Volunteering at a wildlife rescue center can be a great opportunity to gain experience working with and caring for animals. It is also an excellent way to support your favorite wildlife causes, as income from paying volunteers is often a major source of funding for wildlife rescue centers. However, it is important to be sure that you are not posing any risk to the animals and also that they are not endangering you.
You must also feel assured that the rescue center is accredited or moving towards accreditation by international standards such as the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. These standards take into account not just the physical health of the animals, but the emotional well-being of wildlife living in a temporary or permanent captive environment.
There are certain characteristics of a wildlife rescue center that should signal a red flag to anyone who is considering a volunteer opportunity:
- If the rescue center is hesitant to release charismatic animals and wants to keep them for captive breeding and sale
- If the rescue center allows too much contact with humans, allowing animals to become habituated
- If the rescue center releases animals into the wild but does so in the wrong habitat or in a way that puts animals and people in danger
- If the rescue center houses animals in dirty and/or small cages
While working with wildlife sounds ideal, the reality is that it can be dangerous, physically exhausting, and often unglamorous when help with duties such as cutting up food and cleaning cages in hot or humid conditions is the most needed. It is imperative to do your research on the rescue center or organization you are considering and make sure that it is truly helping animals, not harming them. With a passion for wildlife and a thorough understanding of the pros and cons, volunteering with a wildlife rescue center can prove the experience of a lifetime.
An example of a successful and reputable volunteer program is ARCAS in Guatemala.