Sanctuary: THREE-YEAR-OLD TAOS STRIVES TO GROW INTO MISSION

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1995:

DALLAS––With a title dimly echo-
ing William Faulkner’s steamiest novel and an
acronym calling to mind the utopian com-
mune D.H. Lawrence began in New Mexico,
the Association of Sanctuaries might inspire
literary minds to imagine dark plots and tan-
gled motives even without dispute over what
“association” and “sanctuary” should mean.
Is TAOS a representative self-regu-
latory body, as billed, formed by sanctuari-
ans to advance the interests of the greater
sanctuary community? Or is it an activist
group disguised, with an agenda set mainly
by non-sanctuarians, at least some of whom
have little background in sanctuary work?

Each view is common among sanc-
tuary directors, some of whom welcome
TAOS in principle, though few have joined.
Others view TAOS with suspicion.
Three years after founding, TAOS
still has just 10 members, only five of them
accredited under the strict association guide-
lines, and is still struggling with definitions
that tend to exclude more recognized sanctu-
aries than are admitted. Because TAOS lacks
a sizeable constituency of well-known and
well-regarded sanctuaries, accreditation as
yet carries little prestige. Likewise, because
TAOS lacks members, it is unclear who it
speaks for in advocacy.
From the first, the dilemma before
TAOShas been whether to set high standards
for membership and accreditation, trusting
that the best sanctuaries will eventually join,
or to set looser standards that will attract
greater numbers, improving credibility as an
association while perhaps compromising
some moral authority on the subject of animal care.
Favoring the highest possible standards, TAOS has
postponed making a potentially self-marginalizing deci-
sion by shelving membership development for several
years while compiling a data base on wildlife in captiv-
ity. USDA and other documentation pertaining to all
holders of federal exotic wildlife permits other than
accredited zoos has been entered into records kept by
Barbara Rossman of Widlife Images, one of the five
accredited member sanctuaries, located in Grant’s
Pass, Oregon.
Still being edited, the data base gives TAOS
the best records ever compiled as to who is keeping
what species, in what numbers, under what conditions.
In theory, it should enable TAOS to pick out and
recruit a target membership. But that brings up the
matter of definitions again, and comparing the number
of self-designated sanctuaries to the number that con-
form to the present TAOS requirements hints at the dif-
ficulty ahead. There is general agreement among self-
described sanctuarians that sanctuaries occupy a niche
distinct from but partially overlapping the niches of
zoos, humane societies, no-kill shelters, wildlife reha-
bilitators, conservation centers, and refuges. After
that, things get murky––and sometimes hostile, as
sanctuarians of differing views accuse one another of
being part of the growing captive wildlife care problem.
Simple and explicit
Founding TAOS president Pat Derby of the
Performing Animal Welfare Society insists definitions
should be simple and explicit. TAOS members, she
argues, must be only those who provide lifetime care
for cast-off or injured exotic and wild animals who
can’t be returned to their native habitat. Of the 100 to
200 self-proclaimed sanctuaries in the U.S., Derby
guesses, “no more than 10″ could presently meet the
TAOS accreditation requirements.
“Eighty percent,” she insists, not only don’t
meet the TAOS requirements, but “are substandard” in
level of care provided, “either because the people run-
ning them lack the knowledge to do it properly, or
because they are actually functioning as roadside zoos,
or because they are breeding.”
Rule One of the TAOS policy statement
adopted under Derby’s leadership states, “No breed-
ing.” Rule Two adds, “No commercial activity.
Commercial shall be defined as: conducting any activi-
ty that is not inherent to the animal’s nature, allowing
free-roaming public access to the resident animals or
the sanctuary, utilizing sanctuary animals for entertain-
ment or exhibition, buying selling, trading, bartering,
auctioning, donating animals or their body parts, and
charging admission for public viewing of the animals,
but not limited to the above.”
The object is to eliminate exotic pet breeders,
game ranchers, canned hunts, and roadside zoos. But
the “no breeding” proviso also excludes anyone who
may participate in a Species Survival Plan administrat-
ed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or a
