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.