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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.