And that’s where I’m coming from. I honestly couldn’t feel more grateful for the volunteer opportunities I have received: for the experiences I have had, the people I have met and the skills and lessons I have learnt that have gotten me to where I am today.
And it’s for these reasons that I cannot recommend volunteering enough.
The earlier you start, the better.
The more you do, the better.
The more you give, the more you will receive.
The value of the time you spend volunteering will always come back to you 10-fold. Trust me on that one.
So, what kind of volunteer placements will set you up for a career in wildlife conservation? There’s no debate that volunteering is one of the best things you can do to land your dream job.
While it’s important to remember, when it comes to volunteering there are no hard and fast rules, I will walk through some considerations and (hopefully) inspirations to guide your volunteering adventure in wildlife conservation.
Make a good impression.
This might sound like a no brainer but it’s sometimes easier said than done. The best advice I can give in any volunteer role within the industry is to be kind, be generous and be professional – ultimately be the best version of yourself.
Try to stay positive if things don’t go according to plan, conditions become difficult or you’re not enjoying yourself. Remember open communication
A smile and a positive attitude in the field is worth a million dollars.
It shows you are confident and competent, even when you’re still learning or developing new skills.
The wildlife conservation community is a tight-knit one – so if you do a fantastic job as a volunteer, it is very likely you will find meaningful employment follows from it. That’s exactly what happened to me – but it came from the least expected places.
Take every opportunity to learn whilst volunteering in wildlife conservation.
You may have experience, but you’ll be surprised how much more you gain from performing similar skillsets with different supervisors on different projects.
Love what you do and it doesn’t feel like work.
The first thing to remember is, like everything in life, when it comes to volunteering, follow your “feel good”. If you’re loving it – great, keep doing it. If not, try something else.
As you’re not being paid there’s no reason to push yourself through an uncomfortable situation. However, before you throw your hands in the air and walk out the door, try and get some space and recognise the skills and experience and connections you gain from the project. Evaluate whether or not it is worth your time continuing a placement with a cool head and a cup of tea.
Regular shifts vs one-off, live-in placements.
This will depend mostly on your schedule and other commitments in your life.
If you are studying or working, you can try to fit in some regular volunteer commitments on a weekly or monthly basis. Examples of these include voluntary placements at wildlife rehabilitation centers, aquariums, zoos, museums, local not-for-profits (i.e. BIrdLife Australia) as well as local office-based (i.e. data entry or camera trap image tagging) or field conservation projects (i.e. tree planting).
Regular voluntary commitments allow you to build relationships and trust with your supervisors and other “co-workers”. After 6 months or so of weekly commitment (or equivalent), you could ask these people for written references as they can vouch for your contribution and reliability.
Projects and placements
When you find time away from your “everyday life”, these projects often provide a much more unique and in-depth wildlife experience. There are organisations that work with all kinds of wildlife in all different ecosystems – so shop around!
And, so many of them don’t cost a cent. So why not, try out a few?
If you can commit to the time, everything else is usually provided.
For example, some of my earliest “remote” volunteer placements included turtle tagging on remote beaches in north-western Australia, trapping Northern Quolls in the Pilbara, Western Australia, undertaking biodiversity surveys in arid central Australia, monitoring Boodies or Burrowing Bettongs, surveying numbats, banding birds and so much more!
Places to look for field-based volunteer placements in wildlife include:
- Government departments (wildlife-related)
- Not-for-profit organisations like Bush Heritage and Australian Wildlife Conservancy
- PhD students at universities
- Niche organisations dedicated to a particular species or ecosystem.
Paid volunteer placements and “voluntourism”
When I was working towards my first job in wildlife conservation, I wasn’t keen/able to spend large amounts of money on “voluntourism” projects. Doesn’t mean it’s not a great way to gain experience, but it’s just not the route I travelled.
Before spending lots of money on a voluntourism placement (i.e. 10 days in South Africa monitoring sharks for $3,500), I would ask the following questions:
How much are they asking? What is the scientific reputation of the organization (have they published papers on their research, etc.)? What is included in the “package” and what will you get out of the experience?
I would also consider “are there less costly alternatives?”.
If you’re still keen, then go for gold!
I had a rule when searching for volunteer placements to expand my experience that I wouldn’t pay more than “food and board”, what I might have paid to live in the place and contribute to the experience with my time. And that worked for me, but see what works for you!
The magic formula
So, what’s the magic formula – what I mean by this is what is the ideal amount of volunteering you could do to set you up for your dream job in wildlife conservation?
While there are no “hard and fast” rules, I would recommend the following:
Try to get 6 months or more experience in a regular volunteer placement with a local wildlife-focused organization i.e. a zoo, the museum, a bird banding station, a wildlife rehabilitation centre, etc. while you are based in one area.
This is best done while you are studying or working in the same town.
Try to find 3 or 4 remote “one-off” wildlife conservation projects to sign up for.
These can be when you have time off work, during semester break or when you have finished your degree and want to fill your time meaningfully with volunteer work towards your dream job.
If you choose to work with a variety of wildlife and ecosystems you will set yourself in good stead to step into a paid role with a diverse experience under your belt.
So what are you waiting for? Start googling and asking around!
And if you want a hand finding the perfect volunteer placements – get in touch! Here at #itsawildlife blog, we can help you find incredible experiences to build your skills and have some fun saving and researching animals and their habitats!
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