Animal Voluntourism: Vacation Considerations for Wildlife Conservation Warriors

Posted by - May 19, 2016 | Category: Contributing Author

After you’ve eaten your seventh exotic seafood dinner of the week vacationing in Barbados, you are bound to wonder — shouldn’t you be doing more for the place that’s been so hospitable to you than to leave a tip?

No matter how much money you spend on a trip, or how much you see that’s exotic and cool, vacations tend to evaporate from the memory before long. The best vacations are the ones that keep on giving long after you get back home. To have the things that you see and do come back to you over the years and improve your life, would be a truly successful vacation.

As many people today are beginning to discover, greater luxury and locations that are prettier each successive year, aren’t the answer. Instead, the true worth comes from using your time to enrich your life learning about the world, reaching out and touching others, and from growing as a human being.

Voluntourism is easier today

Cruise ship at sunset

In the past, anyone who hoped to volunteer their time or to help with a cause anywhere else in the world needed to take months off. This alone tended to keep out possible volunteers. It is no longer that way today. Volunteering for local causes is often worked into luxury vacations, no matter how short a period of time one may have.

Cruise liners making stops at various ports these days allow shore volunteer excursions that last no longer than a couple of hours. These trips include may include activities such as helping out at a local animal wildlife conservation project, volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping with a tree planting program.

Certainly, some people tend to chafe at the irony of it all — taking a break from a luxury vacation to “help out.” Without excessive analysis, though, such experiences can be great for all involved. Plenty of top-name cruise lines such as Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean offer these options.

Longer-term volunteering can be even more wonderful

As gratifying as ultra-short voluntours can be, it isn’t unusual to find that the experience whets your appetite for fuller experiences. According to The Great Projects (, planning vacations around conservation volunteer work can be a wonderful way to go. Not only do you get up close with some of the most beautiful places in the world, you actually help make those places even more beautiful. All you need to do is to plan ahead of time, and pick a destination that is right for your aims. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.

Look for a biodiversity hotspot to visit

Hammerhead shark from Cocos Island Costa Rica

A biodiversity hotspot is a location that possesses unusual biological richness. Conservation International estimates that only 5% of the world’s habitable land is able to support such diversity, and it is home to half of all living species. Asking a qualified voluntourism company about the possibilities will help you identify the opportunities available. These companies are able to match travelers to conservation volunteering experiences that can truly satisfy the deepest need for contact with the natural world. From marine conservation to wildlife conservation on the plains, there are opportunities for every interest.

Make sure that you don’t go where everyone else is going

There are two problems to simply taking the beaten path. To begin, too much exposure to the traveling public tends to harm local environments. These places also tend to turn touristy in short order. For instance, rather than go to a wildlife sanctuary in Costa Rica, you could take a trip to the Madagascar or Mozambique, both places qualifying as destinations off the beaten path.

Understand that supporting local communities is important as well

Many tour operators specializing in voluntourism apply their revenue to the setting up of both local conservation efforts and local community help projects. It’s important to choose tours like these for two reasons. To begin, the more empowered local conservation efforts are, the more it is that gets done. It can also help to support local communities because the healthier local economies are, the less locals end up needing to exploit local habitats. Many operators even offer discounts to travelers willing to donate to these causes.

Ask about ways to donate your talents

Kids at school

Whether you’re a talented programmer, photographer or teacher, your skills can be of great use to many conservation efforts around the world. While it can seem like a busman’s holiday to apply your skills on vacation, it can be wonderful to know that you make a difference to the world. All you need to do is to look for opportunities through an Internet search. For instance, searches such as computer volunteer travel can bring up thousands of results.

Michael Starbuck has been Managing Director of The Great Projects since 2011. It was in 2013 that his work in increasing volunteering projects with animals work was recognised as The Great Projects was a finalist at the World Responsible Tourism awards in the category of Best for Responsible Wildlife Experiences. It has since become the world leader in the provision of volunteers to aid orangutan conservation and now works with 2 of the biggest charities in this field, International Animal Rescue and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, something which Michael is extremely proud of.

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