I am sure many of my fellow vegans, especially those with children, have faced this problem, finding vegan alternatives to Zoos… Non-vegan children have a range of places to visit a variety of animals, vegan children don’t, and as parents we don’t want our children to miss out on the fun or to miss out on spending time with animals, because spending time with animals helps to develop compassion, understanding and it helps to foster a love of animals. I am sure as fellow vegans you have also experienced non vegan friends wanting to visit a zoo with you, you may even have some vegan friends who support zoos (zoos are one of the grey areas in veganism), it’s a challenge to navigate this predicament, wanting to spend time with friends, to share an experience, a memory, without compromising your feelings or values, so an alternative is needed. Normally a compromise would be appropriate, but personally, I can't enjoy visiting a zoo, farm or animal park unless I know the animals have adequate space, are not mistreated, are not eaten and are not used for entertainment to make a profit, so it is harder to find a compromise, however, sanctuaries could be the answer. Although, these are far and few between. In Kent there are only five sanctuaries and only three of these have regular opening times for visitors, so there aren’t a variety of places to visit. In some areas there may be none. To add to this predicament, some of us may find it hard to explain to friends why we do not wish to visit zoos because it’s something that not all vegans can agree on. Like the propaganda in the meat and dairy industry, there is propaganda in the zoo industry, which has been around for decades, or longer, so it is hard for others to see past this, because all people know is what the propaganda has taught, that zoos protect animals from extinction, that zoos are good for conservation as they rewild many species, that they are educational places and that they are essential for research into species. Thanks to the power of the media, social media and the internet, it is becoming more apparent that this is not really the case for most zoos, if any. There is plenty of information available on the internet if you wish to research why zoos are not in the best interests of most species. Damien Aspinall, a leading conservationist, who owns Howletts and Port Lympne Zoo in Kent, has spoken a lot about the mistreatment of animals in zoos, zoo propangada and the ineffectiveness of zoos in conservation, education and research. He has also contributed over the years to a lot of insitu conservation that has been somewhat successful, and he is currently planning to send all his elephants back to the wild. Insitu conservation, education and research he believes is more effective. He believes that zoos should be phased out over the next 30 years as there is no justification anymore to keep animals in zoos. Interestingly the government are also looking to ban elephants from zoos due the negative effects on their physical and mental health.
We are regular visitors of The Retreat Animal Sanctuary. We are very lucky to have this nearby, and although we love it there, we wanted somewhere different to go for a change of scene, but it was almost impossible to find somewhere that ticked all our vegan requirements: animals not served or sold, animals not used for profit (therefore it must be a charity) or entertainment, animals well looked after and loved and large enclosures. It also needed to be nearby. So, I posted on a local vegan Facebook group to try and try and find other sanctuaries or animal places that met our requirements.
The response to the post was interesting as it highlighted the differences of vegan opinions about places to visit. For example, whilst one person recommended Wingham Wildlife Park, another opposed it for having small enclosures and for being more concerned with money than the wellbeing of the animals, for me this felt like exploiting animals for profit, therefore, I could not enjoy a day out there, so, Wingham was off the list of places to visit. However, a sanctuary called Buttercups was recommended. I had also seen it recommended elsewhere, so this seemed a good place to visit, some more research confirmed this. The only grey area was whether they had vegan food or drink options, which we wouldn’t know until we got there.
So, today we visited Buttercups Goat Sanctuary, in Kent. Although it isn't a vegan sanctuary, we discovered it had vegan options in its shop. Phew! They have 140 goats in their care currently and 130 are in foster care. They rely solely on donations and do not charge an entry fee which shows how genuine they are, they aren’t about profit, they are about the animals. They are currently trying to raise £80,000 to build new stables for the goats as the current ones are no longer safe to repair. You can also buy food there to feed the goats and the money goes towards the goats’ care. You feed them in an enclosure for safety. The goats get extremely excited, one tried to climb over the top. My daughter attempted to feed them but was a little nervous due to their exuberance, so she ended up giving us the food to feed them. She really enjoyed this and was disappointed when the food ran out, so buy plenty to avoid disappointment, yours and the goats. It was also lovely to see the love for animals my daughter has, she spent a long time patting and stroking many of the goats and several of the goats got hugs and kisses. We had difficulty getting her to leave them to go home.
