There are countless ways in which you can volunteer with animals, both in the UK and abroad - here's our overview of what's available
Animal care and conservation can be incredibly rewarding; you can do something that you're truly passionate about while giving something back to society. You'll also develop important transferable skills along the way - in areas including administration, finance, IT, management, teamwork, campaigning and fundraising. What's more, it can be the perfect preparation for a career working with animals.
Animal welfare charities in the UK
General animal welfare charities in the UK include:
- Blue Cross - This organisation's rehoming and veterinary services help 35,000 pets every year. Voluntary opportunities include: fostering, driving, photographing and videoing animals; walking dogs and cleaning their kennels; grooming and feeding horses and ponies; and socialising cats, kittens and puppies.
- The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) - Helps vets to care for sick and injured animals. Its award-winning voluntary programme has 10,000 participants; opportunities in its Pet Hospitals range from general vet assistants to positions for fully qualified professionals.
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) - Works to prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate the suffering of animals. Opportunities include fostering, photographing, practical animal caring and wildlife casualty volunteering.
- The Wildlife Trusts - Protects and benefits the UK's natural environment. It has around 43,000 volunteers, all of whom help to secure the future of precious habitats and species. Tasks include surveying and caring for nature reserves.
Assistance therapies and specialist charities in the UK
Several UK charities help people with day-to-day living by providing contact with animals. These include:
- Riding for the Disabled Association - Arranges horse and pony-based activities such as riding, vaulting, show-jumping, hippotherapy and carriage driving for around 28,000 disabled people every year. It is run by 19,000 volunteers across 500 groups; voluntary opportunities include mucking out, grooming, tacking-up, and leading and side-walking.
- The Cinnamon Trust - Helps elderly and terminally ill people to care for their pets. Around 15,000 volunteers perform dog-walking and other tasks including, for example, short-term fostering when the pet's owner is in hospital.
Between 80,000 and 100,000 people in the UK could benefit from a specially trained assistance dog. Seven individual organisations collectively known as Assistance Dogs UK - Canine Partners, Dog A.I.D., Dogs for Good, Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Medical Detection Dogs and Support Dogs - require volunteers to help educate puppies aged between six weeks and one year. Tasks include socialising, emergency and short-term fostering, and dog-walking to familiarise the puppy with public places.
Chimpanzees in Zambia
Zambia is home to the stunning Zambezi River, the world-famous Victoria Falls and one of the largest chimpanzee sanctuaries on the planet. Here, you can rescue injured and orphaned chimpanzees - an animal whose very existence in Zambia is threatened by poaching, logging, habitat destruction and the illegal bush meat trade.
You'll research chimpanzee behavioural interactions, gathering character and age data about individuals to help build an identification system. This will help the sanctuary to create family trees, and improve information guides and literature for its education centre.
You'll also feed and create enrichment activities for the animals, plus maintain enclosures, help out on the farm and tend to its fruit tree garden.
Elephants in Indonesia
The Indonesian island of Sumatra is one of many destinations in Southeast Asia where you can help rescued and retired working elephants.
You'll feed, wash and care for Sumatran elephants, learn animal husbandry skills from local mahouts, teach English to local schoolchildren and plant trees in the jungle.
All of this takes place in a beautiful location that boasts volcanoes, jungles and beaches. What's more, there are plenty of villages that you can explore and adventure activities you can enjoy; you could go white water rafting, scuba diving or volcano trekking, or even take part in a wildlife safari or rainforest canopy tour.
Leopards and lions in South Africa
South Africa is situated at the southern tip of Africa and ranges from desert to sub-tropical. Travellers often head to South Africa to relax on wine tours or tick off your own Big 5 wildlife list on safari at one of the many National Parks.
To make your trip to South Africa really one to remember you could join an active research team and contribute to important wildlife conservation research in Kruger National Park at the Kruger conservation and leopard monitoring project. The team focus on leopard population monitoring, this is essential for the protection of the species. Volunteers receive bush craft training which gives you the foundation of knowledge on animal identification, tracking, and behaviour.
It is in a beautiful and peaceful location overlooking the river with a safari feel and abundant game and birdlife all around.
Sea turtles in Costa Rica
Grenada, Mexico and Costa Rica are three tropical North American destinations where you can help to protect sea turtles from extinction while teaching in local schools, conserving beaches and learning to surf.
In Costa Rica, you can work with four different species of sea turtle that are in danger of extinction due to human activities such as infrastructure development, light pollution, transportation of vehicles and the capture of adults. Working in one of four project locations, you'll preserve some of the few natural nesting sites that don't hold official protection by the Costa Rican government.
Tasks include releasing sea turtle hatchlings, maintaining facilities and shelters, constructing hatcheries, monitoring sea turtles, protecting turtle nests and undertaking beach patrols.
Rescued dogs in India
India is a diverse and exciting country with so much to offer tourists and travellers. Many people describe India as a sensory overload with smells, sights and sounds flooding in from all directions. It is definitely a place which you should experience at least once in your life.
Here you can join work experience by volunteering at the animal rescue project in vibrant city of Udaipur. Volunteers provide hands-on help and care to the many animals on site and each day volunteers are needed to help with the daily feeding and cleaning of the animal areas. It is a home to more than 200 animals including dogs, cows, donkeys, pigs, cats, tortoises, goats, birds, a buffalo and any other animal in need.
Udaipur is known to locals as the 'City of Lakes', it is now considered one of the most romantic destinations in India, thanks to its lake and mountainous scenery.
Sloths in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a nature-lover's paradise; a quarter of the country is protected forest or reserve providing home to more than 900 species of bird and 250 species of mammal including the beloved sloth. The diverse landscape includes volcanoes, mangroves, rainforest and beautiful beaches making it a fantastic country to explore. It's easy to understand why it's recently been voted the world's happiest country.
Here you can join a wildlife rescue team and help to care for the animals in the tropical sanctuary. The team need help to care for animals such as monkeys, sloths and anteaters that have been injured, orphaned or mistreated. Volunteers help by observe and monitor animals which are being rehabilitated for release.
Find out more
- Read more about charity and voluntary work.
- Find out everything you need to know about volunteering.
- Explore opportunities for working abroad or studying abroad.
- Discover what you could do on your gap year.