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Wildlife Volunteer Programs Ideal for College Students and Grads

Help is Needed for Endangered Species Abroad

By Lavanya Sunkara
Resources updated 12/30/2023 by Transitions Abroad

Lions in Africa are endangered
Lions are endangered in Africa for a variety of reasons, but there exist volunteer projects to protect them from poachers.

The king of the jungle is slowly marching towards extinction. The bears of Asia are whiling away in cages in bile farms. Marine life is facing threats from climate change and pollution. The mighty elephants are being worked to death. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, are fighting for survival. While humans may be responsible for the plight of these animals, we also have the power to turn things around. We can promote animal welfare on social media, refrain from visiting aquatic theme parks and circuses, and we can send money to wildlife conservation organizations. But the best way to really help animals is by learning and doing.

With an increasing number of opportunities available across the globe, it’s become much easier to participate in programs crucial to species conservation. Spending a considerable amount of your time on the ground allows you to witness the change you are making for the wildlife and local communities, and inspires you to enact change in the future.

Whether you’re seeking your calling post-college, looking to gain experience in a particular field, or simply hoping to make a positive difference during a transition period, we’ve put together six amazing volunteer experiences that could make an indelible impact on both you and the animals.

1. Elephant Nature Park Project in Thailand

Volunteer to protect elephants from abuse
Help protect elephants from abuse as a volunteer in Thailand.

When you imagine elephants in Thailand, your first thought is probably to ride them. Sadly, elephants found in parks and trekking companies have undergone tremendous torture in order to be suitable for riding. They are chained when not working, and poked with bullhooks by their handlers when they don’t cooperate. Elephant Nature Park (ENP), located north of Chiang Mai, is a true sanctuary for abused and neglected elephants, where they can live out their lives in peace. There are no chains and no rides given, only love and care. Volunteers have a life enhancing opportunity to be around these majestic creatures, get a fascinating look into the lives of Asian elephants, and come away with a real sense of the issues they face. They help with preparing food, planting trees, maintaining mud pits, and the most fun part: feeding and bathing elephants in the river. Volunteers can also spend time at the Dog Project, which hosts several rescued dogs at ENP. Onsite, comfortable accommodations are provided along with meals, including vegan and vegetarian options.  

Age: 18+; Teens must be accompanied by legal guardian  
Duration: From 1 day to 1 week. See the many options on their website.

2. Bali Sea Turtle Rescue

Volunteer to care for injured sea turtles
Volunteer to care for injured sea turtles in Bali received from local fisherman.

Our oceans are getting increasingly polluted. You may have seen distressing images of sea turtles with plastic forks and straws embedded in their noses. Thankfully, there are organizations helping to rescue these marine animals in need. On the island of Nusa Penida, a 45-minute speedboat ride from mainland Bali, GoEco volunteers work with an organization that spreads conservation-based knowledge while assisting and caring for turtles. The project receives the injured reptiles from local fisherman and cares for them until they can be released into the sea. Volunteers nurture new hatchlings until they are old enough to survive on their own. Mornings are spent with specific projects at the sanctuary, while afternoons are dedicated to the community, teaching local children about the environment and marine life care. Free time activities include yoga, relaxing at Sanur beach, trekking up volcanoes, cycling through town, and enjoying the beautiful culture of Bali. Accommodations are provided within a five minute walk from the project site.

Age: 16+
Duration: 13 days-8 weeks
Price: US$1050 for 1 week + 6 days.

3. African Big 5 & Wildlife Conservation, South Africa

Join African Impact field guides and their research team for an African safari. Experience daily drives through South African wildlife reserves to monitor and study the African "Big 5." Help protect the elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and buffalo from poaching and starvation. The volunteer work involves a wide variety of activities to protect these endangered and at-risk species. You will participate in tracking the movements and behaviors of herds of elephants and prides of lions. Your volunteer work will help in the conservation of the incredible animals for future generations.

Age: 18+
Duration: Minimum two weeks
Price: From US$3,555 for 2 weeks

4. Cambodia Bear Sanctuary

Bears in Asian countries are in desperate need of our help. They are imprisoned and tortured in bear bile farms where their digestive fluid is extracted for traditional Asian medicine. Globalteer works with The Bear Rescue Sanctuary, located 25 miles south of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. The Sanctuary is dedicated to the rehabilitation of sun bears and Asiatic black bears poached for their bile, exploited as pets, used for profit within the tourism industry, or rescued from illegal wildlife trade. Many of these bears cannot be reintroduced into the wild due to the serious physical abuse they have endured or because they were raised in captivity. The Sanctuary gives the bears the quality of life they deserve, providing large areas that match their natural habitat. Volunteer tasks involve feeding the bears, along with repairing, maintaining and cleaning enclosures. Most of the work is geared towards enriching the lives of the bears, to make their existence as interesting and challenging as possible, to avoid boredom and stress. Volunteers share housing on the outskirts of a rural Cambodian village, roughly 6 miles from the sanctuary. Weekend getaways include visiting the temples of Angkor Wat and the beach resort of Sihanoukville.

Age: 18+
Duration: 1-8 weeks
Price: US$630 for 1 week.
More by Lavanya Sunkara
9 Volunteer Endangered Animal Projects Abroad
5 Wildlife Volunteer Programs Abroad for Teens
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A Guide to Volunteer Programs Abroad Caring for Animals
How to Preserve Endangered Wildlife and Ecosystems
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