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Animal Gap Years: Wildlife Volunteer Projects

Volunteering with animals during your gap year is a great way of getting some hands on experience, as well as soaking up a new and exciting culture. It's also ideal if you are considering a career in animal care later on.

Is a wildlife or animal project the right type of Gap year program for me?

Volunteering to work with wildlife is a great way of getting hands-on experience with some amazing animals, plus the feeling of making a difference and doing something really worthwhile.

Most wildlife volunteering projects do not require you to have any relevant skills and experience.

However, you will ideally have a love for animals, be prepared to undertake tasks involving hard, physical labour and enjoy working outdoors.

You will also be expected to show initiative and work both on your own, and as part of a team when necessary. Dealing with animals also requires patience, confidence and commitment.

If you are applying for veterinary science at university, or a animal-related subject such as Zoology or Ecology, then a wildlife volunteer project will look great on your CV.

If this is the case, or just enjoy being around animals, and think you have the qualities outlined above, read on to find out more.

What will I do during my Gap year project with animals?

This depends to a certain extent on which animal centre you volunteer in and the animals you will be dealing with. However, most projects will require you to aid with:

  • Preparing and distributing food for the animals
  • Cleaning, building and maintaining animal enclosures
  • Exercising and nurturing young animals
  • Assisting with vaccinations and disease treatments
  • Showing visitors around the sanctuary centre
  • Behavioural monitoring and enrichment programmes
  • Promotional activities to raise community awareness

There are likely to be other duties involved that vary between different projects, so check the details on each individual project webpage or contact the gap year company for more specific information on what you’ll be up to.

How long can I volunteer for?

For most projects, you can volunteer for as little as 2 weeks, or up to 12 weeks.

There are even some that allow you to volunteer for 12 months, although be careful, as some projects require you to volunteer for a minimum amount of time (usually 2 weeks or 1 month).

The length of time you spend volunteering may be determined by your budget, or if you have other gap year plans you wish to fit around it, such as retaking A levels or travelling.

Either way, it’s entirely your decision. 

How much does it cost?

This depends on how long you wish to volunteer for, where you go and which gap year agency you choose your project with.

You can expect to pay between £500 and £700 for a 2 week period, and between £2,500 and £3,000 for a 12 week stay.

It’s a good idea to look at different companies that offer the same or similar project you would like to do, and compare prices in case one happens to fall within your budget.

However, whichever one you decide on, it is important to check what the cost includes.

Beware that fees for most projects will not include flights, visas, travel insurance, food and any extra activities or excursions during the programme.

So work out how much more money this will be on top of the project fee before booking a placement, because if it turns out to be more than you’ve budgeted, then you could lose your deposit if you have to pull out.

Read our section on gap year agencies to help you decide which one to use.

Where can I volunteer with animals?

Due to the large number of gap year companies now in operation, there are opportunities for taking part in animal rescue or wildlife sanctuary projects all over the world.

So if you’re looking for a placement involving horses, leopards, or monkeys, there’s bound to be a project suited to your interests somewhere.