Where to go on a wildlife conservation vacation

From the vibrant culture of Thailand to the tropical savannah of Belize, the locations that host wildlife conservation vacations are as diverse as the work you can do in them. Once you’ve arrived you could be traveling on foot and by bicycle to animal sanctuaries and enclosures, or in a 4x4 across the vast pains of game reserves, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll actually get there. Some projects are located in isolated areas where travel links are poor, so your journey could involve internal flights or lengthy road travel, which not everyone will be comfortable with. Think about the logistics involved and don’t be immediately wowed by the location.

1. Borneo

Best time: Feb-Dec. Borneo has become a bit of a poster child for ‘giving back’ vacations and though slow loris, sun bears and orangutans do all need your help, don’t be lured in by the idea of cuddling babies. You should never touch an orangutan, but they’re beautiful to watch and construction and reforestation work is a really rewarding way to help. More on Borneo here.
Costa Rica

2. Costa Rica

Best time: Jul-Dec. Costa Rica is the ultimate beach destination and working on a turtle conservation project there gives you the chance to explore its unspoilt coastline while helping to protect the precious environment of its shelled inhabitants. You’ll patrol the beach, monitor nests, protect new hatchlings and record observations for future protection campaigns. More on Costa Rica here.

3. Greece

Best time: Apr-Oct. Travel to the remote Northern Pindos mountains where vacations to track wild brown bears support ongoing conservation research. Or head to the quiet, lush island of Alonissos where you’ll join research teams out on the crystal clear Adriatic each day on the lookout for dolphins; photographing dorsal fins for identification and noting GPS coordinates of sightings. More on Greece here.

4. Italy

Best time: May-Oct. Join expert biologists surveying the marine mammals of the Pelagos Sanctuary in the Ligurian Sea, home to the highest concentration of whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean. Spending all day at sea you’ll be taking identification photographs, monitoring behaviour, recording data on sightings and conducting acoustic surveys, with evening on-land lectures from marine biologists. More on Italy here.

5. Malawi

Best time: Year round. Conservation work in Malawi involves helping with wild animal rescue, rehabilitation and release as well as being part of an important programme of community initiatives from education projects to tree planting – everything is aimed at repairing the fractured relationship between animals and humans, and reducing deforestation. More on Malawi here.

6. Namibia

Best time: Year round. Namibia has a rich concentration of wildlife conservation opportunities. Play a part in the conservation of wild cheetahs in the wilderness, game-counting, camera trap setting and collecting footprints; help to track and monitor elephants in the desert; or care for rescued animals in a sanctuary surrounded by lush vegetation and mountain views. More on Namibia here.
New Zealand

7. New Zealand

Best time: Year round. Volunteer with some of New Zealand’s iconic endemic creatures in some of the most spectacular scenery in the southern hemisphere – but also where rates of species loss are some of the highest in the world. You might be combating coastal erosion, reforesting, restoring habitats, collecting seeds and undertaking wildlife surveys. You’ll also learn about traditional Maori culture. Read more on New Zealand here.

8. Romania

Best time: Year round. The tale of Romania’s brown bear population is a sad one: for years they’ve been trapped in cages outside restaurants, forced to dance for ‘entertainment’, and trophy-hunted, so the rescue work done in the country is invaluable. Volunteering at a sanctuary, your days will be spent prepping and distributing food and monitoring their wellbeing. More on Romania here.
South Africa

9. South Africa

Best time: Year round. From hands-on care of baby monkeys to wild animal research in the heart of under-funded game reserves, wildlife conservation in South Africa is varied. You might be setting camera traps, radio-tracking rhino and inputting data into research computers at your remote bush camp. Or preparing food and undertaking maintenance work in a sanctuary rescuing birds, monkeys or even African elephants. More on South Africa here.
Sri Lanka

10. Sri Lanka

Best time: Year round. Wildlife conservation work in Sri Lanka focuses on its wild elephants, and how human-elephant conflict can be minimised to ensure the survival of these endangered creatures. You’ll spend time in the remote Wasgamuwa National Park monitoring wild elephant populations and behaviour, and working with local communities to develop ways to live harmoniously with their gigantic neighbours. More on Sri Lanka here.

11. Thailand

Best time: Year round. Wildlife conservation in Thailand is varied. Work with elephants, getting to know the intelligent, gentle giants directly with their mahouts; live with over 30 of them in the wilds of the Thai jungle; or volunteer in a wildlife rescue center for neglected, or injured animals caring for gibbons, slow loris, bears, small mammals and reptiles. More on Thailand here.

12. Uganda

Best time: Jan-Oct Iconic wildlife is at its finest in Uganda, where you can volunteer at a sanctuary housing the country’s only white rhinos, with the aim to re-establish a wild population after being poached out of their natural habitat in the 1980s. Alternatively head into the steamy highlands where mountain gorilla conservation focuses on community engagement, education and projects to bolster local livelihoods. More on Uganda here.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Wildlife conservation or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Typical daily timetables

Belize wildlife conservation vacation (14 days)

7:00: Breakfast 7.45: Cycle to the center 8.00: Prepare morning feeds for the animals 9.00: Distribute food and refresh waters 10.30: Clean enclosures 12:00: Lunch 13.00: Enrichment activities 14.00: Enclosure cleaning/maintenance 15:00: Prepare afternoon feeds 16.00: Distribute food and check waters 17.00: Cycle back to volunteer accommodation 17.30: Spend evening getting to know other volunteers and guests, dinner and usually an early night ready for the next day

Volunteering with monkeys in South Africa (14 days)

7:00: Cleaning cages, preparing food and feeding of animals 9.00: Breakfast 10:00: Continue with feeding if not complete, check for injuries or any discomfort with casualties and report. Work on projects as specified by project leaders 13:00: Lunch 14.00: Various – building new enclosures, planting vegetables (for animals), checking animals in various stages of rehabilitation programme, collecting food, having some time off to go on excursions or to relax. Taking the monkeys and baboons down to the pool to bathe 17.00: Break 18.00: Dinner 19.00: Feeding of nocturnal animals, if any at center

Endanagered wildlife conservation in South Africa (14 days)

5.30am: Early start. Breakfast 7.00: First monitoring session – tracking, mapping sightings, documenting behavioural notes 11.30: Various – relax, read, help clean camp, help prepare lunch, have a nap 13.00: Lunch 14.30: Second monitoring session 18.00: Dinner prep, socialising, dinner round the campfire, followed by early bed At least one full day a week is set aside for data entry and analysis of collected information
Written by Polly Humphris
Photo credits: [Page banner: Frontierofficial] [Borneo: Ridwan0810] [Costa Rica: Everjean] [Greece: Stk2k7] [Italy: Jose Antonio] [Malawi: Greg Chimitris] [Namibia: Mike Bird] [New Zealand: Tomas Sobek] [Romania: Georg Scholz] [South Africa: Martie Swart] [Sri Lanka: Jon Connell] [Thailand: Kym Ellis] [Uganda: Helena Van Eykeren]