Wildlife, Marine Animal, Veterinary, & Conservation Volunteer Abroad

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Updated for 2024

People aren’t the only ones you can help as you volunteer abroad – animals also benefit from medical attention and environmental conservation from a wide variety of volunteer programs. Volunteering with animals and conservation is an amazing way to travel the world and make a positive impact every place you visit. It’s also a volunteer activity type that doesn’t necessarily require background experience – but if you have veterinary skills, are in school for zoology or marine biology or another subject, or if you’ve worked with animals and in conservation professionally, there is no shortage of ways that you can make a difference abroad. A few popular animal and conservation volunteer programs that you can choose from include:

  1. Researching and protecting sea turtles on the beaches of Costa Rica, Bali, and Zanzibar
  2. Rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing wild animals that are sick or injured, or that have been kept illegally as pets in Australia with GoEco. Or work in one of Africa’s largest orphanage for wild animals in Zimbabwe
  3. Studying animal habits and warding off poachers on a Big Five game reserve in Africa
  4. Help with habitat preservation and wildlife population observation in Borneo, Malaysia with Volunteering Solutions 
  5. Promoting environmental awareness and sustainability initiatives in a community so that animals and their natural habitats are protected in Sri Lanka with GoEco

From researching big cats to rescuing primates, there are  animal care and wildlife conservation programs all over the world with award-winning organizations such as International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), GoEco, Maximo Nivel, Volunteering Solutions, and African Impact. If you want the ultimate wildlife conservation volunteer experience, consider volunteering with GoEco helping African animals in an accredited and ethical wildlife ranch located in Western Cape, South African. Or, take a look at an African Impact project at a South African National Park, where you’ll track and monitor lions, rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, and more. Your volunteer duties will support the management of the park and anti-poaching activities, ultimately contributing to the continued survival of the incredible species that inhabit the national park.

If you’re not able to travel all the way to Africa to participate in these programs there are lots of amazing wildlife and conservation programs for people living in the United States and Canada offered by organizations such as Maximo Nivel close-by in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru.

Combine adventure and animal conservation with Projects Abroad when you follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands, research elephants in Botswana, tag sharks in Fiji, or survey bats in Costa Rica.

Adventures Await!

Volunteer Abroad with Animals and in Conservation

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International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

Wolf Conservation in Portugal

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 wildlife 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 $987 for two weeks. Click here to learn more about IVHQ’s Portugal volunteer program.

Wildlife Conservation in Victoria Falls

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 alongside other wildlife conservation volunteers 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 $1045 for two weeks, with weekends free for whitewater rafting, river cruising, touring, and much more. Click here to learn more and to sign up.

Animal Care and Animal Rights in Guatemala

IVHQ’s Animal Care 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 $385 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 here

Turtle Conservation in Bali

If you have an interest in wildlife and conservation, take a hands-on role in protecting sea turtles with IVHQ in Bali! You’ll volunteer on the small island of Nusa Penida, caring for turtles housed at the conservation center. Typical duties include feeding and cleaning the turtles, as well as helping with beach cleanups, waste management improvement of the surrounding areas, and educating the local community — children in particular — about Indonesia’s endangered sea turtle population. You’ll spend a minimum of two weeks on this project, with program fees starting at $767. Your fee covers your meals and accommodation, program orientation, airport pickup, and 24/7 in-country support. During weekends, you can explore the rice terraces and temples around Ubud, or consider a cycling or trekking tour to Mount Batur.

Volunteer in Galapagos Island!