restoration plan managed by state or federal wildlife
departments. That eliminates facilities as diverse and
renowned as Shirley McGreal’s International Primate
Protection League gibbon sanctuary, and Howard
Gilman’s White Oak Conservation Center, managed by
John Lukas, who heads two AZA Species Survival
Plans, hosts the captive breeding effort on behalf of the
Florida panther, and authored a bill of rights for cap-
tive wildlife (published in the June 1994 edition of
ANIMAL PEOPLE), which emphasized the same
principle embodied in TAOS’ Rule Five:
“All member organizations’ institutional poli-
cies shall provide a responsibility for the life of the ani-
mal. Such responsibility shall include but not be limit-
ed to relocation to native habitat and/or relocation to a
significantly better quality of care.”
The anti-exhibition clause excludes Kent
Weber and Mission Wolf, because in addition to keep-
ing and protecting 38 captive-born timber wolves and
wolf hybrids on 13 acres of natural off-road habitat near
Silver Cliff, Colorado, Weber and family support the
venture by taking two of the more sociable “98%
hybrids” on acclaimed coast-to-coast lecture tours.
“Our focus,” says Weber, “is to dispel the many fears
people associate with the wolf, discourage private own-
ership of wild animals as pets, and support wild habitat
protection.” All are objectives of TAOS, as well, but
no matter; at least according to the rules, he’s out.
Erich Klinghammer and Wolf Park, of Battle
Ground, Indiana, might be barred for promoting paid
admissions. Wolf Hollow, in Ipswich, Massachusetts,
would be barred for both promoting paid admissions
and permitting some breeding, which founders Paul
and Joni Soffron believe is necessary to maintain their
wolves’ wild nature and pack structure. Wolf Hollow is
problematic, too, because the five-acre facility is quite
small for the number of wolves and wolf hybrids in res-
idence. Yet it is clearly a sanctuary by intent, and
could perhaps be brought into line with the TAOS anti-
breeding policy and care standards if the anti-paid
admissions policy could be waived.
With the charity dollar in general stretched
thinner than ever before, and animal protection dona-
tions divided among more groups and projects, paid
admissions and lecture fees are among the few ways
sanctuaries can raise income without having to compete
directly with organizations which claim to be helping
thousands of animals rather than just tens or hundreds.
New focus on accreditation
Incoming TAOS president Lynn Cuny of
Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue (see sidebar)
acknowledges the problem, and promises to encourage
flexibility in reviewing membership and accreditation
applications, taking into account the circumstances of
deviations from policy. She does not, however, envi-
sion introducing major policy amendments.
“The board feels that now that we have com-
piled the data base, we need to focus on accreditation,”
Cuny says. “In 1995 we plan to bring in at least 10 new
accredited sanctuary members,” which “will require
site visits and ongoing communication with organiza-
tions which are actively working to care for wild ani-

mals in captive situations.” Outreach will be mainly to
“a number of rehabilitation organizations,” whose work
has expanded into lifetime care of animals who can’t be
returned to the wild.
Fundraising too will get attention. Early in
1994, TAOS hired noted captive wildlife care consul-
tant Sue Pressman to handle the accreditation program
and other duties. Before the year was out, the arrange-
ment ended; TAOS couldn’t pay her. The only paid
staffer at present is administrator Scott Vorhees.
The TAOS board and advisory board, once
heavy with people better known for animal rights advo-
cacy than sanctuary work, are now diversified. Current
voting board members include Detroit Zoo director Ron
Kagan and SPCA of Texas executive director Warren
Cox, as well as sanctuarians Derby and Cuny and
Houston Animal Rights Team president Sean Hawkins.
The built-in liaison with the zoo and humane communi-
ties should help, and a more apparent focus on hands-
on animal care could increase the interest of eligible
non-members.
“We all realize we are faced with an enormous
task,” says Cuny, who will serve a three-year term.
(Derby served three consecutive one-year terms.) “As
TAOS works to meet and exchange ideas with the grow-
ing number of people in the captive wildlife field, we
feel certain we can be successful in improving the con-
ditions for captive wildlife in this country.”
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