Why Volunteering is Key to a Career in Conservation

While the two week trip did cost me a chunk of my savings, it was most certainly the best savings spent. In fact, I loved the work so much that I decided to stay on for an extra two months!

Image: Alison Burke

By Alison Burke

Conservation and volunteering are on the minds of not just school leavers today but also well established organizations and charities, the world over. Many companies now offer once in a lifetime opportunities to make the most of your gap year with a variety of conservation volunteering experiences to choose from. There is no doubt that these experiences will be life changing and open your eyes to a whole new world that you ever knew existed. For the discerning student, the cost of enrolling in some of the best programs may seem slightly high at first glance and make the whole idea of volunteering abroad unattainable but don’t let this ever discourage you at the outset. I didn’t.

Last year I booked a two week volunteer experience in South Africa with a marine conservation programme. The trip and program were fantastic. I saw and did so many things that I had only ever dreamed about; from diving with Great White sharks to rescuing stranded loggerhead turtles and helping to rehabilitate big cats. While the two week trip did cost me a chunk of my savings, it was most certainly the best savings spent. In fact, I loved the work so much that I decided to stay on for an extra two months!

Did I pay a lot more to extend my stay? Not at all. I worked with the local programme coordinator in South Africa to organize it and it actually ended up costing me a fraction of what I paid for the two weeks and I feel I gained a lot more life experience from my travels. So, don’t restrict yourself to just large companies and if you see a volunteering opportunity that takes your fancy, speak directly to the local contact who will be happy to help you organize a trip without large planning fees.

My advice for any of you wishing to volunteer abroad is go for it! It’s an experience you will never forget or regret and that’s not just me saying it but also many others I have met who have been on similar programmes. There are endless reasons why you should do it and probably even more reasons why you may think you are not able to do it. If you are considering a career in conservation, volunteering overseas broadens your horizons and makes you a much more appealing candidate because it is a testimonial that will speak for itself about our ability to independently travel, plan, and budget whilst most likely doing work in the field that other candidates have only dreamed of… putting you one step ahead of the competition.



  • Absolutely! It is nice to see some positive reactions to volunteering abroad and all the fantastic opportunities it opens too. Nice picture also!

    Nick 2nd August 2011 at 1:04 pm Reply
  • Hi Nick, glad you liked it 🙂 Have you ever done any volunteering abroad?

    aminah 2nd August 2011 at 1:12 pm Reply
  • I really like this article!

    I have just finished my second year of law at Dundee uni and I am starting to think about what I want to do once I have finished my degree. Basically, animals and conservation are my passion. I spent a month in South Africa this summer working at a big cat conservation reserve in Bloemfontein called ‘Cheetah Experience’ and I fell in love with the work, the animals and the country. I have really found my niche.

    Ultimately my aim is to be working at conservation projects possibly coordinating volunteer programmes at research, release or rehabilitation programmes.

    However, I understand that in order to work in conservation and work with volunteers in the future, I need to gain as much experience as possible. I gained so much knowledge thoughout my time at Cheetah Experience this year and I received a fantastic reference, however, I will not be able to afford that kind of experience next year. I am working hard to earn and save money in order to return to Africa to gain the experience I need, however, I will not be able to obtain the same amount as last year. This article helped me to feel like my dream IS attainable! Thank you…

    If there is any further advice you could offer it would be much appreciated 🙂

    Ally xxx

    Alison Paton 19th August 2011 at 11:12 pm Reply
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