IVHQ has exciting new volunteer opportunities in the Galapagos Islands. This program is great for eco volunteers with a love of conservation and protection of natural resources and habitats. Most of the volunteer experiences will be set in the small coastal town of Puerto Villamil, on the southeastern edge of Isabela Island, with its pristine white beaches. There are 6 interesting projects to choose from, with a minimum commitment of 2 weeks. Check these projects out:

  1. Promote conservation and document ongoing projects in social media
  2. Environmental conservation, where you will work in the National park to protect and preserve the ecosystems
  3. Giant tortoise conservation, where you’ll help this endangered species at a breeding center
  4. Sea turtle nest monitoring to help protect and manage the nesting season

GoEco

Since 2006, GoEco has offered affordable volunteer abroad programs and internships in over 40 countries throughout AfricaAsiaAustralasiaCentral AmericaEurope, the Middle East, and South America. With more than 150 different wildlifemarine, and veterinary programs, GoEco is a great organization to check out if you’re looking for a variety of impactful trips to choose from, from wildlife conservation to teaching English. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and more. As a volunteer, you will have 24-hour support from the GoEco team, from start to finish. Currently, GoEco is offering a special travel grant where you can stay for the 3rd week free! Check out the qualifying programs here!

Volunteer in a Puma Sanctuary & Wildlife Reserve, Argentina

Whether you call it a mountain lion, cougar, panther, or puma, these big cats of South and North America need protection from urbanisation. Volunteers work in a renowned puma sanctuary located in Cordoba to help preserve the natural ecosystems, as well as rescued, old, or injured animals (pumas, monkeys, llamas, nutrias, peacocks). For more information, click here!

African Wildlife Orphanage in Zimbabwe

This is one of GoEco’s best volunteer programs for the opportunity to volunteer in a world-renowned and successful wildlife orphanage in Zimbabwe. This famous sanctuary has been featured in many documentaries for its successful rehab and releases of wildlife animals. You will get to work alongside wildlife professionals to care for injured wildlife that are abandoned, abused, or orphaned. You will also be involved in nature conservation research, educating the public about conservation, and other hands-on care for the animals. 

Located 30 minutes from Bulawayo, a major city in Zimbabwe, there are many opportunities for adventures nearby such as Matopo National Park (known for leopards), the famous Victoria Falls, and many game parks nearby. This is a great program to experience for wildlife lovers! To get started, here is more information!

South Africa – Wildlife Sanctuary

Check out another GoEco’s wildlife sanctuary volunteer program in South Africa! As a volunteer, you will be able to spend two weeks to three months at a sanctuary that cares for orphaned or injured animals, such as elephants, lions, cheetahs, hippos, and hyenas. Your projects will focus on construction and maintenance, as well as hands-on care for the animals at the sanctuary. In addition to wildlife conservation volunteering, you will have the chance to explore the beaches of Cape Town, visit Addo Elephant National Park, take a wine tour, and much more. Click here to sign up!

Kenya – Maasai Mara Lion and Wildlife Conservation

Experience and immerse yourself living in the wilderness in the African bush besides the Maasai tribe to help protect African wildlife and conservation! This exciting project takes place in the Pardamat Conservation Area, part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, which is famously known for the most wildlife on earth (especially big cats), and where you can see the magnificent annual wildebeest and zebra migrations. Your work will mainly help with wildlife monitoring and conservation. Monitoring includes data collection such as on lions, cheetahs, big cats, elephants sightings. Conservation efforts include measures to protect the ecosystem such as road repairs, de-fencing, soil erosion control, game drive routing, etc. Your accommodation will be basic but comfortable in the remote wilderness living in a tent amongst the wildlife and under the starry nights. In your free time, there will be many more exciting wildlife excursions! Challenge yourself to stay for 12 weeks in this unique experience!

Malawi – Wildlife Rescue Center Veterinary Internship

Join a professional, hands-on veterinary internship to help heal injured wildlife in Malawi! This rescue center performed 190 veterinary procedures in 2018 alone. The majority of wildlife at the rescue center are orphaned vervet monkeys, but there have also been wildlife species such as elephants that have received care here. Learn more and sign up.

