How do you fancy spending your annual leave protecting the world’s endangered wildlife? Here are 10 life-changing wildlife volunteering projects you could consider joining in 2014
If you thought spending time working with endangered wild animals and getting to know their intimate secrets was only the preserve of professionals or gap year students, think again.
All over the world wildlife organisations rely on help from ordinary people using their holidays to help with conservation work. You can be occupied in the scientific survey of behaviour and population numbers, monitoring health and welfare, or animal husbandry. The common factor to all volunteering holidays is that you do not need any prior experience or specialist skills to take part. Necessary training is given and most activities also offer the opportunity to see more of the other wildlife, as well as meet the people, of the country in which they are based.
All that most wildlife sanctuaries and organisations ask is that volunteers be willing to tackle anything, and they’re reasonably fit for those jobs that are a little more active and strenuous. Background and age are immaterial for the most part, as is the time you commit – from two weeks to three months. You shouldn’t expect top luxury, though. The fees you pay are mostly spent for the benefit of the wildlife you are helping to support.
What: Lions and their prey
Where: Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya
When: 14 June-19 September (two week placements)
Cost: $3,775 (£2,307) per person
How do you fancy taking part in a project looking at how to influence what lions eat for their lunch? OK, so it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but this is essentially the thinking behind this new volunteer project designed to determine how to protect rare large herbivore species, including many iconic antelopes, as lions begin once again to return to the Kenyan savannah following decades of human persecution.
One solution could be managing the relationship between lions and zebras, which have a robust population in the region and seem to prefer areas where cattle have grazed. Joining lead scientist Jacob Goheen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, home to no fewer than six prides of lions, you will contribute to his research in establishing how cattle ranching might be used to transform the African landscape and manipulate where the lions seek their next meal.
Using the radio collars on some of the lions, you’ll track their movements. You’ll also check camera trap images for spotted hyenas, leopards, and other predators. And you’ll survey zebras and other herbivores like hartebeest and eland to learn how their populations shift with cattle ranching.
What: Shark conservation
Where: Viti Levu, Fiji
When: From January (two to 12 weeks) Who: Projects Abroad
How much? Per person: £1,995 for two weeks; £4,495 for 12 weeks; plus flights
Thanks to the Hollywood treatment, all sharks have been given the reputation of being maneaters. In fact, these magnificent creatures are some of the most misunderstood animals in the world. Working with the pioneering Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project will give an up-close experience you’ll never forget with eight species of shark, as well as the chance to contribute to the research of renowned scientists and marine biologists.
Launched this year, the project is based in beautiful Pacific Harbour, on the south coast of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. Volunteers don’t need any shark research or diving experience – there’s the opportunity to take a PADI Open Water dive certificate – you just need to be medically fit to scuba dive. If you are already PADI-qualified you’ll be able to upgrade your skills. The work involves tagging baby sharks, shark identification, setting underwater cameras and retrieving data. This information will be used to set strategies for successful shark conservation.
What: Protecting snow leopards
Where: Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan
When: 9 June – 23 August (two week slots)
Who: Biosphere Expeditions
How much? £1,780 plus flights per-person
Rare, beautiful, and bloody difficult to find are just a few of the adjectives that could be used to describe the elusive snow leopard. And yet, ironically, it is the scarcity of these endangered big cats that makes the possibility of catching a glimpse of one so seductive. Add to this the opportunity to make a genuine difference to the efforts to protect them in some of the world’s most uncharted mountain ranges and you have the recipe for an unforgettable working holiday.
‘Mountain Ghosts’ is the latest addition to Biosphere Expeditions’ 2014 programme of conservation working holidays. Volunteers venture to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan to survey snow leopards and their prey – predominantly mountain sheep and the Central Asian ibex – along with other animals, including marmots and birds.
Once there, you will be working for two weeks as part of a small international team, comprised of up to 12 volunteers, a scientist and an expedition leader, from a mobile tented base camp at altitudes of around 2,000m. Working in open steppe and high mountain country, you will spend your days looking for tracks, kills, scats and the animals themselves, as well as setting camera traps.
Offering true expedition-style base camp conditions, testing but satisfying mountain surveying, off road driving, and variable mountain weather, this is a particularly challenging expedition, but one on which the potential rewards more than justify the hardships.
What: Australian wildlife monitoring
Where: Kangaroo Island, South Australia
When: From January (two to four week slots)
How much? From £699 per person, plus flights
If you’ve never seen a kangaroo or a koala in the wild, then this is a golden opportunity. Kangaroo Island, just south of Adelaide, is considered to be one of the last unspoilt wildernesses in Australia and one of the best places to see these unique animals behaving naturally.
That’s what this holiday is all about – monitoring the native species within the wildlife sanctuary, helping with maintenance of the reserve and the nocturnal wildlife tours and the visitor accommodation that provides much needed funds to support the project. You’ll be treated to wallabies, koalas, possums and even the occasional echidna, too. But this is no tourist excursion; you’ll be working on the wildlife sanctuary here, living in an unspoilt wilderness and playing an active part in keeping it that way.
Being an island, the native animals thrive here. The sanctuary carries out important conservation work to ensure they remain protected from alien predators. The sanctuary is close to Flinder’s Chase National Park and you’ll get a trip there during your two-to-four-week stay.
