For many animal lovers, the dream of a close encounter with their favourite animal is never far from their thoughts and for others the draw to make a difference in some way is close to their hearts.
Whilst a visit to a zoo or helping out at your local rescue centre may be more accesible in the short term, the attraction to work with animals abroad remains an incomparable aspiration. Nowadays, this is a dream that is more attainable than many might think, with a plethora of worthy animal volunteer projects abroad to choose from.
Volunteering animal projects abroad not only offer a unique opportunity to support animals in need but also provide a truly cultured, authentic experience which is very different from your usual tourist holiday such as an African safari. You’ll work with locals and be able to fully immerse yourself in the all the country has to offer.
Your dream of making a difference through animal volunteer work really can become a reality! Yet, how do you choose from so many opportunities and which will provide the best experience?
Types of animal volunteer projects
There are a wide range of projects available, but most fall in to one of two categories – wildlife conservation or animal care. So what’s the difference?
Wildlife conservation volunteer projects
If your passion is for environmental conservation, these are the volunteer programmes for you. These types of volunteering opportunities directly support native endangered wildlife – from threatened turtle species in Greece to vanishing big game in Africa. However, most conservation projects are available in places where wildlife populations are in serious decline, such as South America, Africa and Asia.
Typically, these sorts of projects involve supporting research efforts. For example, tracking species and recording information to enable biologists and conservationists to gauge a particular species progress i.e. decline or increase in numbers in specific area.
In some volunteer programmes, there may also be the opportunity to visit schools and local communities to raise awareness of plight of these endangered species.
Exotic animal care volunteer projects
If you’re looking for a truly hands on volunteer experience with animals you’ve likely only ever seen in a zoo, then you’ll want to choose these projects. Usually the work is undertaken in a rescue or rehabilitation centre where the animals have been rescued from the wild or captivity.
This might be an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia where the animals have come from the tourist industry or a bear rehabilitation centre in Romania which offers a safe haven for previously abused and mistreated brown bears.
You’ll work alongside sanctuary staff to care for the animals, including food preparation and cleaning duties.
Domestic animal care volunteering programmes
In many countries around the world, stray cats and dogs can be prevalent. Charities and volunteer centres are set up to address this problem by re-homing and providing veterinary treatment for sick and injured animals. Neutering projects are among many initiatives to address the problem at its core and this usually involves, trapping, neutering and either releasing or re-homing the stray animals.
These types of projects are usually hands on, involving anything from cleaning and feeding duties to trapping and collection of animals. Individuals looking to work in the veterinary industry often find these opportunities particularly attractive.
What to expect
Remember, a large proportion of the countries which offer volunteering projects are developing countries and in some cases the places you’ll be visiting are charities running on a limited budget.
Therefore, most volunteering experiences will be very different from your usual family holiday abroad. The experience itself depends widely on the country and project you choose, but generally you can expect basic accommodation and catering which may included in some packages.
You should expect to share accommodation with other volunteers and may have to cook your own meals. The location of accommodation is likely to either be on site or in close range of your working base.
Who can volunteer with animals overseas?
Animal volunteer programmes are open to anyone with a passion for animals. However, they usually attract students, backpackers and those on a gap year or career break.
You don’t need to have any experience, although a good level of physical fitness is usually recommended.
Cost of animal volunteering abroad
It can come as a surprise to many that you have to pay to volunteer with animals abroad, after all your offering your time for free, right? So asking “Why do I need to pay to volunteer?” is valid and common question.
The reason there is fee to volunteer is mainly due to the logistics, resources and training required to support volunteers. How the money is spent exactly will depend on specific volunteer programme and most reputable places will be able to provide a rough breakdown as to where the money is spent.
So do expect a fee and know that it ensures volunteers get the most out of their experience and is going towards the overall efforts of the particular project.
Most volunteering opportunities run all year round, but if you’re looking to spend as little as possible you should opt for out of season time frames. Projects can also last anywhere from one week to six months so you can choose the length depending on your specific budget.
In addition, you will be expected to pay for your flights separately. Although, there may be some tour operators which arrange all aspects for you – these will usually come at a premium though!