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What is a Wildlife Sanctuary?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A wildlife sanctuary is a space that is set aside exclusively for the use of wild animals, which are protected when they roam or live in that area. They are also referred to as wildlife refuges in some areas. Typically, a sanctuary is created through a government mandate that sets the space aside for the use of animal protection, and rangers or other government employees may patrol the area to ensure that no one hunts or otherwise harasses the animals.

There are a number of reasons to establish a wildlife sanctuary. In many cases, a government creates one for the purpose of protecting endangered species with a limited territorial range. Since it is not always possible to relocate animals or breed them in captivity, protecting their natural habitat can be very important. Endangered species are typically closely monitored, and if their populations grow while under protection, some specimens may be captured for breeding in conservation parks to ensure that the species survives.

A sanctuary may also be established for the purpose of maintaining biodiversity, or preserving a nation's unique natural environment. For example, several rainforest countries have wildlife sanctuaries that are intended to preserve the rainforest as well as the creatures in it; since these conditions could never be replicated somewhere else, it is necessary to preserve them where they are. Many nations also recognize the value of their natural environment and the local wildlife, and as a result they have made the establishment of sanctuaries a priority.

Typically, human access to a wildlife sanctuary is restricted. If people are allowed on the site, they must be escorted to ensure that they do not disturb the animals or damage the environment. Biologists and other researchers may work at the refuge to learn more about the animals that live there, but they also tend to adopt a minimal interference approach, to keep the animals as wild as possible.

Some sanctuaries also offer wildlife rehabilitation. In these instances, the refuge agrees to take in injured and abandoned wildlife and nurse it back to health before releasing it into the sanctuary or sending it to another location. Since the goal is often to keep the animals as wild as possible, a number of techniques are used to prevent the animals from becoming too familiar with humans, such as using puppets for feeding so that the young animals do not learn to associate humans with food.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon266726 — On May 07, 2012

Are there any differences (other than the name) between marine sanctuaries and marine reserves?

By Georgesplane — On Jul 12, 2010

I used to live in California, and as a kid, I would visit the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is in the bay between Eureka and Arcata, and protects the natural habitat of the areas bird species.

The area is a beautiful mix of salt marshes, beaches, sand dunes, and stream deltas. You can walk many areas of the refuge and see all kinds of birds, and wildlife. The reserve also offers protection to many species of fish that support North Pacific salmon fisheries through their reproductive phase.

By Amphibious54 — On Jul 12, 2010

The tiny island nation of Kribati created the world's third largest marine reserve a few years ago. The reserve is the size of Portugal, and includes the world's only deep ocean reserve. This huge reserve in the South Pacific Ocean encompasses deep ocean habitats, coral reef habitats, atolls, and small islands. The Reserve protects everything from marine mammals and other marine creatures to colonies of migratory seabirds.

The effort is an international effort since it required the closing of a large commercial fishery. This fishery was a major economic contributor for the nation of Kribati, but the international community has come together to establish a fund to spur economic growth that will replace the fishery. Residents of the island nation are allowed to fish the waters of the reserve for subsistence fishing.

By Babalaas — On Jul 12, 2010

The aquatic counterpart to a wildlife sanctuary is a marine reserve. Marine reserves offer maximum protection to marine wildlife, marine habitats, and cultural marine areas. These areas may allow some removal of wildlife, but removal is only allowed to maintain cultural traditions or for subsistence fishing.

The marine reserves of the Northwestern Hawaiian Archipelago and the Great Barrier Reef are the world’s largest ocean marine reserves, designed to protect some of the world's most beautiful and diverse aquatic habitats.

These reserves will help to ensure the survival of ocean plant and animal species for generations. The only threats to these reserves are the indirect threats posed by things like global warming, pollution, and climate change.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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