Volunteer holidays with animals: How to give back ethically
Posted: November 24, 2021
The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.
Adore animals, nature, and seeking big-time adventure? Find a wildlife volunteer holiday you’re passionate about and have a direct impact on the planet.
Responsible volunteer holidays are one of the best ways to interact with animals without interfering with their natural systems. You just need to pick an organisation that shares your values and holds animal welfare as a top priority.
Not sure what to look out for? We’ve listed everything you need to know, as well as what you can expect during your wildlife volunteer holiday.
What are responsible volunteer holidays with animals?
Travel is amazing. It can give us dream experiences, help us learn about other cultures, visit new places, and grow.
But there’s a negative impact that comes with humans travelling en masse. Due to mass tourism, animals are often exploited for profit.
Responsible wildlife volunteer projects aim to raise awareness and end these practices, while giving travellers a safe and sustainable alternative that allows them to enjoy animal-sightings in their natural habitats.
Choosing the right volunteer project for you is important. You need to make sure it’s something you have a passion for or want to learn more about.
Before sending through any applications or payments, really think about what you’d like to get out of the experience. Maybe you want to only volunteer with elephants, or spend your time in a specific country?
Here are some of the wildlife volunteering programs around the world that are great options for volunteer holidays:
Sea turtle and coastal conservation
All sea turtle subspecies are either endangered or vulnerable. Due to threats like poaching and plastic pollution in our oceans, fewer and fewer turtles are surviving until adulthood.
Sea turtle conservation aims to address this challenge and you can help. As a volunteer, you’ll get to take part in nighttime beach patrols, watch hatchlings make their way to the ocean and lead plastic pollution beach cleans and environmental awareness workshops with local community members.
Elephant riding used to be a popular tourist activity in Thailand, but over recent years, ethical elephant tourism initiatives have risen up. You can join in on the initiative by visiting elephant sanctuaries and signing up for elephant conservation projects that promote sustainability and ethical animal care.
Volunteer holidays with animals will let you work closely with these creatures by observing them and collecting vital data to help track their well-being in their natural habitat. You’ll also run educational workshops within local communities to add to the empowerment of residents.
A volunteer holiday doesn’t have to be a two-week stint. If you’re serious about wildlife conservation, you can sign up for projects that aim to prepare you for a specific career in the industry.
Travel to South Africa and volunteer at a private Big Five game reserve. You’ll have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience while learning how to track animals in the bushveld, monitoring the park’s predators and running conservation workshops.
Volunteering with animals: how to find an ethical project
Start with an ethical organisation
Want to make sure you’re supporting an organisation that stands by their values?
You’ll want to make sure that:
the volunteer organisation is actively creating long-term solutions that add to conservation efforts
a portion of your volunteer funds goes back into the local community
volunteers are educated on the challenges local communities face, as well as the threats to wildlife in the region
other organisations such as NGOs, government agencies, or community groups support the initiatives.
If an organisation doesn’t want to reveal their project partners, that’s a red flag.
Read online reviews and testimonials: head to the organisations Facebook or TripAdvisor page and see what past volunteers are saying. You could even send a project alumnus a direct message to find out more about their experience to ensure it’s what you’re looking for.
Lastly, ask for a breakdown of your volunteer fee. Transparency is key in ensuring that your time and money is going towards a worthwhile cause. Since it began operating in 1998, GVI has spent over 65% of all funds directly on its projects.
Check to see if the animal interactions on offer are ethical
Many tourists dream of up-close interactions with wild animals, whether it’s travelling to Thailand and riding an elephant, or stroking a lion in Africa and posing for a photo.
So what’s the harm?
The animals cannot give consent and these interactions often lead to neglect and changes to their natural behaviour. Responsible volunteer projects work closely with local communities to keep these animals in the wild, while allowing tourists a chance to see them in their natural habitat.
Want to know more about our wildlife volunteer opportunities? GVI runs sustainable projects around the world, assisting local communities in safeguarding their natural heritage, and supporting local government agencies in conducting vital scientific research.
Meet Matthew – a wildlife conservation volunteer in South Africa
"My experience was nothing but the best! It lived up to my expectations and then some". Matthew Greenhalgh, aspiring conservationist and wildlife photographer, shares his experience of joining a wildlife volunteer expedition in Limpopo, South Africa.