Eight Voluntourism Projects With Silly Species – A Traveler’s Guide to Volunteering With Animals

You’re going to do what on your vacation? Work? With..?

Voluntourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry. Combined with the basic nature of people who possess altruist tendencies, it is not surprising that wildlife, animal rescue and conservation projects are also becoming increasingly popular. Few voluntary spirits would not be moved when looking into the eyes of a young chimpanzee or could not become exhilarated by the idea of helping dolphins in the wild. They are, after all, awe-inspiring. Still, there is another side to volunteering with animals – the silly side.

Beyond the awe-stuck factor, beyond the creatures of fame and popularity, there are ‘lesser’ creatures, animals needing your help just as much as the ‘glam’ species – animals that, well, despite their best intentions make people giggle. Let’s face it, some critters are just funny. There is nothing wrong with that. Be it their appearance, their habits or just their name, certain animals bring out a sense of fun or whimsy in the more childish parts of human hearts.

There is more to being an adventure traveler than wandering aimlessly off the beaten path and embalming one’s self with the local hooch or jumping off of a perfectly good bridge with a rubber band strapped to your ankles. Volunteering with animals can take you to places you never imagined. Better still, you go to these places with a purpose. Aiding in the lives of animals gives you a reason to immerse into a culture alongside like-minded people or to head deep into the wildest parts of a country.

Beyond true adventure, altruism, learning and purpose (as if that were not enough), there is also laughter to be had while helping animals. So before you wash up on yet another beach with no real direction, consider these lovable creatures and worthy projects that could use your voluntary hands.

1) Wombats

Yes you can! You ‘can’ volunteer in a Womatorium that is. Who else, but the Australians would bring us such an opportunity?

Organization: Wombat Protection Society
Location: Quaama, NSW, Australia
Cost: None
Duration: Open
Overview: A wide range of volunteer skills can be used to help protect these amazing, yet comical, creatures. From administrative work – including publicity and fundraising, to field research and monitoring or working at release sites. This may involve building wombatoriums, fencing, research assistance, burrow monitoring, wombat sighting and some direct care.

2) Sloths

Finally a project for every volunteer who has ever had a dog or bird escape straight passed them at 80 MPH when the volunteer entered an enclosure. No worries about that here. Need I say more?

Organization: Sloth Sanctuary of Cost Rica
Location: Aviarios, Costa Rica
Cost: $30 per day full board
Duration: Open
Overview: A dedicated staff of full-time employees cares for the animals, but volunteers are needed to help provide injured and rescued sloths with the extra loving care they require in order to both survive and thrive. The sanctuary also has a special need for those experienced in veterinary/pet care, biology, information technology, marketing, landscaping, graphic design, grant writing, fund-raising and cooking – for the boss!

3) Tasmanian Devils

Seriously, is anyone really surprised to see that those lovable Aussies and their continent full of fabulously bizarre species have more than on opportunity to work with silly animals?

Organization: Save the Tasmanian Devil
Location: Tasmania, Australia
Cost: None
Duration: Two weeks
Overview: Devilish volunteers are involved in field monitoring and wild management of Tasmanian devils (see Taz on Looney Tunes), helping with trapping at various sites across Tasmania. While team leaders trap and release Tasmanian devils, volunteers assist with scrubbing and cleaning traps and scribing. You will four-wheel-drive into breathtakingly beautiful places that very few people get to see and help an amazing endangered animal that is full of personality.

4) Lammas and Vicuña

Be a Llama Momma (it had to be said)! Enjoy the rush of the Andes scenery and high altitude conservation with not one, but two unusual animals.

Organization: A Pas de Loup
Location: Southern province of Arequipa, Peru
Cost: $8 per day for meals
Duration: 1+ month
Overview: Volunteer need to speak Spanish. The mission is part of a contracted partnership between three structures: A Pas de Loup, the Ministry of the Environment and the Peruvian National Reserve Salinas y Aguada Blanca. The on-site team consisting of a director, 16 guards and 34 volunteers, is responsible for overseeing a reserve, the establishment of scientific research and advocacy with the local population.

