This year, the April 22 Earth Day theme is “Protect Our Species,” according to Earth Day Network. Since this international day-of-action will focus on protecting animals and preserving wildlife habitat, it’s a great time to visit one of California’s amazing animal rescue centers. These sanctuaries make the world safer for creatures great and small, and allow human visitors close contact with wolves, big cats, monkeys, sea lions, and more.
Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito
On the coast just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito’s veterinary research hospital rescues, rehabs, and releases distressed marine mammals. They’ve taken care of 21,000 sick and injured pinnipeds since 1975. On a guided or self-guided tour, take a peek at current “patients”—typically northern elephant seals and California sea lions. In Southern California, visit seal and sea lion rescue centers in Laguna Beach (Pacific Marine Mammal Center) and San Pedro (Marine Mammal Care Center).
Lindsay Wildlife Experience, Walnut Creek
This East San Francisco Bay wildlife center offers medical and husbandry care to California native wildlife and gives visitors face-time with owls, hawks, reptiles, and opossums. Wander through the Exhibit Hall to meet resident “animal ambassadors” like Penelope the porcupine, or bring the whole clan for a VIPeek experience, which includes feeding or hands-on activities with a desert iguana, tiger salamander, or another California critter.
Animal Tracks, Agua Dulce
Stacy Gunderson, a veteran Hollywood animal trainer, cares for injured or rejected exotic animals at this rescue center north of Los Angeles. A two-hour sanctuary tour gets you up close with armadillos, ferrets, kangaroos, and foxes. Sign up for the Monkey Experience and you’ll get to cuddle with capuchin monkeys and meet Chrissy the baboon.
STAR Eco Station, Culver City
This Los Angeles environmental education center is also an exotic wildlife rescue center that specializes in illegally trafficked animals confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On a guided tour, you’ll see more than 200 rescued creatures, including alligators, tortoises, parrots, and pythons. Seasonal eco-camps and school programs teach kids about conservation and ecosystems.
Shambala Preserve, Acton
Reserve a spot on a safari at this high-desert preserve and you’ll enjoy the furry company of 30-plus African lions, Bengal tigers, spotted leopards, and California mountain lions. The preserve is owned by actress Tippi Hedren, who lives on the property. Her ROAR Foundation rescues exotic felines that were mistreated by private owners.
Rancho Wildlife Foundation, Silverado
Located about 20 miles east of Irvine, this preserve provides a permanent home for exotic and local wildlife that cannot be released into the wild. True to its mission to educate and inspire the community about the wonders of the natural world, the organization offers 1.5-hour guided walking tours of its Rancho Las Lomas grounds. Visitors can enjoy not only up-close encounters with the resident animals (including a tiger feeding by the guide), but also the beautiful botanical gardens.
California Wolf Center, Julian
San Diego’s favorite apple-pie town is also home to a canine sanctuary dedicated to the recovery of North American and Mexican wolves. On weekend tours, you can view the resident wolf packs and learn about the role of wolves in the ecosystem.