 Wildlife Animal Sanctuary in Australia 

On the other side of the world, GoEco has another popular wildlife sanctuary program in  Calga, Australia (an hour away from Sydney). This sanctuary is a safe haven for rescued animals, helps restore endangered wildlife populations with a breeding program, and educates about conservation. Located in a large bushland, the wildlife you will get to help are kangaroos, koalas, and other native wildlife (60+ species of animals in care, 200+ species of wildlife living in the wild). Typical tasks include food preparation, cleaning and maintaining habitats, enrichment activities for the rescued animals, as well as habitat restoration. At least 50% of time will be helping the animals’ daily needs. The program is year round and even open during the holiday seasons as the animals need help 24/7. For more details about this wonderful program, click here

Private Island Marine Experience in Belize

Another exciting opportunity in a beautiful island is the Belize Barrier Reef conservation project. You will get to volunteer and live on a private island! This project’s aim is to conserve and preserve the ecosystem in the coral reef. This project will be great for divers or you can become PADI Open Water certified as an add-on option. Marine preservation tasks may include survey dives for data collection of native species, Lionfish eradication, shark photography, as well as beach clean ups and helping with presentations on marine conservation. Click here to learn more about this amazing opportunity!

Animal Rescue and Release Sanctuary in Peru

Experience a taste of living in the Amazon jungle in Peru! This program, partnered with the Amazon Wildlife Sanctuary, is located in a remote area in the Amazon and will fulfil your wish to live among nature! And at the same time, you can assist in wildlife rescues so these wild animals can return to their natural habitat. The shelter includes 80+ animals. These orphaned and injured animals (including sloths, monkeys, birds, and terrestrial mammals) are usually results of habitat loss, hunting, and illegal trade. Your tasks to care for these animals include preparing meals and feeding, cleaning and repairing their enclosures, as well as helping the veterinarian in various tasks as needed. A minimum of 2 weeks for this program is highly recommended! 

What Volunteers Say

“Taking this volunteer trip to the Wildlife Sanctuary project was something I had wanted to do for several years… Literally after one day of volunteering, I was already regretting only having two weeks to stay.

Every day was amazing and full of incredible experiences and new people. The days flew by as we were so busy working on the farm, hanging out and making new friends, and learning about the wildlife in a very hands on manner. The staff is very helpful, friendly, and seem just as excited to be there as the volunteers. – Dave P., South Africa

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.

Sea Turtle Conservation

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/

Jungle Reforestation

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/

Volunteer in Eco Agriculture

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/

Volunteer Adventure

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

Projects Abroad

If you’re passionate about protecting our planet, Projects Abroad provides many opportunities for you to do just that. As we face new challenges with each year, the need to fight for a healthier earth becomes more urgent.

Whether it be protecting animals or their habitats on land or in the deep ocean waters, Projects Abroad offers a diverse list of Conservation Projects to suit many interests. You’ll support real environmentalists and scientists, as well as people from local communities. You’ll also get to develop important skills like teamwork, strategy, and communication.

Conservation projects will take you to some of the most beautiful places in the world that need to be preserved. Choose between rainforests, oceans, mountains, and savannah grasslands. A few conservation programs to check out include:

  1. Release sea turtle hatchlings in Mexico
  2. Shark Conservation in Fiji
  3. African Bushveld Conservation in Botswana
  4. Rainforest Conservation in Peru
  5. Galapagos Conservation in Ecuador
  6. Experience the beautiful Himalayan Mountains in Nepal

Veterinary Medicine and Animal Care Internships

Projects Abroad also offers internships for those who want to pursue careers in veterinary medicine. An international internship is ideal if you’re looking to boost your resume for college or work applications.

You’ll shadow skilled professionals during their daily work, and observe procedures like spaying or neutering. You may even be asked to assist local vets, gaining invaluable hands-on experience. Animal Care Internships may be for you if you love working with animals but might not want to work in a clinical setting. You can provide care to rescue dogs at a shelter, help with the rehabilitation of penguins and other seabirds, and help educate local communities on how to look after their pets. Two programs to consider include working alongside a local vet in Sri Lanka, and providing care to stray dogs and pets in Belize.

