Everything you need to know about volunteering with animals abroad

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Volunteering with animals abroad is an amazing thing to do, not only are you giving your time to a worthy cause you will also get to see new parts of the world as well. I have been volunteering abroad every year for the past four years and already have this year and next year’s trip already booked.

Over the years I have become passionate about volunteering with animals as well as wildlife conservation volunteering and am more than happy to share my experiences as well as helping people to book their own trips. I understand it can be confusing and quite frankly a bit of a minefield when booking these volunteer trips, which is why I wanted to share everything I have learnt over the years about volunteering with animals abroad.

Volunteering with animals abroad and wildlife conservation volunteering – Everything you need to know.

What countries should I volunteer with animals in

Any country you like! So far I have volunteered in the UK, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina and soon I will be taking trips to Thailand and Vietnam. There are pretty much volunteering opportunities in every country of the world, especially if you are interested in working with domestic species (cats and dogs). If you have a particular non-domestic species you are interested in working with then obviously you will need to look at the country they are native to. Beware that volunteering with a non-domestic species will not always be as hands-on as working with a cat or dog, this is a good thing, as it ensures the animal will be safe and well adjusted to return to the wild – which is of course, what we want!

If you do not have a preference on species then look for countries you are interested in visiting. Many charities will give you free time during your stay, meaning it can be a cheaper way of seeing a country you really want to visit. This is what I did for my first volunteer trip to South Africa where I had the opportunity to visit the Kruger National Park for a lot cheaper than if I had booked it as a holiday.

Be sure to take into consideration the vaccines and visas needed to visit and volunteer in certain countries as this can bump up the price pretty quickly.

Where to find out about animal volunteering opportunities abroad

I have found out about all of mine via the internet or through friends who have previously visited. I am a Registered Veterinary Nurse, therefore, all my placements are within the veterinary field. If you are in the veterinary profession as well I really recommend the Facebook group Veterinary Volunteering or my own page with attached group Vet Nurses in the Wild – Veterinary Nurse Volunteering.

If you are a non-veterinary person you can still offer your time volunteering with animals abroad and I recommend the Facebook group Volunteer with Animals to find placements.

The reason I recommend these three groups is because they only advertise ethical volunteer placements (I go into more detail regarding this below) and they are well-trusted sources of information.

You can also find various placements with a quick Google search, however, I would also check with one of these groups before booking your place to ensure the place has the best intentions for the animals in their care.

Shall I book through a company or directly through the charity 

This is completely up to you! When you start researching various animal volunteering opportunities you will notice there are some big companies that offer placements all over the world, companies like Worldwide Experience and Oyster Worldwide. These companies essentially work as the ‘middle man’ and can be extremely helpful, they often will help you to book your flights, will give you the full rundown on everything you need before and during your trip as well as be a point of contact at all stages. However, you may find an increased fee when booking through one of these companies, it will only be slightly but it will there to pay for the privilege of their help.

If you go directly through the charity of your choice, you will generally find, it is slightly cheaper. The people who run the volunteer services internally in the charity will still be helpful but they will not be on hand to book flights, recommend insurance, etc.

The choice of how you book really depends on you. I have gone both ways, I have never used Oyster but I fully recommend the whole team at Worldwide Experience as they are extremely helpful and passionate about what they do. If it is your first time volunteering with wildlife or animals abroad you may want to go through a company, then as you gain more experience and confidence then opt to go directly through charities.

Do whatever you feel comfortable with, there is no right or wrong choice.

Is wildlife conservation volunteering/animal volunteering expensive and where does the money go

Again this will depend on the trip you choose. It can be very expensive but generally, there are many moderately priced trips out there. When I took part in Vets Go Wild in 2017, this was an expensive trip but it also had a large number of expensive activities included in it and the price was justified, meaning I was happy to pay this.

Most commonly, the majority of volunteer trips, you will just be paying for your accommodation and food while you are there (all placements I have been on include all your meals) therefore the cost will not be too high. Remember, you are volunteering your time and skills to help them, no company should be charging you extortionate fees for this. If they are, and this price is not to cover additional activities, then I would question whether the company or ‘charity’ truly has the best intentions for both the volunteers and the animals.

Very generally speaking the average placement with non-domestic species is around $400 -$600 per week with domestic animals being cheaper. Volunteering with domestic species is generally cheaper as the running costs of the centres are not as high due to them not having as specialised needs.

With any ethical charity or rescue centre, your volunteer fee will be going straight back into the charity (as well as covering your food costs) so essentially you are making a donation.

There are placements that are free but they are few and far between. Additionally, at times, if you can offer a wanted skill or a long term placement (3 months plus) you may be offered a reduced or free stay. It always worth emailing the charity to discuss this and see if it something they offer.

lady holding a badger while volunteering with animals abroad

What is involved with volunteering placements

So many things! Do not book a volunteer trip with animals if you all you wanted to do is play with them because this is not what will be happening the majority of the time. Volunteering is hard work and you truly understand how much work goes into running a rescue and rehabilitation centre.

Sadly, many people book a trip without looking into the details and quickly get fed up when they arrive and realise work is involved. As a volunteer, you will be involved in animal meal prep, cleaning and fixing enclosures, making enrichment, potentially educating the local community, and the list goes on. Of course, you will get daily time to spend and play with the animals but please do not think this is all you will be doing, as you will be very disappointed and volunteering definitely is not for you.

With non-domestic species, direct contact with the animals will be even less frequent (unless you are involved with hand-rearing) as the primary goal will be to eventually get the animals back to the wild. This is something you should actively understand and support before booking a volunteer placement. Volunteering with wild species is not an opportunity to take cute selfies and play with wild animals. 

