Wildlife, Marine Animal, Veterinary, & Conservation Volunteer Abroad
Updated for 2017 trips
Melissa Haynes shares her personal story volunteering abroad at a Big Five game reserve in South Africa. Since then, her life has been forever changed. She’s gone on to write about her volunteering experience in a book titled “Learning to Play with a Lion’s Testicles”, which has appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen Show. Melissa also discusses several worthwhile projects to consider for those who want to volunteer abroad in animal / conservation projects and has tips for fundraising for your volunteer trip expenses.
Volunteer Abroad with Animals and in Conservation
I went to Africa because I was hungry. I was hungry for adventure, a journey, an awakening. I wanted to give back, to step outside of myself and get back to myself all at the same time. I wanted to make a contribution - however infinitesimal it would be. So I signed up to volunteer solo on a Big Five game reserve in South Africa. What I didn't realize at the time was that not only would it be the greatest adventure of my life, but it would also change the course of my life forever.
I wasn't a student at the time. Nor was this my first adventure. I had already crashed and burned as a Junior Advertising Executive, after which I ran away to Central America and opened a coffee shop in a sunny town with mostly shady people. After returning to Canada when my father passed away I took a job in Event Marketing management which eventually led to winning a handful of Olympic contacts for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
For the next four years I wore the hat of Olympic Project Manager. It was thrilling and exciting but when it all came to an end, I was left wanting more. Not more status or more money, but something that would enrich my soul. I was at a crossroads in life: take the job offer in front of me to sit at the head of a company - or leave all comfort and security behind and go volunteer in Africa - a dream I had since childhood that the 'should do's' had shelved for years. I threw caution to the wind and chose the latter. That decision was the greatest I had ever made because it was made from a place of passion and love instead of fear.
I spent six weeks in Africa. Part of my time was spent in the Knysna townships teaching conservation to children and some on an elephant reserve in Plettenberg Bay rehabilitating elephants waiting to be released into the wild. The majority of my time was spent on a wildlife conservation project on a Big Five game reserve in Albertinia, on the famous garden route in South Africa.
While I loved every minute of every project, my passion was working with the Big Five. Not only did I learn about the wildlife and the workings of the lodge, I learned the value of a physically challenging hard day's work, often in extreme mid-day heat or early morning near freezing temperatures.
The enthusiasm and kindness of the rangers and project managers was unparalleled to anything I had experienced before. I was also relieved to find that, from the perspective of pure creature comforts, the game reserve went beyond my expectations. Meals were delicious and my tent was warm and durable (a welcome relief as the lion camp bordered on my tent camp). Tenting, in my opinion, is the best way to experience Africa. One feels closer to the land and animals. Even though sleeping alone in a tent camp was the biggest obstacle I had to overcome on this adventure!
The backdrop to the reserve was the magnificent Langberg mountain range - standing tall like dark blue uniformed soldiers guarding the pristine valley. Not far away on the other side was the Indian Ocean, where, on a weekend off I found myself a few centimeters away from a great white shark in the, err, safe confines of an aluminum cage.
Time disappeared, modern conveniences were no longer important and all major players in my previous life became irrelevant. Instead key players became survival, teamwork, willingness and openness to do any job required of me. Jobs included shoveling elephant dung, rebuilding roads one stone at a time and tree planting under the watchful eyes of a pride of lions only 200 meters away with nothing separating me from them but fear itself.
Each and every day I gave sweat, tears and persevered trying desperately to even out the balance sheet, but, at the end of it all, I received far more than I could ever give. My efforts only magnifying what I got out of this experience.
It's true that to give is to receive. This is proven day after day in a small, out-of-the-way place in South Africa where the skies are always blue and there's always so much to do. A place where the miracle of giving is always evident.
Volunteering is a great way to not just see a country, but to experience its culture and leave an impression. Because even if that impression is one tree planted, a sustainable vegetable garden built or leaving a smile on someone's face, it was worth it.
After volunteering in Africa I was changed forever. This experience gave me the courage to pursue other passions I had long ago shelved. One of those passions included writing a book. I wrote a book titled, Learning to Play with a Lion's Testicles. The title is an actual South African expression that means learning to take chances. It is about my volunteering adventure and all the lessons I learned from the animals about overcoming fear, taking chances, dealing with death and forgiveness.
My book went on to appear on the two most popular television shows: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen show. And now I'm working on book two. None of this would have been possible had I not made the decision to follow my passion and volunteer in Africa.
I know that you too will be changed forever if you decide to volunteer. If animals and conservation are your passion, there are a wide range of international volunteer opportunities available to you.
For example, Volunteering Solutions, an organization that has been offering volunteer opportunities since 2007 and has hosted nearly 12,000 volunteers in 21 countries worldwide, offers an amazing sea turtle conservation project in the island country of Sri Lanka.
Frontier is another excellent organization that works tirelessly to protect the world’s wildlife and their habitats. With more than 400 projects worldwide in partnership with entities such as the World Wildlife Fund, Frontier employs dedicated researchers to engage local communities and international volunteers in ecosystem protection, animal research, and much more.
Also, Pod Volunteer offers programs ranging from cheetah rescue in South Africa to marine conservation in Thailand with everything in between.
And if you want to volunteer with wildlife in some of the most exotic locations around the world, Fronteering invites you to sign up with their Tasmanian devil care and release program, Madagascar lemur conservation project, and much more.
Featured Program: Global Vision International (GVI)
Global Vision International (GVI) offers a huge variety of meaningful volunteer and intern abroad programs worldwide for travelers interested in wildlife and conservation. More than 25,000 volunteers have traveled with GVI to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and beyond to provide hands-on support for programs including wildlife research, marine conservation, animal care, and much more. By volunteering with GVI, you know you’ll make a difference: this award-winning organization partners with NGOs large and small across many different program areas to provide the best possible solutions with help from volunteers and interns like you. GVI is no-kidding one of our favorite organizations and we highly recommend them for first-time volunteers and teen volunteers.
Right now, GVI is offering several volunteer programs in the islands of Seychelles, including a marine conservation expedition, island conservation expedition, and a lemon shark and turtle conservation project.