African Impact

African Impact is an award-winning, responsible travel organization that offers volunteer and internship opportunities in 7 countries across Africa. It was founded in 2004 and has since hosted over 35,000 volunteers. African Impact has over 20 different projects, ranging from teaching in Zambia to marine conservation in Zanzibar. The organization is known for its long-term objectives and measurable change. It is also recognized as a trusted specialist on volunteering and interning in Southern Africa. African Impact offers internships, as well as group, family, and high school projects. The minimum age requirement for their projects is 16, making African Impact a great option for teen and high school volunteers.

Dolphin Research and Marine Conservation, Zanzibar

On this program, you will travel to the gorgeous island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania, to research dolphin tourism, help with sustainable use of marine resources, and contribute to vital conservation efforts. As a volunteer, you will monitor dolphins in their natural habitat, research local fishing activity, teach Conservation Club students about environmental protection, collect coral bleaching data, and lots more. Outside of volunteering, you can try local cuisine, explore the island, go snorkeling, and enjoy weekly get-togethers with fellow volunteers. Learn more here!

Hands-On Lion Conservation, Antelope Park, Zimbabwe

Another excellent volunteer project through African Impact brings you to Zimbabwe, where you will be able to contribute to efforts that protect Africa’s lions. For two weeks, you will have the amazing opportunity to walk alongside lions and become part of the pride as a way to familiarize yourself with their natural environment. You’ll also be able to prepare meat and feed the lions, clean their enclosures, build and paint new enclosures, and even help veterinarians with their work. In addition to volunteering, you can go on excursions to Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba, and Matopos National Park. Click here to learn more and to sign up!

Wildlife Photography

African Impact offers wildlife photography volunteer projects in South Africa where participants can improve their photography skills while contributing to wildlife conservation. The projects take place in the Greater Kruger Area, where participants will live in a lodge and have daily game drives to photograph a variety of animals. The projects are guided and tutored by professional photographers and have monthly start dates. Participants will also have the opportunity to contribute to conservation efforts by supporting non-governmental organizations and raising awareness of environmental issues. The cost of the project varies depending on the length of stay.

Big 5 Wildlife Conservation Program

The African Big 5 Wildlife Conservation project is a volunteer program in South Africa that offers participants the opportunity to work with expert field guides and research teams in the Greater Kruger Area, one of the world’s last remaining wildlife strongholds. The Greater Kruger Area encompasses over 20 private wildlife reserves on the west side of the Kruger National Park, and it is home to many of Africa’s iconic “Big 5” animals, including lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo.

Participants in this program will have the chance to collect information about these animals and to help protect them from threats such as poaching and habitat loss. They will also be able to track the movements and behaviors of herds of elephants and prides of lions, and to witness nocturnal animals in their natural habitat on unforgettable night drives.

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)

Are you in search of a life-changing experience and an opportunity to make a genuine difference in communities around the world? Involvement Volunteers International (IVI), founded in 1989, invites individuals to join the ranks of over 25,000 volunteers who’ve made a lasting impact in 112 projects spread across 23 countries.

Why IVI Stands Out

With a legacy spanning over 34 years, IVI distinguishes itself as a non-profit that actively supports local communities, particularly in the South Pacific regions of Fiji and Vanuatu, as well as in India. Unlike many organizations, IVI has built many of its projects from the ground up. Beyond offering travel and volunteering experiences, they play a significant role in the humanitarian sector, aiding impoverished communities and refugees. They also provide university students the opportunity to fulfill their practicum hours in sectors such as mental health, medical, teaching, and veterinary projects.

