Wildlife volunteering is incredibly popular and for good reason. Animals are helpless. They can’t argue for their habitats or negotiate to change energy policy. They can’t advocate for their children. Often wildlife volunteers are interested in more than simply saving a single creature. They want to see habitats protected on a global scale. They care about the health and welfare of our planet and want animals to survive for future generations. I happen to be an avid wildlife volunteer. I believe that animals and the environment deserve more attention. Without the food and shelter nature provides, millions of people would find themselves homeless and starving. The problem is multifaceted and complex but however you look at it, our world’s creatures are in peril and they need our help.
Just like with any volunteering project, finding a good wildlife organization to support can be very difficult. These organizations aren’t organized under an overarching set of standards. They aren’t heavily regulated or monitored and some of them end up doing more harm than good. Sometimes it feels like finding a good opportunity requires a private investigator! Really though, the easiest way to find a legitimate wildlife organization that does real, beneficial work for the good of the environment is to look to rating systems and to other, larger organizations for guidance. The Humane Society is one such organization. Humane Society International is an old and very well respected organization dedicated to animal welfare. They have ongoing projects all over the world and are run by a team of scientists, scholars, and administrators who are unified under a single goal: protecting animals from inhumane treatment, however it may occur.
When it comes to wildlife volunteering, the Humane Society recommends ARCAS, an organization in Guatemala that adheres to the Humane Society’s standards. They do not domesticate animals, do not allow too much contact with humans, release animals back into the wild responsibly, and house animals in safe and comfortable conditions. ARCAS has its headquarters at their rescue center in Peten, Guatemala but they also have a Sea Turtle and Mangrove program in Hawaii. They welcome over 500 volunteers every year.
ARCAS is more than a wildlife sanctuary and rehabilitation center. They are also focused on education and have ongoing community projects including an efficient wood-burning stove project and an education, water, and sanitation project in Hawaii. Volunteers can work on a variety of projects. For volunteers who don’t speak Spanish, ARCAS offers more heavily supervised volunteer opportunities.