5 Wildlife Volunteer Programs for Teens
By Lavanya Sunkara
1/2016 with resources updated 2/10/2019
There’s an alternative to sleep away camp that could change your life and the lives of endangered animals. Volunteer programs abroad cater to teenagers seeking something wildly different for their summer break from high school. Participants receive a hands-on experience with animals, implement innovative protection projects, mingle with locals while living onsite, and learn valuable lessons about species racing to avoid extinction. You are sure to return with a newfound appreciation for different cultures and a renewed interest in saving our planet’s most periled animals.
|Seals sunbathing in the Galapagos. Photo by Lavanya Sunkara.
Check out these animal-related volunteer opportunities to get you started on your journey.
1. Wildlife Orphanage in Zimbabwe, Africa
Devote your time with GoEco at one of the most successful wildlife rehabilitation and release centers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Volunteers at this family-run orphanage work with wildlife ranging from monkeys to lions. These animals have been orphaned, abandoned, injured, born in captivity, or confiscated from illegal wildlife traffickers. Once rehabilitated, they are released into their natural habitat. Tasks include preparing food, cleaning out enclosures, contributing enrichment ideas, and performing conservation outreach in local schools. The best part is the opportunity to handle and feed wild animal babies, comfort them when they cry, and just play. Housing is provided in cabins along with three meals a day. Leisure time can be spent visiting Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park.
Age: 16-17+. Volunteers under 17 and under require a letter of consent from a parent/guardian.
Duration: 2 to 12 weeks
Price: From $1,580 for two weeks
2. Under 18's Marine Conservation Awareness & PADI Course, Mexico
If you love the underwater world, get your diving certificate while learning about marine preservation with GVI’s Yucatan Peninsula program. After diving lessons, volunteers will learn about the issues facing aquatic ecosystems, including pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Teens will gain valuable skills on how to conduct reef research and identify fish and coral species. Some of the exciting marine life you may encounter includes turtles and dolphins. During free time, participants can explore Mayan ruins set in tropical jungles and visit cenotes (underground river networks). Most importantly, you will receive PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Advanced Open Water qualification certification. Shared accommodations are provided along with meals.
Age: Under 18
Duration: 2 weeks
3. 18+ Sea Turtle Conservation, Greece
Greece is currently experiencing a rough financial time, giving you all the more reason to book your volunteer trip to support the economy and save animals along the way. With GoEco’s Sea Turtle Conservation program, teens can help the endangered loggerhead sea turtle and marine conservation efforts while working alongside experts. Set in Giannitsochori, a small resort town with white sandy beaches and protected areas for nesting sea turtles, volunteers ensure that nests are protected so as many hatchlings as possible make it to the sea. Participants can expect long walks along the beach for patrolling nesting areas, recording data, and installing grids to keep away predators. Volunteers will also have the opportunity to explore ancient ruins and sample delicious Greek cuisine. Accommodations are available in tents and meals are catered.
Duration: 2 to 4 weeks
Price: $2,390 for two weeks; $3,140 for four weeks.
4. Conservation in Peru for Teens
Machu Picchu and adorable alpacas aren’t the only highlights of Peru. This South American country is famous for its lush rainforests and species biodiversity. At the Taricaya Lodge and Research Center, located on the banks of the Madre de Dios River, volunteers with Projects Abroad fully immerse themselves within the heart of Amazon. At the jungle base, you will participate in wildlife observation from a high canopy platform, take night observation walks along trails to spot wildlife, work on animal release programs, and manage a farm. Local wildlife includes Brown Capuchin Monkeys, Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys, Mealy Parrots, White-Fronted Toucans, Spectacled Caimans, and Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtles. Volunteers live in shared rooms at the lodge; weekend trips can be arranged to go camping down river, or visit Puerto Maldonado for a fun night out.
Duration: 2 weeks
5. Galapagos: Preserving Nature’s Wonders
The enchanting Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, are an animal lover’s dream. With untouched natural beauty protected by Galapagos National Park, visitors can get up close to exotic animals ranging from sea lions and blue-footed booby birds to giant tortoises. With Global Leadership Adventures’ (GLA) program in the Galapagos, teens spend the first ten days performing community service on San Cristobal and Isabela islands and the remaining time exploring and learning about the biology and geology of the archipelago. The indigenous wildlife is in danger of losing their habitat due to invasive plant species and litter. Volunteers help restore the natural habitat of the animals so that they can reproduce and grow. This program gives you an experience of a lifetime where you can swim with sea lions, spot red-throated frigate birds and Galapagos penguins, and admire marine and land iguanas in one of the last untouched places on earth. Basic, clean accommodations are provided in all locations along with transportation between the islands.
Duration: 2 weeks