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Community, Environment & Wildlife, Travel & Culture

Why Ethical Volunteering is Vitally Important

March 15th 2023

Tagged: Conservation, Ethical Volunteering, Sustainable Travel, Volunteering Abroad, Wildlife

The first time I realised that animals have become a victim of the tourism industry is when I travelled to Tunisia in 2018. It was a fascinating trip learning about their culture and seeing the beautiful natural life that exists there.

However, one day, I went to a zoo. Upon arriving, I found a sign that told us not to give money to the zoo keepers. This immediately was a red flag to me. What were they going to charge us for?

It turned out that the zookeepers were allowing tourists to sit on the tortoises’ backs for photos, in exchange for cash. 

After seeing this, I knew that something was wrong with the tourism industry. Companies and individuals are profiting from animal abuse- letting people ride elephants, and swim with dolphins and pet lion cubs are the main culprits. 

To turn things on a more positive note, let’s talk about ethical volunteering. We need volunteers now more than ever- animals and nature need our help. If you are thinking about volunteering in wildlife conservation to help protect our natural world, it is important to remember to look into ethical activities and read the guidelines on how their trips are against unethical interactions with animals.

Three volunteers enjoying Hermosa sunriseVolunteer with Turtles | Volunteer Costa RicaEthical Volunteering

Ethical volunteering involves choosing a program that does not cause any damage to the life and community of the area you travel to and deciding to go with good intentions. Going with the correct mindset is important- know what you want to achieve with the trip and have your moral compass with you at all times.

Being able to volunteer in wildlife is an amazing opportunity to learn and gain valuable experiences, but it is also crucial for wildlife. Volunteers are needed to help carry out the work to move towards a more sustainable world. The research and observations can help the surrounding communities and the natural environment.

Ethical volunteering gives people a boost in self-confidence and identity- accomplishing something for another community gives people a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Creating a positive change with your actions is a big achievement. Choosing an unethical program will not give you the sense of pride and achievement that an ethical program would.

Where can I Find Ethical Volunteering?

Before you make any decisions on whether to go on a volunteer program, do your research. When doing research on a volunteer program, check their stance on ethical issues within the industry and what their aims are as a company. What kind of activities do they offer? How will this be beneficial for the community/biodiversity?

If they will allow you to go into an enclosure to touch the animals or let you swim with them, this is not ethical. They aim to make money from the tourists and give them a new ‘experience’- it is almost never beneficial for the animals. An ethical program would involve observing the animals from a distance and being a part of a research team, learning about conservation and participating in activities that do not involve exploiting animals.

How the company uses your money is also something you should consider. Ask the company how your fees will be spent if they don’t share this information publicly. If you’re happy with where the money is going and it is benefiting the animals, go for it!

Male lion in South AfricaKariega Game Reserve | Volunteer South Africa | Working AbroadOur Guidelines

Since 1997, WorkingAbroad has been working together with volunteers to make positive differences in communities all over the world. The partner organisations are fully registered and always have trained staff that support the volunteers- the quality of the local organisations is very important. The main goal is to offer experiences that are meaningful and impactful.

WorkingAbroad makes sure that all volunteer projects involve only observing wildlife from a distance unless absolutely necessary, and trained researchers will accompany you. We actively take steps to research every potential project partner that comes to us, while many are only registered with us through our team’s reliable and respectable links in the field of conservation. Under no circumstance will we partner with a company where wildlife has become the victim.

WorkingAbroad also contributed to a documentary by the Claws Out campaign about lion exploitation and what happens in the volunteering industry. Plus, we’ve taken the Claws Out pledge to help IAPWA tackle lion exploitation. Will you join us? Find out more about this campaign and take the pledge here: https://iapwa.org/claws-out/

It is definitely important that we hold the industry accountable and promote ethical volunteering.

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

White lions at sanctuary in South AfricaBig Cat Volunteer | South Africa Wildlife | Working Abroad

“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”.

How You Can Help 

The best thing that people can do to stop companies from profiting from animal cruelty is to stop using their services. The less popular they are, the less likely an animal will become the victim of the tourism industry. You can also raise awareness of this issue on social media and with friends and family (if they are thinking about volunteering).

Finally, by choosing an ethical volunteering program, you can make the first steps to creating a kinder and more sustainable world. Being involved in a program that gives back to the community is an amazing memory to look back on!

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Charlotte Gager

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.