From counting newly hatched turtle eggs to taking big cats for a walk in the jungle, here’s our list of the top five voluntary wildlife experiences.
British Columbia: For hard-core animal lovers
The wilds of Canada are truly mind-blowing; have a stab at helping and supporting animals at an animal rescue centre in British Colombia surrounded by vast pine forests far from any civilisation. GoInternational offers an unforgettable opportunity to get close to brown and black bears, deer, moose and other orphaned wildlife. You may even see the odd golden eagle soaring above your head.
Volunteers here are required to have a serious love and commitment for wildlife and must be available for at least eight weeks. Responsibilities include preparing foods, such as meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as cleaning enclosures and general maintenance; while those staying six months or more will be able to experience contact with bears. It’s hard physical work, involving longs days and night shifts in all weather, but the pay-off is immense.
Costs: From £848 for 8 weeks, including food and accommodation. International flights and transport to the centre are excluded.
Bolivia: For intrepid adventurers
Fancy taking a puma for a walk on a leash in the jungle? Or have cheeky capuchin monkeys snuggle against your chest for a nap? Comunidad into Wata Yassi offers extraordinary opportunities to get up close to wild animals in the heart of Bolivia’s lush Amazonian rainforest – all you need is bucket-loads of enthusiasm and a willingness to get your hands dirty.
The company has three wildlife refuges, which are home to hundreds of rescued nimals which have been illegally traded, kept as pets or found in zoos and circuses. They include numerous wild cats such as ocelots and jaguars; capuchins, spider monkeys and red howler monkeys, plus birds, reptiles, small mammals and even an Andean bear.
When you volunteer, you will be required to get down to business straight away. As well as walking the cats for daily exercise, you’ll need to help build and clean cages, prepare food for monkeys, improve jungle trails and much more. It’s physically demanding but rewarding work. One volunteer, Nina, said: “Our day started at 8.30am and finished around 6.30pm and consisted of feeding the cats, giving them medication where appropriate, cleaning their cages which was usually a monumental (and smelly) task and walking them. During my time there, I was bitten, scratched, clawed, defecated and urinated upon, and suffered painful stings from huge flying insects but I can honestly say that I had a blast.”
Kenya: For beach-lovers
On the shores of the Indian Ocean, Kenya’s Watamu Marine Park is an area of unparalleled natural beauty. Miles of white sand beaches are lapped by emerald green waters that are home to colourful corals and marine life and, critically, are a key nesting ground for turtles.
Working Abroad offers volunteers the chance to get involved in a turtle watch programme. During the nesting season between May and August, you will help carry out night patrols beneath a moonlit sky to help monitor and protect nesting and hatching turtles. You’ll need to be fit as the walks can be up to a strenuous 8km (4 miles). You will also help to count hatched eggs, feed any rehabilitated turtles, collect information about illegal destructive fishing, carry out beach surveys and clean ups and even go crab catching.
Costs: £980 for a minimum of four weeks, including food, accommodation, training and airport transfers. International flights are excluded.
Borneo: For a jungle experience
Borneo’s rainforests are home to an unbelievable numbers of species from orangutans, gibbons and proboscis monkeys to pygmy elephants, crocodiles and a rich array of birdlife. But forest fires and illegal logging are taking their toll on these critical biologically diverse habitats.
As a volunteer with Kaya Responsible Travel, based in the north east state of Sabah, you can help to work with the local community to conserve the rainforest. Based in the village of Mengaris on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, your tasks will include replanting destroyed habitats and cutting back pest weeds that choke on wetland habitats as well as community-based projects such as teaching, plus boat and building renovations.
Costs: From £775 for two weeks, this includes accommodation, transfers, food and training. International flights and medical costs are excluded.
China: Get off the beaten track
Grab a unique opportunity to live alongside rare giant pandas within China’s wild Shanxii province. The country is home to 1,000 of these endangered animals, with around 270 now living in protected panda reservations. Based in the majestic foot hills of the Quingling Mountains in eastern China, two hours away from the nearest city, volunteers with i to i will get a chance to get up close to 15 pandas, as well as birds, golden monkeys and sheep-like Takin by feeding them and cleaning their enclosures.
Volunteers are needed for a minimum of two weeks. You’ll also enable the staff to practise and improve their English skills, as the centre increasingly attracts more tourists to help pay and look after its wild residents.
Costs: From £699 for two weeks, including accommodation, food, transfers and training. International flights are excluded.