During the marine conservation program, you’ll earn your PADI Advanced and PADI Coral Reef Research Diver qualifications while learning to identify fish and coral of the Indian Ocean, participate in marine species research, and provide information to the local government about conservation initiatives.
If you sign up for the island conservation expedition, you’ll assist with research in a national park, work with critically endangered sea turtles, help with shark pup catch-and-release programs, and much more. And on GVI’s lemon shark and turtle conservation program, you’ll have the opportunity to assist with efforts to conserve and ensure the survival of some of the island of Curieuse’s most important species, all while working and learning alongside researchers and fellow volunteers.
Depending on the project you sign up for, you’re invited to stay at least two weeks or longer, starting from $2,100. Some expeditions include side trips, such as a hike up Cap Matoopa or diving for fun - you can also take optional side trips to go island hopping, exploring different beaches, or even visiting the capital city of Victoria. Learn more about GVI’s wildlife conservation programs at: www.gviusa.com/find-a-program
Through GVI’s Marine Conservation Internship in Mexico, you can start building your career by gaining firsthand experience in conservation programs while contributing to the world’s largest database chronicling the health, condition, and changes to the Meso-American Barrier Reef. In partnership with highly regarded organizations, GVI will give you the skills and knowledge to help contribute directly to the future of this unique ecosystem.
A few projects you’ll take on include participating in monitoring dives where you can see sharks and dolphins, assisting with sea turtle monitoring and conservation programs, and collaborating with the local community to raise awareness about marine conservation. You’re invited to stay six weeks or longer, starting at $4,900. In your free time, you can take side trips throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and even arrange other travel opportunities to explore Mexico before or after your internship. Learn more and sign up: www.gviusa.com/programs/mexico-marine-conservation-internship
If you want to learn all about different types of African wildlife, look no further than GVI’s wildlife research expedition in South Africa!
During this program, you’ll work alongside local researchers to identify and track many types of animals in a game reserve, conduct important research, help with data entry, and educate the local community about conservation practices. Your work will help further much-needed research and conservation efforts in South Africa, and you’re invited to stay from two to 12 weeks to gain the most from your experience abroad.
This program starts from $2,390, with side trips included to the Khamai Reptile Park and a local curio market - you’re also invited to take optional side trips to Kruger National Park, the Blyde River Canyon, and other areas where you can explore, go zip lining or hiking, and much more. Click here to apply: www.gviusa.com/programs/wildlife-research-south-africa-expedition
On this internship, you are invited to assist with researchers on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica on a variety of projects.
Depending on the time of year and what type of work is being conducted by the program’s researchers, there are several areas you can focus on throughout your stay. Between March and October, you can help with monitoring and conservation of sea turtles, including hawksbill, green turtles, and leatherback sea turtles.
Other projects you can work on include investigating the impact of jaguar populations on sea turtle populations, setting up camera traps to record tracks and signs of different types of animals, performing resident and migratory bird research, and conducting biological assessment surveys to identify species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles throughout Tortuguero National Park. After successfully completing your internship, you may have the opportunity to continue working with GVI or with one of their selected partner organizations. This internship lasts 24 weeks and costs $8,250, with start dates available each quarter year-round. Learn more and sign up: www.gviusa.com/programs/conservation-internship-costa-rica
Featured Program: Maximo Nivel
Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel provides affordable volunteer abroad programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Each program is internationally accredited, and since its beginning, Maximo Nivel has placed 25,000 travelers in volunteer abroad projects, international internship, native Spanish program, TEFL certification, a Spanish camp for teens, and more. Maximo Nivel hosts a variety of environmental conservation opportunities, including sea turtle conservation, jungle reforestation, eco agriculture, and environmental awareness and education.
On this program, volunteers are invited to work in Costa Rica and El Salvador (with a program base in Guatemala) for two weeks or longer to assist local biologists and researchers with sea turtle conservation efforts. Volunteers can patrol beaches, tag turtles, relocate nests to hatcheries, assist with beach cleanup, and help with community outreach programs. You’ll work 5 to 6 hours per day, Monday through Saturday, in some of the most bio-diverse regions of the world. To learn more about this program, please visit: http://maximonivel.com/volunteers/conservation/sea-turtle/
Through Maximo Nivel’s jungle reforestation program, volunteers can travel to the Amazon rainforest in Peru to assist with reforestation (planting trees and removing invasive species), organic gardening, wildlife monitoring and inventory, trail maintenance, and local workshops. Volunteers must stay for at least two weeks to get the most out of this program, which helps to protect one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. To learn more and to sign up, visit: http://maximonivel.com/volunteers/conservation/jungle-reforestation/
Maximo Nivel is offering you the opportunity to volunteer for eco agriculture in Costa Rica and Guatemala, where you’ll assist sustainable coffee-farming communities with all areas of production. While this program is open year-round, coffee harvest season in these two countries takes place between December and March, when there may be more work for you to take on. Volunteers must stay for at least one week, and can expect to work 3 to 4 hours per day, Monday through Friday. Tasks include working alongside local farmers in the nursery, with coffee-picking, weeding, planting tree shades, and roasting and packaging the coffee for shipment.
To learn more about Maximo Nivel’s eco agriculture program, go to: http://maximonivel.com/volunteers/conservation/eco-agriculture/
Based next to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, this environmental awareness and education program provides you the opportunity to teach local communities about environmental protection for the lake, as well as improving the ecological conditions surrounding it. As a volunteer, you’ll teach the community about recycling and water conservation; help restore hillsides through reforestation and soil fertilization; and assist with environmental cleanup, including water filtration, recycling, and waste management. Volunteer shifts are split into mornings and afternoons, and you can expect to work 4 to 6 hours per day, Monday through Friday. Click here to learn more: http://maximonivel.com/volunteers/conservation/environmental-awareness/
For two weeks, you’re invited on Maximo Nivel’s volunteer adventure, which includes five days of community service and six days of travel through Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. There are several different volunteer activities you can take part in, including an animal care program, where you’ll have the opportunity to help in a dog shelter, care for endangered species in a zoo that hosts rehabilitation and release programs, or work in an amphibian and reptile rescue center. You’ll also embark on cultural tours, volcano hikes, island tours, beach visits, and much more, depending on the country you decide to visit on your volunteer adventure. To learn more, please visit: http://maximonivel.com/adventure/full
Featured Program: Volunteering Solutions
Types of programs offered: Childcare, Teaching, Community Development, Women's Empowerment, Wildlife and Conservation, Medical Volunteering, Language Immersion, and more.
