The Pacific Northwest is home to a wide array of wild animals and there are plenty of organizations dedicated to helping them. Interacting with wildlife can be a tricky endeavor in the wild; selfies with wildlife have caused injuries and even death on a few occasions, an endangered baby dolphin died after tourists kept it out of the water for photos, and rangers in Yellowstone National Park had to sadly put down a baby bison after some folks put it in their car and brought it to the ranger station. Many of these interactions happen because of misinformation/ignorance or a desire for social media clout.
There are significantly better and safer ways to interact with and support wildlife, as there are many different organizations that allow folks to visit and see wildlife in a way that’s safe for all parties involved. You can also symbolically adopt wild animals to help conservation and rescue efforts. Some of the bigger nature organizations that offer this type of animal adoption include:
The Alaska SeaLife Center
Located on the shores of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska, the Alaska SeaLife Center is a public aquarium, marine research and education, and wildlife response. Residents at the ASLC include Northern Sea Lions, Ringed Seals, Spotted Seals, Tufted and Horned Puffins, Long Tailed Ducks, Wolf-eels, Coho Salmon, Great Pacific Octopus, Moon Jellyfish, and so many more species! Other marine animals have been rehabilitated at the center, like Northern Sea Otters, Walruses, and Beluga Whales.
The Center is currently (as of Jan 24, 2021) open to a limited number of guests each day for physical visits and they do have visit requirements, like wearing a face mask, social distancing, and following the one-way path through the center. If you don’t live near Seward, Alaska (and I personally don’t recommend traveling at this time), there are virtual visits that the ASLC puts on every week! These visits happen over Zoom and seem like a great educational resource for kids (or anyone who would like to learn more about wildlife, rehabilitation, and animal husbandry).
Lastly, if you’d like to support the Alaska SeaLife Center, you can symbolically adopt one of the animals! They have adoption kits with a plush animal plus an adoption certificate and fact sheet about the animal. There are kits for the Giant Pacific Octopus, Harbor Seal, and Northern Sea Otter.
Northwest Trek is a 723-acre park in Eatonville, Washington and is home to over 40 species. There are gray wolves, red foxes, river otters, mountain goats, bison, and a whole lot more! In addition to some virtual learning resources, you can also drive through the park and see the wildlife from your own car.
Located in Winston, Oregon, the Wildlife Safari is home to a variety of African animals, like zebras, ostrich, elephants, and giraffes. Like Northwest Trek, you can drive through this park and see all the animals that call this place home. There are enrichment encounters, like feeding lions, red pandas, or elephants, every day that you can participate in too!
If you’re not able to visit, you can adopt an animal or get a creature crate. There are a few adoption levels to chose from but the animals you can adopt include black bears, red pandas, elephants, hippos, lions, and giraffes. Creature Crates, on the other hand, are gift boxes with animal-related STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) projects. You can get just one box for $40 or 6 boxes sent over a year for $210.
If you’re looking for specific places to visit wildlife (like the ones above), I recommend doing your research about the place, including whether or not it’s accredited by the Association of Aquariums and Zoos. The AZA is an independent accrediting organization that makes sure facilities like the ones above meet the highest standards of animal care and welfare. You can find a list of currently accredited facilities here and all three organizations mentioned in this post are AZA-accredited facilities. While the AZA isn’t the end-all, be-all consideration, it’s a good indication that the place you’re about to visit makes their animals’ care and wellbeing a priority.
With Covid-19 numbers still on the rise, it’s also important to consider whether or not you want to travel at all right now. Wearing a face mask and social distancing can really help decrease the transmission of the virus and places like Northwest Trek currently have Covid policies in place to help decrease the interaction you might have. But limiting non-essential travel for a while can help too! At the moment, I definitely recommend adopting an animal from somewhere like the Alaska SeaLife Center or Wildlife Safari but waiting to travel until Covid-19 numbers in the US are on the decline or vaccinations are more widely available.
The organizations mentioned here are just some of the amazing places that work on animal welfare and providing amazing resources for people to learn and interact with animals. There are plenty more around the United States and the world! Have you been to any of these places or somewhere like them? Let me know in the comments!