Conservation Work & Volunteer Projects

Ways to Volunteer on Your Gap Year

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Written by: Ellie Cowie

How would you like to fall asleep in a hammock in the rainforest listening to monkeys and toucans, and help out on vital reforestation projects? Or nurse orphaned lion cubs in Kenya? Or carry out important research into marine mammal behaviour and swim with dolphins in your spare time?

Working to conserve the fantastic wildlife of our planet is a dream for many of us…

In this guide you’ll find out the different types of conservation opportunities that are available and what you can expect from a volunteer project. So whether you want to spend your gap year in the rainforests and jungles or working with land and marine animals – the choice is yours.

Jungle and rainforest conservation projects

“In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” a gap year student could come face-to-face with an endangered orang-utan, meet and help native tribes and even explore the Amazon rainforest! This section gives an insight into a variety of possible placements in rainforests and jungles around the world, and how you can help make a difference and preserve some of the rapidly-diminishing rainforests worldwide.

There is a position to suit every would-be jungle-dweller. Chocoholics can help make jungle chocolate (yes, there really is such a thing), animal-lovers can look after and save the lives of endangered species, and aspiring actors can try out their skills as they build floating theatres in Brazil for local communities. Most of the placements also involve the opportunity to take hikes in the jungle, exploring waterfalls, and even white-water rafting! From Malaysia to Belize, we have a variety of placements, most of which offer the opportunity to improve your language skills, whilst helping with re-forestation, making bamboo shelters, and planting seeds.

Jungle conservation offers you the chance to spend time in a remote area that most people could never imagine visiting, making a contribution to nature, and getting away from every day stress. You can research certain species by gathering specific data, help build suitable habitats for endangered species, or help nurse sick animals back to health in an environment that few tourists ever get to experience. Meet animals, from ocelots to jaguars, and make sure you take home memories of actually doing something to help others, whilst having the time of your life. So if you’ve always wanted to be chopping bamboo with a machete, as a toucan flies past your left ear, look no further! And if you would like to jump in a jungle river when you need cooling down from the humidity, this is the place to make your wildest (literally!) dreams come true!

Rainforest conservation

Animal conservation projects

Fancy seeing lions roaming in their natural habitat in Africa? How about nursing an ill cheetah? Taking a puma for a walk? All the placements in this section give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with a range of wild animals, including zebras, tigers, giraffes, rhinos…

Any aspiring vets or zoologists can have the chance to have their ‘own’ animal to look after for a month, whether it is a baby parrot, spider monkey or even a hippo. You can work in Thailand, saving wild animals from extinction or even take part in electronic tagging and tracking of animals. It is possible to either trek through several safari parks helping care for the wild beasts, or to spend your time in one area, really getting to know the environment and animals and doing jobs from buying food and feeding ill animals to catching antelope using darting or nets, or setting humane traps. Some of the conservation placements consist of a certain project, such as monitoring the movements of a pride of lions, seeing their territory, choosing of prey and den sites. You could even find yourself creating a family tree of a pack of hyenas!

The conservation placements usually include food and accommodation, with a varied range of activities for days off. There are more scientifically based projects for those interested in learning all about a particular species, from dissecting dung to watching a kill, or the less inclined can partake in activities such as teaching groups of visitors about the animals and providing guided tours! There are placements involving nights out camping, watching animals’ nocturnal activities or helping with maintaining the land, with activities including bush clearing and fence building… the options are endless. Whatever your interests, as long as they involve having fun, making a difference and accepting a challenge, there will be a place for you in the animal conservation section!

Animal conservation

Marine conservation projects

Diving with dolphins. Swimming with sharks. Conserving coral reefs. In our new section, you can find out about how to have a gap year to remember, whilst actually saving the planet! James Bond, watch out!

This section is packed full of opportunities that are yours for the taking, including surveying coral reefs, getting a more in-depth knowledge of marine biology than you could ever learn from a textbook, and spotting animals from whalesharks to sealions. Conservation placements give you the chance to really learn about a certain animal or topic, visit amazing places well off the beaten track and to actually make a difference. Fancy kayaking whilst dolphins play around you? Coming face to face with a great white shark? Being involved in essential research doing ground-breaking work? Read on…

Marine conservation is an area that combines some of the most amazing sites of underwater coral reefs, with the excitement of seeing sharks and watching whales. There are placements with a variety of lengths and prices to suit everyone, and you will develop new skills whilst helping make a difference to communities who rely on coral reefs for survival, or helping tagging turtles. Most of the placements don’t require any prior experience as all the training is on the job, where you become part of a like-minded team and learn how to protect animals facing extinction. Conservation placements immerse you in local culture, and at the end of your gap year, you can have the satisfaction of being able to know that your work has helped the environment. You can travel to exotic places such as Fiji and Malaysia, and for those who either love animals and a challenge or simply want some sun, sea and sand, this section is for you!

Marine conservation

Questions to ask gap year organisations

Some of the gap year organisations featured in this section have helped us come up with some questions you should ask before signing up to a conservation placement…

  • What is included in the price of the placement?
  • Where does my money go?
  • What type of organisation are you (charity, company etc)?
  • Safety record of the organisation…
  • What is the support network in-country? Will there be representatives I can go to for help and advice?
  • What are the safety procedures/backup for evacuation etc?
  • What training will I get prior to going overseas, or when I arrive?
  • What type of people will I be working with?
  • What type/variety of projects will I be involved in?
  • What countries can I visit?
  • How much kit will I need?
  • What support and advice is given for fundraising?
  • What contribution will the team make to the project?
  • What will my personal involvement be?
  • Who else will benefit from the project?
  • How sustainable or long-term is the project?
  • What medical support is provided?
  • What skills will I gain from the project?

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