FOUR PAWS, as a non-profit animal welfare organisation, operates on different levels to help animals under human influence and changing human behaviour through education. With our sanctuaries we offer a clear solution for rescued animals and for our donors, supporters and followers to see the impact of our work in animal welfare.
At present, FOUR PAWS runs eleven sanctuaries and partner projects for rescued bears, big cats and other wild animal species in Europe, Jordan, Vietnam and South Africa. Here we provide wild animals, that have been mistreated, neglected or discarded in the past and forced to live in poor conditions in private captivity, circuses and zoos, with a species-appropriate and animal-friendly home. BEAR SANCTUARY Arbesbach in Austria was the first sanctuary to be founded by FOUR PAWS in 1998. Since then, FOUR PAWS expanded its sanctuaries for bears and big cats worldwide and now keeps more than 270 wild animals in permanent care.
The FOUR PAWS wild animal sanctuaries are designed and managed on the basis of strict animal welfare and husbandry standards, the so-called FOUR PAWS Quality Standards. These guidelines were developed taking into account latest scientific knowledge, the experience that has been gathered in the sanctuaries and partner projects, and the help of a range of international wildlife experts. The Quality Standards represent FOUR PAWS’ vision to achieve and advance the highest possible and sustainable standards in wild animal husbandry.
FOUR PAWS strives to offer the most innovative and best possible quality of life and care for all animals living in the FOUR PAWS sanctuaries and partner projects. This includes but is not limited to the following criteria:
Our animals are not put on display
The focus of our work in the sanctuaries is on creating a liveable environment for the animals. Following a basic principle of all FOUR PAWS' sanctuaries and partner projects, the animals are not put on display. Visitors are given the possibility to get an impression of the everyday life of our animals, but it is up to the animals to decide, whether they want to be seen or prefer to withdraw. The structure of the sanctuary enclosures is designed according to this principle and includes rich vegetation, artificial shelter and hiding places, and access to the indoor enclosures at all times.
Our animals can move around in large natural outdoor enclosures
The size and structure of the sanctuaries provide the animals with a close-to-nature environment suitable for their species-specific needs. In order for them to have a species-appropriate environment, and depending on specific needs, we make sure that in their surroundings they have most or all of the following at their disposal: a terrain rich in variety and structures, natural vegetation (trees, bushes, open grasslands), water resources (possibility to take a bath, swim), hiding areas, resting places in the outside enclosure as well as cozy indoor enclosures that can be accessed any time, elevated observation platforms and, for brown bears, the possibility to build dens for hibernation. As much of the total enclosure area as possible must be natural soil, but never less than 80%.
Our animals can choose and create their own daily routine
The focus of FOUR PAWS lies on providing suitable conditions that allow the animals to make their own choices, exhibit a wide array of natural behaviours and express their species-specific needs in interaction with their environment. Thus, we also encourage our animals to establish their own daily routine, according to their own rhythm and in harmony with the seasons displaying seasonal behaviours plays a major role, especially for brown bears. For example, our brown bears are fed a seasonal diet so they can build up fat reserves in preparation for hibernation. Moreover, the natural terrain profile in the enclosures allows the bears to dig their own dens.
Each animal gets individual care
Experienced animal caretakers look after our animals every day, tailoring their care to the individual animals’ needs. The caretakers are supported by veterinarians specialised in wildlife medicine, who check the animals regularly. That intensive care allows to manage even chronic health problems and behavioural stereotypies related to their problematic or even traumatic former keeping conditions. The health status, dietary intake and behaviour of all our animals is observed daily and documented in the animals’ records.
We strive for natural feeding of our animals
In the wild a bear spends most of its time foraging, while lions or tigers hunt for the prey. FOUR PAWS strives to encourage this natural activity in the sanctuaries as much as possible through implementing species-specific feeding strategies. For example, bear caretakers distribute and hide large parts of the daily diet inside the enclosures to keep the animals occupied. The intelligence and skills of our animals are stimulated and challenged by applying various feeding enrichment methods, such as puzzle feeders that require patience and problem-solving skills to get access to the food. New tools and techniques are constantly being developed. All our animals in the FOUR PAWS sanctuaries receive a balanced diet that is as close as possible to their natural diet. According to the age and state of health status, the season as well as individual preferences, we create feeding plans for each of our animals.
No hands-on contact, animal feeding or training for show
The interaction (relation) between humans and animals is strictly limited to care and trust-building activities by the caretakers and always practiced without direct hands-on contact. FOUR PAWS does not use animals to provide entertainment for the public, which includes feeding demonstrations, feeding of animals by visitors or any hands-on contact between animals and humans. Thus, we also aim to prevent any unnatural animal behaviour, such as begging for food.
We encourage our animals to express a wide range of species-specific behaviours
The caretakers provide the animals with a wide range of environmental enrichment to encourage the display of natural behaviours, keep them occupied, and stimulate their natural playfulness and curiosity. Environmental Enrichment is a crucial element in professional animal husbandry seeking to improve the animal’s quality of life by providing various stimuli to enhance physiological and psychological well-being. It involves providing various tools and objects to engage with that may or may not contain food; structural elements inside the enclosure that encourage natural behaviour, such as water pools or platforms to climb on; the use of spices and other scents to stimulate the animals’ senses, and many more measures. These are tailored to the animal’s individual needs and preferences, and offered by the caretakers, with regular exchange to prevent boredom. Enrichment methods stimulate the expression of species-specific behaviour and help animals to gain self-confidence in their skills and trust in the environment they are living in.
No cubs are born in the sanctuaries
All FOUR PAWS sanctuaries are subject to a strict policy prohibiting breeding. The use of contraceptive methods in animals that are not rehabilitated for release to the wild ensures maximum intake capacity for the rescue of other animals in need and prevents more animals from being born and having to spend their lives in captivity instead of in the wild.
Visitors are informed about animal welfare and the importance of sanctuaries
All our sanctuaries are open for visitors* as they provide great opportunities for education about the work of FOUR PAWS and the species-specific needs of wild animals and their welfare. Our sanctuaries aim to provide accurate and up-to-date information about the animals and their sad past. Thus, we aim to create public awareness and empathy and prevent more animals from ending up in poor captivity in future.
*In some sanctuaries, visits are only possible by appointment and as part of a guided tour.
All FOUR PAWS Sanctuaries follow overarching standards for emergency management to create a positive and safe environment that benefits both animals and people. Every sanctuary has the necessary equipment for emergencies and an emergency plan that defines the specific tasks and responsibilities in the event of an emergency. All employees receive regular training to refresh their knowledge of safety regulations.
We are committed to lifelong care of our animals
We provide all rescued animals in the FOUR PAWS sanctuaries with a safe species-appropriate home and professional care throughout their entire lifespan.