Written by Milly Whitehead on 30 / 09 / 2014
Gap Year Advice
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.
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 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.
Work on a private game reserve, and you’ll have the chance to spot all sorts of wild beasts - including the famous ‘Big Five’.
Oana reserve in Namibia is a huge conservation project which aims to become a new national park to home the black rhino in a few years. Get in touch to see how you can get involved.
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.
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.
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.
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?
on 30 / 09 / 2014