Wildlife conservation, community and environmental volunteer projects and internships worldwide

The volunteering industry has grown substantially in the past decade with the amount of projects and variety greatly increasing as well. This has in some cases also meant that wildlife around the world has become the victim of the industry and subject to the unethical practices of volunteer operators.

At WorkingAbroad, we don’t accept any volunteer projects with any kind of inappropriate interaction with animals, such as cub petting, elephant riding or hands-on interaction with predators. For most of our wildlife projects, they involve only observing/studying wildlife from a distance, unless absolutely necessary otherwise and the volunteer will be accompanied by trained researchers or staff.

We believe that these unethical practices of predator interaction need to end in our industry, and therefore we have taken an active stance by removing any links on our website to other volunteer companies, which are engaged with:

  • Predator interaction such as cub petting or walks with predators
  • Predator breeding facilities
  • Elephant rides or camps that are involved with working elephants for tourists

The WorkingAbroad volunteer database includes hundreds of volunteer projects with organisations from around the world and we have checked every one to make sure what projects were being offered. No company is allowed to be included on our database if they offer these types of projects.

You can read our article about the subject of Ethical Volunteering abroad, and why it is time that Volunteer Organisations need to be held accountable here

In the boxes below, you can find more information about specific wildlife-related topics that are relevant to the volunteering and tourism industry. Take your time to learn about canned hunting and animal welfare when volunteering abroad, so you make sure to support ethical wildlife projects as a volunteer.

We also recently had the opportunity to contribute to a highly important documentary by Claws Out about lion exploitation and its links to the volunteering industry, featuring the co-Founder of WorkingAbroad Vicky McNeil. We have been vocal for years about ending this horrible industry and holding the volunteering industry accountable. You can view the documentary below:

Elephant Welfare at Sanctuaries

None of our own Elephant projects offer elephant rides or other tricks (painting/shows etc.) involving the animals. They live in the sanctuaries as free elephants, and none of the projects that we offer allow close interaction with the elephants such as bathing either.

We also don’t allow any volunteer projects in our database that have links to the working elephant industry, nor are any advertisers on our website allowed to have any direct or indirect links to this industry.

You can read more about the ethical issues surrounding elephant riding in Thailand (and why it should be avoided) at Thailand Elephants.

Canned Hunting in South Africa

The Canned Hunting industry in South Africa has been brought to light, and so has its link to the volunteering industry.  We have since 2015 been a proud and active partner of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH). We have taken active steps to make sure that none of our projects, whether our own or in our database, have any relation to canned hunting. Neither is any organisation who wants to be listed on our database allowed to do so on behalf of programmes that are directly or indirectly linked to canned hunting. We would immediately end any partnership that proved to part of the canned hunting industry.

If canned hunting is something you haven’t heard of before, you can read here our blog “The Awful Business of Canned Hunting.

Wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest

At our wildlife research projects in the Amazon Basin of Peru, the animals captured (herpetofauna, avifauna and invertebrates) are only in their care for as little time as possible. This means only while taking measurements and taking pictures for cataloguing, which is done in a careful manner to not stress the animals during the process. The animals are then always released back in the same place it was captured.

You can read more about how a “selfie” industry for tourists has developed in the parts of the Amazon located in Brazil and Peru, and how it’s hurting the native wildlife here. Please don’t ever support these places as a traveller abroad!

Whale & Dolphin Research

All of our projects related to Whale and Dolphin research are adhering to proper guidelines when at sea. They don’t stress the animals by getting too close, and it’s only when the animals actively seek out proximity that volunteers will get to see them closer to the boat. None of the volunteer projects allow swimming with dolphins or whales during their work.

You can read more about how operators should engage with cetaceans at sea on the World Cetacean Alliance website, who provides a best practice guide.

Wildlife Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries

The wildlife rescue centres and sanctuaries that we partner with abroad respect the five freedoms of animal welfare. The 5 freedoms are the following:

  • Free from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
  • Free of discomfort
  • Free of pain and disease
  • Free to express themselves
  • Fear and stress free

This means that no interaction is allowed with the wildlife, and volunteers will mainly assist with various husbandry work such as cleaning of facilities, feeding the animals and providing animal enrichment. In particular when it comes to wildlife rescue centres where the animals are to be released back into the wild, is it essential to keep the wild and true nature of the animal intact. A no interaction policy is also not only for the safety of the wildlife but for the volunteers as well, as serious diseases can spread and pose a health risk to both animals and people.

At most wildlife sanctuaries, the animals are not able to be released back into the wild due to several reasons, which you can read about on the individual project pages. In this case, the sanctuaries are a forever home for the animals and the project is providing a safe and comfortable environment for them to live the rest of their lives. It is then only in the case of certain species of animals (never predators) such as birds, monkeys and deer where volunteers get closer to the animals in their work.

Sea Turtle Conservation

Sea turtle conservation volunteer projects are quite popular to join around the world, and one can find many different kinds of programmes depending on the location and needs. At our sea turtle volunteer programmes, all of the turtles are handled with care and with as little interference as possible.

At the projects where the main work is related to monitoring nesting sea turtles and hatchlings, there is little/no interference with the natural order of things and the main work is to just monitor and record data. At some sea turtle projects in Costa Rica, they might have hatcheries to increase the likelihood of successful hatching. This is often due to the increased risk of poaching or the amount of sea turtles that comes to hatch in the same location. However, once hatched the sea turtles will be released straight into the sea.

At some volunteer programmes, like in the Maldives, they received injured sea turtles found at sea or receive turtles that have been kept as pets. In most cases, these turtles need rehabilitation before they can be released back into the Ocean, which is the main purpose of the programme; to give the sea turtles a second chance of life at sea.

You can find more advice on what to look out for when volunteering with sea turtles here.

Below is a quote from Vicky McNeil, WorkingAbroad Founder, on ethical wildlife volunteering.

White lions at sanctuary in South Africa

“When I co-founded this organisation in 1997, I volunteered with many charities around the world, and it led to setting up a volunteer database to offer others the ability to take action for nature and society.  Over the years, the volunteering sector has grown in size and it saddens me to see how many organisations today are directly or indirectly involved with unethical animal welfare practices. I am so relieved that we have been able to identify the organisations in question and have the opportunity to remove them from our database and from our website, visited by over 40,000 people a month. We hope that this can be a step forward in removing these projects for good”.