Beyond Volunteering: Internships, Teaching, and More

Moreover, for those eyeing internships, or destinations like Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ghana, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, IVI offers openings in the medical, teaching, physiotherapy, dental, and nursing fields. IVI’s internships guarantee specific hours, and for university placements, the necessary documentation and supervisor approvals are given. Although IVI doesn’t provide paid teaching abroad, they offer teaching projects at almost every destination, catering to various age groups, predominantly aged 3-12.

Family and Group Adventures 

Whether one is a solo adventurer, a family unit, a group, or a teen, IVI has projects tailored to fit each need. Their family-friendly ventures encompass kindergarten teaching, construction, environmental initiatives, and animal care projects. For larger groups, IVI presents specialized itineraries combining volunteering programs with engaging activities, making them an ideal choice for school groups.

For volunteers aged 16-17, a signed parental consent from their guardians is a prerequisite. Some of IVI’s projects also accommodate younger kids, ensuring they remain under parental or guardian watch.

Discover More 

Interested in learning what sets IVI apart? Dive deeper into their story by visiting “Who We Are” and “Why IVI?” on their official website: volunteering.org.au

Embarking on a journey with IVI promises to enrich both the individual and the world at large. The adventure awaits!

Stray Dog and Cat Rehabilitation in Antigua, Guatemala

Stray animals have been a problem in Antigua that grassroots animal shelters have taken charge of to help with the issue. Volunteers will help out local animal shelters to take care of stray dogs and cats from the streets of Antigua. No experience with stray animals is required, other than a love and desire to care for animals! Volunteer tasks include daily grooming, feeding, walking, and general care for the animals. Other work may include animal obedience training, helping out with veterinary procedures as appropriate to your skill level, and community education on stray animals. Located in the city of Antigua, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, you will have the chance to roam through beautiful Spanish colonial architecture surrounded by volcanoes. The project cost for 1 week is $435USD and includes meals and accommodation with a host family. For more information, click here!

Alpaca and Llama Farm in Cusco, Peru

Check out this unique experience helping alpacas and llamas! Animal lovers will find this project fun and interesting! Alpacas and llamas are native to Peru and have been domesticated for thousands of years. For this project, you will be working on a family-run farm in a small village in the Andes mountains (30 mins from Cusco). You will be helping to care for these furry animals on tasks such as feeding, grooming, and maintaining the farm. You will also assist in the textile production of the wool sheared from the alpacas and llamas. Accommodation will be with a verified and experienced Peruvian host family, giving you a wonderful opportunity to practice your Spanish as well. On the weekends, there are many activities to do in the city of Cusco. For more details about this project, click here!

Lemur Conservation in Madagascar

Primate lovers should definitely check out IVI’s lemur conservation project in Madagascar. Deforestation and hunting have led to many species of Madagascar to become endangered and it is critical to protect these animals before it’s too late. As a volunteer, you will work at a local animal rescue center and have a first hand opportunity to learn about Madagascar’s lemur population. Your responsibilities will include collecting food for the lemurs, maintaining their enclosures, and helping with general duties at the reserve. You will also have the ability to lead awareness campaigns to educate the local community on the importance of protecting these beautiful animals and their natural habitats. The project cost for one week is $545 USD and includes meals and accommodation at the volunteer house. For more information, click here!

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.

GVI has many wildlife conservation programs located in Africa, Latin America, and Asia with a variety of animals ranging from lemurs, lions, to elephants. Check a few of their programs below.

Volunteer in Seychelles

Right now, GVI is offering several volunteer programs in the islands of Seychelles, including a marine conservation expeditionisland 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 in Seychelles here.

Marine Conservation Internship in Mexico

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

Costa Rica Rainforest Expedition

Get involved in this volunteer project for a unique opportunity to live in the remote jungle of the Kekoldi rainforest in Costa Rica. Some of the activities that you can help with are wildcat conservation, turtle conservation, bird and reptiles conservation, and biodiversity surveys. No doubt you will see many different native species of the rainforest during your survey hikes and patrols! Ready to sleep in the jungle and get unplugged? Click here!

