CompassionWorks International Protects Exotic Animals

GIF by Cierra Pedro

Nevada has between 300 and 400 black bears hanging out in the north. And the entire population is at risk of being killed this fall and becoming tokens of trophy hunters. It’s something Carrie LeBlanc, founder and executive director of CompassionWorks International (CWI), and her team of volunteers are working to put an end to, by educating people who live among them how to coexist versus kill.

But LeBlanc and CWI aren’t just advocating for bears in Northern Nevada: They’re on the ground in Las Vegas too, speaking up for the exotic animals housed at Strip properties, working to get them out of their cages and change the public perception that these animals are here for the pleasure of people. They’re protesting the yearly Safari Club International show early next year and educating the public about trophy hunting.

And they’re across the country and around the world, working to stop keeping animals in circuses and raising awareness about issues facing animals in captivity.

“We want to see a free and fair world for all beings,” explains LeBlanc, who founded CWI three and a half years ago after relocating to Las Vegas to launch the organization. “[A world] that doesn’t involve the unjust confinement or killing of animals.”

The primary issues CWI tackles are the use of exotic animals (think lions, tigers, bears, elephants) in circuses and zoos, as well as trophy hunting. The organization was the driving force behind Kingman, Arizona’s upcoming animal ban, and has been instrumental in orchestrating bans across the country involving animals in traveling circuses, including helping put an end to the 146-year tradition of Ringling Bros.

“We spend a lot of time working behind the scenes,” LeBlanc says. “We are giving people information and strategies. On any given day there is someone contacting me because a tiger is being used at a fair, or an elephant is being treated inappropriately. … We are becoming a touch point for wild-and-exotic-animal issues across the country.”

CWI isn’t only about bans and trophy-hunting protests: The organization also hosts the city’s only vegan festival, Vegas VegFest, which returns for its second year on September 30 at the Clark County Government Center. The free one-day event is aimed at educating people about a vegan lifestyle and brings in major names in the animal-rights and vegan worlds, as well as local and regional food vendors.

The organization is funded entirely by donations and volunteers. To learn more, visit