According to the boffins at the internationally renowned Science journal, extinction rates are up to 1,000 times what they would be if humans didn’t inhabit the Earth.
And while it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how quickly our planet’s lifeforms are disappearing, some estimates put that figure at one species every five minutes.
That’s bad news for the animal kingdom, to say the least.
But there’s a way to help.
Rather than traveling the world on your next break, why not volunteer to work with animals?
You may not single-handedly save an entire species from extinction, but you’ll earn valuable hands-on experience while making a meaningful contribution of your own.
Why work with animals?
For the true animal lover, working with wildlife is about as rewarding as it gets. After all, what could be more gratifying than spending every day up close and personal with all manner of cute and furry mammals?
Not only will you be overcome with warm and fuzzy feelings, you’ll also make a tangible impact on the lives of these vulnerable creatures.
Furthermore, future environmental scientists, biologists, veterinarians and park rangers will find the experience particularly valuable for their C.V.
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Who can work with animals?
Granted, most conservation programs are aimed at the bright-eyed gap year crowd. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options out there for travelers of all ages and skill levels.
From college graduates to vacationing professionals and round-the-world backpackers, anyone with a passion for animal welfare can and should get involved.
Paying for the privilege to work with animals
I’ll be brutally honest.
Unless you have relevant qualifications and/or experience in the field, you’ll likely have to pay for the privilege of assisting our animal friends. After all, conservation projects such as animal sanctuaries have bills to pay that can’t be covered by donations alone.
Consequently, it’s commonplace for programs to charge spirited volunteers a fee to cover upkeep costs in addition to their food, accommodation and training.
Having said that, some for-profit enterprises are just in it to make a quick buck. Research your desired program intently to determine if it offers reasonable value for money.
Getting ready to work with animals
Working with animals often requires vaccinations, so liaise with your travel doctor and the program manager to determine what you need.
A travel insurance policy that covers work-related activities is essential, as well.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side! Work with Animals Abroad
Resources for working with animals abroad
Countless agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer animal volunteering opportunities across all corners of the globe.
Deciding on a particular destination or species helps to narrow down your research.
Independent conservation NGOs tend to offer better value than the big money-spinning agencies. Although there are too many to write about here, you could try regional listings in a reputable travel guide such as Lonely Planet.
Keep in mind that some programs require you to be conversational in the local language. Even if language proficiently isn’t required, those applying for competitive programs will stand out if they can speak the native tongue.
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Volunteer agencies offer an overwhelming array of international conservation programs, all neatly packaged up to be readily consumed by volunteers. By design, they’re super easy to arrange but involve hefty fees.
The following agencies are known for being trustworthy and of high quality:
Internships offer more targeted and practical experience for those intending to enter the field. Gifted students may be able to secure a scholarship.
These institutions are worth investigating:
Qualified animal conservation and welfare professionals might be able to snag a job abroad that pays.
Try the following in conjunction with your usual recruitment websites or the vacancies page of your favorite zoo:
What kind of jobs and programs are out there?
Most wildlife-related jobs and programs are classified as “conservation,” an umbrella term that refers to protecting or rehabilitating land or marine life. An abundance of options are out there, and the most sought-after ones work with endangered species in faraway and exotic lands.
Typical tasks can include caring for vulnerable creatures, researching and working in public outreach.
But keep in mind that not everyone has the best interests of the animal kingdom at heart.
Always do your research before committing to a program. Are visitors allowed to handle or ride on the wildlife? That’s almost always a big red flag.
Does the organization train animals to perform tricks? Even worse!
Ambitious veterinary students would do well to gain industry experience via an internship or volunteer program.
Given they’ll be working on animals in a medical context, relevant education is required. Many choose to work on a gap year during or after college.
Working with horses is a dream job for those with a passion for the animal. Most entry-level positions involve feeding, cleaning, grooming and general caretaking.
More advanced tasks include rehabilitation, training and therapeutic services.
Specific positions to consider abroad
Turtle conservation in Costa Rica
Turtle breeding is perhaps the most popular type of marine conservation. Come hatching time, workers get to experience the fruits of their labor first hand as these tiny tetrapods scurry off into the sea.
This one-to-12 week Costa Rican program from Oyster Worldwide facilitates precisely that between July and December.
By day, participants monitor the hatchery for newborns and assist with data processing to aid collaborative international research. At night, they keep a lookout for mothers who periodically swim to shore to lay their eggs.
Extracurricular activities include teaching English to local school children, practicing Spanish with the natives and visiting an array of unforgettable nearby eco-tourism attractions.
Veterinary internship in Buenos Aires
Budding veterinarians would benefit from this hands-on internship by Traveller’s Worldwide. Located in downtown Buenos Aires, the clinic in question is the biggest and busiest in the city, and that means participants will need to be quick on their feet.
Typical daily tasks include assisting the head vet during consultations, grooming and feeding animals in the boarding house and performing administrative duties for the clinic and attached pet store. Consequently, an intermediate level of Spanish is required.
Participants better be dog lovers because Argentina has the highest per capita rate of canine ownership in the world. Some could even consider a side gig as one of the city’s famed dog walkers for a little extra pocket money.
Zookeeping around the world
Serious zoologists with the right credentials could kick-start an animal caretaking career by lining up work at any one of the countless zoos worldwide.
From conservation to curating and senior animal keeping roles, opportunity abounds for those with the qualifications and experience to work in the field. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree and work experience (including internships) are minimum requirements to landing a paying gig.
The European Association of Zoos and Aquariums lists openings within the continent. Also, keep an eye on the vacancies page of potential institutions and scan the standard job seeking sites such as Indeed.
Look after wildlife in Bolivia
Based in the Yungas cloud forest near the city of La Paz, the La Senda Verde (The Green Path) animal sanctuary provides a permanent home for exotic Amazonian animals that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
Program fees are reasonable, and the requirements are easy enough to meet. Volunteers must stay for at least two weeks. During this time, they’ll observe animal dietary and behavioral habits, clean enclosures and prepare the quarantine area for new arrivals.
Over 700 animals across 59 species live on site, each of which requires constant tender love and care.
Aid the Orangutan in Borneo
These magnificent human-like apes are endangered due to habitat loss from widespread deforestation. Consequently, they need all the help they can get.
One of the numerous programs to aid this fascinating species is this flagship offering from the internationally renowned Great Projects.
Volunteers can sign up for two to four weeks. During this time, they’ll be responsible for feeding and observing the animals, maintaining or constructing enclosures and helping grow produce on an attached organic farm.
None of these tickle your fancy?
Peruse a few of the agencies and NGOs we’ve listed above to see what’s out there. With thousands of animal conservation projects running across all corners of the globe, you’re bound to find the right program for you.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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