So you want to donate your valuable time to a great cause? Fantastic! But before you set off to save the world, have you paused and thought about whether the program and work you have signed up for is actually ethical? While there are many volunteer organisations that offer ethical programs, unfortunately, there are numerous programs that are actually harmful to children, animals and habitats.
The sheer popularity of volunteering abroad has, sadly, resulted in a boom in tour companies offering fraudulent ‘voluntourism’ opportunities in a wide range of destinations.
In the case of “wildlife conservation” tours to places like South Africa, the presence of wealthy foreigners wanting to play with “orphaned wildlife” has actually had the perverse effect of creating a market for captive wildlife in the region.
A system has emerged in which tour operators will not release animals back to the wild, but instead, keep a steady stream of captive animals in their facilities so that unknowing tourists will continue paying to pet animals. These operators are creating fraudulent wildlife conservation programs in response to visitors’ demand for them.
Furthermore, many voluntourism outfits that offer the chance to interact with wildlife have little-to-no screening of prospective applicants.
Please don’t be disheartened – there are many ethical volunteering experiences out there that do rely heavily on your contribution!
To assist you in planning your next voluntourism adventure, we have put together a list of “how to identify unethical volunteer programs”, so you can avoid contributing to fraudulent, unethical and/or harmful practices:
1.) Going in Blind
Have you researched this organisation? Before you commit to this project, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this program have reviews on TripAdvisor?
- Does this program promote ‘wildlife-cuddling’?
- What are the conditions of the country I am visiting (can I handle the weather, the potential political volatility, the food)?
- What exactly will I be doing?
- Where will my money be going? Is it being directed toward local wages, wildlife conservation and animal welfare?
- What is the current situation surrounding the animal/habitat that I am volunteering with? Is the species endangered? Is the village that I am working in impoverished?
Make sure you understand the cultural, political, social and economic landscape of your destination.
2.) Cuddling Wild Animals
If you come across a program that promotes heavy interaction with wildlife, or is filled with phrases like, “cuddle baby tigers”, AVOID, AVOID, AVOID!
There is absolutely no need for a program to allow inexperienced volunteers to cuddle and pet wild animals. This offer is purely a moneymaking tactic, and it can be extremely harmful to wildlife conservation and rescue-release programs.
If you truly want to make a difference to wildlife conservation and animal welfare programs, then it is important that you avoid programs that are capitalizing on holding wild animals in captivity. These animals do not need to have thousands of volunteers flying over to cuddle them each year. What they DO need are volunteers willing to get their hands dirty; possibly cleaning out dirty pens, erecting fences, undertaking field surveys, doing administrative work, providing enrichment for animals, tracking wild animal movements etc.
3.) Are you really contributing?
Do you think you can offer this program something valuable? Generally, a background in veterinary science, wildlife conservation and biology are sought after qualifications. However, if you do not possess these, can you offer something else? Are you willing to undertake hard, dirty labour? Are you willing to provide administrative or marketing support for the charity?
Think about your strengths and weaknesses and how you can best assist this charity. Put THEIR interests first.
4.) High cost
Also worth considering are the economic consequences of your volunteering. At the most basic level, question the operator about how much of the cash you might be paying to volunteer is actually going to the community, to the project or to the animals.
If you want to volunteer, but require more information, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out some of our amazingly ethical volunteer opportunities by CLICKING HERE.