Some people travel for history, some travel for architecture. I travel for beauty, nature and wildlife. Because of my interest in wildlife conservation, I try to volunteer with wildlife abroad once a year. I do it to learn more about the current issues and get a chance to see animals in the wild (as Joey from ‘Friends’ says: no good deed is selfless!). It can be an eye-opening, moving and magical experience, however, as the popularity of volunteering rises, so does the number of unethical experiences. Many eager explorers unknowingly contribute towards a dark and cruel trade. For example, there are ‘volunteering’ opportunities where people can cuddle lion cubs yet sometimes these animals are then sold into the canning industry.
The good news is that wildlife volunteering CAN benefit wildlife. With responsible volunteering projects, you can support conservation efforts, raise awareness and it’s a great opportunity to learn too. Here, I’ve asked some fellow travel bloggers to join me in sharing their ethical volunteering trips from around the world. If you’re thinking of volunteering in the future, perhaps one of these experiences could be for you.
Mona from Mona Corona
Southeast Asia is one of the most prominent regions where the abuse and malpractices of the animal tourism industry is highly prevalent. Thailand in particular is known for elephant riding, shows, elephant begging, and the general mistreatment of elephants and other wild animals. Many tourists visit elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand under the premise that they are helping to rehabilitate the elephants. No elephant centre is truly a sanctuary if riding the elephants are allowed – with or without a saddle. These elephants are mistreated and abused into domestication. Luckily, Elephant Nature Park in the northern region of Chiang Mai, Thailand, is one of the few ethical and true elephant rescue centres or sanctuaries where you can volunteer and interact with the elephants without riding them. At ENP, you can spend a day, half day, or even longer. Overnight stays include feeding, bathing, walking, and interacting with the elephants. ENP rehabilitates the mistreated elephants of Thailand while educating tourists about the malpractices of the animal tourism industry. If you visit Thailand, remember to do your research on any elephant centres you are considering, and make visiting Elephant Nature Park a priority because it is a heartwarming experience that you will never forget.
Check out Mona’s Instagram for to see more from her travels.
Laura from The Travelling Stomach
A few years ago I spent two weeks working with an environmental conservation team in Masebe nature reserve, South Africa monitoring the health of the flora and fauna within the reserve to protect and conserve the future of one of South Africa’s vulnerable natural areas. During the project, the main part of your day is spent completing grassland transects across a section of the reserve taking readings of grass coverage, tree species and respective heights, and notes regarding any invasive species. Moving away from the flora you will then complete either wildlife counts or bird tracking activities. The wildlife counts are so much fun, basically like being on a safari, as you drive a specific route through the reserve identifying animals and noting the location and time you spot them.
To monitor bird populations you’ll then stand in a circle for a set length of time looking and listening for any birds and noting them down, don’t worry if you can’t tell a pigeon from an ostrich, you’ll soon learn the common birds! Any spare time you have within the reserve can be spent doing more game drives or hiking around the reserve – there are some breath-taking viewpoints around and you might bump into a herd of zebra crossing the road. If you want to partake in some community work during your time on the project you can visit the local school and talk to the children about issues like poaching and sexual health, and join them in some fun games, you’ll never forget their smiling faces especially if you bring them a small present, even just notepads and pens are really valuable.
Suewan from RTW Families
Last year we spent 2 months in Bali and came across the Turtle Conservation and Education center (https://tcecserangan.jimdo.com) in Serangan. The center is located about 20 minutes drive south of Sanur. The centre is striving to eradicate illegal turtle trading on the island and is trying to support the community of Serangan to find an alternative to the illegal turtle business. For a small donation you are able to visit the centre, have a tour of the facilities there, meet the turtles which have been rescued and you can help to release one of the baby turtles.
The centre collects turtle eggs which would otherwise have been sold to consume. We were then able to help the centre by releasing a turtle back into the ocean. The centre arranges transport for you to go the local beach and release your turtles there as that is where the eggs were found. It is a really special place to visit and you the centre does amazing work for the turtles and the community.
Check out Suewan’s Instagram to find out more about her travels.
Tasha from Tasha’s Oyster
Last year I had an incredible time volunteering with wild elephants in Sri Lanka. With the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society, I was able to observe and join wildlife conservationists in their daily routines saving wildlife. Each day varied but would consist of a morning and afternoon activity. From we checking camera traps, to interviewing local farmers to investigating elephant dung (!), I learnt so much about wildlife conservation and the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka.
Each afternoon we would go to the tank to sit and hope for elephants to appear. Sometimes a whole herd would appear, sometimes we saw one or two and sometimes we saw none at all. Either way, I much preferred waiting for wildlife in a peaceful setting opposed to racing around National Parks in jeeps. When and if the elephants did appear, we would observe and monitor their behaviour. Each day would end watching elephants under the sunset. There’s nothing else like it.
Kathryn from Kath Round About
In 2015 I ventured over to the Coorg region in India (approximately 8hrs southwest of Bangalore) to volunteer with wildlife conservation. This area is known for its coffee and chocolate plantations and because of this, insects are incredibly important in the plant reproduction process. When we arrive we were assigned a butterfly garden which had many local plants which attracted butterflies to the area, which had the plantations all around.
Each day, we were required to fertilise the soil and remove weeds and were told on the first day which were weeds and which weren’t. On days when it was raining, we did not work at the garden but instead worked with children in the school to do small workshops about putting rubbish in the bin to protect wildlife. I felt that this was a really ground roots level experience which had a direct impact on the community and I wish I had been there for longer!
Tasha from Tasha’s Oyster
My first ever volunteering trip abroad was on Kwantu Game Reserve in South Africa. It had always been my dream to volunteer with animals abroad and this trip looked like the perfect one for me. I got to ‘behind-the-scene’ glimpse of what it takes to run a game reserve. Each day we would complete three different activities. Some of these involved building roads, planting vegetables or taking food to the local school.
Most afternoons we would go on a game count which is basically a safari. We would focus on a different animal each time and would have to count the amount of that animal we saw. We never knew what was around the corner and I was lucky to see a huge amount of wildlife. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any rhinos but this just gives me another excuse to return to Africa!
Thank you to all the travel bloggers who contributed to this post.
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