If donating your time in a foreign country to support wildlife research and conservation sounds enticing, consider a volunteer vacation!

Observing, measuring, recording is all part of a daily routine for biologists in the field, and you can join them as a “citizen scientist.” Even if you are well past formal school years, not to worry, you won’t be the only one. Perhaps you’ll be tagging and releasing sea turtles. Or you might hang with some monkeys. How does collecting wildlife scat grab you?

Here are five sample wildlife-centered volunteer vacations you can book now for winter or spring 2016.

Misadventures Mag Article Belize HousingWhat: Bottlenose Dolphin Research / Oceanic Society

Where: Belize, Central America

When: February 20 – 27, 2016 (7 Days)

Cost: US $2,990 per person (not including airfare to and from Belize City airport)

Your Job: Daily identification of individual dolphins based on each animal’s unique natural markings, plotting of locations, and recording of each dolphin’s behavior on standardized data sheets

In Charge: PhD candidate or post-doc researcher specializing in wild animal behavior

This is an ongoing study of a group of bottlenose dolphin living in the vicinity of Turneffe Atoll, which is a small group of keys (“cayes”) off the main coast of the country of Belize. A fleet of small boats will bring volunteers to the spots where these dolphin congregate. Some volunteers may remain in their boat. Others who are comfortable with snorkeling will conduct underwater observations. Manatees are also commonly seen in this area, and volunteers may get to record sightings and note distribution of these sea mammals.

Volunteers need no prior research experience but must know how to swim! Everyone stays in field station accommodations by the beach, think of basic camp-style wooden huts, each one double-occupancy with private baths and porches. The dining room and lounge is in a separate common building. There’s even a small library and classroom for training sessions.

For More Information: Oceanic Society, Ross, California, USA

Tel: 1-800-326-7491 USA/Canada


AzoresMapWhat: Whales, Dolphins and Sea Turtles Research / Biosphere Expeditions

Where: Azores, Portugal, Europe

When: April 4 – 13, 2016 (10 Days) / April 15 – 24, 2016 (10 Days)

Cost: US $2,140 per person (not including airfare to and from Horta airport on the island of Faial)

Your Job: Daily audio recordings of whale vocalizations, also photo-identifications of whales and Dolphins, also assisting with loggerhead sea turtle tagging and release.

In Charge: 1 scientist + 1 team leader per 10-person group

The Azores is the name of an archipelago of 9 small islands in the Atlantic Ocean some 800 miles off the coast of Portugal. This is a long-term study of several baleen and toothed whale species, two dolphin species, and loggerhead sea turtles. These animals migrate past the Azores during certain times of the year. You will work onboard a large catamaran boat (no diving or swimming in the open Ocean waters) and stay overnight in two-person occupancy apartment-like units each with kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms.

More Information: Biosphere Expeditions Norwich, UK – main HQ other offices in USA, France, Germany, and Australia

Tel: within the UK, 0870-4460801


Whale_shark_Georgia_aquariumWhat: Whale Shark Research / Tiburon Ballena Mexico

Where: La Paz, state of California Baja Sur, Mexico

When: Daily during season (through March 2016) 9 am – 1 pm

Cost: US $85 per person (includes snorkeling equipment, drinks, snacks)

Your Job: Identification and observation of juvenile whale sharks.

In Charge: Deni Ramirez Maciez

Whale sharks are the largest of all shark species but as filter feeders they are completely harmless to humans. They are migratory animals, and the best time to observe them in the Bay of La Paz is between the months of October and March.

More Information: Tiburon Ballena Mexico

Email: tiburonballena@gmail.com

Cell phone: + 52 612 15 90582


Misadventures Mag Article OcelotsWhat: Ocelot Research / Earthwatch Institute

Where: Trinidad, Lesser Antilles – Caribbean

When: March 27 – April 3, 2016 (8 Days)

Cost: US $2,575 per person (not including airfare to and from Piarco Int’l Airport, Port of Spain)

Your Job: Setting up camera traps, sorting and organizing photographs, search for scat.

In Charge: 1 local guide per 5 to 10 person group

Ocelots are beautiful night-hunters about double the size of your average pet cat. Much more information is needed to understand the size of the local population and habitat use.

Volunteers stay in two-person occupancy dormitory-style rooms with individual or bunk beds. There is electricity and Internet connection. Meals include fresh local produce.

More Information: Earthwatch Boston, MA, USA

Tel: USA/Canada, 1-800-776-0188



What: Senda Verde Wildlife Sanctuary / The Great Projects

Where: Coroico, Bolivia

When: Ongoing (2 weeks or more)

Cost: Prices start from £595 per person (not including airfare to and from El Alto airport near La Paz)

Your Job: Assisting in the care of animals often rescued from illegal wildlife traffickers. These can include monkeys, parrots, even bears! Typical daily assignments include cleaning enclosures, preparing food and feedings, mental and physical enrichment activities.

In Charge: Volunteer Staff

Volunteers stay in wood cabin-style bungalows, double occupancy. Meals are provided and extra snacks and drinks can be purchased. Spanish language skills are not required but can be useful. This sanctuary has been in operation for 10+ years. Location is in the forest near a small town at an elevation of some 1200 meters above sea level. This project is popular among gap year students from the UK and Europe.

For More Information: The Great Projects London, UK

Tel: +44 20 8885 4987


[divider] Guest Contributor [/divider]

Deborah Regen is the creator of EcoTourLinQ.com, an online directory of eco-tour companies worldwide including Search, Ecotourism News, and Blog sections.