5) Chinchillas

They’re fuzzy! They’re fun! They’re Fabulous! And, they are in need of your help!

Organization: Save the Wild Chinchillas
Location: Illapel, Chile
Cost: None, just pay own expenses for food.
Duration: Open
Overview: Very rustic accommodations are available. A typical day starts early and work may continue until it is too cold or the morning sun peaks through. This is a very ‘wild’ and rustic project needing volunteers who can hold their own and laugh at themselves in the great outdoors. Every day is different and you see a lot of Chile’s wildlife. Read the PDF information on their website to get a real feel for this project and the happy, hardy spirits they need.

6) Lemurs

When nothing but some monkeying around on vacation will do, you can still experience the wonders of Madagascar – The Land of Misfit Primates.

Organization: Location: Beautiful lakeside camp of Lanirano in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar
Cost: From $2,600 for 4 weeks
Duration: 4 or 8 weeks
Overview: Volunteers work on an extensive range of projects from the collection of data on endangered lemur species to environmental education with local communities and tree planting for reforestation purposes. During this time you will get close to the three main species of diurnal lemur you are likely to encounter in the bush – Verreaux’s sifaka, Ring-tailed lemurs and Brown lemurs.

7) Meerkats

There is a reason meerkats have their own television series and land mo
re parts in movies than your average large-breasted starlet. See why for yourself.

Organization: Earthwatch Institute
Location: Upington, South Africa
Cost: $3,750 – $3,950+
Duration: 14 days
Overview: Help observe six habituated colonies of meerkats in South Africa’s Kuruman River Reserve. You’ll learn how to radio-track, conduct focal sampling, use a Global Positioning System and weigh meerkats. The data you collect will help researchers evaluate how cooperative breeding affects the survival of both pups and helpers.

8) Penguins

This one’s for the birds (again, it had to be said)! Some travelers just have to be around marine environments, so if you have salt water in your veins (and a tuxedo under your swimsuit) here is the project for you.

Organization: Greenforce
Location: South Africa
Cost: $2,600
Duration: 6 weeks
Overview: Volunteers learn how to catch, handle, feed, tube and administer medication to a variety of seabirds, as well as assisting in the intensive care unit. Past volunteers have sailed to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) to release penguins into one of the world’s largest penguin colonies.

Volunteer travel is truly addictive. Think of each project as a potato chip, every chip is a little different and you can’t have just one. Spice things up with a little humor and you will only add to the experience. So, the next time someone wants to know what you’re doing on your vacation, hold your head up high, tell them you have a hot date with a southern hairy-nosed wombat and make a beeline for the airport. Do it with pride and a smile.

Medical and Dental Considerations When Planning Your Vacation

If you are in any doubt about possible travel problems because of a pre-existing medical condition, then consult your family doctor. People with heart or chest problems, recurrent blood clots in the legs or lungs, recent strokes, uncontrolled blood pressure, epilepsy, psychiatric disorders or chronic sinus or ear problems may be at risk when flying.

Late pregnancy is a contra-indication to flying, diabetics taking medication will need special advice, and the disabled will have specific requirements that may need to be notified to air­line and airport authorities. People with chronic health prob­lems or women who are obviously pregnant should ask their doctor to complete a standard airline form certifying their fit­ness for flying. This form should be obtained from the airline concerned.

Adequate supplies of all routinely prescribed medications, including oral contraceptives, should also be obtained before departure. If you are taking a short trip within Europe, these will be provided as NHS prescriptions. Those planning longer stays abroad should determine the availability of their medication overseas or take adequate supplies, although you may need to pay for these on pri­vate prescription. It is also strongly recommended that you obtain a certificate from your doctor detailing the drugs pre­scribed, including the correct pharmacological name, as well as the trade name. This will be necessary to satisfy customs offi­cials and you may need to obtain certified translations into appropriate languages.

Some drugs readily obtainable in the UK are viewed with great suspicion elsewhere, codeine, for exam­ple, is considered a controlled drug in many countries, and tranquillisers such as diazepam can cause problems. Women going to Saudi Arabia should take adequate supplies of oral contraceptives and will need a certified Arabic translation of the certificate stating that the contraceptives have been prescribed for their personal use.