Where they work: Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Spain, Australia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru
How long: Volunteer tenures vary by program, but can typically last from two weeks to several months.
Who can join: Solo volunteers must be at least 18 years old, but 17-year-old volunteers may volunteer as part of a group with adult chaperones. Younger volunteers are allowed to volunteer with family groups on a case-by-case basis.
Know before you go: Volunteering Solutions was founded in 2006 by volunteers who wanted to help create a worldwide network of placement organizations and other interested NGOs to help connect great volunteers with great projects.
Volunteering Solutions offers 13 different types of wildlife and conservation projects, including volunteering at an animal rescue center in Singapore, contributing to the welfare of elephants in Sri Lanka, and promoting marine conservation in Spain. Volunteering Solutions has an extensive alumni network and provides connections for other types of supports such as travel insurance, ways to contact alumni volunteers and a program for campus ambassadors for Volunteering Solutions. Starting at $200 per week, Volunteering Solutions is one of the most affordable programs in the world.
If you love animals and want to spend your travels on a gorgeous beach, check out Volunteering Solutions’ sea turtle conservation program in the island nation of Sri Lanka! A few tasks you’ll take on as a volunteer include:
Burying turtle eggs in a hatchery to protect them from poachers
Washing turtle tanks and refilling them with sea water
Hand feeding injured turtles at the hatchery
Patrolling the beach to look for pieces of fishing nets or other objects that can harm turtles
Patrolling the beach at night to look for nesting turtles
This is a wonderful opportunity to help with ongoing research and wildlife conservation while also exploring a beautiful country and immersing yourself in the community. As part of this program, you’ll be able to visit Sinharaja forest reserve, Bundala National Park, the Dambulla Cave Temple, Kandy Lake, and much more.
VolSol’s conservation volunteering program in Australia invites you to many different locations, including Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, and beyond to help with conservation of animals such as koalas and kangaroos, and some of the most well-preserved rainforests in the world.
The type of work you’ll take on will depend on your location and the needs of the program, but can include maintenance work and upkeep in forests, recording information about flora and fauna, and assisting with ongoing conservation and preservation work, all under the guidance of an experienced project coordinator. You’ll also have the chance to go scuba diving, snorkeling, bouldering, skydiving, and much more during your trip to Australia, which starts from one week at just $385.
If you’re more interested in a European adventure, Volunteering Solutions has an amazing conservation volunteer opportunity in Spain, where you’ll travel to the Valencia region to help with protection of its biodiversity and ecosystem. You’ll work at the Albufera Natural Park and other wetlands to improve the quality of the water and ecosystems, help with dune and beach conservation, monitor turtles, help with restoring bird habitats, take flora and fauna surveys, help with tree planting and forest fire prevention, and assist with eradicating invasive vegetation. As part of your trip, you also will be able to visit ancient monuments and heritage sites, hang out at Valencia’s beaches, learn about Spanish culture and traditions, and so much more. As a volunteer, you can stay two weeks or longer in Spain, starting from $1,000.
Volunteer Review by Brie: My experience with Volunteering Solutions in Cape Town was life changing. After doing some research, I found VolSol and immediately knew this was the company for me to volunteer abroad. I signed up for the Children Social Welfare project and was placed in the Gingerbread House.
The Volunteering Solution coordinators set up an orientation day which was very thorough and informative. We went over all expectations for the project and general safety tips for Cape Town. I knew exactly what to expect on the first day of my project, as well as tips to stay safe in Cape Town. Kevin ran the orientation and it was extremely fun and interactive! The project itself was great. The staff at the Gingerbread House was absolutely amazing and truly appreciated our presence in their classrooms.
Overall, my experience in Cape Town was exceptional. I made friends from all over the world that I still remain in close contact with. I fell in love with each and everyone of the children and they all hold a special place in my heart. It is so true what they say - "I came here to change Cape Town, but Cape Town changed me." Thank you VolSol for the amazing memories!
Featured Program: Global Works
Founded in 1989, Global Works provides travel experiences for students and groups, combining community service, cultural exchange, language immersion, and adventure. Over 10,000 travelers have signed up with Global Works so far, with trips running 8 to 21 days each summer. Global Works' conservation and wildlife programs include an eco-adventure in Mexico, a marine service adventure in the Galapagos Islands, and much more.
On Global Works' Sea Turtle Adventure in Costa Rica, you'll spend 8 days traveling traveling around the San Jose Central Valley and Tortuguero Beach while learning about Central American culture and lifestyle. After an orientation and team-building exercise with your group, you’ll visit a sustainable coffee farm and embark on an overnight rafting trip on the Pacuare River. For the volunteering portion of the adventure, you'll tour a leatherback sea turtle hatchery, help with environmental conservation projects, patrol beaches at night for nesting turtles, and take a kayaking tour through Tortuguero National Park. You can also extend your journey with Global Works' Costa Rica La Pura Vida Program if you have some more time to travel!
If you want to visit a truly unique area of the world, check out Global Works' Marine Service Adventure in the Galapagos. For 11 days, you'll have the opportunity to learn about the ecology and environment of the Galapagos Islands, while enjoying their natural beauty and adventure through snorkeling, hot springs, and so much more.
You'll begin with a trip to the Papallacta area for an Andean nature walk and a soak in the hot springs. After that, you will travel to Baltra and Isabela Islands, where you'll go snorkeling in the Flamingo Lagoon and Concha Perla Lagoon. Then, you will travel to the Isabela Sierra Negra Volcano and the private reserve of Campo Duro, and even tour the Isabela Giant Tortoise Breeding Center to learn all about their conservation work.
