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.
- The Donkey Sanctuary - Works with children with special needs and elderly people living in care homes. It has centres in Leeds, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Manchester and Sidmouth, where its volunteers help in tacking-up, grooming and exercising its donkeys.
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.
Humboldt penguins in Peru
If you fancy experiencing South America, you could help to create a safe habitat for the Humboldt penguin in Chiclayo, Peru. This endangered animal, which is only found in this particular region, is threatened by overfishing, climate change, ocean pollution and habitat destruction - making conservation by volunteers and the local community absolutely vital.
Duties include preparing food, feeding the penguins, restoring and cleaning the penguins' natural habitat, creating natural fencing for the penguins' protection, and undertaking other daily activities at the penguin centre.
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.
Siberian huskies in Canada
Within the beautiful Arctic Circle, in the very northern corner of remote mainland Canada, you can play with and care for Siberian huskies, while also enjoying activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling and spotting regional wildlife such as great bears, wolves and reindeer.
You'll groom, walk, feed and water the dogs, and clean their kennels. You'll learn plenty about training and racing the animals, while other tasks may include chopping and splitting firewood, breaking trails, repairing fences, felling dead trees and undertaking general gardening duties.
Wallabies in Australia
Queensland is Australia's second-largest and third-most-populous state, and home to the bridled nailtail wallaby. Once widespread in eastern Australia, this animal is now found in only three isolated areas, with less than 300 mature individuals estimated to live in the wild. Threats include predators, wildfires, droughts and habitat destruction.
Volunteering at this rescue centre would see you prepare food, feed and rehabilitate injured, ill and orphaned animals, clean and maintain their shelters, and assist with husbandry and property maintenance. The centre also manages several captive husbandry and breeding programmes alongside zoos, universities and local government authorities.
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.