful way to observe animals is in their natural habitat, with total respect for their environment and way of life. It doesn’t take much: a stroll through the forest or out to sea in a gentle boat or during a snorkeling session. Add to this a little calm and patience, and the magic will happen.

Few feelings are as wonderful as those experienced when, around a bend in the road, you stumble across wild reindeer or, behind a coral reef, the silhouette of a sea turtle. All over the world, you’ll find hundreds of responsible excursions and tours with expert, committed naturalists.

Depending on the location and your desires, you can observe rare birds in Costa Rica, search for the Big Five in Africa, meet llamas in the Andes, admire whales, sperm whales and seals in Canada’s St. Lawrence, swim with Menta rays in Fiji or contemplate great apes in Bora Bora. All this, as fortunate, humble and invisible spectators.

Generally speaking, these observation tours (whether at sea or on land) must ensure that tourists do not get too close to or touch the animals. They must not provide any food.

Last but not least, you should opt for organizations with a limit on the number of departures.