Bears are iconic and have been throughout history, playing a major role in art and mythology. They were traditionally been hunted by humans, often as a challenge to dominate a large, fierce species, or for their rich reserves of meat and fur.
Bears are beloved in book and on screen, but the reality is a different story. In modern times, bears are threatened by encroachment on their habitats, and illegal trade in bear parts, including the Asian bile bear market. Of the eight species that remain, six are vulnerable. Even the two that aren’t threatened – the brown bear and the American Black Bear – are still at risk. Laws have been enacted to protect bears, but education and conservation are needed to preserve the remaining populations.
These great, shaggy beasts are found throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia, but of all the bears that once walked the planet, only eight species are left. They are:
- Brown Bear (includes the Grizzly and Kodiak)
- Polar Bear
- Asian Black Bear
- American Black Bear
- Sun Bear
- Sloth Bear
- Spectacled Bear
- Giant Panda Bear
Modern bears share common characteristics: they have large bodies, stocky legs, long snouts, small ears, long fur, short tails, and paws with five non-retractile claws. But those are their common traits – the individual species are quite unique. Take, for example, the Giant Panda Bear, a vegetarian that feeds primarily on bamboo. The Panda, typically a solitary animal, has come to symbolize vulnerable species. Then, there’s the Polar Bear, primarily a marine mammal that spends much of its time on Arctic sea ice. This carnivorous mammal that will eat almost any other animal it crosses in the Arctic Circle, traveling up to 20 miles each day in search of prey. Most bears, however, are omnivores and eat both meat and plants.
Bears may seem clumsy, but they’re great at climbing, running, and even swimming. Many people fear bears because of their size, but research shows that most bears only become aggressive when they are threatened, or their babies are in danger. They’re smart, shy and great a hiding. They need to be elusive to survive. They often live 25 years, which is why wildlife sanctuaries are so important for their long-term care when they’re rescued.
If you’re interested in working with bears, take a look at one of the many volunteer programs listed here. One program brings you to the China Panda Breeding Centre, where you’ll work to increase the Giant Panda population. Another invites you to the Giant Panda Center in China. Or join fellow volunteers to help the smallest bears in the world: the Sun Bears of Malaysia! And if you want to walk on the wild side, check out this program at the Bear, Deer & Wolf Haven in Ontario, Canada.
Read on to learn about the many ways you can work with these amazing animals!
Featured Volunteer Abroad Programs
Projects Abroad offers a variety of global travel and volunteer opportunities, with the mission of mutual learning and cultural exchange. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad is one of the world’s largest international volunteering and internship providers. This organization has placed more than 100,000 travelers to work in 50 countries around the world, and project types range from volunteering, internships, high school specials, alternative spring breaks, gap years, language courses, and programs for professionals.
Spend your summer holiday in Peru on the Amazon Rainforest Conservation Project for teens! If you’re between 15 and 18 years of age, you can explore the rainforest on foot and help care for animals, including the rare Spectacled Bear, at the Projects Abroad rehabilitation center. The center rescued a number of Spectacled Bears from circuses, and now they need long-term care. The Spectacled Bear is the last remaining short-faced bear in the world. Project Abroad partners with Animal Defenders International to rescue and protect Spectacled and Andean bears. These bears are only found in South America and currently classified by CITES as highly endangered. Your tasks may include:
- Conducting wildlife surveys
- Feeding and caring for animals
- Helping to preserve and protect freshwater turtles
- Expanding your horizons with a jungle adventure
This placement lasts two weeks, with a fee of $3,370. Read more here!
Fronteering offers experiences that are far from ordinary in places rich in nature, wildlife, and indigenous cultures. Its vision is to provide adventure travel placements to remote locations on volunteer projects that care for the environment and preserve animals. Founded in 2007, Fronteering’s goals are to make a difference to communities that can benefit from the input of volunteers and to provide exciting and significant experiences to individuals.
Volunteer with an amazing rehabilitation center in Ontario that cares for diverse animal species, including bears, deer, wolves, moose, coyote, and even the tiny chipmunk! With more than 460 acres of natural habitat, the wildlife sanctuary here can also accommodate semi-aquatic animals, such as beaver and otters. The project focuses its energies on the rescue and the rehabilitation of sick, orphaned, or injured wildlife, to release them back into the wild. For a minimum of four weeks, your responsibilities will include feeding the animals, to assisting with guiding and educating tourists. You can stay four weeks or longer and program fees start at $1,095. Click here to sign up.
GoEco is a leading eco-tourism company that offers affordable, ethical volunteer projects throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. Since its founding in 2006, GoEco has placed 10,000 volunteers on a variety of community, wildlife, and environmental initiatives. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by USA Today, the Today Show, Huffington Post, and many more.
Travel to Chengdu, China, and volunteer at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. Your tasks at the wildlife sanctuary allow you to contribute to the conservation of this amazing species. Tasks include caring for Pandas, preparing food, cleaning enclosures, and recording observations. You’ll also enjoy a walking tour of Chengdu, and a visit to the Panda Breeding Center. The organization has worked for the preservation of the Panda population for 20 years, and the current Panda birth and survival rates are some of the best in the world. You’re invited to stay weeks or longer and program fees begin at $1,200. Learn more and sign up here.
Frontier places travelers on volunteer programs around the world. Founded in 1989, Frontier operates more than 400 programs in 60 countries and focuses on community and adventure projects that safeguard biodiversity. Frontier projects contribute sustainable livelihoods for communities and range from education, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, humanitarian work, community development, and research and conservation.
Help to preserve the Panda population at one of the biggest Panda bases in China when you sign up with Frontier. Travel to Bifengxia, China to be a part of the extraordinary work here to help save China’s iconic Panda species. You’ll help to feed these animals, assist with shelter maintenance, help with running the park, collect data, and even lend a hand with medical exams, depending upon your experience. With fewer than 1,600 Pandas left in the wild, the breeding project is critical for species survival. Stay for one week, with program fees starting at $1,445. Learn more here!
Globalteer is a nonprofit UK charity that receives rave reviews from its volunteers. Founded in 2006, Globalteer partners with community groups and NGOs in developing countries, with projects focusing on children and communities living in poverty, as well as animal welfare and conservation.
Help Globalteer at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary and learn how to care for and rehabilitate bears rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. More than 100 Sun and Moon Bears were saved from bear bile farms, the entertainment industry, and lives as domestic pets. Your help is needed to work alongside the dedicated team at the sanctuary, helping to feed the bears, make toys and enrichment activities, and maintain the bears’ enclosures. This is a unique adventure you won’t forget! Stay one week or longer with fees starting at $755. Read more and register!
Ready To Travel?
If you have a soft spot for “Teddy,” consider joining a project that gives you hands-on experience working with bears. If they’re not protected, someday the only bear left with be Ursa Major, the constellation that walks the lonely night sky.