Before booking any placement, talk to the charity to discuss what jobs you will be doing, if you are less able to do certain tasks let them know before you arrive so they can allocate other jobs for you. As well, if you have particular interests, mention this, most places will accommodate if it is possible.

Volunteering with animals abroad often consists of long, hard days but the reward and satisfaction you get from it are always worth it.

Collecting Marula Fruit for baboons to eat!

What qualifications do you need

This will vary between places but usually, it is none – just a passion for animals and a good attitude.

As I previously mentioned I am a Veterinary Nurse, so for my placements, I will be placed in the hospital with the Vet team. If you are non-veterinary, you may not always get to see this side of things (again if you have a particular interest, express this and see if you can shadow in the hospital for a day or two) but you will be involved in other activities such as feeding, walking, enrichment, etc).

Many people also use volunteering as a way to enhance their skills and their C.V, this can be especially useful if you are looking to make a way into working in the animal or veterinary industry or even looking for experience for a university application. Make a good impression and stand out, these volunteer trips can lead to very valuable references in the future.

Everyone in a rescue centre has an important role and everything you will be doing will a contribution to rehabilitating the animals in their care.

elephant nature park

Can I do volunteer on a solo trip

Yes and so many people do this! It is a fantastic way to meet new people as well as you will all having something in common – a love of helping animals.

Generally, with most places as people stay for different lengths of times, everyone will be coming and going at different times, but there are some organised projects, these are often marine conservation projects, where everyone will start and end on the same date.

If you are nervous about travelling solo, you may benefit from booking your volunteer trip through a company, as previously discussed, as you this will give you the support of having someone on the end of the phone if needed.

What are the types of volunteering with animals that you should not do

Sadly, there are places which offer volunteer experiences abroad with are not ethical by any means. They offer experiences, which often cost a lot of many, which have no conservational benefit at all. Often they used words like conservation, rehabilitation to draw people in but it is, in fact, all lies.

Many of these reside across South African but they do happen all over the world. In South Africa, these are generally centres which hand rear lion cubs, do not volunteer anywhere lion cubs (or any kind of big cat) is hand reared, you will be giving your time and money to the canned hunting trade.

I have a whole post on this horrific trade here: Lions cubs and the canned hunting trade.

Each year hundreds of innocent people are still getting caught up in this horrific deception. If you are unsure about a company or rescue centre then please refer back to the Facebook groups I previously mentioned, another good source of information for South Africa is Volunteers in Africa Beware.

Other things to avoid include anywhere that promotes elephant riding as well as anywhere that promotes excessive handling of non-domestic species, especially in non-social species such as big cats, sloths etc. Again, I understand this can cause confusion, as many well-respected rehabs do allow handling of wild species, especially in some primates who thrive in social environments, however, this will only ever be positive interaction while the animal is still young and if interaction from their own species is not available. This will be to help aid their development and will not be for the benefit of the volunteers.

As previously said, the main thing is to always ensure the animal’s welfare is put first, over the volunteer’s experience and the aim for any young healthy animal is to be released back into the wild where possible.

If something does not feel right, it is probably because it is not.

Vaccinations for working with animals

This will depend on the species you have chosen to volunteer with as well the requirements of the charity you are booking with. Rabies is the main additional vaccination outside of your usual travel vaccines, if you can afford it then I would recommend getting it, especially if you will be working with stray/street dogs in Asia and Eastern Europe.

The pre-exposure schedule for rabies vaccination is 3 doses, given at the following times:
  • Dose 1: As appropriate.
  • Dose 2: 7 days after Dose 1.
  • Dose 3: 21 days or 28 days after Dose 1.

Due to the scheduling of the way the vaccine is given, be sure to leave yourself enough time before your trip to get this booked in and all completed.

Please also find out if anti-malarial tablets are required for where you are going to as well and ensure you arrange to obtain these in time for your placement.

It is also important to have appropriate travel insurance for working with animals, I personally recommend Go Walkabout for this kind of trip.

Places I have volunteered worldwide

Below is a list of places I have work at and fully recommend if you are looking for suggestions of where to work with animals abroad.

C.A.R.E – South Africa – located in Phalaborwa, South Africa they rescue and rehabilitate orphaned Chacma Baboons. A wonderful place with great staff and a fantastic way to learn about these fascinating primates.  They accept Veterinary and Non-Veterinary volunteers.

Dogs Trust Neutering Project – an incredible street dog project where I was sent to Sarajevo in Bosnia to work teaching Vet Students in their university. At present, they only accept Qualified Members of Veterinary Staff.

Wildlife Aid – I volunteered here regularly for over two years, Wildlife Aid is an incredible wildlife hospital just outside of London. They are always looking for new volunteers, especially during the Spring and Summer seasons. They accept volunteers from all backgrounds.

Vets Go Wild – This experience is only available to book through Worldwide Experience. It is an amazing Big Five Veterinary Experience based in South Africa, I would recommend it to anyone working in the Veterinary Field who has an interest in wild animals. The experience is open to Student Vets and Nurses as well as Qualified.

In July of this year, I will be heading to Vietnam to work with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife and in January next year, I will be off to Thailand to volunteer with the WFFT .

Donating your time and efforts to volunteering with animals abroad is an incredible thing to do and it is really rewarding. I encourage anyone with a love for animals to take the opportunity at some point in their lives. If anyone has any further questions, queries or would like recommendations then please do get in touch, I am always more than happy to help.

Other related posts which may be of interest
Where to volunteer with animals in Thailand 
Where to volunteer with animals in Africa
Reasons to get involved with volunteering abroad with animals 


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