When travelling, it can be easy to get caught up in those ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’. In particular, the chance to get up close and personal to animals is tempting, but we don’t always stop to ask if we should be having that experience.
Spending time with animals and learning more about them is a privilege we enjoy as often as possible. We try to select our opportunities carefully. We question the treatment of animals put into service simply for our entertainment. How are animals in captivity treated? Will our interactions harm them? The good news is, there are usually positive options; we just have to consciously look for them.
Homosassa Springs State Park is a sanctuary in Florida for animals that have been injured, orphaned, or imprinted (recognizing humans as their ‘parents’).
Park staff and volunteers tell how animals native to Florida including panthers, turtles, & alligators end up in the park. It’s sad to hear how often humans were involved originally.
(click on any thumbnail for a slide show of full-sized pictures)
Pink flamingoes, roseate spoonbills, herons, eagles, vultures, were some of the birds in residence. The hope is always to return the animals to the wild.
A fantastic underwater observation bubble surrounded by thick walls of glass had us surrounded by schools of fish from the Gulf of Mexico, warming themselves in the water of Crystal Springs. This way of watching animals, with the humans in the enclosed space, makes so much sense to me.
I imagine this is what scuba diving would be like (without putting on a wet suit or swimming, so lazy scuba diving?).
Watching wild manatees basking in the warm spring waters was an absolute thrill! These gentle giant sea mammals are the stuff of legend. Amazingly, they are said to have inspired the myth of mermaids (how lonely could those sailors have been??).
The springs running through the park are part of their natural habitat, and human activity is carefully restricted, as it should be. They are an endangered species and do not benefit from interaction with humans. The manatees easily can be scared away from their feeding or breeding grounds, separated from babies, even injured or killed by boat motors.
The park’s observation decks ensured that we were watching from a safe distance. Even so, it was very exciting to see so many manatees! Visiting Homosassa Springs was absolutely one of the highlights of our months in Florida, and we did no harm.
While in Spain this spring, we visited the Andalucian Rescue Centre for Horses. A.R.C.H. is an equine sanctuary just outside Alhaurin el Grande, providing shelter, food, veterinary care, and love to horses, donkeys, and mules.
Our friend, Jill Newman-Rogers, introduced us to the animals, telling us how each came to the rescue. She, and a small army of volunteers, rehabilitate these abused and neglected animals, caring for their physical and psychological scars.
Here, Karen gets in on the action, holding “Little Man”, a sweet pony, while Jill applies a salve to his wound from a dog attack. We wished we had visited sooner; we would have become regulars.
The ultimate goal is to find ‘forever’ homes for every animal. Jill’s phone rings constantly with people enquiring about the animals, and she fills them in on the logistical requirements and practical considerations.
The website highlights each one available for adoption. The stories are beyond sad, but it’s heart warming to know the animals are getting the care and respect they deserve.
Not far along the Spanish coast, in Conil de la Frontera, we were walking near the beach and look who found us! 16 beautiful cats came out of the bamboo thicket near the beach. These were not feral cats; most were friendly and quite happy visit with us. They certainly came running each time we returned with food.
Behind that screen of bamboo is a sanctuary for the cats routinely being dropped off by people not able to care for them (many Spaniards are struggling to feed their children during the continuing hard economic times, let alone pets).
The amazing people at Beach Cats spay and neuter, feed, and care for these cats, post updates on the Beach Cats de la Frontera facebook page, and find homes for them. As with the equine sanctuary, the volunteers caring for the cats rely on donations for everything.
Sure, cat’s aren’t exactly exotic, but every day during our time in Conil, we visited, handing out treats, and receiving some animal love in return. It felt good to know that these beautiful animals aren’t being forgotten.
While in Mississippi, we camped at A Stroka Gene-Us Alpaca Farm. The animals are treated very well, and their only job is to grow fibres to be spun into yarn.
The alpacas are sweet and gentle and liked to get a little scratch between the ears.
Look at those faces, the big, soft eyes, and crazy long eye lashes. How could I not share this? I’ll leave you with images of a few other residents of the farm.
Visiting state parks, animal sanctuaries, and small farms which treat animals with respect are a few of our favourite things to do while travelling. We learn about these beautiful creatures and, in a very small way, we are able to contribute to their care. These are some of the most memorable experiences we’ve had on the road.
If you enjoyed this post and missed last week’s, you must check it out. You do not want to miss out on our friend, Lesley’s, visit to Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary.