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Environment & Wildlife, From the Field, Travel & Culture

The Top 11 Best Animal Volunteering Projects

June 6th 2021

Tagged: Conservation, Environment, Ethical Volunteering, Volunteering Abroad, Wildlife

With the wide world opening up for new adventures and explore the difficulty is no longer sitting at home and dreaming of wildlife rescues, or tracking wild wolves and learning about Slovakian culture and language but the very real dilemma of choosing which incredible project to invest your time in and support with your enthusiasm.

The WorkingAbroad list of its best animal volunteer programmes could run for days! Not one of our partner projects is anything less than an amazing experience waiting to happen, but to help you make a decision we have narrowed the list down to showcase the breadth of opportunities that projects across the world are offering. Hands of friendship, partnership, and alliance are being held out across oceans as people come together, united by a love of the natural world and of the incredible species this abundant planet has birthed.

A volunteering experience allows us each to make our stand in solidarity with our fellow conservationists and to stand in awe, gratitude, and respect for the many millions of species that need our globally concerted efforts in the name of preservation and protection.

All of this is worthy of your full attention and your purposeful commitment to the conservation cause.

So choose an opportunity or 2 or 3, and get stuck into learning a new language, culture, and skills. Your future self will thank you, and so will all the animals which your choices will directly support!

alttagCosta Rica conservation | Wildlife Rescue Volunteer Project | WorkingAbroadWildlife Rescue Volunteer project, Costa Rica

Do you dream of a holiday that combines caring for wildlife and yoga sessions to relax your mind? This could be just the place for you! Whilst the important work with the project is taken very seriously there is always time to relax and enjoy the very best of the Costa Rican coast. There are abundant opportunities to improve, or simply start learning, Spanish, and volunteers are treated as part of the project’s extended family from the very first day.

With the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve on your doorstep, every day has the potential to be a sensory feast. Nicoya Province also provides stunning tide pools, beaches, and waterfalls, all of which will draw you in and whisper the suggestion that a lifetime is not long enough to stay in such a paradise. Holidays like this truly fulfil the maxim that giving and receiving are best done in equal measure.

alttagVolunteer Sea Turtles | Volunteer Costa Rica | Working AbroadPlaya Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

With a massive range of jungle and beach wildlife to support this project offers opportunities for researchers and volunteers alike. Working with experienced staff is a great way of diversifying and developing one’s skills, and this project ensures that their volunteers become knowledgeable and proficient in the care of their ‘Pacific Olive Ridley’ turtles.

You will also gain and wealth of knowledge about the indigenous caiman and crocodiles, Capuchin and Howler monkeys, tree boas and butterflies, alongside the multitude of flora that this region is home to. Far from being creating overwhelm for volunteers, the project is also skilled at helping people find their niche and truly thrive as conservationists, professional and/or personal.

alttagVolunteer with Turtles | Volunteer GreeceSea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Project, Greece

Just a short hop from most starting points in Europe, this project (based on the stunning Kefalonian coast) is the perfect destination for one of your many well-deserved short, or long, breaks this year. The focus of this project is on the protection of the island’s endangered sea turtles and the ocean conservation that naturally sits alongside their survival.

These amazing creatures are surveyed and safeguarded to ensure the stability of the local turtle population and the wider development of cultural and social respect for them. The impact of the local fishing industry and the effect of the island’s light pollution on hatchlings and older turtles are just two of the issues the project is working with whilst ensuring their ongoing survival. They always need help encouraging the hatchlings safely out to sea and will happily welcome you into their team as guides and beacons for the newest members of their turtle family.

alttagVolunteer with Dolphins | Volunteer with Whales | Working AbroadDolphin and Whale Volunteer Research Project, Italy

The playful exuberance of Risso’s dolphins, pilot whales, and striped and bottlenose dolphins and the beauty of the ocean provides the perfect holiday to indulge your inner aquatic, as well as develop your outer conservationist. Working alongside marine biologists, whilst living on a research vessel, ensures the opportunity to develop a multitude of skills and make long-lasting memories. Navigating French and Italian waters, or based out of San Remo, the time spent surveying the range of cetaceans that the Ligurian Sea is home will delight even the most knowledge and experience-hungry animal lovers.

Free time can entail the use of the Marina facilities, spending time on the local beaches, and even going to Monaco, for a day trip by train. This project offers the chance to engage with the preservation and conservation of these mammals, and expand your knowledge and capacity as a citizen scientist: collating data, taking part in field activities and contributing to the body of work that will ultimately determine the future of this beautiful blue region and its iconic inhabitants.

alttagWolf Conservation Volunteers | Slovakia Wilderness | Working AbroadCarpathian Wolf Tracking Volunteer Project, Slovakia

Time spent in the white wilderness, tracking wolves and lynx in the Carpathian Mountains, is quite the adventure. Learning how to read trail signs and developing an instinct for tracking provides a rare opportunity. Learning from expert trackers will help you develop a subtle, but highly sought after skill.

The project focuses on local conservation efforts, managing the local winter hunting season and the cultural drive to ‘cull’ the local wolves. Collecting DNA samples and being able to highlight to the local communities the beneficial effects of the wolves on the local ecosystem, all as a means to support their conservation. This project is one which researchers and photographers alike will revel in. The stunning landscape and its sparse minimalism are sure to spark creative thought and creative endeavour. A sense of purpose can often create a space for the Muse to reveal glittering gems and when not engaged with collecting project data, hiking in Slovakia’s National Park of Tatras, or writing/painting/photographing the region there are opportunities to relax and go to a nearby spa.

alttagWolfsanctuaryportugal207x207Wolf Conservation Volunteer Project, Portugal

The wolf conservation volunteer project in Portugal involves spending time at an ethical wolf sanctuary, supporting the welfare of the endangered Iberian Wolf and getting up close to Portuguese nature and the country’s vibrant culture and heritage. During your work and free time, your close location to the cultural sites of Mafra, Lisbon and Sintra means you can enjoy the best of Portugal in one wonderful trip.

The project was established to provide a suitable environment and sanctuary for wolves that can no longer live in the wild and the main aim of the sanctuary is to provide a life that is, as close as possible to that wild existence, for the wolves. For this reason, there is no close-up aspect to the project. The focus of these volunteer opportunities is to work for the benefit of the wolves by managing the sanctuary, forest maintenance, vegetation clearing, and when possible wolf monitoring and observation, alongside ensuring adequate supplies of food. Far from being a disappointment not to have contact, it feels like a privilege to be part of the network that cares for these incredible animals and protects their right to freedom from human intervention alongside their right to survival and conservation.

alttagNamibia Volunteering | Working AbroadWildlife Conservation and San Bushmen Community Project, Namibia

This community project in Namibia houses multiple different projects strands and focuses on wildlife rehabilitation, rhino-rangers anti-poaching measures, providing medical clinics, and wildlife conservation and sanctuary management. The chance to spend time caring for orphaned and injured animals including baboons, caracals, wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and lions is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Time can also be spent in the San Bushmen village, learning ancestral Bush skills. You can also visit the Namib desert for sandboarding, or relax at the natural springs at Neuras. The abundance of opportunities is sure to mean that the best option for this project is to book for as long as you possibly can and slowly work your way around its different facets. Nights under the stars and the sensation of letting the country seep into your soul all tap into the reality that the wild animals live and give you an insight into the world as they see it. The opportunity to observe and contribute to the conservation of Namibia’s wildlife is not to be missed.

alttagVolunteer with Elephants | Volunteer Thailand | Working AbroadElephant Volunteer Project, Thailand

The elephant volunteer project in Thailand takes place in a sanctuary in the Chiang Mai province. It provides an alternative for owners to retire their elephants to a safe environment and offers volunteer opportunities to work for the benefit of the elephants, as well as working closely with local communities.

