Wildlife conservation travel guide

2 Minute Summary

The biggest misconception about wildlife conservation vacations is that they are an opportunity to travel to an outlying idyll then spend your days bottle-feeding lion cubs and cuddling chimps – this couldn’t actually be further from the truth. Wildlife conservation trips are for people who love the wild and are passionate about the environment, and a big part of that is accepting that to work alongside wild animals isn’t going to be about babying them.
Wildlife conservation is an umbrella term for everything to do with protecting the health of our natural environment and the incredible wildlife that lives among it, something often taken for granted and is hugely vulnerable to harm by human activity – but that’s not to say you can’t be in the company of some really interesting people and have a lot of fun while helping out with it.
Get to grips with what a working wildlife vacation entails and how you can choose the right one for you with our wildlife conservation travel guide.

Is wildlife conservation for you?


Go on a wildlife conservation vacation if…

  • You are passionate about wildlife and want to help preserve it.
  • You want to understand wildlife conservation’s wider goals and are comfortable that research is an important element of doing that.
  • You have done a safari before and loved it, or like the idea of doing a safari, but want something more involved and are interested in the bigger picture.
  • You are looking for a really alternative trip: wildlife conservation vacations are nothing like booking a villa for a week somewhere sunny, they’re an entirely different experience where you will be helping to do something incredible, but probably out of your comfort zone too.
  • You have an active interest in finding out more about the local lifestyle. Thankfully, the relationship between the local community and conservationists is becoming stronger and one of the markers of a conservation project’s success now is how well it works within the local community. It isn’t compulsory to get involved with the local community, but most people want to.
  • You find a wildlife conservation trip that matches your own interests and your own skill level too – find out if you need previous experience, or any prior training, so the trip matches your own expectations of what you want to learn and achieve.
Don’t go on a wildlife conservation vacation if…

  • You want to cuddle cute animals – wildlife conservation work is very much hands-off.
  • You want to go somewhere to party: a wildlife conservation trip is the wrong trip for you – don’t confuse a relaxed environment with the fact that you’re actually helping out as part of an important environmental picture.
  • You want air-conditioned, resort style accommodation and umbrellas in your cocktails – the locations may be 5*, but they’re not 5* resorts and conservation work is far more about local people and living how they live than creature comforts.
  • You need a regular sleep pattern – particularly when working with monkeys, you may be required to wok through the night, so your sleep pattern will be more erratic.
  • You’re a stickler for a set routine. Flexibility is a must for any type of conservation trip because you are working within nature, which essentially has no rules, so you need to be prepared for changes to your daily plan.
  • You’re not able to manage your expectations: one day you might see lots of wildlife, the next you might see none - there is little rhyme and reason to the behaviour of animals.

What does wildlife conservation entail?


A wildlife conservation trip is essentially a working vacation. You’ll join a team of trained researchers and professional wildlife monitors working on a long-term project to protect and help conserve our planet’s wildlife and wild places.
A lot of the work that goes into conservation requires large amounts of manpower, so volunteers are needed to muck in and can choose from a variety of trips: working in sanctuaries with animals that have been rescued from zoos or cruel tourist entertainment; working in rehabilitation centres with animals that have been injured but need assistance before being released back into the wild; working in research centres, which sounds very scientific, but often isn’t, and is very much focused on observing behaviours and noting down patterns and sightings; or working on game reserves doing tracking, monitoring, and land conservation work such as clearing trees or planting seeds, which is vitally important for the wildlife that dwells there.
The biggest misconception about wildlife conservation vacations is that people think they can go on vacation, stay somewhere exotic and cuddle lots of cute animals, but this really isn’t the case. Though some elephant care placements and others working with monkeys may require a small element of practical hands-on work, this should never be a priority for you when deciding on a wildlife conservation trip – generally it isn’t in the best interests of the animal concerned, something which you can read more about on our responsible tourism page.

Without question, what you absolutely need before booking a wildlife conservation trip is a passion for the animal world, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn – learning how to track, monitor, and care for animals accurately requires commitment, and you’ll also be learning about conservation on the job so a genuine interest is imperative.

Their idyllic locations often run the risk of people presuming wildlife conservation trips are a bit more of a vacation than they actually are; they can be very hard work and demand long days with quite physical, but very rewarding work involved and although your accommodation will be provided and some is more plush than others, you should approach wildlife conservation expecting a 5* experience, not a 5* resort.

Photo credits: [Top box - deer: USFWS Mountain-Prairie] [What it entails box - volunteer group: USFWS - Pacific Region]
Written by Polly Humphris
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