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Written by Milly Whitehead on 28 / 11 / 2013

Gap Year Advice

Is it just me, or do you too sit on the sofa watching the likes of David Attenborough or Tom Hardy (no hardship there) racing about the planet, filming the next environmental or species crisis, with a confused set of emotions? Perhaps a little bit sad that this is happening somewhere very far away from said sofa, with a touch of longing to lend a hand (and actually get off said sofa) and just a pinch of wanderlust?

Sound familiar? Then you're in luck. If your sofa is looking a little threadbare and you dream of becoming a conservation guru, the following guide could be the catalyst you need to help you on your way.

Animal Conservation Jobs? Get Work Experience First

Everyone’s favourite, you'd need a heart of stone not to be moved by the cute faces of Borneo’s orangutans, the horror of another unnecessary slaughter of a rhino, or the plight of the tiny wee baby turtles making their marathon scamper from nest to ocean. All these are guaranteed to get my donation in the tin. But is it possible to actually get involved and get your hands dirty?

Of course it's possible, but its competitive and tough to break in - especially if you’re fresh-faced and have no experience.

One way round is to bite the bullet and pay for a volunteering experience – there are dozens of companies out there who have the contacts on the ground and can organise worthwhile, rewarding experiences. The Leap, of course, is one of those (take a look at the animal conservation jobs we offer over here). But there are plenty more besides.

Here are a couple of choice opportunities you might consider if your aim to get some worthwhile animal conservation work experience under your belt.

Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica

This one is hugely popular. You’ll spend 6-10 weeks on the fantastic Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica, helping local conservationists from the Quelonios del Caribe conservation station, close to Tortuguero, on their turtle projects. You’ll help monitor the beach for nests, collect and measure eggs as well as nurturing the babies before they are released back into the wild.

This area is one of the most bio-diverse locations on earth, home to over 400 species of tree and 2000 species of plant, where you can encounter jaguars, tapirs, river otters, ocelots, manatees, sloths and monkeys. You can find more information about volunteering in Costa Rica here.

Saving the Bears in Romania

Bears have long captured the imagination of animal lovers the world over. Falling in love with the likes of Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear at a young age often means a life-long appreciation for bears of all shapes and sizes; it often comes as a surprise then that these adored creatures are mistreated, hunted and imprisoned in countries across the world.

Bears have had a tough time of it in Romania. For years they have been hunted as trophies, forced to dance in the streets for strangers, made to cycle around circuses and beg outside hotels. Kept in cramped conditions and regularly abused by their owners, these bears are now being rescued and brought to Eastern Europe's largest bear sanctuary, just outside Brasov.

The sanctuary was opened in 2006, and volunteers with Oyster Worldwide have been part of these rescued bears' recoveries ever since. The sanctuary is now home to 72 bears, providing them with a green and peaceful haven in which to live, in a setting as close to the wild as possible.

Working closely with the full time members of the sanctuary staff, volunteers become part of this ongoing rescue story to bring more bears to safety. Each day you will be out and about around the sanctuary, helping to prepare food, feeding and monitoring the bears, assisting with sanctuary tours and conservation. No day is the same - but the one thing that you can be sure of is the bear!

Fancy a Job in Environmental Conservation? Same Story

Now this one can cover a huge array of concerns, from river pollution down the road, to the ripping down of the world’s rainforests and everything in between. As with animal conservation jobs, knowledge and experience are the golden ticket. Gaining some might be more easily achieved in your home town before you gallivant off to Brazil...

Environmental Apprenticeships in the UK

Enter the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) which supports, funds and co-ordinates the delivery of apprenticeships throughout England.

Their environmental conservation opportunities cover a wide range of areas including the conservation of landscapes, habitats and species alongside the management of public access, recreation and interpretation to promote awareness, understanding and enjoyment of the countryside. This opens the doors to a range of jobs in small and large, public, private and charitable sector organisations.

As an apprentice, you’ll choose between four routes: environmental conservation; access and recreation; rivers, coasts and waterways/flood risk management; or dry stonewalling. The nature of the work depends on your employer, but you could be surveying and reporting on the condition of an outdoor area; encouraging people to enjoy the environments around them; carrying out habitat management work; or monitoring a section of river prone to floods.

Yes, these are paid positions and domestically-based in the UK too. If you're serious about one day having a high-flying environmental conservation job, an apprenticeship like this one might be a good first step.

Eco-Development in India

Can't be convinced to stay at home? Then this project, 
organised by Projects Abroad, could be just the thing.

Taking place at the Green Village Model Farm in a small village in Tamil Nadu, India, this is primarily an agro-based district where 70% of the population earns their livelihood directly or indirectly through agriculture.

The eco-development project is a designed to give our volunteers the chance to learn from expert staff about sustainable, organic farming techniques.

Through research and practical demonstrations, volunteers and staff help to teach the local people about environmentally-friendly ways to farm. The project also promotes environmental conservation in and around South Indian villages.

Now to Get an Actual Conservation Job

If you've followed my advice and got some work experience first, by this point you’ll have successfully gained the hours on the ground. You're a pro with conservation data (a core part of any conservation job), you're patient (yes the turtles finally hatched), resilient (lived and survived the jungle), and clever (you really chewed on that data). And what's more, you should have learnt a few things about yourself.

Did it really make you tick? If so, which bit? Was it the environment or the animals? Was it the people you met, team you worked with? Was it the hard graft of data collection or the cerebral moment of interpreting it?

Or did you simply just love the feeling that you were actually making a difference to someone or somewhere?

Regardless, you should have a much stronger idea of the type of projects you'd like to be involved with professionally. So, updated CV in hand, I would hot foot to the big guys who have the funds in place and job opportunities to offer. A couple of my favourites:

Get a Job With Save the Rhino

Simply love them, their mission reads:

"Save the Rhino International works to conserve viable populations of critically endangered rhinos in Africa and Asia. We recognize that the future of wildlife is inextricably linked to the communities that share its habitat."

And indeed they do. Dynamic programmes across Africa and Asia, run by hugely experienced teams of people, trained to protect at all costs – Rhino’s saved and rehoused, closely monitored, breeding programmes set up. An amazing organisation.

Occasionally they have jobs going in the London Office. To enquire, contact katherine@savetherhino.org.

For jobs at one of Save the Rhino's events, try events@savetherhino.org. Tasks include helping to set up the event, selling raffle tickets, selling merchandise, clearing up after the event etc.

Apply for Work With the Jane Goodall Institute

Founded by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute is a global nonprofit that empowers people to make a difference for all living things. Their work builds on Dr. Goodall’s scientific work and her humanitarian vision. Specifically, they seek to:

- Improve global understanding and treatment of great apes through research and public education.

- Create a worldwide network of young people who have learned to care deeply for their community, for all animals and for the environment, and who will take responsible action to care for them.

Good Luck!

Any excellent insider tips or recommendations for landing that perfect conservation job? We'd love to hear them - let us know in the comments below. And if you are an aspiring conservationist taking your first steps towards a fulfilling career, then good luck. I believe it’s a worthwhile journey.

Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America - all of which help protect the environment.

Gap year programs best for conservation

Need inspiration and direction?

Get in contact with the gap year travel specialists.

Here at The Leap we can help both team traveller through our programmes and/or the backpacker.

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