Is Volunteering Abroad with Primates for You?

Volunteering in another country with wildlife can be a life-changing experience, if you’re up for the challenge.

by Natasha Tworoski

Many people dream of taking an extended break from their daily life and giving back to the world in a positive way. More than ever, wildlife and the people who protect it need your help! It’s an incredible experience, but there are many factors to take into consideration.

Volunteers travel from all over the world to offer a helping hand at Ape Action Africa in Cameroon. (Photo by Elissa O’Sullivan.)

Expect to get dirty!
Caring for animals can be messy and takes a lot of energy. Many sanctuaries are close to the limit in the number of animals they can care for and each one needs to have a clean living environment, proper nutrition, and to be monitored. When animals are very young or ill, the time commitment they require will be even greater. Expect little to no contact with the animals for most volunteer projects, but rather to prepare diets, clean living areas, and to make enriching items that will improve the animals’ quality of life.

Ensure the facility is legit
Unfortunately, there are a significant number of organizations in the world that present themselves as a wildlife rescue center or sanctuary but are focused on making money. It is important to avoid funding these facilities. Don’t be afraid to ask where donations go.

Volunteers with Lilongwe Wildlife Trust get involved with community development.

Keep in mind, it is normal and expected for organizations to charge a fee for volunteers, especially for short-term positions. These fees include room and board, transportation to the sanctuary, and the time that it costs sanctuary managers to train and oversee volunteers. Some volunteer programs are a crucial source of revenue for the organization. Your volunteer fee may go towards a donation to the sanctuary that they can use to care for the animals. It’s important to remember that the sanctuaries’ primary responsibility to is take care of the animals – not to run a tourist experience.

Other things to look for in an organization are the long-term goals for the animals and educational outreach programs they provide the public. Lastly, check to see if they are endorsed by reputable organizations. Many PASA sanctuaries depend on the help of generous volunteers. It’s a great place to start!

Take into consideration your skill-set
Sometimes, indirectly helping a facility that helps wildlife is more helpful than directly working with the animals. Every sanctuary is different in what they are looking for, but here are some examples of specialized skills facilities can use:

1. Construction – Helping to build or repair animal enclosures is a crucial skill to offer a sanctuary.
2. Education – Reaching out to local communities about the importance of biodiversity and conservation will help prevent more animals from ending up in the sanctuaries.
3. Social Media and Digital Communications – Wildlife centers get a lot of their support from good-hearted donors, but it can be a challenge for the staff to find time to write stories about their accomplishments – particularly in remote parts of Africa with limited access to electricity or internet. Communications volunteering can be a great help. Some facilities may not even require you to be onsite.
4. Human health – One PASA sanctuary hosts a volunteer dentist once a year, who offers free dental cleanings to all the staff at the sanctuary – specialized training like this can be invaluable!
5. Cooking – Sanctuaries that maintain a large number of volunteers also need to feed them.

If you think that a volunteer trip to Africa might be right for you, please take into consideration dedicating your time and skills to one of the many PASA member sanctuaries that offer life-changing experiences!

Volunteers help out with tasks big and small at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre in Malawi.

More than ever, wildlife and the people who protect it need your help! It’s an incredible experience, but there are many factors to take into consideration.