Volunteer opportunities with animals

A great way to help wildlife is to volunteer with animals. This guide will help provide tips and 
suggestions of volunteer opportunities with animals.

Ultimate guide to Volunteer Opportunities with Animals

My name is Daniel and I am the co-founder of Ecoteer. I started Ecoteer as a student and I wanted more people to experience the awesome long term internships I had when I volunteered abroad.  I volunteered with animals in Borneo, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  The amazing experiences I had and the network I built led me to wanting to help more students get the opportunities to get that step in the door like I had. Through Ecoteer.com, (a website that has since closed) I have gained years of experience at vetting wildlife conservation volunteer projects.

Daniel Quilter Ecoteer

This guide is written by us both to help you to choose the best volunteer with animals experience for you. Whether you just want a fun experience whilst doing good or you want to develop a career.   Here is all for you to learn from.

What is Volunteering with animals and why is it important?

You want to volunteer with animals? Many of these projects involve working towards the conservation of animals and their habitat. Environmental conservation is a movement to protect species at risk from extinction, protecting biodiversity and maintaining and restoring habitats and natural resources. It is vital work in order to prevent loss of species that could otherwise have been avoided, thus preserving the natural balance between humans and nature.

Conservation is a collective effort and the climate crisis is a global issue meaning there are projects all over the world working towards creating a positive impact. Whether you want to work with animals, communities or the environment they are all just as important.

You May have heard of voluntourism or conservation tourism but what are they?

We can sum them up in one phrase, ‘Travelling with a cause’. This kind of trip which can involve volunteering with animals or an ethical tour will allow you to see the world and experience new cultures whilst contributing to a positive change. You can experience some of the most biodiverse places in the world whilst learning about the importance of conservation, invaluable knowledge that will stay with you for life.

But watch out!

Responsible volunteering and tourism, what are they and why are they important?

Volunteering with conservation projects is one of the best ways to make a positive impact in the world. You want to be contributing to positive change. When deciding on an organisation to volunteer with make sure they are open about their welfare considerations for both their staff and their animals. If they aren’t proudly showing their work on their website and social media platforms they probably aren’t making a positive contribution to be proud of.  But also watch out for green washing and over selling.

Top tips to help you volunteer with animals

  1. Ask lots of questions. Make sure you look into the organisation through their own website and don’t just listen to what the travel company alone tells you about them. Take accountability and look thoroughly at their websites ‘about us’ page and see if they tell you what their ethos is or any of the projects they run and support. Do they align with your ethics? Do they consider the welfare of their animals and staff? Is their evidence of this?
  1. Look at their social media posts. Lots of legitimately ethical organisations will want to get their followers involved in their work so consider their engagement on social media. Have a read of testimonials from previous volunteers. What do they have to say about the organisation and what is their feedback?
  1. Cultural awareness. Do your research on the place you’d like to visit before you go out there. Many of us want to travel in order to immerse ourselves in new cultures and whilst this is a great opportunity to do so it is important to approach this experience with respect, sensitivity and knowledge. To do this we must understand the culture, traditions, religion, customs and social expectations so choosing an organisation who shares this understanding of cultural issues is important alongside your own research efforts.
  1. Go in with an open mind. Your volunteering with animals experience will be the most beneficial for you if you want to learn from those you wish to help. As a volunteer abroad, you are a guest in someone else’s home so bare that in mind. Learning is a personal experience for everyone and if you listen to their concerns, understand what the issue is and take that knowledge away with you even after your trip that invaluable knowledge which you gained will continue to help you make better choices in the future.
  1. Conservation tourism vs ecotourism. You want to be looking for a conservation project that really makes a difference, true volunteer opportunities with animals aren’t just a holiday where you get to cuddle all the cute animals.
  1. When looking for volunteer opportunities with animals you should favour organisations who have long term plans for their projects and the impact they want to make. Consider how your involvement in the project will help long-term rather than just having a short-term impact.
  1. Where is your money going? Make sure you understand where your fees are going. Is it going back into funding the conservation projects or are they not clear on this? If it is not clear contact the organisation yourself or ask the travel agency.
  2. Consider what is needed and where you can bring the most value as opposed to what you might want. It is natural to be drawn to projects that excite you the most and whilst passion is an important factor of the value of your volunteering it is also important to consider the less popular projects that you can make a real impact with.
  3. These are dynamic projects, you may book a year in advance for such a project. 12 months is a long time for a conservation project, people change, animals change, funding changes. Therefore it’s your responsibility, not the projects, to really keep in touch with the project, as you may not get exactly what you booked 12 months before as the situation of the project may have changed.   

The main thing, is really go with an open heart and mind, don’t put your values on other people or projects and really try hard to understand the project and why they do what they do.  They may do things that are not 100% textbook ethical but why not? what is the reason, ask questions and want to learn before judging.

Wildlife conservation school trip care for orangutans
They are cute and cuddly and one of the most popular animals to want to volunteer with. Read this section to learn more about Orangutan projects where you can volunteer and why you shouldnt handle or touch orangutans.
Volunteer with turtles
Turtles are a flagship species for coral reefs and seagress beds. Sea turtles are a popular species for volunteer programmes because unskilled volunteers can help with every day tasks and actually get to see wild individuals.
Volunteer with elephants
Elephants are one of the most majestic animals roaming our planet. They are amazing but under a lot of threats ranging from unethical tourism to the illegal wildlife parts trade. They are some amazing projects where you can help these gentle giants.
Yellow-crested Cockatoo on World Wildlife Day
Wildlife Rescue Centres are a great place to volunteer at as they need lots of unskilled help with daily taks such as food prep, cage cleaning and general upkeep on the facility. All great tasks for hard working and enthusiastic volunteers,
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