What: Brown bear tracking
Where: Sånfjället NP, Sweden
When: August (one week slots)
Who: Working Abroad
How much? £440, plus flights
This is the most natural way to see bears that you will find anywhere. No baits are used, just tracking with map, compass and good old fashioned field craft in Sånfjället National Park. This is a true wilderness, far from any human contact. It’s a place where you can experience a rare special silence, pure air and crystal clean water. Because summer days are long, there’s lots of daylight time to track the bears, particularly in the evenings when they are most active.
Accommodation is in log cabins, and wilderness survival skills and a fly fishing course are part of the training, so volunteers can imagine themselves as pioneer explorers of centuries ago.This area is also home to beavers, lynx, wolverine, golden eagles, moose and reindeer, all of which could cross your path as you hike in the forests or canoe the river.
What: Orangutan play
Where: Matang Wildlife Centre, Malaysian Borne
When: All year (two or four weeks)
Who: The Great Projects
How much? Per person: £1280 for two weeks; £1865 for four weeks; plus flights
Ever wondered what amuses an orangutan? This working holiday will give you a good idea, because part of the responsibility of those taking part is to provide puzzles and games to challenge the residents of the Matang Wildlife Centre and stimulate their natural behaviour.
Like all the great apes, orangutans are highly intelligent and sophisticated. They are the largest animal to live in trees, in the tropical and sub-tropical broadleaf forests of the lowlands of Borneo. This is one of the reasons they are endangered, as their forest habitats are being felled in favour of palm oil plantations.
The aim of the conservation centre is to equip the animals with the means to be returned to safe areas in the wild. They also rescue macaques, sun bears and clouded leopards. There’s feeding to be done and help with the maintenance of the grounds to save precious funds for use in conservation.
What: Dolphin conservation
Where: Wasini Island, Kenya
When: All year (two to 12 week slots)
Who: Go Eco
How much? $1910 (£1163) per person for two weeks; $815 (£496) a week after; plus flights
Swimming with dolphins is one of the things most people want to do before they die, but combining that ambition with some vital conservation work has to be the cherry on the cake! This research project is the only one of its kind in Kenya and it happens to be conducted from the pristine beaches of a remote corner in the south of the country. So not only will you spend lots of time monitoring dolphin behaviour but you’ll also have the enviable chance to snorkel a most colourful coral reef and swim with tropical fish and sea turtles.
Little is known about East African dolphins so this project is making a big contribution to a growing body of knowledge that will help ensure their future. The dolphins in this part of the Indian Ocean include bottlenose, humpback and spinner, and volunteers will observe and research all of them, collecting data on their behaviour and location.
What: Breeding macaws
Where: Alajuela, Costa Rica
When: January to May (two to eight week slots)
Who: Working Abroad
How much? Per person: £390 for two weeks, up to £1030 for eight weeks; plus flights
It doesn’t take much to keep a macaw happy and healthy and they’ll reward you with some ear-piercing thanks. The breeding project at Alajuela, not far from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose aims to release contented scarlet macaws into the wild to repopulate areas cleared by poachers. These colourful birds were once threatened with extinction but thanks to this programme they have been pulled back from the brink. So the chicks you help rear will be the parents of many future generations in the wild.
There are daily tasks with the birds, feeding, observing behaviour and helping in the aviary maintenance. If you can speak Spanish there’s also work to be done in the local communities, with schools and churches to educate in the importance of the macaws, stop the trade in birds for pets, and promote the preservation of the trees they need for food and nesting.
What: ‘Big Five’ projects
Where: Thanda Game Reserve, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
When: All year (two to four week slots)
Who: The Global Work & Travel Co
How much? Per person: £1635 to £2095
Watching animals as a tourist on safari is one wonderful thing, but how much bigger the thrill to really get involved with their lives? Thanda Game Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, hosts all of the ‘big five’ species – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and black and white rhinos – and it has a range of vital conservation programmes. Volunteers are the backbone of efforts to save a number of species from extinction, so it’s a chance to make a real difference. It’s also an opportunity to meet like-minded souls from all over the world and swap stories round an evening campfire.
Important work includes monitoring the night-time movements of lions and leopards in the park, as well as a newly introduced herd of elephants, and assist on game capture when the need arises. As poaching is one of the biggest challenges facing the park, volunteers are also vital in anti-poaching activities such as finding and removing snares. Additionally, there could be a visit to Pongola nature reserve to monitor rhino populations.
What: turtle protection
Where: Bay of Lakonikos, Greece
When: Mid-June to early September (two to 12 weeks slots)
Who: Responsible Travel
How much? Per person: £995 for two weeks, to £2995 for 12; plus flights
A tiny baby turtle digging its way out of its sandy nest and struggling across the shore to its first encounter with the sea has more than enough to contend with. The precious populations of loggerhead turtles in the Bay of Lakonikos in southern mainland Greece need help to protect nest sites and encourage the maximum numbers of hatchlings to adulthood.
This conservation project is one of the oldest in the Mediterranean. Ongoing work not only protects the turtles but helps build sustainable systems for tourism and the local economy.
So, volunteers work with local authorities, patrol turtle beaches, inform tourists about how they can help the project, keep nest areas free from environmental hazards, and save injured animals. They’re ambassadors, diplomats, turtle security guards and rescue workers! Training is given on the turtles and local flora and fauna, and there’s a chance to learn to sail.