There are many wildlife sanctuaries in Australia. The country is known for being a great destination for animal lovers, thanks to a unique and varied wildlife. I remember that when I was a child, one of my favorite cartoon series was the story of a girl that lived somewhere in the countryside of Australia, and she had a koala as a pet. Cuddling a koala was so much one of my dreams that when I demanded a hug from my parents, I’d say I wanted a koala hug.
However, hugging koalas is not a thing anymore. At least not if you are looking for responsible tourism in Australia. Already in 1995, The New Scientist published a piece where it begged people not to cuddle koalas. Fast forward to 2022 and cuddling koalas is only allowed in Queensland nowadays. And to be honest, now I am an adult and understand much more about ethical animal tourism I am glad cuddling koalas isn’t allowed everywhere.
While some “cuddling supporters” say that koalas are hardly stressed when cuddled, it really must not be pleasant for them. Taking care of the welfare of animals and prioritizing their happiness and their needs rather than what may be mere tourist entertainment is now a real value in tourism.
I even wrote a post about it a while ago, where I condemned activities such as elephant riding, unfortunately still very popular in places like India or Sri Lanka, or the awful Tiger Temple not far from Bangkok, in Thailand, and any other dodgy place where tourists can have a negative impact on wildlife.
The good news is that there are many places that are focused on responsible tourism in Australia, where you can get close to animals in a totally ethical way, and visiting them also means supporting conservation programs. Continue reading for a selection.
6 Best Wildlife Sanctuaries In Australia
The Kangaroo Sanctuary
Kangaroos are probably the first animals that come to mind when thinking about Australia. They can be spotted pretty much anywhere, at least from a distance. At the Kangaroo Sanctuary of Alice Springs, however, they can be seen from up close.
This is one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Australia, open by a local named Brolga, who made it a mission to rescue orphaned baby kangaroos and nurse them back to health before taking them back to their natural habitat. What started as a small project out of one person’s good will became a real animal hospital, that survives thanks to the donations of visitors, who can go on sunset tours with Brolga. All profits go to the conservation efforts.
Kakadu National Park
Not many places on earth are dual-listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Kakadu is one of them: it is included for both its natural value and as a living cultural landscape. This already gives a picture of how incredible Kakadu National Park is.
What makes Kakadu one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Australia is the rock art and the archaeological sites that are testimony of the way of life of the Aboriginal people. In addition to this, Kakadu National Park is also home to various species of animals, endemic to Australia, and carefully protected by the park rangers and authorities.
Among the animals living in Kakadu there are two types of crocodiles; quolls, which unfortunately are at high risk of extinction as they are pray for cats and wild dogs and often eat the poisonous cane toads (the scientific community is working hard to save quolls); and flatback turtles.
You can book your guided tour of Kakadu National Park here, here or here.
Daintree Rainforest National Park
Located in a vast area of rainforest in far North Queensland, Daintree Rainforest National Park has an incredible concentration of endemic plants and animals – that is, species that are not found anywhere else in the world. It is also the oldest rainforest on earth.
The best time to visit Daintree Rainforest National Park is in the winter, as there are less insects around (it is not as humid) and more pleasant weather – though the downside is that there are more people.
The park is home to some incredible and unique animals, such as kangaroos that live in trees, prehistoric birds, mammals, various species of frogs and reptiles. The best way to visit the park is probably on a guided tour, with someone that has a trained eye to spot all the animals. Yet, it is possible to visit it on a smaller budget by car (a 4×4 is recommended) and purchase the audio-guide instead.
You can book a guided tour of Daintree National Park here, here or here.
It wouldn’t be Australia without koalas, right? The Koala Hospital is located in Port Macquarie. It was established in 1973 as a no-profit organization, with the aim of taking care of sick and injured koalas and it quickly became one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Australia.
Koalas come into the hospital for many reasons – typically, a bacterial infection; but also following a traffic accident or an attack by a dog. The Koala Hospital of Port Macquarie has an intensive care unit. There also is an outdoor rehabilitation unit koalas. The aim is indeed that of reintroducing the animals into their environment.
It is not possible to touch koalas at the hospital, but guided tours are available, during which visitors can learn more about these lovely creatures. There is no admission fee – but donations are highly appreciated.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary
This animal sanctuary is located in Tasmania, and it works hard to protect animals that have gone extinct in other parts of Australia, such as the Tasmanian devil, the easter quoll, the Tasmanian pademelon and the Tasmanian bettong. The sanctuary is also home to 12 endemic bird species of Tasmania, which are among the most endangered species on earth.
Bonorong works hard to prevent these beautiful animals from disappearing. Since 2010, it runs a 24-hour wildlife rescue service; in the same year it has started raising funds for the Bonorong Wildlife Hospital, which is just about to open; and since 2013 its started a seabird rehabilitation project.
Tours of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary are permitted, and all profits go to the maintenance of the sanctuary, its projects and its animals. During the tours, the keepers provide plenty of information about the animals living in the sanctuary, and share tips and ideas on how to conserve the unique wildlife of Tasmania.
To book a guided tour that goes to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary click here or here.
Rottnest Island is an easy 90 minutes ferry ride from Perth. The island is typically associated with quokkas, lovely little mammals about the size of a cat that can be spotted literally anywhere, so much so that there’s really no need to go on a tour to see them.
If the overall quokka population of Australia is of 14000 animals, 12000 of them live in Rottnest Island: this gives a fairly good picture of how easily they can be seen.
