Project Themes

The provided information is based on a survey of 59 animal- associated wildlife centers (AAWCs) and eight interviews from AAWC educators or directors.

Definition of AAWCs: AAWCs are nonprofit organizations that provide sanctuary to native or exotic animals, rehabilitate and release native wildlife that is injured or orphaned, and/or house non-releasable wildlife for educational purposes. The scope of this definition may include, but is not limited to, sanctuaries, rehabilitation centers and conservation centers.

Research on these organizations revealed nuanced differences among mission statements and how individual organizations classified themselves; e.g., clinics, rehabilitation/rehab centers, rescue groups, sanctuaries, conservation centers, etc.

Even though wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers are each unique and may have different intentions and missions, the two organization types are grouped together for the purpose of education. Regardless of the animal species housed at the organization, both wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers use similar educational strategies to teach conservation, natural history, and human-impacts on wildlife and can benefit from shared resources.

AAWC Characteristics: 

  • They work towards larger conservation goals
  • They are small-scale or community based nonprofits
  • Their intentions stem from an empathy towards animals.

Results from AAWC survey:

Educational Programs Offered %
Outreach programs 91.5%
Public events 88.1%
On-site presentations 69.5%
On-site private tours 64.4%
On-site public tours 62.7%
Classes, courses and/or workshops for the public 54.2%
Educational Practices %
Use of specimens and/or touchable objects 86.4%
Live animal demonstrations 76.3%
Injury/ research projects 44.1%
Service learning 37.3%
Sign interpretation 35.6%
Citizen science 20.3%
Participant interaction with animals 18.6%
Use of Ambassador / Educational Animals %
Yes for all ed. activities 27.1
Yes for some ed. activities 52.5
No 20.3%
Content Themes Taught %
Conservation 89.8%
Wild animals do not make good pets 88.1%
Positive attitude change towards species of concern 85.4%
Human impact on the environment 86.4%
Natural history 72.9%
Adaptations 72.9%
Ecology 71.2%
Educational Theories/ Philosophies/ Strategies  %
Unsure 54.2%
Experiential education 38.9%
Place-based education 32.2%
Constructivism 15.3%