Those with recurring medical problems should also obtain a letter from their family doctor detailing their condition. The letter can then be shown to doctors abroad if emergency treat­ment becomes necessary. People with surgically implanted devices are also advised to carry a doctor’s certificate to show security officials. Artificial hip replacements often set off metal detection security alarms at airports.

People with cardiac pacemakers are unlikely to run into problems due to electrical interference from British or North American airport metal de­tectors, but should try to avoid going through them and arrange instead for a personal body check by security officials.

Individuals with specific chronic health problems such as epilepsy, diabetes or long term steroid treatment, should obtain a ‘Medic-alert’ bracelet or similar, which is more easily located in a medical emergency than a card carried in a pocket.

Some countries will not allow any known HIV-positive individual to enter the country despite advice from the World Health Organisation that such regulations are ineffec­tive as a means of controlling the spread of HIV infection. HIV-positive travellers should consult their medical specialist and local support groups about specific travel insurance problems and the advisability of travel.

Dental health is often taken for granted by British citizens who get a rude shock when faced with bills for dental work overseas. Those embarking on prolonged travel or work abroad, or planning to visit very cold areas, should have a full preventative dental check up before leaving. Spare spectacles, contact lenses and contact lens solutions should also be obtained before travelling. If you are planning a vigorous holiday or expedition, such as skiing, hill-walking, or trekking, it might be a good idea to begin an appropriate fitness regime before you leave.

A Fragile Gift

Your eyelids were laden with surprises as you stepped on his fluffy carpet. Various spectacular objects poised gracefully at edifying positions within his room. Your eyes wandered from one to another, until it fell on the spectacles. There it was: couching like a lovely cat at the edge of his table. That was the reason why you came. You giggled.

That was how you giggled when he first appeared in your village. He was heavily dressed in a khaki uniform that had the color of water-melon. Everything about him was big: big stature, big belt, big boots, and a big traveling bag. Except for a small transparent object, that leaned beautifully on his nose.

Mothers and children gazed at him with excitement. They called him a soldier. You also wanted to, but the crystal-clear lens that floated above his eyes made you doubt. Moreover, his look was harmless and friendly.

Your guess became true when the village scribe introduced him as a National Youth Corps member. People said he was full of wisdom, because he had come from the city, and had spent many years in the citadel of knowledge; acquiring the white-man’s knowledge. ‘He is a civilized man,’ your heart gave a leap that afternoon when the scribe made that remark.

He made your heart leap every time you met him by the village river. He had become your dear friend. He told you about big people, big places, and big events. He even spoke big vocabularies; enough to confound your thirteen-year-old primitive mind. Remember when he bantered with you, and you both laughed noisily, he sometimes nudged you below your armpit, or caressed your thighs. Your peers were jealous. They wondered what could have ignited friendship between a civilized adult and a village teenager. They did not know you were enthralled by the precious lens with a sparkling silver frame.

And when you asked him what it was, on another usual evening by the river, he removed it and said, ‘you mean my spectacles?’ The name made you chuckle. And you almost twisted your tongue while trying to pronounce it. You were extremely delighted when he placed it on your face tenderly. You shuddered with excitement, as the dusty village was molded inside a spherical glass.

But you were unaware of his queer look, when he inquired if you wanted the spectacles. You had affirmed, thoughtlessly. It was all you had ever wanted. Your mind wandered through a vista of unimaginable experiences that awaited you, when he told you to collect the rare spectacles at his home, the following evening. That night, you hardly slept.

You were still giggling when his door clank shut. He stood sentinel against the door, grinning mischievously. Confused: A sordid miasma enveloped your thoughts. You were still staring at him blankly, when he pulled you into a rough embrace. You wriggled free, but he gave you a shove and you staggered backwards, falling on his mattress. Swiftly, he came over you and gagged your mouth. You could remember he lost a little control when you wrestled and kicked him back. His arm had flailed backwards, and hit your precious spectacles. Your eyes widened as your gem toppled over his table, and broke!

You never knew the precious spectacles could be so fragile.

It was the same with you.