Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Table Mountain South Africa photo by Janan Lagerwall Unsplash

Environment & Wildlife, General

9 of the BEST Volunteering Projects to Join Today

December 19th 2023

Tagged: Ethical Volunteering, marine conservation, Sea Turtle, South Africa

The northern summer of 2024 is around the corner! Here are nine of our favourite volunteer experiences that are providing vital environmental and animal-specific support right now, where you can join during your summer break! Be part of important conservation and animal rescue work, and find community in some of the wildest and most magical places on the planet.

  1. Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

Baby Olive Ridley finding its way to sea Costa RicaCosta Rica conservation | Sea turtle volunteer | Working Abroad

Volunteering at our project in Costa Rica will expose you to life at a biological research station in a tropical rainforest reserve. Volunteers will take part in sea turtle research, crocodile monitoring, mammal surveys, tree boa studies, environmental education and butterfly garden projects all year round. Volunteers make a huge contribution here – over the last 10 years, they have helped to reduce turtle nest poaching by 87%, which has made this beach one of the few places in Costa Rica which is safe for turtles and researchers.

Costa Rica is without doubt one of our volunteers’ favourite destinations! Our research project in Costa Rica is one of our most popular volunteer projects in Costa Rica that receives regular brilliant feedback from solo travellers and families alike. We manage to accommodate everyone on their journey to this biodiversity hotspot of Central America, where volunteers love that they have the opportunity to help actively with the scientific and conservation-related research on a broad range of animals, while experiencing the beautiful nature of Costa Rica in the process.

  1. Wildlife Rescue & Rehab Internship Project, Costa Rica

guapo the jaguarVolunteer in Costa Rica | WorkingAbroad

The organisation is the largest of its type in Costa Rica and annually receives about 3,000 animals into the rescue and rehabilitation centre. The centre incorporates a Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre incorporating a state-of-the-art veterinary clinic, an Endangered Species Wildlife Reproduction Centre and a Life-time Care Sanctuary consisting of 34 acres of tropical forest with more than 800 of the birds, mammals, and reptiles covering 125 species that have been rescued and cannot be released due to health or behavioural reasons.

Wildlife rescue and rehab interns’ work is essential in caring for the injured animals that are rescued on a daily basis. Accidents and electrocutions, in particular for the monkeys, happen with sad regularity and this centre provides a sanctuary for the animals to recuperate before ultimately being released back into the wild. The support from volunteers provides a necessary lifeline to the staff at the centre, as well as to the animals receiving care there. 

Volunteers are trained by the local staff to provide essential care to their indigenous animal guests and offered opportunities to support these healing wild animal neighbours before they undergo their exciting transition back to their homes in the jungle.  Your time is spent it is as part of a team providing holistic support to the incredible wildlife of Costa Rica whilst equally enjoying the very best that the culture and location can offer.

  1. The Great African Seaforest Marine Research Programme, South Africa

Pyjama Shark in False BayVolunteer South Africa | WorkingAbroad

The Cape Peninsula, the southern tip of Africa, is perhaps one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. Table Mountain forms a surreal-looking centrepiece to a vast nature reserve of mountainous terrain, blanketed in the Cape floral kingdom, which contains a whopping 20 per cent of Africa’s plant species. Yet, this land of beauty forms just part of the peninsula’s biodiversity and abundance of animal and plant life.  

Underwater, the Great African Seaforest is a biodiversity hotspot of ancient kelp forests, pinnacles of starfish, anemones and nudibranchs, and soft white sand. The location of the Oscar-winning My Octopus Teacher, False Bay is a vital breeding area for Africa’s only penguin, the Cape penguin, and the Great white shark. The bay is frequented by orcas and humpbacks too! 

The Great African Seaforest Programme aims to monitor marine life in the bay and inform conservation decision-making. Volunteers will assist with long-term marine life monitoring in the kelp forests, beach clean-ups, citizen science projects and local education. Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula are on the project’s doorstep, so volunteers can enjoy and explore the region to their heart’s content! 

  1. Kariega Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa

Volunteer close to elephantKariega Game Reserve | Volunteer South Africa | Working Abroad

At 0ur Kariega Big Five game reserve programme in South Africa, volunteers take part in lots of varied research and conservation work. From lion and elephant monitoring to rhino surveys, invasive species removal and local community projects. The project takes volunteers through the workings of a respected game reserve, and have them contribute to their efforts of protecting threatened wildlife and supporting local communities.

South Africa boasts some of the best game viewing in the world, with most visitors able to catch a glimpse of the Big 5 roaming the bush as they have for millennia. With the growing threat of unsustainable farming and poaching, South Africa’s wilderness has never been more at risk than it is today. Our volunteers get to experience the challenges of conservation, while enjoying a once in a lifetime opportunity to get behind the scenes of a Big 5 game reserve to get up close and personal in conservation efforts. South Africa is one of our most popular destinations and our volunteers cannot get enough of the SA bush!

  1. Galapagos Conservation Volunteers, Galapagos

Galapagos IguanasGalapagos Volunteering | Working AbroadThe world famous Galapagos National Park, home to some of the most incredible biodiversity in the world, is eager to welcome you to support its sea turtle nesting and monitoring programme, ecotourism, giant tortoise, and sustainable agriculture projects. The Galapagos offers so many ways to support this incredible archipelago and is the opportunity of a lifetime for which fluency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for joining, and within which you have the option to either live in a volunteer house or with a local family in a homestay for greater cultural immersion into the Galapagos as a whole. Accommodation providers are regularly screened and designated as ‘Covid secure’ before they accept volunteers, giving you that extra bit of confidence during your stay. Alongside the workings of the various projects there is always time allocated for volunteers to enjoy the local scenery on exploratory hikes and on the local beaches. There will also be time to explore the local waters and potentially experience snorkelling under the curious gaze of native sea lions and penguins.  