Later, you'll go snorkeling among penguins, turtles, manta rays, and sea lions at one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos - and you'll finish your trip with a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora.
On this epic, 24-day trip, you'll travel to New Zealand's North Island and to Fiji for adventure, exploration, and community development volunteering.
For the first week of your trip, you'll visit the gorgeous Bay of Islands to relax in hot springs, take on team building activities, learn about the culture of Aotearoa, and volunteer at a local ecological reserve, where you'll plant trees, rebuild kiwi habitats, and more.
For days 8 to 10, you'll head to Rorotura and the Te Puia Marae, a local community where you'll learn about Maori culture - you’ll continue your expedition to the North Island for a ropes course and rock climbing. Then, you will visit the beach community of Raglan, where you will volunteer with a nonprofit organization that promotes recycling for a zero-waste society.
When you're not volunteering, you will have the chance to go surfing, hiking, and much more. You'll end your trip with 9 days in Fiji, where you'll visit a coastal village surrounded by volcanoes, coral reefs, and waterfalls - and as a volunteer, you can help with community development projects such as building a kindergarten classroom or a library.
Featured Program: International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
As one of the highest-rated volunteer organizations on Volunteer Forever, IVHQ has an excellent track record of sustainability and responsible travel. Since 2007, this organization has sent nearly 67,000 volunteers all around the world, to more than 30 different countries. Wildlife volunteers can choose from placements in Bali, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, or Victoria Falls. IVHQ’s volunteer abroad programs start from just $180, and include a registration fee, airport pickup, orientation, supervision, accommodation and meals, 24/7 in-country support, and administrative costs.
IVHQ’s Wolf Conservation program in Portugal invites you to volunteer at a center that focuses on wolf conservation, community education, and environmental preservation for the animals, many of which come from zoos or from situations where they cannot be released into the wild.
While volunteers do not have direct contact with wolves, you’ll help with animal feeding and replacing water, building maintenance, fire prevention, animal behavior observation, visiting school group assistance, reforestation, and more. You’ll work 3 to 5 hours per day during the week, with weekends off to relax or explore the art, history, and culture of Portugal. This program starts from $375 for one week. Click here to learn more about IVHQ’s Portugal volunteer program: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-portugal
Through this program, you’ll volunteer on a private game reserve in Victoria Falls, which is home to a wide variety of African wildlife, including lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, black rhinos, and more. A few of the many projects you’ll take part in are fence patrols, waterhole creation and monitoring, freshwater ecosystem analysis, road maintenance, wildlife tracking and counting, reserve cleanup, and watching rhino supplement feeding.
You’ll work alongside the game reserve team and anti-poaching group, who work in partnership with several local organizations that work to protect, preserve, and educate the community about wildlife in the area. This placement starts from $880 for two weeks, with weekends free for whitewater rafting, river cruising, touring, and much more. Click here to learn more and to sign up: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-victoria-falls
IVHQ’s Animal Care and Animal Rights program in Guatemala allows you to volunteer with dogs and cats that are neglected and in need of veterinary treatment. You may provide human interaction and basic care for the animals, or assist a clinic that specializes in spaying and neutering, rabies vaccinations, fundraising, and education programs. Your day-to-day work will involve bathing and brushing the animals, providing basic obedience training, cleaning cages, and generally caring for the dogs and cats. This volunteer program starts from $299 for one week, and you’ll work in a 2- to 4-hour morning or afternoon shift during weekdays. On weekends, you’re free to relax or explore Antigua and other parts of Guatemala - or visit surrounding countries if you have time. To learn more and to sign up, visit: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-guatemala
What Volunteers Say
It was always a goal of mine to go to Africa and volunteer and after ALOT of research on different countries and organizations, I finally settled on IVHQ. I could not have made a better decision in terms of location and organization! Tanzania was the most stunningly beautiful country, in both scenery and people, and IVHQ planned everything so well that even my parents nerves were calmed (a bit haha). From the accommodation, food, placement and in country staff, I was thoroughly impressed with IVHQ. Although I knew I would have an amazing experience, everything and everyone I met exceeded my expectations and I had the best time. I highly recommend this organization to anyone and everyone I meet! -Carly
Featured Program: Love Volunteers
As one of the world’s fastest-growing volunteer abroad organizations, Love Volunteers is a great choice for travelers who’d like to volunteer overseas in wildlife conservation and animal care. Since 2009, Love Volunteers has placed more than 20,000 people on service projects all around the world – in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. And your volunteer experience is incredibly affordable: depending on where you travel, your first week of volunteering abroad with animals and wildlife conservation starts from just $250.
In Costa Rica, Love Volunteers invites you to work in one of several animal rescue centers they partner with countrywide. Each location has its own specialty, and your exact placement will depend on which center has the most urgent need for volunteers at the time of your application – though all of them have a similar goal to promote conservation and to rescue indigenous wildlife from illegal poaching or trafficking.
Throughout your stay, you may work closely with animals, clean enclosures, feed animals, exercise younger animals, assist with veterinary care if needed, and much more, all under the guidance of local staff and specialists. This program starts from one week at just $250, and you’ll stay with fellow volunteers with a local host family close to the rescue center where you’ll work.
If you’ve always wanted to visit Africa, you should definitely check out Love Volunteers’ Wildlife Protection opportunity in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Through this program, you’ll work at a game reserve that’s home to a wide variety of animals – including Africa’s Big 5. Your day-to-day tasks will vary depending on what’s needed, but you can expect to track and monitor animals, remove invasive vegetation, feed animals, work in an elephant sanctuary, accompany guides on game drives, and much more. You’ll stay in staff housing throughout your trip, and you’re asked to volunteer at least two weeks, though you’re welcome to stay several months to gain the most from your experience in South Africa.
Love Volunteers also invites you to Asia, where you can volunteer with elephants in Thailand. For more than 20 years, the camp you’ll work in has cared for elephants, and currently houses 70 of them, with revenue from tourists used for animal welfare and conservation, as well as facility upkeep. Each day, you’ll feed and bathe the elephants, and during your afternoons, you may be able to work with trainers – and as a side project, you’re also invited to teach conversational English to a local school.
