From monitoring turtle nests on remote beaches in Costa Rica as a family, to preparing daily meals for rescued bears in Romania, wildlife conservation holidays will take you all over the world. As varied as the wildlife each focuses on, one thing our top 10 wildlife conservation holidays have in common is a commitment to a sustainable, long-term approach to conservation. But don’t expect to be too hands on with the animals you’re working alongside – this is conservation, not cuddling, and the two rarely go hand-in-hand.
One of the best projects for budding conservationists aged five years and older, turtle conservation projects involve monitoring nests, protecting hatchlings and recording data on turtle sightings – mostly at night when turtles are most active on the beaches. Costa Rica itself, as well as being a mecca for green, leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles, is a safe yet adventurous family holiday destination.
Support permanent research teams in underfunded game reserves in South Africa, monitoring populations of leopard, rhino and cheetah. This is no safari but a no-frills insight into life in the heart of the African bush. Expect as much camp-based data entry as game drives, as well as the odd opportunity to join teams capturing and radio-collaring big cats and game.
Work alongside research teams aiming to rewild and re-release orangutans rescued as habitats – or parents – have been destroyed by logging and forest fires. Expect construction, maintenance, feeding and the creation of enrichment materials to be part of your day to day work – but not cuddles. As little human contact as possible offers the greatest opportunity for successful release back into the wild.
The Romanian relationship with bears is complex – stemming from cruel circus and ‘bear dancing’ traditions and wild conflicts with livestock farmers in the Carpathian Mountains. Conservation projects are focussed at a sanctuary working to improve attitudes to bears – and provide rescued, previously captive animals with the relative freedom of large, wild forested enclosures, and release into the mountains where possible.
This is one of the only wildlife conservation projects where there is significant time spent hands-on with the animals. You’ll be responsible for the round-the-clock care of rescued orphaned baby monkeys and baboons – nursing and bottle-feeding them back to health and preparing them for life in the wild. Expect some maintenance and administrative tasks too, as well as long, messy days.
If you love dolphins then joining a research team in Italy is the perfect way to spot huge numbers of these cetaceans, and in doing so contribute to vital ongoing data monitoring dolphin populations and behaviour. You’ll spend your days at sea photographing dorsal fins for identification and logging GPS coordinates of sightings, with evening talks on dolphin behaviour available from research biologists.
Focussing on cheetahs and other threatened big cats, these projects rely on volunteers to help monitor cheetah populations and record sightings and behaviour – both in person and via camera traps. Expect long, hot dusty walks in the bush – up to 15km per day to collect data then used to help reduce conflicts between farmers and cats and improve local understanding of these vulnerable creatures.
Far removed from the tourist-touting sanctuaries offering elephant-back rides and circus shows, genuine elephant conservation projects in Sri Lanka focus less on the care of rescued pachyderms but instead on the monitoring and research of wild populations – and initiatives to reduce human-elephant conflicts. You might be tracking and identifying wild elephants, conducting village surveys or building fences to protect houses and farms from elephant damage.
Immerse yourself in the world of some of the world’s mightiest, and most misunderstood creatures. You’ll be observing and monitoring shark movements from the research boat and via a series of thrilling cage dives; capturing much-needed identification photographs and feeding records of sightings into the marine biologists’ ongoing datasets. Travel in June to December and you’ll come face to face with whales too, while penguins are never far away year round.
Zimbabwe is known the world over for its fantastic safari experiences, but if you want to go a little deeper, then you could take part in monitoring and tracking as well as the standard game drives. Eight black and four white rhino call Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservancy their home – and you can too, for an eight day conservation holiday. Activities include following herds on horseback – not your average cowboy round up!