Volunteer with Elephants in Thailand 

If you’d like to visit Asia, GVI has an amazing opportunity right now in Thailand to volunteer with elephants that have been rescued from working in the tourist industry. Although volunteers are not allowed to directly handle the elephants due to ethical conservation guidelines, you will help in conservation research by observing and recording their behaviors, assist in fieldwork and biodiversity surveys, and check for physical illnesses alongside the mahouts (elephant keepers). The research center is located in a mountainous village in Chiang Mai. Your accommodation will be provided by a local host family in the Karen community so you will be able to immerse and interact with the local community. For costs and other details, visit GVI’s site!

Wildlife Research in South Africa Expedition

Join and live with an international team, including field guides and GVI staff, dedicated to help wildlife conservation in a private reserve and research center in Limpopo, South Africa. The research center is in a 20 thousand acres of savannah and home to the Big 5 (African elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros), as well as hyenas, and cheetahs.

On a daily basis, you will see wildlife roaming in and out of your stay in the farmhouse. You will be trained to track and collect data on predators during daily research drives, and also participate in environmental conservation programs. You can participate for 1 to 12 weeks. Get ready to see the Big 5 here!

Plan My Gap Year

Founded in 2011, Plan My Gap Year provides affordable, adventurous volunteer opportunities in childcare, teaching, wildlife conservation, community projects, and more throughout Africa and Asia for over 3,000 volunteers per year. PMGY prides itself on transparency and accountability, with all volunteer projects personally vetted by the PMGY team to be certain that you will be matched with an initiative that’s safe and that complements your skills and interests. To add to PMGY’s history of excellence, they also have been awarded the Shell LiveWire Grand Idea Award, Thailand Green Excellence Award, and received Special Recognition from the United Nations in Sri Lanka.

If you’re interested in volunteering with wildlife and for environmental conservation, Plan My Gap Year offers several different opportunities, including a Big 5 Wildlife Experience in South Africa, and an Elephant Experience and a Sea Turtle Conservation program in Sri Lanka.

South Africa Big 5 Wildlife Experience

From two weeks to three months, PMGY invites you to visit South Africa and volunteer on a world-class wildlife reserve, where you will get up close with elephants, lions, rhinos and other amazing animals. A few ways you’ll help include assisting with a community outreach program at a local school, caring for animals on the reserve, monitoring lion prey selection, cataloguing bird species, working with a conservation management program, and much more. This program starts from $795 for your first two weeks – click here to learn more and to sign up!

Sri Lanka Elephant Experience

If you want to go on a tropical getaway where you can also do good, check out PMGY’s Sri Lanka Elephant experience, where you’ll have the chance to work alongside a mahout to care for elephants. As a wildlife volunteer, you’ll help with feeding, walking, and washing the elephants to keep them healthy and active – you also will be able to go on a safari to Udawalawe National Park, which serves as a sanctuary for elephants that have been displaced. This program starts from two weeks at $600 – learn more here!

Sri Lanka Turtle Conservation

If you’re more interested in a beach trip, Plan My Gap Year has a wonderful opportunity where you can volunteer with sea turtles in Sri Lanka. On this program, you’ll protect and rehabilitate at-risk turtles by cleaning and refilling tanks, feeding the turtles, cleaning the turtles’ shells, taking care of the nesting area, releasing hatchlings into the sea, and much more. You also will have the chance to work on a community outreach program, beach cleanup, and other projects to help preserve this gorgeous area. This volunteer program starts from $570 for two weeks, and you can stay up to six months. Learn more and sign up here!