One amazing thing about Buttercups is, that as soon as I stepped foot in their sanctuary I felt immediate peace, and I felt so relaxed because the goats have lots of land to roam and forage in, they are so friendly and loving with a range of personalities. It is beautiful there. It is so rare to be able to enjoy an animal place where you can feel so tranquil, where you have no knot in your stomach.
I once visited a place that rescued rare species, so I thought they were a sanctuary, I later discovered that they slaughtered these rare animals, ate them and sold them to visitors, which I felt was both cruel and hypocritical. The enclosures there were small, which made me feel extremely uncomfortable, and many of the animals were allowed to be handled by children with no supervision, which made me fear for the animal’s safety. They also had pig racing as entertainment. This was therefore not a place that I would go back to.
The Retreat Animal Sanctuary is our first love. It is the only vegan sanctuary in Kent and it is one of three sanctuaries in Kent with regular visiting times. It is one of the biggest sanctuaries in the UK and Europe. Over the last 30 years the sanctuary has rescued over 20,000 animals and currently has over 1000 residents. The animals have a lot of different needs, but they are happy, loved, cared for and freer. There is no entry fee as they are a not for profit charity, because they are not in it for the money, they are for the animals, so they rely on volunteers, donations, and fundraisers (they recently took part in a Tough Mudder at the sanctuary in the pigs quarters which was live streamed to raise money and they are currently trying to raise money via GoFundMe to purchase the land next to the sanctuary, which means they would double in size and be able to help many more animals as currently they are having to turn some away) to look after the animals. Their vegan café (music to my ears), the feed they sell to visitors so they can feed most of the animals and their thrift shop is also another source of income. They also have a lodge that you can book to stay in which can include volunteering to help at the sanctuary. The sanctuary also tries to rehome as many animals as possible. There are a variety of animals to see such as: horses, goats, donkeys, pigs, cows, sheep, peacocks, chickens, turkeys, cats, dogs, ducks, roosters and chickens.
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but during the last visit, the goats made quite an impression as they were quite interactive, several of them were quite assertive in demanding food, they tried to eat my coat and the bag that the feed came in.
The food at The Be Kind Cafe is out of this world. Many a carnivore has enjoyed the food too! The cakes are made by Whitstable based vegan cake maker Compassion Cakes; they are heavenly. We sometimes make the journey there just for the cake! I have purchased several birthday cakes from Compassion Cakes too and they are always amazing.
We love it for its ethos, for the animals and for the food, it’s such a beautiful and peaceful place, one where you can visit and feel no tight knot in your stomach because you know the animals are genuinely loved, looked after and adored. My daughter loves it there, she especially loves the mud, even though she has fallen in it several times! So, if you have young children and it’s rained recently ensure you take wellies and puddle suits, they are lifesaver. She loves to say, “poo the pigs are smelly,” and loves to feed the animals. Feeding them has stopped her wanting to be carried all the way round, which is a relief. Although, worryingly during our last visit, she was feeding the tyres! She also likes the little play area there, they have a mud kitchen and wooden climb-on-tractor.
Another bonus is that you can take your dog with you, if they are on a lead.
This post has taken a long while to write, it has gone in many directions, none of which I felt worked. I am hoping this one does. I really struggled to write this and was tempted to give up, but it was a topic that was on my mind and I felt passionately about it, so I persevered. I hope that it is of some interest.
Please feel free to share the details of your favourite sanctuaries with us at the end of this post or on the Facebook group, you never know it might inspire someone.