Whether you want to wash elephants, count coral-dwelling crustaceans or bottle-feed orphaned donkeys, here are our top five gap year experiences for animal lovers:
Head to Udaipur in Northern India with Pod Volunteer and spend your time at an animal rescue shelter whilst learning a bit of Hindi along the way. You’ll be helping to clean, feed and care for injured dogs, pigs, goats, cows and donkeys that have been rescued from the streets of Udaipur. You’ll be involved in rehabilitation, physiotherapy and assisting local vets to get these animals back on their hooves. You also get to help support a local initiative to help people care for their livestock and be part of an enthusiastic team that rescues over 3,500 animals a year.
Pod Volunteer is an award-winning, ethical non-profit that has been helping people experience incredible gap years since 2001 when its founders volunteered together and set up a charity in Tanzania. They know exactly what you want and need from a gap year and even won the Best Volunteering Organisation of 2015. Extra curricular activities include henna, yoga and cooking classes plus a not-to-be-missed trip to the Taj Mahal. You can find out some more details about the project here.
Volunteer for 2 – 12 weeks, starting from £695.
If you’re more of a fins and flippers fan, then volunteering in a marine aquarium in Mexico will likely whet your appetite. Working with sharks, crocodiles, marine birds and Olive Ridley turtles, you’ll be assisting the vets in their rehabilitation work. For added excitement, you’ll get to swim with sharks and sea-lions – if you’re feeling brave enough. Depending on your interests you can help run tours of the aquarium, observe reproductive behaviour in the marine wildlife or help organise local school visits to spread the word about marine conservation.
Outreach International started in 1997 after an emotional trip to a rubbish dump in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and has being sending volunteers all over the world ever since. They carefully pick their projects to ensure that the volunteering work you do is needed, valuable and helpful to the local community. Ethics and sustainability is at the heart of what they do so you can be confident that your volunteering is beneficial and appreciated. You can read more about this conservation project here.
From 1 month to 6 months. Starting from £1,650
If you love animals but want a bit of variety to your trip, try one of The Leap’s projects that combine animal conservation work with a bit of teaching, a splash of diving or some relaxing island hopping. If you feel most comfortable on horseback then 10 weeks in South Africa on a horse safari and conservation programme is ideal. Learn about anti-poaching efforts, help maintain the reserve and keep an eye on the local rhinos, elephants and leopards.
The Leap is a family-run company that care about your safety and enjoyment as much as your family do. They are also dedicated to responsible travel and ensure that around 65% of your fee gets spent in the country you’re visiting – paying locals, supporting families and facilitating projects.
6 – 10 weeks, starting at £2528
Big into bears? Head over to Romania with Oyster and spend your days hanging out with over 72 rescued bears. You’ll be preparing their food, monitoring how the little cubs are integrating and helping give tours of the sanctuary to schools and tourists to educate visitors about these loveable beasts. You’ll be staying in a comfortable apartment in Brasov with other volunteers where you can explore the beautiful city, go out for dinner or just relax after a day of serious bear care. If you’re feeling inspired, you can find out more here.
Oyster have a whole heap of animal projects you can help out with. So whether you’re into elephants, turtles or big game, they’ve got you covered. Oyster is another family-run business, with each member of its UK staff having taken a gap year and loved it so much that they wanted to help others experience one too. Each project is personally visited by the team so they know exactly that they’re offering you and can tell you just what to expect.
1-12 weeks, starting from £995
If you can’t pick just one favourite animal then the Zoo Assistant Internship project in Malaysia will tickle all your fancies. Another project from Oyster, this one sees you actively help change the zoo as it brings its conditions up to an internationally acceptable level. You’ll be working on enrichment for the animals – think hiding food for them to find, building platforms for them to climb up and providing natural materials for them to build nests and dens.
The zoo is proud of its large and natural enclosures, using moats and lush vegetations as a barrier between fingers and fur rather than fences and walls. Over 54 acres and more than 1000 animals means you’ll be kept busy during your time here. Plus you’re only an hour and a half away from bustling Kuala Lumpur for weekend trips. This trip is a great first step for anyone interested in veterinary care or simply for anyone with a love of animals and adventure.
2 weeks costs £1014, 4 weeks costs £1497
Gap years are fabulous for all the reasons you already know – memories, confidence, CV boosts and new friends. But they can also be a real hassle to fund. That’s where Patchwork can help. Show friends and family your plans so they can choose which part of your trip to treat you to – £100 from your mum towards your flights, £20 from aunt Sally for a night in a treehouse, £5 from your best mate to treat you to a local lunch.
Check out some of our readymade gap year Patchworks and get planning your trip.