Known for their funny features, it’s recently become a thing to go all the way to Rottnest Island to take selfies with quokkas. I have nothing against it, as long as the welfare of these friendly animals is given priority: don’t overstep them, don’t scare them, and by all means do not feed them.
To book a guided tour to Rottnest Island, click here.
Where Not To See Animals In Australia
Finally, there’s a place I wholeheartedly recommend avoiding during your trip to Australia and that is quite the opposite of a wildlife sanctuary.
Located in Sydney, Featherdale was once a small poultry farm established in a piece of land bought in 1953 by the Wigg’s, and it now is a zoo. It was opened to the public in 1972 by the Wigg’s sone in law, whose academic curriculum focused on Australian fauna.
The park is completely made of Australian native trees, and has the largest collection of Australian native animals in the world. In 1975 there was a threat that it may be closed to use the land for a housing development, but it did not.
The reason I am not willing to include Featherdale Wildlife Park among the best wildlife sanctuaries in Australia is that it’s merely a zoo, with no education focus. The majority of animals at Featherdale are neither sick, injured, or endangered. Quite the opposite: they are indeed born and bred in captivity and for entertainment purposes. This is one of the places where people can still take photos with koala, while no staff supervises to make sure that visitors don’t touch the animals and the animals are treated with respect. It’s obvious some of them are uncomfortable having tourists around so this is a real pity.
Finally, there is no evident educational effort. Signs around the zoo only share basic information about the animals, with nothing about the impact humans are having on the natural habitat of the various species.
How To Travel To Australia Responsibly
With enormous distances to cover, traveling by bus or train isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing to do in Australia. Flying would be the obvious way to move around. Yet, while most people opt to fly to cover the longest distances, it is worth pointing out that plane travel comes at high environmental costs.
Having said so, the best way to travel around Australia in a responsible, environmentally friendly yet comfortable and efficient way is probably by car, van and/or with a trailer. There’s lots of places to stop while traveling, and the good news is that wild camping is possible in Australia. Nothing better than keeping the responsible tourism spirit than sleeping completely surrounded by nature!
Companies like Gumtree are excellent to look for good deals on and buy (and obviously sell) second-hand cars, vans or trailers.
To find out about more places to see animals responsibly in Australia, check this post by The Crowded Planet. Make sure to also read my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.
Do you know of any other ethical wildlife sanctuaries in Australia?
7 thoughts on “The Best Wildlife Sanctuaries In Australia”
I’m confused. From what I gather, Featherdale is just a zoo. Am I missing something? Your other suggestions seem in line with an ethical animal-welfare outlook.
Honestly am wondering. Not judging. Maybe there is something I don’t know.
it is a wildlife park with a mission to educate about animals and the environment.
Hope this helps!
Nice blog and as an Aussie I am animal lover especially koala and kangaroo is my favourite one.
There is a much easier option to see kangaroos in their natural habitat in Australia – visit Canberra the capital which is set amongst the bush where they roam all in and around many of the nature reserves. In particular I know of many tracks around the base of Mt Majura bushland and Mt Ainslie that are accessible by parking your car at the base of one of the tracks. It’s not thick bushland and can easily be navigated. Half-way up Mt Majura trails (there are walking tracks and dirt service roads for vehicles) there are large areas of grassed areas where kangaroos live naturally and gather in the late afternoon. I’ve seen up to 50 there at any one time and regularly walked in and around these areas on many occasions. Best done in late afternoon/early evening during late spring and AEDST. This area is also extremely peaceful and has good walks up to the top of Mt Majura where you can see a panaroma of the greater Canberra area. Very typical interior bushland of southern Australia – very hot and dry in summer and bitter cold and dry in winter. I’ve approached kangaroos quietly, respectfully and with a good vibe around up to only a metre away. Many locals walk through these reserves so they’re used to having friendly people around but of course do not disturb them. There’s no need to pay money to see kangaroos in Australia if you know where to go.
Massive thank you for this great tip!!
Thank you so much for this extremely helpful article! I’m so glad to see Bonorong on here, as that place is an absolute favorite of mine and I don’t see it covered in articles very often! I have to ask though, if you would consider removing Featherdale from this list. I know it is the only one in the Sydney location listed on here, but unfortunately, I visited the place this week and the staff confirmed it is a zoo. They do not have an education focus, and they confirmed that the vast majority of animals there are neither sick, injured, or endangered; instead, they are born and bred in captivity for entertainment purposes. They have a photobooth that takes flash photographs of koalas sitting in a tree right next to families. No staff were onsite ensuring that customers treated the animals safely and respectfully – unfortunately, several people throughout the day tried to pet and pick up animals that were clearly uncomfortable. There was no educational component to the park beyond signs with basic animal facts, and there was no attempt by staff to educate the customers about the human impact on habitat encroachment, stressors, shrinking resources, etc.
From my research it’s honestly even seeming like Taronga Zoo may be more animal-welfare-focused than Featherdale, as it seems Taronga Zoo is education- and conservation- focused (including providing a mandatory palm oil educational session) and releases animals back into the wild. Based on this information, would you consider removing them from the article, so as to avoid recommending readers visit the park if readers are actually interested in ethically seeing animals in Australia?
I hope the context for the request makes sense and I do appreciate you doing all this research to provide people with helpful and accessible information about animal visits in this beautiful country!
Your comment is so so much appreciated! Thank you for going into so much detail!