Volunteering with Animals

Help vulnerable wildlife and animals abroad

Volunteering with animals on your gap year is the perfect way to have an amazing travel experience while also helping local animals and wildlife in need. There are hundreds of opportunities to volunteer abroad with animals, so you’re bound to find something here to suit you.

Whether it’s rehabilitating orangutans in Borneo, looking after lions in South Africa, or making sure elephants in Thailand are properly cared for, there are so many projects available where you can make a real difference. You might even end up working with some of the world’s most endangered species, helping to secure a brighter future for them.

You can volunteer with animals whatever your skills and however much time you have to offer. It also offers an opportunity to travel and gain fresh perspective on some of the most amazing destinations in the world. You just need to find the right volunteering project for you!

Below are some frequently asked questions about volunteering with animals to help you make it a reality.

Advice and stories about volunteering with animals

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What animals can I volunteer with?

There are so many different animals you can volunteer with, all over the world, from the well-known likes of elephants and lions to lower profile but equally vulnerable animals such as sea turtles and sloths. We recommend choosing a project that will pair you with a species you are passionate about and working from there. So if you have a particular interest in marine creatures, look at volunteering with whales or dolphins, sharks, crocodiles, or conservation projects protecting marine environments. Otherwise, look at volunteer work with land animals such as monkeys, pandas, rhinos, and many more. It’s important to look at the whole volunteering project to make sure it suits you, but having a passion for the animals you’ll be helping is an important starting point.

Where can I volunteer with animals?

Where you do your volunteer work with animals will depend largely on what animals you’ll be working with. You’re not going to find many elephant projects in Poland, for example. Do a little bit of research into which countries have high populations of the animals you’re interested in: if you want to volunteer with bears, say, some of the best places to do it are the USA, Canada, or Romania, all countries with high native bear populations. Similarly, the majority of elephant projects will be found in South East Asia, South Asia and Africa (Thailand and Tanzania respectively being good bets), while for marine creatures you’ll need destinations with the right kind of ocean habitat. If you’re looking at volunteering with animals for a longer period, it’s important to choose a destination where you will be happy for the duration.

What time of year should I volunteer with animals?

Again, when you head out on your volunteering adventure can depend a great deal on where in the world you’re going and which animals you’ll be working with. There are times of the year when some land animals will be in hibernation, and when marine animals have moved elsewhere in the world or simply don’t require help at that time. Some volunteer projects will open and close accordingly. You should also look at the climate and weather in any destination you’re considering: some countries have intense monsoon seasons or periods of incredible summer heat (or both!). These can be difficult to cope with even if you’re just travelling for fun, but remember you’ll be working, often outside, during your volunteer project.

How do I know if an animal volunteer project abroad is ethical?

With so many different projects offering volunteer work with animals, it can feel difficult to find the best placements and to know if they are ethically run. There are a few things you can do to ensure you find a reputable volunteer project with animals. We recommend doing as much research as possible into any organisation. Read their website to find out their goals in caring for the animals in question, how they work with local communities, how they assess their environmental impact, how and where they spend their money, as well as looking closely as the kind of language and imagery they use to represent the animals and their work. You should be able to ask questions, read testimonials from previous volunteers, and even be put in touch with some for a chat if you request. Look at forums and online reviews. Do not be shy to find out as much as possible before you commit to anything.

Why do I have to pay a fee if I'm volunteering?

We appreciate it may seem odd to pay a fee for a place on a volunteering program. This money is usually used to cover expenses for having you on the placement, such as food, transport, and accommodation. It may also go towards other expenses such as up-keep of the animals, equipment, and paying local full-time staff. Lastly, many ethical volunteer programs will donate a portion of all their proceeds to investing in the local community, such as businesses, schools, healthcare facilities, or even related animal projects. There may also be other overheads such as admin costs. If you are concerned about how your money is going to be used, this is a fair question to ask any volunteer program before paying anything.

Do I need any qualifications to volunteer?

Most of the time you will not need any qualifications or previous training when volunteering with animals. If any training is necessary it will be given to you on-site after you arrive. We always recommend listening closely and paying full attention – it’s for both your safety and that of the animals!

One exception to this is that some marine volunteering projects may require you to hold a PADI Open Water Diving Certificate. As you can probably guess, this qualifies you to scuba dive and use diving equipment in natural environments. It can be gained before you leave home, and many destinations where diving is common will also have plenty of places to earn it. If a volunteering project requires you to have a PADI it will be made clear in the listing.

Will I need a visa to volunteer with animals abroad?

As with any volunteering program on your gap year, you’ll need to make sure you have permission to enter and work in the country of your choice, and this usually take the form of a visa. Although some countries don’t require tourist visas from UK nationals – particularly those in the EU – if you plan to work, you’ll almost certainly need a working visa. These must be arranged before you fly.

Do I need any vaccinations to volunteer with animals?

If you plan to work with animals and/or visit developing nations it is always wise to check with your doctor which, if any, vaccines and immunisations you should have before you travel. This becomes especially important if working with animals, which can spread diseases, including rabies in some instances. It is also vital that you get travel insurance to cover your time abroad. Medical expenses can escalate into the tens of thousands without adequate cover. Make sure your policy will cover volunteering with animals.

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