Urban wildlife sanctuaries

Urban wildlife sanctuaries range in size from small green spaces to larger parks or reserves, and they may include a variety of habitat types such as forests, wetlands, grasslands, and water bodies (Rastandeh et al., 2018). They may also be marine-based wildlife sanctuaries in urban areas. These sanctuaries protect and conserve biodiversity in urban areas, where development and human activities often threaten natural habitats (Wittmer et al., 2018). Urban wildlife sanctuaries provide refuge for wildlife species, especially those threatened by anthropogenic change such as climate change. They offer opportunities for people to connect with nature in urban settings (Rastandeh et al., 2018; Wittmer et al., 2018). See also: ecological islands / predator-free environments.

Name of NbS

Urban wildlife sanctuaries

Type of NbS

Ecosystem restoration; Ecosystem Protection



Tuatara, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellington, New Zealand, an endangered, endemic reptile in Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo by Phillip Capper via Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Indigenous knowledge should always play a role in the management of urban wildlife sanctuaries, providing deep, locally relevant insight into local ecosystems, wildlife behaviour, and sustainable resource management practices (Innes et al., 2019; Marques et al., 2019; Sinthumule, 2023). See also: customary management and ecosystem-based management.  Drawing on generations of experience and observation, Indigenous communities can contribute valuable traditional ecological knowledge to inform habitat restoration efforts, species reintroduction programs, and wildlife monitoring strategies.

Often remnants of more widely existing past cultural landscapes and ecosystems, urban wildlife sanctuaries can also hold sites of cultural and spiritual significance (Innes et al., 2019; Marques et al., 2019; Sinthumule, 2023). Urban wildlife sanctuaries can therefore serve as important education and cultural knowledge preservation spaces, allowing Indigenous values, resources, and practices to be perpetuated, along with the preservation of important cultural keystone species.

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Climate change benefits
  • Biomass cover loss
  • Changes in phenology
  • Changes in rainfall
  • Increased pests or spread of weeds
  • Increased temperatures
  • Reduced air quality
  • Urban heat island effect

Urban wildlife sanctuaries can benefit urban areas in the context of climate change, by leveraging the inherent increase in resilience and ecological functions when natural ecosystems are introduced into urban settings (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016; Seddon et al., 2020). Preservation and restoration of natural vegetation contribute to climate change regulation. Vegetated areas within urban sanctuaries provide cooling effects through shade and evapotranspiration, improving local air quality and enhancing the overall liability of urban environments.

Urban wildlife sanctuaries can be designed and managed to withstand and buffer against the effects of climate change. For example, preserving and restoring natural habitats within wildlife sanctuaries provides essential refuges for wildlife from climate change related pressures. These include extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and changes in precipitation patterns (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016; Seddon et al., 2020). Wildlife sanctuaries as natural areas in urban landscapes can also provide key ecosystem services such as regulation of local microclimates, reducing the urban heat island effect, and minimising flood risks by absorbing and slowing stormwater runoff.

Forests, wetlands, and grasslands act as carbon sinks, which can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas, and improve air quality and local micro-climate (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016; Seddon et al., 2020; Wittmer et al., 2018). While enhancing ecosystem resilience, conserving biodiversity, and sequestering carbon, urban wildlife sanctuaries also provide multiple co-benefits for urban populations, which are growing in Te Moananui Oceania.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Empowerment / equality
  • Disaster risk reduction and resilience building

Urban wildlife sanctuaries can serve as platforms for community engagement and empowerment, often involving local people as key stakeholders through volunteer initiatives and decision-making processes. By fostering a sense of stewardship, urban wildlife sanctuaries promote social cohesion and build capacity for collective action to address shared environmental challenges. There are clear incentives for local participation in the care and management of urban wildlife sanctuaries which offer numerous social and cultural benefits to nearby communities (Cameron et al., 2020). Access to nature within these spaces has been linked to improved health, wellbeing and quality of life outcomes, especially because they provide opportunities for recreation, exercise, and relaxation (Anderson & Minor, 2017).

Ensuring urban wildlife sanctuaries are welcoming spaces that are accessible to the public, and inclusive, can promote social development and equity. Initiatives that prioritise environmental justice and equitable access to green space help to address disparities in access to nature and contribute to building more resilient and inclusive communities (Anderson & Minor, 2017; Cameron et al., 2020; Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016; Seddon et al., 2020).

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Climate regulation
  • Genetic resources (diversity)
  • Habitat provision
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Purification
  • Freshwater
  • Species maintenance

Urban wildlife sanctuaries generate and support ecosystem services through the preservation, restoration, and sustainable management of natural habitats. They maintain biodiversity within urban environments by providing essential resources and refuge for native plant and animal species (Cameron et al., 2020; Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016; Marques et al., 2019; Seddon et al., 2020). These sanctuaries provide essential food, shelter, breeding sites, and migration corridors to wildlife. By protecting and enhancing habitats, urban wildlife sanctuaries support ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, pollination, and purification, especially of water, which are essential for sustaining plant and animal diversity, and ecosystem productivity (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016; Seddon et al., 2020).

Providing habitats and resources for pollinators and seed dispersers, urban wildlife sanctuaries contribute to the reproduction and regeneration of plant species. 

In Te Moananui Oceana, urban wildlife sanctuaries may contain sites of cultural and historical significance, including sacred places, traditional gathering sites, and other culturally significant areas (Anderson & Minor, 2017; Cameron et al., 2020). Preserving and celebrating these features fosters a sense of belonging, can strengthen cultural and especially Indigenous identity, and promote intergenerational knowledge transfer (Marques et al., 2019). 

