Volunteering for animals - Worldwide

Most of us have missed out on holidays, travel, and volunteer activities this year.

If you are feeling the tug of wanderlust, itchy feet, or a sense of wanting to help, maybe it is time to start planning next year’s adventures.

Volunteering with animal and wildlife charities and organisations, both at home and abroad, can be an amazing experience that could help cure these ailments!

A wonderful experience

The two months I spent at a primate rehabilitation centre near David in Panama will loom forever disproportionately vivid in my memories. Rewarding, exciting, informative – an adventure that also felt like helping; I really cannot recommend the experience enough.

Volunteering closer to home can be just as rewarding, and a longer term commitment can result in bonds and friendships lasting decades, not to mention getting to see the animals, wildlife, and even people benefiting from the fruits of your labours.

Whether you are in search of direction, meaning, adventure, education, experience, fulfilment, or simply want to give something back, animals and wildlife will always need our help.

Something for anyone

Volunteering with animals can take many forms, so there really is something for everyone and anyone.

In terms of skills, don’t presume that you have to be a vet or have a zoology degree to contribute. Many, if not most, volunteer posts and programmes simply require passion and a good work ethic, especially at first.

The varied roles may include:

  • Direct care of animals
  • Preparing animals’ food or shelter areas
  • Admin work
  • Public engagement
  • Fundraising, or
  • Field work – if it is a wildlife or nature-based organisation

Affordable options

Whilst many volunteer trips and programmes abroad may be costly, there are more affordable options, such as working in return for board or food.

Alternatively, you can look for something close to home that you can commit to more regularly or long term. Check out your local shelter or wildlife rescue.

You can also get in touch with nature reserve managers such as Natural England, Wildlife Trusts, and National Parks for more environmental-, conservation-, and ecology-based roles.

Commitment can be full time or a couple of hours a week, for a couple of days or months at a time. Most organisations do look for a solid commitment per week or month (or a minimum of a week if it is a project abroad). However, they are always grateful for any contribution.

Bear in mind that volunteering can take you anywhere, to some exotic and crazy places. However, you can also give time from the comfort of your sofa by offering to contribute to:

  • Website work
  • Social media
  • Digital fundraising
  • Admin work remotely

Have a care

Whilst volunteering can be a very worthwhile contribution, it should also be approached with caution as there have been many instances of volunteer programmes and ‘eco’ tourism trips doing more harm than good.

Many programmes abroad can also be very costly; the money appearing to be profiteered, rather than ploughed back into the organisation.

These problems are usually avoided when volunteering close to home but, if you are after a far-flung adventure, make sure you do some in depth research and ensure the charity or organisation checks out.

Make sure that they:

  • Have the best interests of the animals or wildlife they purport to help at heart
  • Have the right credentials
  • Can break down how your money will be spent

You also need to know exactly what you will be doing, and evidence that you will be looked after and will be safe. When travelling outside of Europe, you will also need to make sure you have good insurance, and the right jabs and preparation for working with animals, or in the wild.

First steps

It can be confusing and daunting, researching where to volunteer – it may be a good idea to start small, even if you plan on going on a big adventure eventually. Perhaps try mucking out your local kennels before committing to three months’ cleaning enclosures in a sanctuary in Bolivia, just to make sure it really is something you are ready for.

As with everything, it can also be useful to garner knowledge, advice and guidance from people in the animal and wildlife sector too. 

When planning a volunteer trip abroad, as well as exercising the caution mentioned above, you should make a rough plan of what you want to do and go from there. 

For example:

  • Whereabouts in the world
  • Your budget
  • The type of charity (animal care, environmental, ecotourism, ecological research, etc.)
  • The type of work (care provision, rehabilitation, research, practical/auxiliary, admin/office, fundraising and engagement, etc.).

To start you off, check out the list of websites at the end of this article.

So, don’t let us keep you reading this any longer – get planning, get the feelers out, and start giving back!

One thing IS for certain – you will not regret it!

Volunteer World - A great database of volunteer programmes (mostly that you pay for) across the world. However, be sure to do some independent research too.

Animal Charity Evaluators - Comprehensively reviews hundreds of animal charities, their work, effectiveness, and credentials.

Conservation Careers - Has courses, expeditions, volunteer positions, as well as jobs in nature conservation; all around the world. Includes opportunities for a range of budgets.

Environment Job - Volunteer positions in the environmental and wildlife sector in the UK (good for those seeking work experience prior to paid work in the sector).

Other UK charities to consider:

  • RSPCA
  • PDSA
  • Blue Cross
  • Four Paws
  • NAWT
  • RSPB
  • Local charities, which may be:
    • dog and cat shelters
    • larger animal sanctuaries
    • wildlife hospitals or rehabs
    • charity shops or other fundraising initiatives
    • nature reserves, and
    • public engagement and lobbying organisations

Global charities:

  • WWF
  • The Humane Society
  • World Animal Protection
  • Born Free
  • The Jane Goodall Society

Other companies to look at for volunteer trips abroad:

Happy Volunteering!

Guest article by Jasmine Leather

- November 3, 2020