Humane Wildlife and Nature Alternatives to Zoos

By: Kathryn Sussman For anyone wanting to observe wild animals or experience nature, but who is uncomfortable seeing animals held captive in zoos, aquariums and similar kind of establishments, a number of alternatives exist.

As citizens, parents, educators and animal lovers, it is our job to teach children and young people to think about protection over personal pleasure, to have empathy for animals, and to try and imagine life from the animal’s perspective. It is our responsibility to weigh the benefits of seeing or possibly even touching these animals up close, and the pleasure that is derived from these acts, with the multitudinous levels of harm inflicted on the animals for such pleasures. Ultimately, it is crucial to think first about the animals and their well-being rather than our own gratification from seeing them. The next time you are tempted to visit a zoo or aquarium, why not instead choose from this list of humane alternatives for interacting with and learning about wildlife.


Things you can do at home or at school:

  1. Make Your Home Wildlife Friendly. There are various ways you can make your own yard or balcony wildlife friendly. You can put up bird feeders, houses, bird baths or bat boxes. You can plant small gardens of native wild flowers for butterflies, bees and others insects. If you have a backyard, think about planting fruit trees as food for birds and small mammals, and bushes and other vegetation to create shelter areas for them. Cap your chimney to prevent animals from entering and getting trapped. There are loads of other ideas as well, and all they require is some imagination and a little bit of hard work.   
  2. Make Your School Wildlife Friendly. Many of the same ideas that you can use to make your home or balcony wildlife friendly can also be done at your school. You can also start a wildlife club to explore other ideas about how to learn about and help wild animals and the environment.
  3. Watch Movies/Explore Online/Read About Animals. Films can be a great way to learn about animals. Alternatively, watch an animal documentary or educational cartoon that focuses on animals. Another excellent choice is to read about animals. There are a multitude of great books available today. For children, have them read to you. You can also show them drawings and pictures, give them animal toys, or download animal apps.
  4. Sign up for or recommend one of Zoocheck’s Humane Education Workshops. Keep It Wild, is a series of in-class animal-themed workshops for elementary school students. Each workshop offers a unique learning experience by combining science, compassion and advocacy towards animals and the environment. For information on the individual workshops see our Brochure.


Things you can do in your community:

  1. Explore Your Local Natural Areas. Go for a nature walk in your own neighbourhood with a pair of magnifying glasses, pencil crayons, papers and nature books and see what species you can identify. Alternatively pick a quiet spot and take a picnic to observe local wildlife. Try to draw what you see as a record of these experiences. Go to a local park and look for animal tracks. In the summer, soft forest floors and beaches are often filled with them. Try to figure out who they belong to and you might learn about new animals and discover some natural habitats that you would normally pass by without noticing: an excellent exercise for teaching children about animal behaviour and environments.
  2. Join a Local Naturalists Club or Bird Watching Group. They often have outdoor walks, talks, other activities and/or separate kid’s groups. Alternatively, attend a badger or bird watching hut and see the animals from inside the hut. These events often include a guide who can teach you about the animals. You can also just get some binoculars and start bird watching no matter where you are. There are all kinds of birds out there, even in the middle of the city.
  3. Clean Up a Shoreline, Ravine, Park or other Natural Area. Removing garbage can be done by a school class, individuals or clubs. It requires work – some of it labour intensive – and time commitment, as you help restore, maintain, and clean. You’ll probably encounter all kinds of creatures while you’re doing your cleanup.
  4. Visit Museums, Science Centres and Art Galleries. Remember to check in regularly with your local museums, science centres and art galleries for on-going and specialty exhibits about animals. These can be excellent educational tools from which to increase your knowledge of specific species and ecology.


Things you can do elsewhere: 

  1. Visit a sanctuary. There are many sanctuaries that provide lifetime care for rescued, abused, unwanted or discarded animals. There are numerous farmed animal, equine and wildlife sanctuaries throughout North America and many of them have visitor days. Be careful however, because there are substandard zoos and wildlife exhibits that call themselves sanctuaries, but are not.
  2. Visit or Volunteer at a Wildlife Rescue or Rehabilitation Centre. A wildlife rescue or rehabilitation centre is a temporary home for sick, injured or orphaned animals, either domestic or wild. Make sure to investigate the legitimacy of the facility before you visit. Breeding animals, hoarding them, or profiting from them are signs that the centre is not legitimate.
  3. Offer your Land as a Wildlife Release Site. If you or your family have a large, natural property in the country, consider partnering with a wildlife rehabilitation centre and becoming a release site for animals. You can be the starting point for any number of wild animals, including squirrels, songbirds, owls, foxes and turtles, going back into the wild.
  4. Check out Volunteer Tourism. The next time you take a vacation, consider combining your trip with a bit of volunteer work. It will allow you to see wild animals up close while helping local wildlife. Keep in mind that there is some debate as to whether volunteerism benefits the communities served.
  5. Travel to Observe Animals in their Natural Habitats. Take a trip within your own province, or explore another, to observe wildlife in their natural habitats. Every province and territory within Canada offers its own unique brand of ecotourism. If you are considering ecotourism, be sure to find a reputable, sustainable-minded operator that puts the needs of animals and communities before profit. Ecotourism benefits wildlife by helping fund local conservation projects, but drawbacks exist, including increased incidents of human-wildlife interactions. Keep in mind to be respectful of the animals, the ecology, and the people of the communities you visit.


 Suggested Websites for Activity Ideas in Ontario:


Online Resources for Kids:


Suggested Websites for Further Information on Humane Interactions with Wildlife:


 Trip ideas and information: