Wildlife Waystation is a non-profit animal sanctuary in Los Angeles. Their mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, relocate, and provide sanctuary for exotic animals from around the world as well as native wildlife.

I spent the day with lions, tigers, llamas, bears, zebras, jaguars, chimpanzees, ostriches, hawks, and ferrets.

Less than an hour from Downtown LA, The Wildlife Waystation is like going behind the scenes of a zoo. This amazing sanctuary is, at its heart, a retirement home for native, wild, and exotic animals. And it was one of the most awesome and rewarding experiences I could have ever had. In just one day of volunteering, surrounded by so many magnificent creatures, it’s difficult to convey just how quickly I felt welcomed and connected to them.

Unlike any zoo, you’re in such close proximity to wild animals that you can not only see, but feel their personality, intelligence, and their sheer magnificence — it’s a true awakening. It was also a reinforcement of my belief that we are all connected, that these animals are just as important as any one of us. This is not our world, but theirs as well. And we have a responsibility as the dominant species, as guardians, to care for all life in this world, as these animals stand at the mercy of our pillaging.

More than once while cleaning its cage, I found myself holding the gaze of a beautiful Siberian tiger named Drifter, and for a second, when our eyes locked I saw a reflection, a truth, and I saw how much the same we truly were. I can only imagine how the full-time staff and regular volunteers must feel towards their wards. It was truly a privilege to clean the homes of these beautiful beasts.

So, on my first day after orientation, I had an ostrich stalk me, I interacted with a very playful brown bear, had a leopard jump at me, watched someone hand-feed a tiger, stood a few feet away as a full-grown male lion roared, and made friends with a 400lb pig. I can’t wait to go back.

Website: wildlifewaystation.org
Orientation: Yes. Mandatory.
Commitment: 6hr. Orientation/Training. 8hrs cleaning cages, preparing food, and feeding animals.
Cost: $25 donation.

This entry is part of 2011’s Project 365 – Volunteering 12 places in 12 months.