The combination of Thai temples, incredible natural waterfalls, caves, Thai food, and the elephants, make this an incredible opportunity to make memories and feel the loving vibe that this sanctuary so beautifully delivers. This is another ‘hands-off’ opportunity, so rather than touching the elephants or interacting with them directly there will be a lot of observational based work. The importance of volunteers to this project cannot be underestimated. They put so much effort into ensuring that their volunteers feel part of their family, and are supported to enjoy the beauty of Thailand and revel in the warmth of Thai culture.

alttagGalapagos Volunteering | WorkingAbroadGalapagos Conservation volunteers, Isabela Island

The Galapagos conservation volunteer project takes place on Isabela Island. The truly inspiring nature of the Galapagos takes you back to prehistoric times and gives you an opportunity to see the progression of evolution and enjoy the high levels of biodiversity that can be found on the island. One of the main roles of this project is to support and monitor the local turtle nesting areas and ensure the safety of the hatchlings.

During your free time, it is possible to share space whilst snorkelling with penguins and sea lions, walk active volcanos and generally absorb the fascinating landscape and beautiful culture of the Galapagos Islands. Some of the work on this project can be public-facing, to educate tourists and to work alongside locals to manage the interface between nature and human commerce. It is an incredibly diverse project, one in which you are sure to find your niche and spend many enjoyable hours with fascinating animals in one of the world’s most amazing places.

alttagWatamu Kenya | Sea Turtle Marine Volunteering | Working AbroadWatamu Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Kenya

Taking part in this project will see you researching and monitoring nesting turtles, providing conservational/educational outreach and getting involved in turtle rehabilitation, all along with the beautiful water mu coastline. This region forms part of the United Nations Biosphere Reserve and provides excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities in a coral reef rich with marine flora and fauna. Water sports, bird watching, and boat trips all potentially form part of your free time.

The main part of the conservation effort is focused on tracking turtle nesting activity, searching for hatching nests or evidence of new nests and helping stranded turtles. There are also opportunities to receive training to enable you to collect turtle data via measurements and tagging. A successful cooperative programme you can collaborate on with the local fishing community is the ‘bycatch/release programme’. This supports local fishermen who find turtles ensnared in their nets by reimbursing them for their time and lost revenue as a result of the unwanted ‘catch’, and by safely removing the turtles from the nets, and finally collating their data before releasing the animals safely. For any injured and sick sea turtles there is a rehabilitation centre for sea turtles where they are able to be monitored, get fit and well, receive monitoring, and contribute data researched prior to being released. 

alttagSpecies Conservation in South Africa Protecting and preserving endangered wildlife and ecosystemsBig Cat Sanctuary Volunteer Project, South Africa. 

What isn’t to like about the Big Cat project! For those of us obsessed with these incredible, dramatic beasts the opportunity to assist in their care is not to be missed. This sanctuary supports big cats that have been bred in captivity but cannot remain in that place or those that are no longer able to roam wild.

The aim is to give the animals as true-to-the-wild, a life as possible and where their welfare comes first. With a 40 hectare paradise to learn to love, you will see that the inhabitants have a free-to-roam home and that with a managed population of lions, tigers, leopards, jackals there will always be something new to learn. Managing the enclosures, assisting with farm work, supporting educational visits and preparing food for the voracious appetites of the big cats – you will always be where the interest is. The sanctuary is located close enough to be able to make trips to South Africa’s main tourist attractions but with the draw of the Big Cats, you may not want to spend time anywhere but here.

Which to choose?

With such diverse experiences and the chance to have such varied animal encounters, these projects offer the very best volunteering opportunities. Whether you want to have up-close and personal experiences or are keener on observing the larger mammals in their natural habitats you will be providing them all with the best gift possible – that of their continued safety and freedom.

For many of the animals these projects support, their direct and indirect contact with humans has been fraught and fear-laden. Thankfully they are now part of conservation and preservation networks that work tirelessly to care for them, alongside the rest of their species – and by volunteering you are part of that vital network. They may not be able to say it, but seeing them able to thrive and to be themselves, free from fear and pain, you know that the time and energy you have invested has all been worth it.

These opportunities are truly a heaven-sent holiday for all animal lovers – the most difficult part is which to choose!

Get in touch with Vicky at WorkingAbroad (Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com) to discuss your options and to get a helping hand in taking those important first steps towards creating the sort of future that the world’s endangered, injured, rehabilitated, monitored, and supported animals really need. 

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Rae Hadley

About the Author

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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.

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