  1. Cloud Forest Conservation & Sustainability Volunteer Project, Ecuador 

Cloud Forest in EcuadorEcuador Volunteering | Working AbroadDo you dream of living close to the land, creating a sustainable life for yourself and those around you? Living in alignment with the incredible natural surroundings, high up in the stunning cloud forest of the Ecuadorian highlands, this programme is a sustainable example of how to grow and live off your own food. The project produces their own coffee, butter, chocolate and more; and volunteers can learn and assist with permaculture, sustainable food production, tree planting, and help in the medicinal plant garden. Downtime can be spent with walks through the cloud forest and along streams and waterfalls, bird watching, horseback riding, night hikes, kayaking and rafting and so much more – time will almost seem to stand still so make sure you book as long a stay as possible! This is a really inspiring project to be part of – one which truly demonstrates the fruits of your labours, of those before you and of those to come, as the ethos of living lightly on and in collaboration with ‘the land’ is an evident and joyful part of everyone’s daily life.

  1. Desert Elephants Volunteer Project, Namibia 

Desert elephant volunteers campDesert Elephant Conservation | WorkingAbroadConstructing ‘water-protection-walls’ might not seem like the sort of project that you could get into but look a little deeper and you will see that this project is an essential part of keeping local human communities safe and functioning alongside their beautiful jumbo sized neighbours. The importance of supporting both human and elephant groups in their search for and use of water cannot be stressed enough and Namibia is quite simply the most beautiful place to get up close to the real, lived impact of these stunning wild creatures. Alongside construction of these physical walls volunteers spend time tracking elephants, recording their routes, monitoring their herd sizes and sleeping out under more stars than most of us ever dream of. The opportunity to camp out and cook over fires creates a project experience unlike any other in one of the most incredible and unforgettable parts of the world.

  1. Watamu Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Kenya

Volunteers holding sea turtles in KenyaWatamu Kenya | Sea Turtle Marine Volunteering | Working Abroad

Kenya’s terrain rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean to mountains and plateaus at its centre. The country is famous for adventure travel in Africa, and it is one of the finest safari destinations in the world. Although Kenya is justly celebrated for its national parks and wildlife, it’s also home to some of the continent’s best beaches.  

The Kenyan coastline of the warm Indian Ocean contains ecologically important swamps of East African mangroves. The seascape is a critical biodiversity hotspot accorded high-level conservation priority. One of the species in need of protection is the sea turtle. It’s estimated that only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

This project offers the opportunity to volunteer with sea turtles in Kenya and participate in various sea turtle conservation projects. Volunteers join in patrols conducted by community members and staff to protect nesting females, their eggs and their hatchlings. 

(Remember: Sea turtles, just like many marine organisms, can’t distinguish everyday plastic items from food. Once they eat the plastic, they often starve because they can’t digest it, filling their stomachs and preventing them from eating real food. A good reason why we need to stop plastic pollution.)

 

  1. Big Cat Sanctuary, South Africa

Panther playing at sanctuary in South AfricaBig Cat Volunteer | South Africa Wildlife | Working Abroad

South Africa is known for its rich cultures, high biodiversity and spectacular landscapes. The beauty of the Great Karoo Desert, Garden Route, Lowveld and Cape Peninsula are just part of the reason why South Africa consistently remains in the world’s top countries to visit. Scratching below the surface, though, South Africa is dealing with several pressing environmental and social challenges.

One of the country’s issues is the ongoing dispute over trophy hunting and lion breeding, which are argued to be considerable revenue generators for the country but have inspired a growing number of people and organisations to fight to ban lion breeding and hunting.

The Big Cat Sanctuary is an initiative that takes a firm stance against breeding big cats, including lions, and providing rescued cats with a forever home on their beautiful property just a couple of hours inland from Cape Town. With over 20 cats under their care, the Big Cat Sanctuary provides large, natural and secure environments for each cat to live safely for the rest of its life. Volunteers, who live with staff on the property, help with a diverse mix of activities, such as maintaining the enclosures, feeding the cats and participating in educational visits. Visitors and volunteers at the centre provide a considerable part of the funding required for the Big Cat Sanctuary to operate.

Time to Go!

All the projects listed are taking volunteers right now.  If you have a particular species or destination you want to support and spend quality time with, please get in touch and we will be able to tell you when you can start packing your bags and getting excited for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. 

It is amazing how much knowledge and passion volunteers and full-time researchers alike put into their time on the projects. They know that they are supporting the natural world in one of the best and most practical ways possible. Here at WorkingAbroad we do the same, and as a Not-For-Profit organisation we ensure that the funding goes directly to the right places – to the projects themselves, with no intermediary – ensuring that your placement fees continue to support the projects you care for, the regions and species you love during your stay, and also as a continuing legacy long after you leave.

So gear up and put your best foot forward; for adventure awaits – and it’s got your name on it! Talk to WorkingAbroad for further information and start making your plans today.

Written by WorkingAbroad blogger, Rae Hadley and Comms Manager, David Johnston

About the Author

WorkingAbroad Projects

Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.