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5 Wildlife Volunteer Programs for Teens

By Lavanya Sunkara
1/2016 with resources updated 9/10/2023

There’s an alternative to sleepaway camp that could change your life and the lives of endangered animals. Volunteer programs abroad cater to teenagers seeking something wildly different for their summer break from high school. Participants receive a hands-on experience with animals, implement innovative protection projects, mingle with locals while living onsite, and learn valuable lessons about species racing to avoid extinction. You are sure to return with a newfound appreciation for different cultures and a renewed interest in saving our planet’s most periled animals.

Teen volunteering projects in Zimbabwe rescuing and releasing lions in need.
Conserving lions and other animals in Zimbabwe sometimes requires volunteer help.

Check out these animal-related volunteer opportunities to get you started on your journey.

1. Wildlife Orphanage in Zimbabwe, Africa

Devote your time with GoEco at one of the most successful wildlife rehabilitation and release centers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Volunteers at this family-run orphanage work with wildlife ranging from monkeys to lions. These animals have been orphaned, abandoned, injured, born in captivity, or confiscated from illegal wildlife traffickers. Once rehabilitated, they are released into their natural habitat. Tasks include preparing food, cleaning out enclosures, contributing enrichment ideas, and performing conservation outreach in local schools. The best part is the opportunity to handle and feed wild animal babies and comfort them when they cry and play. Housing is provided in cabins, along with three meals a day. Leisure time can be spent visiting Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park.

Age: 16-17+. Volunteers under 17 and under require a letter of consent from a parent/guardian.
Duration: 2 to 8 weeks
Price: From $1,650 for two weeks

2. Under 18's Marine Conservation Awareness & PADI Course, Mexico

If you love the underwater world, get your diving certificate while learning about marine preservation with GVI's Yucatan Peninsula program. After diving lessons, volunteers will learn about aquatic ecosystem issues, including pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Teens will gain valuable skills to research reefs and identify fish and coral species. Some of the exciting marine life you may encounter includes turtles and dolphins. During free time, participants can explore Mayan ruins in tropical jungles and visit cenotes (underground river networks). Most importantly, you will receive PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Advanced Open Water qualification certification. Shared accommodations are provided along with meals.

Age: Under 18
Duration: 2 weeks
Price: $4,695 with flexible payment plan

3. Rainforest Conservation in Peru for Teens

Machu Picchu and adorable alpacas aren't the only highlights of Peru. This South American country is famous for its lush rainforests and species biodiversity. At the Taricaya Lodge and Research Center, located on the banks of the Madre de Dios River, volunteers with Projects Abroad fully immerse themselves within the heart of Amazon. At the jungle base, you will participate in wildlife observation from a high canopy platform, take night observation walks along trails to spot wildlife, work on animal release programs, and manage a farm. Local wildlife includes Brown Capuchin Monkeys, Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys, Mealy Parrots, White-Fronted Toucans, Spectacled Caimans, and Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtles. Volunteers live in shared rooms at the lodge; weekend trips can be arranged to go camping downriver or visit Puerto Maldonado for a fun night out.

Age: 15-18
Duration: 2 weeks
Price: $3,145 
Teen volunteering to save seals in Galapagos
Seals sunbathing in the Galapagos. Photo by Lavanya Sunkara.

4. Galapagos: Preserving Nature’s Wonders

The enchanting Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, are an animal lover's dream. With untouched natural beauty protected by Galapagos National Park, visitors can get up close to exotic animals ranging from sea lions and blue-footed booby birds to giant tortoises. With Global Leadership Adventures' (GLA) program in the Galapagos, teens spend the first ten days performing community service on San Cristobal and Isabela islands and the remaining time exploring and learning about the biology and geology of the archipelago. The indigenous wildlife is in danger of losing their habitat due to invasive plant species and litter. Volunteers help restore the animals' natural habitat so they can reproduce and grow. This program gives you an experience of a lifetime where you can swim with sea lions, spot red-throated frigate birds, and Galapagos penguins, and admire marine and land iguanas in one of the last untouched places on earth. Essential, clean accommodations and transportation between the islands are provided in all locations.

Age: 14-18
Duration: 2 weeks
Price: $5,399

5.  Sri Lanka: Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation

Sea Turtles, those remarkable creatures, are endangered in many parts of the world. With GoEco's Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation program in Sri Lanka, teens can contribute directly to the conservation of endangered sea turtles along the coast. Volunteers work in the hatchery three days a week, which is about an hour away from the volunteer villa. Tasks include feeding and cleaning the turtles, moving turtle eggs into the hatching area, caring for disabled turtles, cleaning tanks, and more. One day per week is Environment Day, when volunteers participate in beach cleaning activities in Galle. The remaining weekday is Community Day when volunteers educate local school children or rural women about sea turtle conservation or work on a unique, related project. During nesting season (November-May), there are two-night patrol camps each month where participants camp on the beach and protect the nests. Your help will be based on GoEco's ethics to only participate in programs that will make a positive impact. Set in Galle, you will be picked up from the local airport. Upon arrival, volunteers will receive a walking tour and introductory training presentations. You will stay in shared rooms in a volunteer villa with three meals per day provided.

Age: 16-65 is the recommended age range. Those over 65 may still apply. This program welcomes families with children aged six and older!
Duration: 1 to 12 weeks
Price: $1,220 for two weeks; $1.620 for four weeks.
Related Topics
Teen and High School Volunteering Abroad
More by Lavanya Sunkara
9 Volunteer Endangered Animal Projects Abroad
6 Animal Volunteer Programs Abroad Ideal for College Students and Post-Grads

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