Wildlife Rescue in Bali

Want to care for endangered species in Indonesia? Then travel to Bali, where you can support the wellbeing of displaced animals. On this wildlife rescue project, you’ll work at a center that’s home to more than 40 endangered primates and birds. You’ll have the amazing experience of helping a variety of creatures, including the Javan lutung, grey-headed fish eagle, palm cockatoo, and more. Many of these animals have been victims of traffickers and poachers, and have been rescued from the exotic pet trade or entertainment industry. As a volunteer, you’ll assist staff with medical treatment, feeding, and keeping the facilities clean. You’ll also do work outside the center, such as beach cleanups, turtle rescues, and mangrove conservation, to ensure Bali’s native wildlife have a healthy habitat to call home. So, are you ready to volunteer in Bali and enjoy the sunshine? The program starts from $729 for your first two weeks. Click here to find out more and apply

Marine Conservation in South Africa

Are you an aspiring marine biologist? Check out Plan My Gap Year’s marine conservation volunteer program in South Africa, where you can get up close to southern right whales, bottlenose dolphins, great white sharks, seals, and more in Plettenberg Bay. Volunteers on marine boat trips get the opportunity to observe and record marine wildlife and take fin profile photos – other opportunities to get involved include alien vegetation removal, bird ringing (a catch-record-then release activity), river health assessments, shark and ray egg case collection, beach cleanups, and community education. Program fees are $525 to start for one week, and you can stay up to three months. Learn more and sign up here!

A Broader View Volunteers Corp (ABV)

As a Platinum rated US-based nonprofit organization with the highest-rated reviews in responsible and sustainable organization abroad in more than 25 countries, A Broader View’s conservation programs are located in Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Argentina, and Ecuador. With this charity, all your fees are tax-deductible. You are invited to fundraise on ABV’s website, and you will be able to chat with a team member 24/7 to find answers to any questions you may have. Check out all their exciting animal volunteer programs abroad.

Wildlife Conservation in Galapagos Islands

Volunteer in Ecuador on this conservation project! Based on Isabela Island, the largest of the islands of the Galapagos, you will have the opportunity to support conservation efforts as well as land turtle support projects on the island. Current research is focused on ensuring that ecosystem restoration heads towards a more pristine condition – this requires ensuring that any introduced plant species do not out-compete the native vegetation.

Elephant Rescue in India Jaipur

Volunteer in India with A Broader View – here, the elephants in Jaipur have a long history of being part of religious and Indian cultural ceremonies. Today in Jaipur, the main use for elephants is with the tourist trade, which removes them from their natural habitat. By joining this program, you will have an unforgettable experience learning about elephants and contributing help to their mahouts, who care for them and bring them back to their native areas for a fuller life.

Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica

Volunteers with A Broader View’s programs in Costa Rica participate in sea turtle preservation activities, including monitoring and registering nesting patterns, record keeping of eggs, moving eggs to the hatchery, beach patrols, and freeing of the newborns to the ocean. Experience not required, but anticipate strange work hours (middle of the night!) and lots of time spent on the beach.

Dog Rescue Center in India

Another volunteer program in India, this project is perfect for veterinary students or animal lovers interested in providing care and shelter to animals in need. Based in the city of Jaipur, the shelter cares for animals and birds. The shelter’s help line receives calls from within the community about injured or stray animals in needs. Some of the animals cared for at the shelter include peacocks, dogs, cats, cows, monkeys, rabbits, eagles, parrots, pigeons, and crows.

What Volunteers Say

I had a fantastic experience all the way around with ABV. From the time I inquired about their programs, to almost the day before I left to come to Costa Rica, ABV was continually in touch with me making sure everything was arranged, taken care of, answered any questions I had. ABV is a very professional organization and one I would volunteer with again. -Marla

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.

Wild Takhi Research

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. As you volunteer with animals abroad, free time can be spent horse riding, wildlife watching, and more. This program lasts one to four weeks, starting at $895 for your first week in Mongolia.

Mustang Care North USA

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.

Coastal Wildlife Rehab

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.

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.

Costa Rica: Sea Turtle Adventure

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!

Galapagos Islands: Marine Service and Adventure

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.

New Zealand and Fiji Islands: Marine Eco-Adventure

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.

