The southern summer of 2021 is upon us! Here are nine of our favourite tropical and southern hemisphere-based volunteer experiences that are providing vital environmental and animal-specific support right now. Be part of important conservation and animal rescue work, and find community in some of the wildest and most magical places on the planet.
Costa Rica has been open again since September 2020 and they have had a massive turtle season to deal with. The arrival of countless nests and subsequent babies have been both wonderful and terrifying in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Playa Tortuga Conservation Project has continued to function with reduced local support volunteers, without whom the essential work of nest and egg protection and the ensured release of the newly hatched babies back into the sea would not have been possible.
Volunteers and staff have worked tirelessly without a break and have also been involved in essential caiman and crocodile monitoring, monkey and jungle mammal research and of course maintaining the beautiful butterfly garden. The work of this project supporting the local ecosystem, local knowledge base, and local tourism cannot be underestimated. It is an incredible family to be part of, so if you can see yourself on a tropical beach monitoring hatchlings, understanding the life cycle of the indigenous turtle, and ensuring their continued survival then this is the project for you.
This Wildlife Rescue Centre has likewise been open to volunteers since September 2020 and their volunteers have been 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. Volunteers can engage in a range of activities outside their time at the centre, many enjoying the release of yoga in their down time, or brushing up on their language skills with additional Spanish sessions. However 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.
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!
Volunteers have been back on the project since December 2020, enabling the staff to get much needed support to help with wildlife research, and monitoring elephants, lions and, in particular, with the exciting birth of a new baby rhino – which has of course created a lot more additional work, but work that everyone is overjoyed to be doing. The endangered status of rhinos is a constant cause for concern and this addition to the numbers, whilst far from removing their worry has all the reserve staff feeling much more positive about the future. Less scientific and more cute factor is another response that this beautiful baby has brought to everyone at this time!
Volunteers help with the essential maintenance of the game reserve and the multitude of duties that this entails and since the Covid-19 pandemic has created such a large practical and financial hole in the support they receive, the gratitude of the full-time staff and local volunteers cannot be underestimated as the management of this large and beautiful area with its stunning and plentiful residents has been shouldered by small numbers of people who have not had the help they so desperately need for many months. Time spent on the Kariega Reserve is a moment of experience, in exchange for a lifetime of treasured memories.
The 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.
Do 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; a feat during the Covid pandemic which has been made possible by hard work, group cohesion and emotional strength and perseverance. It has been tough and the project is eager to welcome volunteers for assistance 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.
Constructing ‘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. Sadly during the Covid pandemic much of this support has been on hold and it is crucial that it resumes. 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.
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.)
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 –has been waiting for too long!– and it’s got your name on it!*
*As with all current travel scenarios it is very important to get as much knowledge of your homeland destination countries Covid-19 protocols. Knowing the potential restrictions on national and international travel so that you know what you may have to do to fulfil relevant quarantine and border movement requirements is just the same as knowing which visa to get and when. None of this needs to be a deal breaker – it is, as ever, all about having the right information to enable you to make positive choices and support the projects you evidently care about. Talk to WorkingAbroad for further information and start making your plans today.
Written by WorkingAbroad blogger, Rae Hadley and Comms Manager, David Johnston