I have been exploring and writing about California for more than 30 years. I also administer a wildlife and nature tourism program. You can trust I am credible and have no axe to grind. While they are sometimes listed as a Foundation, their website and other social media clearly list them as the Barry Kirshner Wildlife Sanctuary. Nothing could be further from the truth. We visited as a group of four adults and all of us were horrified by what we saw.
The Cambridge Dictionary describes sanctuary (noun sanc·tu·ary | \ saŋ(k)-ch-wer-ē) "a place where birds or animals can live and be protected, especially from being hunted or dangerous conditions: a wildlife/bird sanctuary".
While you may find stories online painting this roadside zoo in a positive light, you only have to visit to see why there's nothing positive going on here. Most of the animals live in small, tarp-covered enclosures. I can't imagine the heat during our long hot summers. Or what they've endured during the many years of intense fires. They have few if any amenities to keep them occupied or water features other then small plastic pools. Animals are overweight either from lack of exercise or poor diets.
I have spent uncounted hours contacting local, state and federal agencies about this facility. Asking why it's still in business. The state California Department of Fish and Wildlife says that the "zoo" meets the minimum required by law. Those state regulations are decades old and those minimums are seriously lacking. When we asked about the enclosures (more like prison cells) and the lack of amenities to keep the wildlife active, even the Kirshner staff said that they "exceed the minimum required" for what they provide. Yes, the bare minimum. This complex is not rated by the zoological society or the American Sanctuary Association. They are listed as a non-profit but aren't rated by Charity Navigator or similar organizations. I filed a complaint with USDA through their APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) and despite the fact that other complaints have been filed by other organizations they are still legally permitted. And they have been cited multiple times by the USDA. As a non-profit they are also supposed to file a Form 990 with IRS. I couldn't find anything to indicate that they are current with this filing.
I have contacted Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), PETA, Butte County Animal Welfare, Butte County Board of Supervisors, and others - I can't even remember. I'm providing all of this to let you know that's how upsetting it was to me and the need to let others know. Trying to find away to shut this place down and get these poor creatures to a safe and loving environment.
The owner, Roberta Kirshner, has endless explanations about how and why none of what I am (others are) saying isn't true. You only have to visit to see the truth. I would never visit this place again or suggest that anyone go there for any reason except to see the deplorable conditions and try to help shut them down. I will continue to pursue this matter.
November 1, 2021: The USDA cited Kirshner for failing to provide the attending veterinarian with timely and accurate information about animal health and behavior problems. The licensee failed to notify the veterinarian of a coati’s increasing hair loss on the tail, a wound on the animal’s left back leg, and a wolf who was continuously pacing around the enclosure in a stereotypic pattern, wearing a deep track into the ground. Kirshner was also cited for failing to have accurate and complete records available for review and failing to maintain the required effective height of the perimeter fence surrounding the larger carnivores. Several items were adjacent to or leaning up against the fence, decreasing the effective height of the fence.
August 13, 2021: Cal/OSHA issued Kirshner a citation for a serious violation of workplace safety regulations after a clouded leopard attacked a volunteer. A Cal/OSHA narrative summary of the attack explained that the leopard had jumped on the volunteer after she fell down and started biting her around the neck, which caused injuries that required hospitalization. Kirshner was ultimately required to pay a penalty of $1,800.
Here are links to some other stories: