Where to go volunteering with animals

There are lots of fragile habitats and wildlife populations to be protected around the world, and their numbers are sadly growing every year. Volunteering with animals in sanctuaries and wildlife centers usually involves working with endangered creatures that have been rescued from human behaviour, be it hunting them, overworking them or keeping them as pets. From turtles in Costa Rica to orangutans in Borneo, there are plenty of valuable projects to chose from, where you'll care for, feed, clean and help protect animals in environments that were built especially for that purpose. But where you're never too far from a city, a national park or a beach either, for those all important days off.
Bears in Romania

1. Bears in Romania

A unique chance to work in a sanctuary that rescues bears that have been abused over the years. In most cases, tragically, this has been for tourism purposes. Romania was once notorious for its dancing bears. With over 80 bears in situ, this is a place to feed, clean and care for the animals, contributing to their eventual rehabilitation and, ideally, readiness for life in the Carpathian Mountains again.
Turtles in Costa Rica

2. Turtles in Costa Rica

It’s a win win really, working on conservation and monitoring projects that protect sea turtles, their eggs and hatchlings, along the tropical beaches of Costa Rica. Working within the turtle season which is July-Dec, be prepared to do night time beach patrols, tag turtles, help the hatchlings back out to sea, and live at one of several volunteering centers on the beach. Tough work, but someone has to do it.
Elephants in Thailand

3. Elephants in Thailand

Time does heal as Thailand’s elephant sanctuaries show, with a role reversal going on. Elephants are sadly still used for tourism rides, but in some sanctuaries it’s now tourists doing the work to rescue elephants that have suffered at the hands of humans. Working closely with mahouts (traditional elephant trainers), you’ll feed them, bathe them and bond with them. DIY and mucking out are also par for the course.
Horse rehabilitation in South Africa

4. Horse rehabilitation in South Africa

Working in a horse rehabilitation center on South Africa’s Eastern Cape, where abused or neglected horses are brought to be helped and healed on a farm that is wholly dedicated to equine care. Although these projects attract horse experts, you don’t need to be a brilliant rider to come. Horses need lots of loving to get back on their feet. It’s not all about galloping them on nearby beaches, but it helps.
Monkeys in South Africa

5. Monkeys in South Africa

There aren’t many hands-on animal volunteering projects, but working with rescued or injured monkeys does invite one-to-one care. At South Africa’s largest primate rehabilitation center, there's lots of work to be done prepping food, cleaning enclosures, and doing general maintenance, all preparing the monkeys for release back to the wild. A popular project with volunteering families and their little monkeys.
Orangutans in Borneo

6. Orangutans in Borneo

From Sepilok in Sabah to the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak, these are vital projects working in sanctuaries that rescue and rehabilitate orphaned, injured and captured orangutans. The work is full on, and cuddling orangutans is not an option, due to the threat of them catching colds and other diseases. But this is primate care at its peak, often working with or staying in indigenous communities.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Volunteering with animals or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Volunteering with animals travel advice

Erin Sparks, from our supplier, Pod Volunteer, shares her wildlife conservation advice: “When we describe accommodation, we tend to undersell and over deliver, so if anything we describe it as little bit more basic than it is; it’s very difficult because everyone has different expectations, but all accommodation is of a very liveable standard… Some are dorms, others you share with between two and four people – it varies and volunteers are responsible for keeping their area clean and tidy. You’re there to slot in and help out as opposed to be waited on hand and foot.”

How to choose an organisation

Anne Smellie, from our supplier, Oyster Worldwide, shares her volunteering with animals travel advice: “Think about what you’re passionate about, but above and beyond that, book your trip with an organisation that you trust, that has a good reputation and that – very importantly – has been out on the trips that they champion. The animal welfare and wildlife conservation world is sadly peppered with opportunists trying to pull the wool over volunteers’ eyes as to what it is they’re actually helping to achieve on a conservation project, but it is very difficult to pull the wool over someone’s eyes who has actually been there firsthand and has experienced everything that happens there.”

Tips from our travelers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful volunteering with animals travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation.
Think about what is more important, good weather and fewer turtles or more turtles and bad weather. We went for the latter and it was definitely worth enduring the daily storms for the experience of seeing the baby and adult turtles.
– Anna Hulton volunteering with turtles in Costa Rica
“It was fantastic to be directly involved in a conservation operation for some of the most endangered animals in Africa. Volunteers were able to actively participate in activities to anaesthetise and move animals and other research, as well as handling a variety of animals on a regular basis. The highlight of my two weeks was conducting a game count on horseback......Two weeks is probably not enough. Look out for options to volunteer for a week at Neuras and Kanaan and book before you go - these options are very popular. There are also various reasonably priced safari options which are worth looking at.” – Frances Toomey on our Namibia wildlife sanctuary volunteering vacation

“Volunteering at the wildlife sanctuary was amazing…The accommodation is very basic - some days there is hot water for showers and other days there is no water. Be adaptable. If you are interested in being part of the Sanctuary's mission, there are daily duties that need to be completed. Be prepared to work at least 8 hours per day. Some of the volunteers during our stay preferred to treat this as a "fun" vacation which left more work for the dedicated volunteers.” – Carolyn Anderson volunteering with wildlife in Malawi.

“Take a trip to a charity shop before you leave to buy shirts/tshirts etc as part of the fun is getting wet and dirty when cleaning and playing with the monkeys. Leaving things behind when you depart helps other volunteers. Take a pack of rubber gloves and leave behind what you don't use.” – Sara Lee, Volunteer with monkeys in South Africa

“We stayed at the volunteer house for 2 weeks, which we felt was long enough to do everything we wanted to do, as 1 week would have felt very rushed to fit it in. I would recommend taking books and games etc for when you have free time. You really get out of it what you put in.” – Sarah Lund volunteering with elephants in Thailand
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Brian Gratwicke] [Bears in Romania: NH53] [Turtles in Costa Rica: Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernandez] [Elephants in Thailand: ryan harvey] [Horse rehabilitation in South Africa: Graeme Newcomb] [Monkeys in South Africa: FrontierOfficial] [Orangutans in Borneo: cylonfingers]