If you have gone on a holiday to somewhere that inspired you to give back, then one of these animal volunteer programmes may stir you to take action
Whether you’re an active backpacker or an office worker looking to escape the working routine, volunteering for an organisation that helps to care and rehabilitate animals is a highly rewarding experience.
While the word ‘volunteer’ is liberally used, these organisations charge volunteers a fee to participate and your money will go towards food, accommodation and the programmes.
1. Free The Bears, Cambodia
Volunteers can help look after over 120 rescued sun bears at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center near Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Run by an NGO called Free The Bears, the centre offers programmes range from four days to eight weeks. Volunteers work closely with trained staff and their duties include food preparation and distribution, cleaning forest enclosures and dens, as well as general maintenance and repairs. No particular skills are required besides enthusiasm and a passion for conservation. Accommodation is at a five-bedroom house in a village nearby and includes the services of a cook/cleaner. Participants have weekends off to explore the country.
Before you go, use our Phnom Penh travel guide to learn about the city.
Playing sun bears
2. Turtle Foundation, Boavista Island, Cape Verde
Sea turtles are under threat. They become entangled in plastic lines, mistaken plastic bags for food, lose their habitats to resort development, and their eggs are being collected and sold as food.
If you are passionate about turtles, then help the foundation in Cape Verde during the nesting season (mid-June to end October). Each volunteer must stay for a minimum of two weeks to a maximum of eight weeks. Your duties include patrolling the nesting beaches at night and in the early morning, collecting data, helping with tagging, and looking out for illegal poachers. You are also expected to help with beach clean-up and food preparation.
This is a highly rewarding experience and suitable for volunteers who don’t mind hard work (40 hours a week) and are willing to stay in a beach camp with no running water.
Before you go, check out the Cape Verde travel guide.
3. Wildtracks Volunteer Programme, Belize
Run by a husband and wife team, volunteer programmes at Wildtracks Volunteer Programme require a minimum of one month of volunteerism because a constant change of volunteers can negatively impact the animals.
The programme mainly rehabilitates monkeys that are endangered or being captured for the illegal pet trade. The aim is to release them back into nature whenever possible. There is also a small number of Antillean manateWireless Tour Guide Systemes that need looking after, as they are going extinct in Belize. The organisation does not have any paid staff as every penny goes towards the rehabilitation costs – if you are a dedicated volunteer, this is for you.
Manatees are also being cared for by Wildtracks
4. Dujiangyan Panda Base, China
If you’re short on time but passionate about pandas, the one-day volunteer programme at Dujiangyan Panda Base run by Pandas International could be perfect.
Giant Pandas are one of the rarest species in the world. It is thought that only 2,200 pandas are left in the wild. This medical base offers treatment for sick or injured wild pandas, as well as special care for older bears, and consists of 51 hectares (126 acres) of bamboo forest and a number of enclosures. Volunteers assist with cleaning the enclosures and chopping up bamboo for food (an adult panda can consume up to 40kg of the stuff a day), learn all about pandas, their diets and conservation efforts, and have the opportunity to help plant trees.
Check out this page on China visa and passport requirements before you go.
Pandas are cared for by pandasinternational.org
5. Project Orangutan, Sarawak, Malaysia
If you don’t mind doing some physical work in a hot and humid environment for orangutans, then the Matang Wildlife Centre managed by Project Orangutan definitely has your name on it. There are two programs (two weeks and four weeks), your fees go towards food and drink, airport transfer, accommodation, some tourism activities and contribution to the project.
Your tasks include husbandry, construction work, general maintenance and organic farming. They may be hard work, but when you hold a baby orangutan in your arms, you know it is all worth it.
Before you go, see our Malaysia travel guide.