This program starts from $550, and during the week you’ll be housed onsite, then travel to Chiang Mai during the weekends. As with many other opportunities through Love Volunteers, you’re welcome to stay several weeks or even several months to have the greatest impact from your volunteer program.
Featured Program: Global Leadership Adventures
Founded in 2004, Global Leadership Adventures is an excellent choice for under-18 travelers who want to make a difference and learn about wildlife and conservation. With a combination of community service programs, hands-on learning opportunities, and adventure travel, Global Leadership Adventures sends thousands of travelers each year to over a dozen countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America - and with a high emphasis on safety and security, GLA’s Five-Point Safety System ™ ensures participants have the best experience possible on their travels.
On this 21-day summer program, you’ll join a group of fellow student travelers to learn about Caribbean sustainable development, environmental conservation, and health intervention. For the volunteer portion of your trip, you’ll help with a variety of projects, such as:
Home or community center construction
Participation on a Healthy Kids project with an emphasis on global health
Helping with reforestation system development
Constructing vertical gardens
Throughout your stay in the Dominican Republic, you’ll learn about environmental sustainability through nightly seminars that will allow you to gain a deeper perspective both on your volunteer work and about issues and solutions in sustainability worldwide. And for the adventure portion of your trip, you’ll go hiking, swimming, snorkeling, shopping at a local market in a Haitian border town, and lots more. This program costs $4,999 for the full 21-day stay, and you’ll live with fellow travelers in a gorgeous eco-lodge right near the beach. Learn more here.
This is an amazing opportunity for students who want to explore the world and get hands-on with exotic animals: Global Leadership Adventures invites you to northern Thailand, where you’ll volunteer with trained keepers to care for elephants in a conservation center, and work in the local community on projects that support food harvesting, land rehabilitation, and development. You’ll have the chance to speak with local leaders about their work and its impact on protecting elephants in Thailand. Plus, you’ll have time to go hiking in the mountains, explore outdoor markets, and so much more during your trip.
This 14-day trip costs $3,599, and you’ll stay with other volunteers at the GLA home base, a rustic lodge at the Thai Elephant Home. Click here to learn more and to sign up!
Volunteer Review by Portia Mannix
I traveled to the Dominican Republic this past spring and plan to travel to Ghana this summer with Global Leadership Adventures. This is an outstanding program that provides the utmost support and personal interest. The GLA staff keeps in close contact with you throughout your planning process. They are extremely organized. Each program offers a different life-altering adventure that is bound to be a lasting memory. I thoroughly recommend Global Leadership Adventures for all teens looking to go on a service trip abroad. I can guarantee you won't regret it.
Featured Program: Fronteering
If you’d like to get some excellent experience volunteering with wildlife in exotic, unspoiled locations, you should definitely check out Fronteering. With unique projects to research and conserve wildlife worldwide, Fronteering offers volunteer and intern abroad experiences like no other: from white shark research, to wild horse rescue, to predator sanctuary support and much more, Fronteering has no shortage of adventurous ways for you to make a difference. Your first week of volunteering with Fronteering starts at $695, and depending on the program, you can stay for up to 24 weeks to gain the most from your experience abroad.
In Mongolia, Fronteering invites you to work alongside researchers and biologists to collect data about the wild takhi, one of the world’s most endangered horse species. As a volunteer, you’ll collect data on the horses and weather, provide data to biologists who are managing reintroduction of these horses into the wild, collect information about flora and fauna in the area, monitor horse behavior, and assist with buffer zone research. You’ll stay in a traditional Mongolian ger at your project site, and during your free time, you can go horse riding, wildlife watching, and more. This program lasts one to four weeks, starting at $895 for your first week in Mongolia.
There’s plenty of adventure in the US! Right now, Fronteering has an amazing opportunity for you to volunteer in Maine, where you can work at a Wild Horse Center that provides care and rehabilitation for adopted horses and wild mustang. For four weeks, you’ll help with food prep, feeding and cleaning, healthcare for the horses, trail rides, construction and maintenance for enclosures, grooming, and educating the public. This program costs $1,995 and you’ll stay in a shared guest house with three meals provided per day throughout your project. And because this sanctuary is located in a tourist area, you’ll have lots of opportunity to visit the beach, offshore islands, explore the downtown area, and much more.
Located in Southern Australia, this program is perfect for volunteers who would like to learn about different species of wildlife while helping to rehabilitate and release into the wild animals that have been orphaned, injured, or otherwise are under the care of the sanctuary. Tasks can include food preparation, feeding the animals, cleaning enclosures, wound or injury attention, rescue and transportation, and much more. The center you’ll volunteer at is close to Sydney, so during your free time, you’re encouraged to explore the city or towns close by on the ocean or in the mountains. Housing is provided in a private room near your project site, and you can stay one to eight weeks, starting from $795.
Featured Program: Frontier
Founded in 1989, Frontier invites travelers of all ages to work alongside researchers and local communities in capacity building, ecosystem protection, community development, economic growth, and the development of civil society. This nonprofit scientific research organization got its start with a marine park in Tanzania, created in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, and more than 25 years later hosts over 400 projects in 72 countries.
With staff who have been published in more than 450 articles in peer-reviewed journals, Frontier invites you on volunteer programs, gap year travel, internships abroad, and teach abroad / TEFL programs that will let you engage in valuable and meaningful work worldwide.
If you want to visit a tropical paradise and make a positive impact on your travels, take a look at Frontier’s turtle conservation project in Malaysia. The goals for this project are to conduct surveys to identify animals, record turtle nesting habits, protect nests against other animals and poachers, and raising awareness about turtle protection within the community. You can take photos of the nesting turtles, determine turtle populations and numbers of male and female turtles, identify conservation area hot spots, and record nesting activity.
This program starts from one week at $695, and you’re encouraged to stay longer to aid in ongoing research, to enjoy your visit, and to learn as much as you can about the work you’re contributing to.
