All Creatures Large and Small: Volunteering to Help Animal Conservation Globally
The animal kingdom is under threat. Not only are current extinction rates for all wildlife a thousand times higher than they were a couple of centuries ago, the major species are vulnerable, as well. To anyone who holds within a deep love and respect of the natural world, and also possesses a sense of adventure, conservation volunteering is one of the greatest contributions possible to ensuring the survival of the planet.
The opportunities are everywhere. There is no part of the planet where hundreds of species are not under threat for their very existence. It can be hard to decide what exactly to do or where to go, however.
Finding out what your heart wants
Conservation volunteering overseas does not come with pay, and can require fees in some cases. Your only reward is the satisfaction to the soul that you come by. If the opportunity you find turns out to not be perfectly matched to your temperament, expectations and dreams, there’s simply no point. Before you pick an opportunity to sign up for, then, it’s important to put in some deep evaluation.
While people don’t go to career counselors for volunteer engagement ideas, it would make sense to do so. You need to know what your psychological needs are and how best to answer them. If you don’t plan to try a counselor, you should do some work yourself. One of the first things that you need to do is to evaluate the major opportunity categories available.
Volunteering for the conservation of the Big Four
If working to save the lions, tigers, elephants and rhinos is what you dream of, southern Africa is where the action is. Hundreds volunteer each year, travel all the way to the Dark Continent, and are delighted by their experience. Volunteering on wildlife sanctuaries in Africa can change the way you see life. Working mere feet away from wild, roaming predators and trusting in their ability to leave you alone, can be life-changing. This kind of volunteering is for those who truly want adventure. Organizations such as Pod Volunteer and Volunteering Solutions can be a great way to find these opportunities.
Volunteering for marine conservation
For those who find working next to the large predators somewhat intimidating, there is the possibility of marine conservation volunteering. IDEX is one of the most successful volunteer organizations in this area. It receives applications for volunteers in dozens of countries, and assigns them to sea turtle conservation projects and other work across Asia. Global Vision International and Global Nomadic are other organizations in this space. While working with sea creatures isn’t as dangerous as working with large predators, it can still be adventurous.
Not all conservation volunteering efforts are about manual labor. It is also possible to contribute in cerebral ways. For students of the sciences, the Crees Foundation offers opportunities in Latin America. You get to work with scientists to monitor wildlife and conduct impact surveys. Pod Volunteers offers marine conservation projects in Thailand, that help with ecological monitoring and artificial reef construction.
For those with veterinary skills
Conservation efforts around the world are always in deep need of veterinary hands. Both qualified veterinarians and students are accepted. Not only can such volunteering help flesh out a resume, it can offer great instant gratification, as well. There are few feelings in the world more wholesome than finding an animal in suffering, and helping it walk free and happy. Programs such as International Service Learning and Vida Volunteers help with these opportunities.
When all you want is adventure
Volunteer tourism is a popular new trend, and involves adventure tourism trips that involve volunteering opportunities along the way. According to The Great Projects (https://www.thegreatprojects.com/) one of the leading foundations offering such opportunities, anyone hoping to change something about themselves that they would find impossible under regular circumstances — obesity, anxiety and so on — animal conservation volunteering can be an excellent way to hit the reset on the brain.
After one spends time a few months away from the make-believe pressures of modern life and spends them close to nature, it can be hard to not see life fresh eyes. When you return, you will likely find that the old challenges simply do not seem as hard anymore.
Michael Starbuck has been Managing Director of The Great Projects since 2011. It was in 2013 that his work in increasing volunteering projects with animals work was recognized as The Great Projects was a finalist at the World Responsible Tourism awards in the category of Best for Responsible Wildlife Experiences. It has since become the world leader in the provision of volunteers to aid orangutan conservation and now works with 2 of the biggest charities in this field, International Animal Rescue and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, something which Michael is extremely proud of.