Backpacking and volunteering in nature with animals

Many dream of a longer stay abroad – but how do you spend the time in the destination country? From a tour with a camper, work and travel or backpacking, there are a variety of options – such as volunteering.

If you are looking for offers for volunteering you will come across an overwhelming number of offers. Keeping track here as well as distinguishing serious from unserious projects is not easy. 

With this article we would like to give you some tips on what to look for when searching for a suitable volunteer project..

Ahead of time, a note about social projects:

Many who are interested in volunteering have a desire to get involved socially for the benefit of children in need. However, some social projects are unfortunately not interested in the welfare of the children, but rather used the children to make financial gain. In most cases, however, the children do not benefit from the profit made and also suffer from psychological consequences. Untrained volunteers take over lessons or supervisory positions in orphanages and are replaced by new volunteers after a few weeks. This constant change of caregivers leaves traumatic traces in the children’s development. Volunteers often work in orphanages and pay money for an apparently good cause. In many cases, however, the children are not orphans. With the promise of better education and care, the children are bought off their families, most of whom live in poverty. 

In addition to the social projects offered, however, there is also volunteering in the field of nature, species and animal conservation. 

Here volunteers can engage in nature conservation, maintain habitats for endangered wildlife, evaluate camera traps or, for example, patrol beaches to look for turtle nests. In the field of species conservation, however, there are also some points to which searchers should pay attention. This we explain to you in the following section:

Generally speaking, projects that offer interaction with wildlife should not be supported or thoroughly vetted beforehand .

In particular in southern Africa, a whole tourism industry has developed, which advertises the breeding of lions or other big cats, which is why the animals are bred. Already a few weeks after birth, the cubs are separated from their mothers to pose with tourists as photo models, for petting or walking. Due to the regular contact with humans and the loss of the mother, the young animals cannot develop their natural behavior. In many cases, the young animals are even punished for behavior that is unpleasant for the visitor. In most cases, it is advertised that volunteers will help raise the young animals so that they can later be released into the wild. However, because of the way they are raised, they would have little chance of survival. When the animals are finally too big to pet, they are used to walk tourists. Others are sold to creel hunting, where the animals are shot by paying hunters. 

In Asia, there are many projects that offer work or activities with elephants. In order to prepare the animals for tourist attraction, they are made docile by pain with wooden sticks or sticks with metal tips. In most cases, the elephants are kept in small cages or their movement is restricted by ropes or chains. Due to the isolated keeping in connection with regular pain, the animals very often suffer psychological damage. Especially in Asia, elephant riding is a tourist attraction that draws many visitors. Bathing with elephants is also a popular attraction, but also for this the animals are trained by questionable training methods.

Often unknowingly, volunteers support organizations and projects that use these practices. Therefore, it is important to inform yourself well about the desired project in advance and to question the project. 

But which projects do sustainably support species conservation? An important component of species conservation is the documentation of animal populations. For this purpose, animals must be located, animal populations counted and animal behavior observed. As is known, four pairs of eyes see more than two, so volunteers are often sought for such projects. Here the volunteers have the opportunity to observe the animal species in their natural habitat and at the same time support the conservation of the species. The projects, which lead such actions, use the data, often collected over several years, to observe how an animal species develops and whether already applied protection measures are helpful. If further conservation measures are needed, the data collected will support the species conservationists in applications to public agencies to implement new conservation measures. An example of such a project would be the protection of wild dogs in South Africa..

In addition, another important component of species conservation is nature protection and the protection of suitable habitats. Tree planting campaigns, building trails, dry stone walls or installing nesting provisions are therefore great projects to support species conservation, such as for example in New Zealand or California. At the same time, volunteers get to know their destination from a different perspective, visit places that are otherwise hidden from other tourists, and learn a lot about different environmental protection methods. In addition to their local involvement, volunteers always take something back home with them: new knowledge about environmental problems and ways to combat them. As the returnees share this knowledge, their own and others’ environmental awareness increases.This way, former volunteers can continue to be active for environmental protection beyond their involvement in the project. 

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