Located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands - and Frontier invites you to aid their efforts in whale and dolphin conservation here. These animals face threats from habitat degradation, injury from ships, food depletion from overfishing, and other issues. As a volunteer, you’ll aid in their research and protection through photographing and cataloguing whale and dolphin groups, observing and recording behavior, raising awareness among tourists, assisting whale watching boat guides with their work, and embarking on coastal expeditions to survey and monitor dolphins and their habits. You can stay one week or longer on this project, starting at $695 for your first week.
Through this program, you’ll work alongside staff at a local safari park in Thailand to care for animals that are unable to live in the wild. Unfortunately, there are many zoos throughout the country that emphasize tourism and at the expense of their animals’ welfare - such as keeping tigers on chains or housing animals in too-small enclosures. The goal for this project is to show that a zoo protecting its animals and keeping them healthy can be an even better draw for tourists while encouraging ethical and sustainable practices in wildlife conservation.
As a volunteer, you’ll educate the community and visitors about responsible tourism, teach English to staff and their families, assist with enclosure upkeep, help to promote the park and its tour packages, and even work hands-on with some of the animals. You’re invited to stay one to two weeks on this project, at $795 for your first week in Thailand.
If you’d like to volunteer with one of the world’s most endangered species, check out Frontier’s elephant rescue program in Thailand. Right now, there are only about 2,000 to 3,000 wild elephants remaining in the country, while domesticated ones can be found begging for food and performing tricks. Through this program, you’ll work with a camp that provides sanctuary for retired elephants while learning about Thai culture, history, and much more. A few tasks you can take on include exercising, feeding, and washing the elephants; maintaining the gardens; and assisting staff with their day-to-day tasks.
This program starts from one week at $795, and you’re encouraged to stay up to four weeks to take part in a cultural immersion program and to learn all about your host country.
Since 2010, Reach Out Volunteers has provided culturally rich and high-impact volunteer programs for travelers who want to make a difference in impoverished communities, help endangered wildlife, and much more. To date, about 3,500 travelers have signed up with Reach Out Volunteers, with an additional 1,000 expected to embark on trips in 2017. Reach Out Volunteers also prides itself on the sustainability of its programs, with all projects initiated by the communities in which they work, and all programs employing local, skilled laborers to work alongside their volunteers. Right now, Reach Out Volunteers offers several wildlife volunteer abroad opportunities, including an elephant program in Cambodia, marine conservation in Cambodia, a track and trail safari in South Africa, and more.
One amazing volunteer opportunity you should check out with Reach Out Volunteers if you want to get up close with animals is their village and elephant program in Cambodia. For two weeks, you’ll volunteer at a local school, visit historic temples, and work at an elephant sanctuary. At the sanctuary, you’ll learn all about how the logging industry affects elephant populations, while working alongside local community members to care for elephants that have been displaced - a few of your tasks can include feeding the elephants, planting trees, building a firebreak, building dams to create baths for the elephants, and much more. Learn more and sign up at: https://www.rovolunteers.com/Volunteer-Cambodia-Village-and-Elephant-Program.htm
If you’re looking for a longer trip that will let you work with a wide variety of animals, take a look at Reach Out Volunteers’ South Africa Volunteering Adventure, where you’ll have 35 days to explore South Africa and volunteer with several different impactful initiatives. Your volunteer program will start with construction and renovation assistance at a local crèche - or day care center - after which you’ll be able to take a safari, visit and volunteer at a game park where you can help with animal tracking, visit a cheetah rescue and rehabilitation center, and lots more. Alongside your volunteer activities, you’ll be able to go surfing, shopping, horseback riding, and embark on side trips during this month-long program. Click here to learn more: https://www.rovolunteers.com/Volunteer-Africa-Adventure.htm
Featured Program: Volunteering Journeys
Founded in 2014, Volunteering Journeys is a fast-growing organization offering impactful placements for volunteers throughout Asia and Africa.
The founder’s story informs and inspires Volunteering Journeys’ work as well: after leaving her job as an investment banker in London, founder Ridhi Patel volunteered for three months near Kruger National Park in South Africa. This life-changing experience inspired her to lay the groundwork for Volunteering Journeys in her home country of India, with a goal to engage travelers who wish to explore the world, give back to their communities, and learn more about themselves.
Volunteering Journeys provides personal attention and tailored trips for all volunteers, commits to high-quality service, and engages scientists, doctors, teachers, and community leaders on all of its programs. If you’re interested in a wildlife, marine, or conservation volunteer program, Volunteering Journeys offers several placements you should check out in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
Through this placement, you’ll have the wonderful opportunity to contribute to the conservation of Africa’s Big 5: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos. Based in a five-star private game reserve, you’ll also learn about the many other animals protected here through tracking and monitoring. A few of your tasks can include animal identification, reserve management and maintenance, game capture, birding orientation and classification, and sustainable food production. As a volunteer, you will contribute to vital efforts to protect some of the world’s most endangered and beautiful animals. During your free time and weekends, you’ll have the chance to relax on the beach, go canoeing, embark on guided walks, or even visit the city of Port Elizabeth.
If you’ve always wanted to visit Thailand, Volunteering Journeys offers an incredible chance to volunteer with elephants in the Mae Wang valley. Throughout the country, elephants historically have been held in captivity to work as farm animals, as cavalry for the army, and even as tourist attractions. As the use of elephants for labor has decreased in recent years, domesticated ones have been left to roam towns and cities, unable to integrate into the wild. As a volunteer, you will work with a home for domesticated elephants to live more naturally and cared for by mahouts and fellow volunteers. During your stay, you’ll prepare food, feed the elephants, clean their living areas, and walk the elephants to the river for bathing. This volunteer program also includes a guided trek through the surrounding hills, bamboo rafting, and much more to give you an immersive experience.