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Technical requirements

Ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of urban wildlife sanctuaries necessitates adherence to various technical requirements (Apfelbeck et al., 2020). Site assessment and planning serve as fundamental initial steps in this process. Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of ecological characteristics, habitat conditions, and potential immediate challenges is crucial. This assessment informs the establishment of conservation goals and the development of appropriate management strategies tailored to the specific needs and conditions of the sanctuary.

Habitat restoration and enhancement are central roles of urban wildlife sanctuaries. This may involve activities such as native plantings, invasive species removal, or new habitat creation to support diverse populations. Selecting appropriate native species appropriate to the site’s conditions is important for successful restoration efforts. Infrastructure is also important in sanctuaries open to visitors, with trails, fences, signage, and other facilities designed to minimise ecological disturbance while promoting public access and education (Apfelbeck et al., 2020).

Maintenance ensures the long-term viability of urban wildlife sanctuaries. Habitat management, infrastructure maintenance, and visitor education are ongoing responsibilities (Apfelbeck et al., 2020). 

Building partnerships and collaboration with Indigenous groups, government, NGOs, and community organisations enhances access to expertise, resources, and funding (Anderson & Minor, 2017; Apfelbeck et al., 2020; Cameron et al., 2020).

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Issues and Barriers

Barriers to wildlife sanctuaries in Te Moananui Oceania include limited funding and resources, especially for small island nations where governments can have constrained budgets. Conservation efforts are often led with external support. Invasive species and habitat degradation threaten biodiversity, exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Complex land tenure and governance issues must be reconciled, particularly in relation to traditional customary management. Indigenous perspectives and management practices must be integrated into conservation strategies (Sinthumule, 2023; Tsioumani & Morgera, 2010). Building local capacity and expertise is essential but often constrained by limited access to training and technical assistance (Tsioumani & Morgera, 2010).


There are already numerous urban wildlife sanctuaries throughout Te Moananui Oceania. The strength of Indigenous knowledge and practices offers unique insights into local ecosystems and the value of these, especially in the growing city centres of the region. Wildlife sanctuaries also offer potential economic opportunities through tourism, carbon offsets and environmental stewardship initiatives.

Financial case

The financial incentive to develop urban wildlife sanctuaries relies on the emphasis on ecological sustainability in urban centres, the climate change impacts managed by preserving natural areas, and the opportunities produced in tourism and social development (Wittmer et al., 2018).

Immediate costs for the establishment of urban wildlife sanctuaries include land acquisition, habitat restoration resources like plants and infrastuture, and building facilities. Funding usually comes from local and national governments, alongside international conservation organisations and private donations. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Department of Conservation for example, attributed $NZ323.7 million to natural heritage overall, and a further $NZ46.6 million to conservation with the community (DOC, 2023).

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  • Anderson, E.C., & Minor, E.S. (2017). Vacant lots: An underexplored resource for ecological and social benefits in cities. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 21, 146–152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2016.11.015
  • Apfelbeck, B., Snep, R.P.H., Hauck, T.E., Ferguson, J., Holy, M., Jakoby, C., Scott MacIvor, J., Schär, L., Taylor, M., & Weisser, W. W. (2020). Designing wildlife-inclusive cities that support human-animal co-existence. Landscape and Urban Planning, 200, 103817. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103817
  • Cameron, R.W.F., Brindley, P., Mears, M., McEwan, K., Ferguson, F., Sheffield, D., Jorgensen, A., Riley, J., Goodrick, J., Ballard, L., & Richardson, M. (2020). Where the wild things are! Do urban green spaces with greater avian biodiversity promote more positive emotions in humans? Urban Ecosystems, 23(2), 301–317. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-020-00929-z
  • Cohen-Shacham, E., Walters, G., Janzen, C., & Maginnis, S. (Eds.). (2016). Nature-based solutions to address global societal challenges. IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature. https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2016.13.en
  • DOC. (2023, May 18). Budget 2023 overview. Available online: https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/issues/budget-2023-overview/. Date accessed 15 May, 2024.
  • Innes, J., Fitzgerald, N., Binny, R., Byrom, A., Pech, R., Watts, C., Gillies, C., Maitland, M., Campbell-Hunt, C., & Burns, B. (2019). New Zealand ecosanctuaries: Types, attributes and outcomes. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 49(3), 370–393. https://doi.org/10.1080/03036758.2019.1620297
  • Marques, B., McIntosh, J., Hatton, W., & Shanahan, D. (2019). Bicultural landscapes and ecological restoration in the compact city: The case of Zealandia as a sustainable ecosanctuary. Journal of Landscape Architecture, 14(1), 44–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/18626033.2019.1623545
  • Rastandeh, A., Brown, D. K., & Pedersen Zari, M. (2018). Site selection of urban wildlife sanctuaries for safeguarding indigenous biodiversity against increased predator pressures. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 32, 21–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2018.03.019
  • Seddon, N., Chausson, A., Berry, P., Girardin, C. A. J., Smith, A., & Turner, B. (2020). Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375(1794), 20190120. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0120
  • Sinthumule, N.I. (2023). Traditional ecological knowledge and its role in biodiversity conservation: A systematic review. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 11, 1164900. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2023.1164900
  • Tsioumani, E., & Morgera, E. (2010). Wildlife legislation and the empowerment of the poor in Asia and Oceania. FAO legal papers online, 83, 1-124.Wittmer, H.U., Anton, V., Gruber, M.A.M., Ireland, L., Linklater, W., Russell, J.C., & Shanahan, D.F. (2018). Conservation and restoration in peopled landscapes in Oceania: Opportunities and challenges. Pacific Conservation Biology, 24(4), 409. https://doi.org/10.1071/PC18072

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