The Intern Group

The Intern Group, founded in 2011, places more than 2,000 applicants on professional development placements in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia each year. An award-winning social enterprise, it’s been featured in Forbes, TIME, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and CNN. It connects university students and other individuals on internships with renowned NGOs and companies, and partners with more than 1,000 leading employers globally. The Intern Group offers discounts for alumni travelers, as well as students receiving financial aid. The organization offers assistance with visas, and provides developmental workshops, career training, social and cultural events, quality housing, and in-country support.

Environmental Sciences and Sustainability Internship in Australia

Gain hands-on experience in wildlife preservation and animal conservation in Australia with an environmental sciences and sustainability internship customized for you by the Intern Group. Work with impactful NGOs like Earthwatch, and assist scientists as they conduct field research and collect data. Become an ambassador for sustainability and connect with nature on an expedition. Depending upon your skills and interests, you can choose to work in the field on science-focused research, or behind the scenes with the administrative efforts. If you have a passion for wildlife preservation, environmental engineering, eco-business, and science, an international internship is a great opportunity to make your resume stand out while getting to experience a new culture abroad. Program fees start at $4,617 for six weeks, with stays available up to six months. Learn more and apply today!

Science Internship in Bangkok

Travel to Bangkok, the city where East meets West, for a science placement with the Intern Group and gain invaluable work experience in one of the most vibrant cities of Southeast Asia. When you work with an NGO in Thailand, you’ll learn from leading researchers, engineers, and academics. Customize your internship with an emphasis on biomedicine, biotechnology, or marine conservation. Thailand is home to a range of leading companies and organizations, making it the perfect country to gain professional experience. Social events included in this internship include a historical Bangkok food tour and a traditional Thai cooking class. Take a day trip to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage site with beautiful temples and palaces. Spend up to six months in Thailand on this internship with placement fees starting at $1,826 for four weeks. Click here to read more and apply!

Eco-Tourism and Sustainability Media in Barcelona

Are you passionate about the conservation of all living things? Consider a customized internship in Barcelona that allows you to combine the power of the media and tourism to benefit the environment. Travel to Barcelona and learn how eco-tourism and sustainability can help save species and special places. An internship in Europe’s largest cruise port is ideal for those looking to break into the eco-tourism or events field. Work with professionals and learn the skills necessary to excel in your future career. While in Barcelona, enjoy a night tour of Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera, a multi-sensory, multimedia event. Take a day trip to the Dali Museum in medieval Girona. It’s the only city in history to have been awarded the Royal Gold Medal for architecture and contains nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites! Program fees start at $4,648 for six weeks, with stays up to six months. Learn more here and start your application today.

Biotechnology Internship in New York City

If your interests in wildlife conservation include biology or medicine research, consider a biotechnology internship in New York City. This opportunity with the Intern Group lets you create a customized experience where you’ll learn from the brightest academic minds in the world! Develop professional skills and gain real-world experience while living in the most exciting and culturally diverse city in the United States. While you’re in New York City, spend free time at Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) and the MoMA, or Museum of Modern Art. Your lodgings are in Manhattan, so check out Central Park, as well as the Zoo and the Tavern on the Green. Fees for this program start at $6,910 for eight weeks, with stays of six months available. Read more here, and apply today!

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.

Dominican Republic: Building a Sustainable World

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.

Thailand: The Elephant Village Initiative

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.

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.

Malaysia: Turtle Conservation

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.

Tenerife: Whale and Dolphin Conservation

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.

Thailand: Zoo Assistant Program

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.

Thailand: Elephant Rescue

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.

Reach Out Volunteers

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.

Volunteer Cambodia: Village and Elephant Program

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/helping-elephants-volunteer-programs.htm

South Africa Volunteering Adventure

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/africa-volunteer-programs.htm

Volunteering in Africa: Melissa Haynes’ Story

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.

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.

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