Another excellent wildlife volunteering opportunity to check out is Volunteering Journeys’ sea turtle conservation initiative in Sri Lanka. Through this program, you’ll have the chance to aid ongoing efforts by local marine biologists and conservationists who are collecting vital data and research to protect these endangered animals. There are five different sea turtle species that regularly visit Volunteering Journeys’ island base in Sri Lanka, including green turtles, hawksbills, loggerheads, leatherbacks, and olive ridley turtles. A few tasks you’ll take on as a volunteer can include marine life monitoring, beach cleanup and management, daily maintenance, caring for turtles and daily feeding, and releasing hatchlings into the beach. During the weekends, you’re free to explore Sri Lanka, relax on the beach, or take surf lessons.
Featured Program: IDEX
The IDEX Sea Turtle Conservation project in Sri Lanka gives you the opportunity to care for mature sea turtles while also assisting with the hatching of sea turtle eggs. This 14-day program allows you to have contact with 5 out of the 7 sea turtle species in the world, including the Green turtle, the Hawsbill turtle, the Loggerhead turtle, the Olive ridley turtle, and the Leatherback turtle.
Program activities include:
Live in a tropical paradise
Caring for turtles that live at the conservation center, including feeding and washing them
Maintaining the turtle habitation areas at the project and beach areas
Protect and defend sea turtle nesting areas
Release sea turtle hatchlings into the wild
Where they work:
Duwemodara, Kosgoda on the west coast of Sri Lanka
Featured Program: Global Nomadic
Program Name: Global Nomadic
Program Description: Global Nomadic’s mission is to help career-minded travelers use volunteering abroad to further their career while also engaging in practical, well-organized volunteer placements. Global Nomadic believes in making sure that all volunteer placements help volunteers gain valuable, marketable skills and experience that will put them ahead in today’s competitive job market. Global Nomadic strives to ensure that all placements are affordable enough for entry-level employees to be able to take a gap year or extended volunteer experience. Wildlife volunteers will be especially interested in Global Nomadic’s environmental conservation programs.
Program Activities Include:
wildlife management and rehabilitation
marine biology and conservation
sustainable agriculture and permaculture
urban environmental rehabilitation
How long: Project dates vary; many projects are year-round and have flexible start and end dates.
Application Information: Interested volunteers can apply after making an account on Global Nomadic’s website.
Program Name: Marine Conservation in the Gulf of Thailand
Become a Pod Volunteer and contribute to the research, protection, and restoration of reefs in the Gulf of Thailand. In case you haven't heard of Pod Volunteer, they were a 2014 finalist for best volunteering organization at the British Youth Travel Awards. As part of the program, diving and conservation courses are included. When you are a beginner or more experienced diver, you will have the opportunity to work with a dynamic team engaging the local community in conservation initiatives. And just as amazing, you will be living on a beautiful tropical island!
Program activities include:
Reef health surveys (Ecological Monitoring Program)
Artificial reef construction / maintenance
Sea turtle head starter program and releases
Special educational workshops to raise awareness about marine conservation
Where they work:
Koh Tao, Thailand
To learn more about the Marine Conservation program and apply to be a volunteer, please click here.
Veterinary Volunteer Abroad Projects
Program Name: International Service Learning
Volunteer Review by Anila Punjwali
I went to Tanzania this past summer with ISL and I loved it! Made such amazing friends, got an amazing experience, and got to see some pretty amazing things! ...This was not my first international trip, though it was my first/only trip with ISL and one of my favorite ones! I'm so glad I went and had the experience of a lifetime!
Types of programs offered:
Hands-on Veterinary volunteer abroad programs for pre-vet and vet students.
Program highlights include:
Community vet health surveying and screenings through family and farm visits
Wildlife veterinary field trips
Vitamins for cattle, horses, donkeys, and pigs
Neuter/spay clinics for smaller animals
Application of vaccines (seasonal) and immunizations
Clinics to provide vaccinations and immunizations for parasite control and nutrition supplements
Dental care for animals
Urgent animal care in the field
Where they work:
Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Tanzania.
How long: ISL offers 9 to 14 day programs throughout the year. Extended stay options are available.
Who can join: 18+. Vet programs are for vet school students and pre-vet students.
Know before you go:
Founded in 1994, ISL specializes in arranging medical volunteer trips and places a strong importance on working with respected, in-country medical providers. Safety, sustainability and comfort of volunteers and patients are top priorities for ISL. Preparation and orientation seminars are available to prospective volunteers. In addition to veterinary abroad projects, volunteer opportunities are open to nurses, nursing students, doctors, medical students, pre-med students, dentists, pre dental students, and dental school students.
Volunteers typically are housed in modest hostels with provided meals and work within a team of volunteers with similar interests and expertise. All volunteers are transported and accompanied by ISL staff members at all times.
Program Name: Vida Volunteers
Volunteer Review by S Neimeyer
Wonderful staff, volunteers, and experience. We went around to various towns to set up free medical and vet clinics for those in need. I got a lot of hands-on experience as a medical student, and made some valuable relationships around the world.
Types of programs offered:
Vida Volunteers offers pre-vet and advanced vet programs. The Pre-vet program is for those students without any previous surgical training and the Advanced Vet Program is designed for upper level veterinary students and recent graduates. Volunteers will gain clinical and practical experience. The Vida program focuses mainly on the sterilization of felines and canines in field clinics; however, participants will also gain experience working with large animals.
Where they work:
Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua
Programs typically run for two weeks. Students can also sign up for two programs back to back for an extended four week stay.
Who can join:
Eligible participants include first and second year veterinary students, pre- veterinary students, veterinary technicians, and veterinary assistants.
Know before you go:
Vida Volunteer is a 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit humanitarian organization based in Minnesota and operating in Central America. Lodging is usually a combination of basic hotel and homestays. If a particular trip is to be very rustic (ex. no running water or electricity) participants are informed of these conditions in advance. Recreational activities for volunteers are available and visiting local communities if time permits. Please note that volunteers are required to submit a short essay stating their motive for wanting to be a Vida volunteer in order to be accepted into this program.
