• Alexandra Mattisson

What to Know Before You Volunteer

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Over the last few years, I have had the chance to experience wildlife volunteering. Working as a volunteer is a life-changing experience that has inspired me in ways I never could have imagined. I have volunteered at Care for Wildlife Rhino Sanctuary several times. I have also volunteered with The KaiNav Conservation, where we spent time finding, documenting and removing snares from the bush in the beautiful Cradle of Human Kind region in South Africa. The snares are then repurposed to create art.


To give you more information on the wildlife volunteering experience, I wanted to share some of the tips and advice that helped me the most. Keep reading to find out what to know before you volunteer. Volunteering Tips for New Volunteers There are a few things that you'll need to know as a new volunteer. Some of the most important volunteering tips include the following:

  • Be prepared to put in time and effort. Some programmes involve a lot of physical work that could include anything from cleaning to feeding and other tiring tasks. The work can be repetitive in some sanctuaries and organisations, too. To keep wildlife safe, healthy, fed, happy, and cared for, their environments need to be kept clean and safe. This means daily tasks for volunteers.


  • You may need to pay to volunteer. There is a good reason for this – volunteering helps to provide much-needed help as well as funds. Volunteering with Africa’s wildlife is also very popular for those wanting to have a once in a lifetime experience. You are essentially paying and working to receive happiness, inner peace, healing (mental and on a soul level) and a connection to nature and Africa at large.


  • Many places run background checks. These are international checks that are there for a reason. Organisations may run background checks to be sure that the people who volunteer are considered upstanding citizens (via criminal record checks, terrorist watchlist checks etc.), especially if the volunteer will be working with any endangered or critically endangered species.


  • Come prepared. You will need a few things during your time as a volunteer. In malaria areas, mosquito/bug spray is a must – you should also take anti-malarial medication before leaving for the wildlife centre. Additionally, sunscreen, a water bottle and a hat are highly recommended, as the South African/African sun can be very hot, especially in the middle of the day. Working gloves or gardening gloves can come in very handy. You will also want to have any prescription medication or other medication you may need outside of the basics, as well as any specific items suggested by the organisation, which are generally provided as part of the volunteering pack.


  • Remember why you are volunteering. Although it is seen as 'glamorous' and Instagram-worthy from the outside, volunteering is not about photo opportunities. You are doing it out of love, not to take selfies with animals. You are there to support the staff, who work long hours to look after the animals in their care. You are there for the animals' well-being, even if that means doing exhausting work and getting down and dirty. That doesn't mean you won't have the chance for photos. It just means that volunteering should be done for the right reasons.

Why Consider Wildlife Volunteering? Many things make wildlife volunteering the experience of a lifetime. If you love animals as much as I do, simply having the chance to be around wildlife will be a dream come true. Being in the African bush, surrounded by nature, is also soul-soothing. During the times that I volunteered at Care for Wild, The KaiNav Conservation and other organisations, I found that I was healing myself while helping the staff and animals at these incredible organisations. Wildlife volunteering is extremely educational. You will learn a great deal about the animals you care for during your time as a volunteer. You will also learn about the wonders all around you – plants, birds, insects, terrains, and many other things. You will also have the chance to meet new people from all over the world. Meeting like-minded people who share your love for wildlife and the African bush is a great way to make friends. You will treasure these friendships during your volunteering time and long afterwards. Where to Volunteer Many amazing wildlife organisations need volunteers. Some of the ways that you can join conservation programmes as a volunteer include, but are not limited to, the following:

I hope that these tips on wildlife volunteering inspired you to find a cause in your area or abroad to support and make a difference on this planet we all call home. Lots of love,

Alexandra

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