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.
Top 10 wildlife conservation vacations
From monitoring turtle nests on remote beaches in Costa Rica as a family, to preparing daily meals for rescued bears in Romania, wildlife conservation vacations will take you all over the world. As varied as the wildlife each focuses on, one thing our top 10 wildlife conservation vacations have in common is a commitment to a sustainable, long-term approach to conservation. But don’t expect to be too hands on with the animals you’re working alongside – this is conservation, not cuddling, and the two rarely go hand-in-hand.
1. Turtles in Costa Rica
One of the best projects for budding conservationists aged five years and older, turtle conservation projects involve monitoring nests, protecting hatchlings and recording data on turtle sightings – mostly at night when turtles are most active on the beaches. Costa Rica itself, as well as being a mecca for green, leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles, is a safe yet adventurous family vacation destination.
2. Endangered wildlife in South AfricaSupport permanent research teams in underfunded game reserves in South Africa, monitoring populations of leopard, rhino and cheetah. This is no safari but a no-frills insight into life in the heart of the African bush. Expect as much camp-based data entry as game drives, as well as the odd opportunity to join teams capturing and radio-collaring big cats and game.
When to go: All year round, but best in July to September
Our top trip: Endangered wildlife conservation in South Africa
See all our trips: South Africa wildlife conservation vacations
Read more: South Africa wildlife travel guide
3. Orangutans in BorneoWork alongside research teams aiming to rewild and re-release orangutans rescued as habitats – or parents – have been destroyed by logging and forest fires. Expect construction, maintenance, feeding and the creation of enrichment materials to be part of your day to day work – but not cuddles. As little human contact as possible offers the greatest opportunity for successful release back into the wild.
When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Orangutan volunteering in Borneo
See all our trips: Borneo conservation vacations
Read more: Orangutan watching travel guide
4. Bears in Romania
The Romanian relationship with bears is complex – stemming from cruel circus and ‘bear dancing’ traditions and wild conflicts with livestock farmers in the Carpathian Mountains. Conservation projects are focussed at a sanctuary working to improve attitudes to bears – and provide rescued, previously captive animals with the relative freedom of large, wild forested enclosures, and release into the mountains where possible.
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5. Monkeys in South AfricaThis is one of the only wildlife conservation projects where there is significant time spent hands-on with the animals. You’ll be responsible for the round-the-clock care of rescued orphaned baby monkeys and baboons – nursing and bottle-feeding them back to health and preparing them for life in the wild. Expect some maintenance and administrative tasks too, as well as long, messy days.
When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Volunteer with monkeys in South Africa
See all our trips: South Africa volunteer travel vacations
Read more: Volunteering with animals travel guide
6. Dolphins in the MediterraneanIf you love dolphins then joining a research team in Greece or Italy is the perfect way to spot huge numbers of these cetaceans, and in doing so contribute to vital ongoing data monitoring dolphin populations and behaviour. You’ll spend your days at sea photographing dorsal fins for identification and logging GPS coordinates of sightings, with evening talks on dolphin behaviour available from research biologists.
When to go: June to September
Our top trip: Dolphin conservation vacation in Greece
See all our trips: Marine conservation vacations
Read more: Marine conservation travel guide
7. Carnivore research in Namibia
Focussing on cheetahs and other threatened big cats, these projects rely on volunteers to help monitor cheetah populations and record sightings and behaviour – both in person and via camera traps. Expect long, hot dusty walks in the bush – up to 15km per day to collect data then used to help reduce conflicts between farmers and cats and improve local understanding of these vulnerable creatures.
8. Elephants in Sri LankaFar removed from the tourist-touting sanctuaries offering elephant-back rides and circus shows, genuine elephant conservation projects in Sri Lanka focus less on the care of rescued pachyderms but instead on the monitoring and research of wild populations – and initiatives to reduce human-elephant conflicts. You might be tracking and identifying wild elephants, conducting village surveys or building fences to protect houses and farms from elephant damage.
When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Elephant conservation vacation in Sri Lanka
See all our trips: Elephant conservation vacations
Read more: Elephant trekking travel guide
9. Sharks in South AfricaImmerse yourself in the world of some of the world’s mightiest, and most misunderstood creatures. You’ll be observing and monitoring shark movements from the research boat and via a series of thrilling cage dives; capturing much-needed identification photographs and feeding records of sightings into the marine biologists’ ongoing datasets. Travel in June to December and you’ll come face to face with whales too, while penguins are never far away year round.
When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Shark conservation in South Africa
See all our trips: Shark diving vacations
Read more: Shark diving travel guide
10. Mountain gorillas in Uganda
One of the world’s most awesome creatures is also one of its most endangered – and volunteers joining Uganda’s award-winning mountain gorilla conservation projects play an important role in reforestation and engaging with local communities who share their environment. You’ll also go on two gorilla treks and a trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park to track hippos, buffalos, elephants and chimpanzees.
More about Wildlife conservation
Find out whether wildlife conservation is for you and what wildlife conservation entails as you pour over our wildlife conservation guide.
From the vibrant culture of Thailand to the tropical savannah of Belize, sometimes choosing a wildlife conservation vacation can be as exciting as the world you’ll find once in resort.
If you want to know where to go on a wildlife conservation vacation then read on to discover what Responsible Travel recommends and typical daily timetables to get a glimpse of a day in the life.
Wildlife conservation activities usually include a bit of free time for local engagement initiatives and getting out and about. Read tips from our expert Erin Sparks on the low down.
From preparing food for rescued brown bears in Romania to remote research expeditions searching out endangered lynx in the Montenegrin mountains and more!
Choose a wildlife conservation vacation that really matters using advice from our suppliers Johan Maree and Anne Smellie.
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.
Turtle conservation projects from Costa Rica to the Seychelles offer opportunities for effective citizen science in idyllic beach settings. That makes them perfect for families wanting a worthwhile volunteer project to take on together. Read on for more information on what to expect on a turtle conservation project, and why we no longer support turtle hatcheries that use tanks.
Learn about accommodation, training and advice on seeing the bigger picture before you set off armed with advice on how to do wildlife conservation safely.
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.