Chances are that, if you're reading this, you consider travelling the world to be one of your main interests. You probably have at least a passing interest in unusual wildlife and animal conservation, too (or you really didn't read the headline of this post...).
Am I right? No surprise there - the attraction of unusual animals is one of the key factors that draws people to regions like Africa and Asia when they plan a backpacking expedition or book a holiday abroad. From washing elephants to hatching turtles, some of the greatest and most authentic experiences you can have on your travels are zoologically-orientated.
But What About Starting a Career in Conservation?
Most of us that share a love of both animals and travelling have at least considered, at one time or another, taking it one step further. If you've thought about it, you'll have encountered the same problem we all have. Getting experience in ecology, conservation, in a zoo or safari park is notoriously difficult, particularly if you want paid work.
Competition is unbelievably fierce for wildlife jobs, especially for positions with large international groups like WWF or Tusk. So what's an enthusiastic person to do, if they feel there's the potential to become the next David Attenborough burning inside them?
The Solution: Begin By Volunteering
The best approach by far is to get your start by volunteering. All sorts of successful folks now achieving great things in this field embarked on their careers by becoming unpaid volunteers - even directors of prominent international charities.
By becoming a volunteer, you'll have four major advantages over those that don't:
1. You'll demonstrate that you're genuinely committed
2. You'll gain practical experience and develop skills
3. You'll get your foot in the door with organisations that occasionally have paid opportunities
4. You'll develop a clear idea of the type of work you want to do
As you can imagine, all this can be decisive in securing a good position one day. Experience really does count, and the more of it you can get the better.
With that in mind, I've taken the liberty of explaining five of the main areas you might consider for a first foray into wildlife conservation. They all combine work with animals with travelling, and even include some handy links to get started on bagging yourself a volunteering position. All you have to do is decide which one is best for you.
Volunteer On A Private Game Reserve
Work on a private game reserve, and you’ll have the chance to spot all sorts of wild beasts - including the famous ‘Big Five’.
Kwa Madwala, a 4,000-hectare game reserve just south of Kruger National Park, offers opportunities to work alongside local rangers to help manage and conserve the wildlife there. On top of this, you can enjoy elephant safaris, flights over the reserve in a bush plane and horse treks over the plains of Africa. What more could you want? For more information, check out our volunteering placements in South Africa.
Help Rehabilitate Injured Animals
Nobody likes to see animals suffer, but sadly many of them do. For example, Cambodian elephants - which hold a particular cultural significance in that part of the world - are being seriously threatened affected by illegal logging that takes place throughout the country's jungles and woodlands.
Fortunately there are ways you can help to rescue injured animals and rehabilitate them back to their natural habitat. In Cambodia, the Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary is the only sanctuary dedicated to the care and conservation of elephants in their natural habitat.
Help out here and you'll spend each day interact with the elephants, washing them and giving them as much TLC as you can. You'll also find yourself doing things like digging trenches or water towers and collecting food for the elephants. It's sweaty work, but every little bit helps towards the conservation of these magnificent gentle grey giants. More information about volunteering with the elephants in Cambodia is here.
Reforest a National Park
There are a number of beautiful national parks dotted around the world, which require a lot of maintenance to stay looking so lovely. By helping to reforest a national park, you contribute towards protecting indigenous tree species through collecting seeds, caring for saplings and planting trees, as well as educating children in local schools about the importance of trees to the ecosystem.
In Caripe, Venezuela, you can work alongside park rangers at a national park located at Guacharo Cave - one of the deepest caves in the world. It's home to a vast population of oilbirds - the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating birds in the world and extremely rare.
You’ll help the rangers in renovating dilapidated trails, keeping the surrounding area clean, and anything else needed to keep this unusual animal habitat up to scratch. Have a look at our volunteering placements in Venezuela if you want to apply.
Save the Sea Turtles
Marine conservation involves the protection of ecosystems in oceans and seas, as well as restoring those which have already been damaged. All sorts of species are in desperate need of this kind of assistance. Consider, for example, the plight of the sea turtle.
Critically endangered in nearly all of their natural habitats, and even protected by legislation in places like Madagascar (check out these Madagascar volunteering opportunities), these loveable creatures are still killed for meat, oil and their shells the world over.
Thankfully, a variety of conservation efforts are underway in many places. Beach towns, such as Tortuguero in Costa Rica, have transitioned from a tourism industry that previously made a profit from selling sea turtle meat and shells to an ecotourism-based economy.
Help out here and you'll spend your nights on the look out for nesting turtle, recording any sightings and transporting their eggs to a safe hatchery. Full details of the Costa Rica placements can be found here.
Return Darwin's Galapagos To Its Former Glory
Environmental conservation can refer to a variety of preservation methods, from teaching local communities about how they can share their habitat with surrounding wildlife to taking part in a long-term protection plan. The beautiful Galapagos Islands in Ecuador is one place where you can work on environmental conservation projects like these.
This is the same place that informed large parts of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution when he visited here in the early 1830's. Understandably, it's teeming with wildlife, and you’ll come into contact with sea lions, marine iguanas, pelicans and crabs - to name just a few - should you decide to work out here.
The conservation work being done here chiefly aims to restore the land back to its natural state by removing invasive plants and planting native species in their place - so that the endangered Galapagos tortoises can be reintroduced.
Time For You To Take The Next Step
With all the information and opportunities we've covered, you should now be well on your way to finding the perfect wildlife job for you. So pick a project you can get behind, throw caution to the wind and apply today! What's stopping you?
If you've been to any of the aforementioned countries and worked with animals, why not share your experiences in the comments below - we’d love to hear all about them!
on 30 / 09 / 2014