Volunteering abroad used to be a long term commitment for a highly qualified few. Today, opportunities have opened up for people of all skill levels, in virtually every country in the world.
Volunteering with animals
If youíre going to travel halfway across the world to spend your days cleaning enclosures, feeding animals, building pathways and shovelling the proverbial, you have to love it. And the love on this kind of trip is big. Big enough for animal welfare organisations to build sanctuaries to house injured, neglected, orphaned or abused animals. Indeed, the people who run these sanctuaries or wildlife centers are heroes of conservation, and youíll be working alongside them in their everyday tasks.
I was looking for a retreat vacation to reboot. Life had got a bit crazy. And so I went to volunteer with orangutans in Borneo. Now that is rebooting. With knobs on.
This isnít adventurous work. You wonít be traipsing into the jungle for days to monitor elephants or tigers. This is quotidian care work that is all about the animals. Itís less about destinations and more about rehabilitations. You will be like nurses, traveling to be vital cogs in the healing process, often through thankless tasks. But be it with monkeys in South Africa, bears in Romania or orangutans in Borneo, they will be some of the most rewarding weeks of your life. Feeling the love yet? Then please read more of our volunteering with animals travel guide.
Our Volunteering with animals Vacations
ARE VOLUNTEERING WITH ANIMALS HOLIDAYS FOR YOU?
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WHAT DO THESE TRIPS ENTAIL?
These volunteering projects are all about contributing to ongoing work with an organisation that has usually scrimped and saved, begged and borrowed to sustain itself. For them it is all about the animals, community participation and doing their utmost to create change when it comes to wildlife and animal care. And so it is all hands on deck. Depending on the project, you will likely be working at least five hours a day, and sometimes more. These are not organisations that mistreat humans, however. They just know that there are animal lovers the world over who are more than happy to pay a fee to work with animals, while also supporting an important conservation or rehabilitation effort.
You will be sent a clear itinerary of the working day before you sign on the dotted line. When volunteering with horses in South Africa, for example, the typical working day is usually from 7am Ė 5pm working five days out of seven. You will be mucking out, grooming, dipping and feeding and then, of course, riding. On beaches. In the Eastern Cape. You see, there are good bits too. When volunteering with elephants in Thailand, your day will probably start around 6am and finish at 5pm, with one day off per week. Although there are plenty of break and siesta times. Similarly, volunteering with orangutans in Borneo, in many cases itís an 8-5 day where, as well as feeding the animals, you may be mixing concrete for enclosure foundations or building small bridges to help release them into the wild. But always with a siesta in the hottest and most humid part of the day.
SleepWhen working with low budget, donation-led organisations, you can throw any notion of luxury out of the window. Volunteers are always well cared for, of course, but think hostel rather than hotel. Communal rather than individual. Frugality over luxury. Ideally your accommodation is as close to the project as possible as days will start early. When living on site, it also adds to the camaraderie of it all. When caring for orangutan and other primates in Borneo, for example, you will typically stay in volunteer lodging at a wildlife center, with three to four people in a house all cooking together using a stipend given at the beginning of the week. In contrast, when volunteering with bears in Romania, you will likely stay in the heart of medieval Brasov, surrounded by mountains. And when volunteering with monkeys in South Africa, accommodation is often in woodland dorms and cabins, close to the center but also to Kruger National Park for your day off. You will likely also have use of a swimming pool. And, if volunteering with turtles in Greece, you will usually have locally owned beach huts to stay in and the best pool you could wish for: the ocean.
PlayYou arenít signing up for lifelong servitude. You are simply contributing to important animal projects, and of course it is normal that you are going to want to play a little too: on your day off, at the beginning or end of the trip or Ė if you have energy left Ė in the evenings. Although most people are dead on their feet by nightfall on these trips and are happy to hang out by the campfire, play cards or chill in a hammock. But just to give you a few ideas of fun to be had, in South Africa for example, you will not only be riding the horses along the Eastern Capeís beaches, but also have some time off to enjoy your own beach time, go whale or dolphin watching or learn to surf. In Borneo, you can head to the coast at Kuching, or explore the national parks. In Namibia, a safari or sand boarding are not to be missed, and in Sri Lanka, there are always rainforests to be explored. Good volunteering organisations will know the destination really well, and will help advise you on any extras that you hope to tie onto your trip.
Taking the elephants down to the river to wash them means we have to jump in too. And they call this work?
Dietary needs will be catered for, but donít expect a vast menu to choose from on volunteering with animals vacations. Using local, good value ingredients, there tends to be a one-size-fits-all approach to cuisine. Big hearty stews, curries, plenty of water, coffee and tea, and snacks will be supplied. Sometimes you have to take part in the shopping expeditions, and maybe even help cook from time to time. In volunteering organisations, there are few kitchens that will refuse help, so if you fancy making everyone a cake one day, you will get a lot of brownie points. Always pack a recipe.
Budgeting and shopping for a week's food in Borneo for our house of four was the most challenging part of the trip. Most of us hadn't done that since we were students.
More about Volunteering with animals
Unlike most vacations, with volunteering it's not so much where to go as which animals you want to work with.
Our volunteering with bears vacations really are much more than your average getaway.
Learn where you can volunteer with monkeys, whatís involved, and what to know before signing up.
An orangutan volunteering vacation is hard work, but could be among the most memorable experiences of your life.
Turtle conservation projects from Costa Rica to the Seychelles offer opportunities for effective citizen science in idyllic beach settings.
Here we reveal the best places to enjoy a responsible elephant conservation project, where you might be joining long-term researchers to monitor wild herds, or working in sanctuaries.
From tracking leopards in South Africa to caring for rescued bears in Romania, the places a wildlife conservation vacation will take you are as varied as the work you will do.
There are no excuses for not being able to travel right on a conservation vacation with the responsible wildlife conservation tours that we advertise on this website.