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Inspiring Places to Volunteer with Wildlife on Your Next Holiday

2017 is an important year for sustainable travel as it’s been designated the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations.

Recently, we conducted our annual Sustainable Travel Report to find out what encourages people to travel more sustainably.*

Among the findings, over a third (34%) of global travellers said they were likely to take a trip to observe wildlife in its natural habitat in 2017. That inspired us  to put together a list of destinations where travellers can not only observe wildlife in its natural habitat, but also volunteer with it. But with wildlife volunteering opportunities in every corner of the globe, where do you start?

First you have to pick a destination that appeals to you, then do your research and look into the community, the local organisations, and the work that they do dedicated to wildlife protection conservationism. Below you will find some inspiring options for improving the state of wildlife on our planet.


Monitoring lions in Limpopo, South Africa

Help ensure the long-term survival of lions with a team dedicated to the ongoing research of this charismatic big cat. Based in the South African province of Limpopo, you and other Global Vision International (GVI) volunteers will assist with all aspects of research, including monitoring the lions’ feeding behaviour, movement, location, and health. When not working directly with the king of the jungle, you will also have the opportunity to get involved in other important conservation efforts, such as the removal of invasive vegetation. Since this program began, volunteers have supported the management and conservation of over 3 million hectares of protected areas in Limpopo.

Where to stay: Volunteers are offered accommodation as part of the program but if you want to extend your time in South Africa, why not spend some time around the famous Kruger national Park? Imbali Safari Lodge offers spacious chalets with private hot tubs; perfect to relax in after your volunteering stint, with views overlooking the Nwatsitswonto riverbed and beyond.


Caring for injured and oiled birds in San Francisco

As our dependence on oil increases, so does the number of birds who become sick or injured due to oil spills. Rescue organisations such as the International Bird Rescue are key in rescuing and rehabilitating these birds, but they can’t do it without the help of volunteers. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to help with all stages of the bird’s care, from rescue and rehabilitation to release. The International Bird Rescue offer different levels of volunteering, so the more comfortable you become with the work and the birds, the more responsibilities you can take on.

Where to stay: If you want to explore San Francisco outside of your volunteer work, the Argonaut Hotel is a great base, offering great views of the bay, which many of the local bird and wildlife species call home.


Counting manatees in Belize

Since the 1970s when the West Indian manatee was placed on the endangered species list, organisations across the globe dedicated themselves to protecting these species. After over 40 years of work, population numbers grew to the 6000s, officially being reclassified from endangered to threatened. To help continue to boost manatee numbers, these organisations need volunteers. In Belize, volunteers are invited to support ongoing conservation efforts with the Discover Corps team by counting the manatee population, monitoring their health, and measuring key environmental factors.

Where to stay: When you’re not looking after these gentle giants, you can relax and experience world-class service at the Laru Beya Resort. The property is only 3-minutes’ walk from the beach and has an outdoor swimming pool. Activities like snorkelling, diving and fishing can be arranged and guests can also visit Mayan archaeological sites and explore caves and local wildlife. Complementary use of sea kayaks, bicycles and mini golf course are available.


Rehabilitating elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

With so many endangered Asian elephants sold or born into the tourist industry, only to be mistreated and abused, volunteers are invited to Thailand’s Chiang Mai province to help protect this precious species. Here you can assist the GVI team with the rehabilitation of the elephants and help traditional elephant-keepers to establish an alternative livelihood.

Where to stay: Accommodation is covered during the volunteer term but if you want to extend your stay to explore the province of Chiang Mai, the eponymous capital city is a popular option. Akyra Manor Chiang Mai is located within walking distance from Nimmanhaemin Road, where you can find artisanal shops, galleries, and popular restaurants and cafés.


Restore habitats and research local turtle populations in the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands’ isolation from the mainland has allowed its animals to evolve according to their surroundings, a fact that was instrumental in helping Charles Darwin formulate his theories on evolution and natural selection. Today, the islands are supported by volunteers who dedicate their time to conserving this extraordinary ecosystem. REI, in partnership with the Conservation Volunteers International Program, offers a range opportunities for willing volunteers, such as assisting with sea turtle and giant tortoise conservation efforts. Free from natural predators, the islands allow their animal inhabitants to be super friendly, so you can expect plenty of up-close-and-personal interactions.

Where to stay: Each of the islands is home to a unique selection of animals, so finding accommodation in a central location is key. Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel in Puerto Ayora is in the centre of the Galápagos and offers guest on-site access to yachts that will take you the neighbouring islands.


Study jaguars and help develop conservation policies in Costa Rica

Since the 1950’s, the jaguar population in the Americas has plummeted to an estimated 14,000. These dwindling numbers have resulted in an ongoing effort to create programs and policies that protect these elusive creatures. With GVI, volunteers have the opportunity to make a big difference in jaguar conservation by monitoring and researching their prey species, feeding behaviours, and population numbers. Once collected, this information is used by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment to develop well-rounded and consistent conservation policies.

Where to stay: Volunteers are based in the GVI’s wildlife conservation research station in the stunning Tortuguero National Park. If you want to extend your trip with some r&r after your volunteer work is complete, book a night at the nearby Evergreen Lodge. Located in the heart of Tortuguero National Park, the property is just a 12-minute walk from the beach and offers complimentary meals, free Wi-Fi, and massage services.



*This data was taken from a survey of 11,069 respondents across 11 markets. Respondents had to be 18 years of age or older, had to have travelled at least once in 2016 and be planning at least one trip for 2017. Data was collected in February/March 2017.