Conservation Volunteer Abroad Programs
Program Name: Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA)
Volunteer Review by Jessica Cordes
I absolutely loved my experience with VESA! The staff were so supportive from the office answering my questions prior to the trip, to the tour leaders on site who are so knowledgeable and a lot of fun! From the beginning I felt completely comfortable with the program even though I was doing something that is normally outside my comfort zone. Traveling with VESA allowed me to experience a culture in a way that I never would have been able to on my own. We canoed to the volunteer sites every day and interacted with the locals which was really amazing. It was great to see the difference that we actually made in the community. ... It was truly life changing and opened my eyes to a beautiful part of the world!
Types of Programs Offered:
VESA offers a combination of volunteer and adventure programs.
Examples of programs include:
Sampling the genuine Ecuadorian Amazon with the people who live there. Experiencing authentic South Africa and be part of a tribal community in a UNESCO world heritage location.
Tasting the real life of a Fijian village then visiting the tropical islands of the sunny South Pacific.
Staying at and caring for elephants in a remote elephant sanctuary in South East Asia.
Where they work:
South America, South Africa, South East Asia, Fiji Islands.
Programs are two weeks in length.
Who can join:
18+ years of age.
Know before you go:
VESA is an environmentally conscious organization with the focus on environmental stewardship and respect in the pristine locations they work. They employ local people where possible.
Programs are tailored to individual volunteers based on skills and experience. Volunteers can expect to be fully immersed in the local culture.
Volunteers who successfully fundraised via the Volunteer Forever website for VESA projects:
Shell Poole, USA. Raised $4815 to volunteer in South Africa to teach English at an orphanage, renovate run-down facilities, help build homes, and work with cheetahs and leopards in rehabilitation.
Program Name: Ecoteer
Volunteer Review by Patch
I talked it over with Ecoteer and they recommended "Volunteer Sri Lanka" and a great and inspirational man named Janaka who ran the project. I initiated contact with Janaka who was able to guide me through the volunteer recruitment process and gave me great re-assurance/advice. We stayed 3 weeks with Janaka in his house working with street children, at an orphanage, and within a school. A real life-changing event.
Types of Programs Offered:
Ecoteer offers inexpensive volunteer work and job opportunities at eco lodges, marine conservation, farm, teaching and humanitarian projects.
Where they work:
Western Europe, South America, Oceania, North America, Eastern Europe, Central America, Australia & NZ, Asia, Africa.
Program times vary from one month to six months.
Who can join:
18 + years of age, or, if younger be accompanied by a guardian.
Know before you go:
Ecoteer connects volunteers directly to volunteer job opportunities abroad through a membership program ($25 US annual membership fee). All volunteering enquiries go straight to the individual projects. All monies are paid directly to the project leader, not Ecoteer.
Membership includes an Ecoteer volunteer page, full access to the forums and ratings for each volunteer project (Only ecoteer volunteer members can vote) and get updates direct from Ecoteer.
Program Name: International Student Volunteers
Volunteer Review by Ryan Verhegge
I cannot leave a review capable of expressing the impact that volunteering with ISV has had on me. I spent this July in Thailand working at the Elephant Nature Park and with the local villagers of Ban Lao on conservation of the species and learning about responsible tourism.
This was my first experience outside of the U.S. and what an eye opening experience it was. ...The people are caring and driven. You will learn, you will work hard, and you will play hard.
The last thing I want to say is, go into this with an attitude that you're going to do this, no fail. It's a lot of money to raise, but persistence is the key. Show people you are driven and committed and you will get there. If you tell yourself that you will accomplish this task no matter what, trust me you will.
Types of programs offered:
ISV supports sustainable development and conservation based initiatives around the world. Conservation projects include protecting endangered species, and conserving fragile ecosystems. Custom trips are also available.
Where they work:
Australia, Botswana, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Mozambique, New Zealand, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand, Vietnam, Zambia.
This organization offers two-week volunteer programs and four-week 'ultimate adventure' programs where individuals participate in two-week volunteer project followed by a two-week action-packed adventure tour.
Who can join:
18+ years of age, however, there is a special program for 15 - 18 year olds as well.
Know before you go:
ISV has been in business since 2002 and has had more than 30,000 volunteers on hundreds of projects. More than 310 universities grant academic credit for participation in ISV programs, check with your local university. You will be travelling with a group of 25-50 other volunteers.
Program Name: International Student Volunteers
Volunteer Review by Josh Hardman
I have traveled with GLA twice. My first program was to Ghana in 2012, and I recently returned from Tanzania a few days ago. I cannot fault GLAs programs in anyway, they offer such a well tailored blend of cultural immersion, leadership skills and social skills that I don't see offered elsewhere. The leadership aspect of GLA programs really does stand out from others, and it has certainly made me a more active leader personally, in my community and amongst my peers. More than anything though, I believe GLA programs inspire students like me to make a change in our lifetimes. ... Furthermore, GLAs support is excellent, and there is someone to talk to from the moment you show interest in GLA to post-trip chit chat. And of course, the safety of students is also GLAs top priority, and their 5 point safety system put my parents at ease. It could always be noticed that this was being implemented and checked when we were in-country. Overall, I would highly recommend GLA - and after two programs with them I believe I have a good gauge of their quality.
Types of programs offered:
ISV supports sustainable development and conservation based initiatives. Projects include; education, protecting endangered species, infrastructure support and conservation of fragile ecosystems. Custom trips are also available.
Where they work:
Australia, Botswana, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Mozambique, New Zealand, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand, Vietnam, Zambia.
This organization offers two-week volunteer programs and four-week 'ultimate adventure' programs where individuals participate in a meaningful two week volunteer project followed by a two week action-packed adventure tour. You will travel with 25-50 other volunteers from around the globe.
Who can join:
Currently enrolled high school students aged 15 -18 years old.
Know before you go:
ISV has been in business since 2002 and had more than 30,000 volunteers on hundreds of projects. Over 310 universities grant academic credit for participation on ISV programs and you can combine your project with an action packed adventure tour.
Volunteers who successfully fundraised via the Volunteer Forever website for ISV projects:
Ryan, USA. Has raised $2800 to date to volunteer on a wildlife conservation project in Thailand.
Sam Hobbs, Australia. Has raised $2338 to date to volunteer on a conservation project in South Africa.
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