Earth Day 2019: Here's how you can vacay and volunteer to conserve exotic species around the planet this summer
From cuddling a koala cub to feeding vitamins to a rescued elephant and tracking King Cobras, volunteering to help with wildlife conservation definitely promises some memorable moments and some great learning. On Earth Day (April 22), where the theme is Protect Our Species this year, we tell you how to make a difference and have a wild time while you are at it.
King Cobra, Karnataka
This programme needs more than just a do-gooder’s heart and casual interest in the creepy crawlies. Set in the forests of Agumbe, as a volunteer, you need to give at least a month of your time trudging in the 4.5-acre site adjacent to the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary. This station is about 1.5 km from Agumbe village, in the Shimoga District of Karnataka. The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) is a field station of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. ARRS was founded in 2005 by the renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker with the financial support of the late Doris Norden Chattopadhyaya and the Whitley Fund for Nature. The larger picture is to research and conserve the rainforest and the diversity it offers. The wildly exciting part is that — at ARRS, they have a record of 39 mammals, 57 reptiles, 31 amphibians, 212 birds, 22 fish, 130 butterflies and numerous plant species. And this is where you can help — ARRS is currently recruiting volunteers for the radio-telemetry aspect of the King Cobra Ecology and Conservation project (KCEC). This project consists of implanting the king cobras with transmitters and tracking them, using receivers, through their natural habitat to learn about the habitat, biology and conservation of these remarkable creatures. Food and accommodation will be provided with basic amenities. The volunteers will be living at their field station near the village of Agumbe, in the midst of the rainforests of southern India’s Western Ghats. Individuals are expected to be physically fit for field work (involves fieldwork from 7 am to 7 pm) — so be ready to work even during challenging weather conditions with a passion for conservation and willing to commit to a minimum of a month for this project.
Besides being the best pollinators of nature, honeybees have often been cited as the deciding species for the existence of most of ecology. While Hollywood star Morgan Freeman made news for converting his sprawling ranch in Mississippi into a haven for honeybees, you and I could do our bit by enrolling at the Honeybee Sanctuary where they promise you will get to experience the bees, the beautiful landscape and serenity in the Blue Ridge Mountains. While it is not a residential programme, you will still get to know the sanctuary and spend some hours working on the flowerbeds, in the plant nursery, on landscaping tasks, and other projects. Do check their calendar before planning a trip to that side of the globe — for the volunteer schedule (Fridays from 1 pm-5 pm, April 28 to November 3). You could also sign up for special projects, but for that keep an eye on their website and Facebook page through the season.
If you want to cuddle and get close to a Koala, it is not easy work. The Australia Zoo does have volunteering programmes that start from minimum five days to four weeks, and expects you to be involved in all aspects of zoo keeping like cleaning enclosures, feeding and maintenance. In course of those chores, yes you will encounter crocs and wallabies too, among others. It costs just AUD 50 for the volunteer T-shirt, however you need to find accommodation in the nearby area and also find your own mode of transportation. Meanwhile they also have another unique programme to save the largest primates in the world — the gorillas, by donating your old phones so they can be recycled. Apparently coltan — the mineral needed for making electronic devices like cell phones — happens to be mined at the same place as the habitats of the great apes in Central Africa.
We are rather chuffed about the Giraffe Conservation Foundation that works across 15 African countries and has an adoption option! You could gift a wild giraffe to a loved one or pick one for yourself for as little as $5 to $50 a year. In return you get a link to create your own personalised Adopt-a-Giraffe Certificate and a brief personality profile of your adopted giraffe. However since these beautiful creatures are traipsing across the wild (as they rightfully always should) updates will not include personal whereabouts and candid pictures of your ward! Meanwhile, did you know that there are four different species of giraffes? They are Masai, Northern Giraffe, Reticulated and Southern Giraffe.
The Elephant Refuge is located about 160 kilometres southwest of Bangkok and is a haven for rescued pachyderms. Volunteering here means you get a chance to understand the problems these gentle giants face and be part of the solution! Since the location is surrounded with natural forests these animals get to roam around in their natural habitat. Expect to see stretches of forest with trees and lakes, that measure up to seven hectares! Best part is that they do not chain the rescued elephants here. Accommodation for volunteers is a simple bungalow with a large common kitchen. This programme promises to teach you everything you need to know about the care of these magnificent animals. Hands-on experience with the elephants, washing them, feeding them, collecting food for them, and cleaning their enclosures will all be in a day’s work. While short and long-term volunteering stays are possible; however, a minimum commitment of one week is mandatory. Price from $375 onwards.
Orangutans originally roamed from India to South China and to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Now only a few places with wild orangutans remain and these are found only on these islands. This project by the NGO Frontier, was set up to research special behaviours and ecological conditions necessary to maintain health in wild orangutans. Frontier’s first projects started in Tanzania as a partnership with the WWF. As a volunteer at Indonesia Orangutan Conservation (Sumatra) project, you will be excitedly tracking and observing Orangutans in the wild. More importantly you will be directly involved in processing and entering data from the field researchers across Indonesia. Projects start on the first Monday of the month and go on for 13 days. Trekking in the Rainforest is for about five days, with the rest of your time being spent at the project base. They promise you will be camping out in the Orangutan's backyard as you work your way through the rainforest, washing your clothes in the fresh streams and rivers. The project base is nestled amongst rice paddy fields in a small village on the fringe of the Gunung Leuser National Park. Project fee (non-student) £799 plus registration fee £50 (includes food and accommodation, airport pick up drop). Nearest airport: Medan (MES).
The Olive Ridley Turtles, Chennai
Chennai Student’s Sea Turtle Conservation Network (CSSTN) runs a conservation programme for decades now that is centred around the sea turtle hatchery project. From the seven species of marine turtles, the Olive Ridley is the smallest of the sea turtles measuring about two and a half feet in length and breadth. The CSSTN conduct walks every night along the Neelankarai beach in Chennai Tamil Nadu. However, these patrolling endeavours are open to outside volunteers only on Friday and Saturday nights. The walk starts at around 11.30 pm at the Neelankarai beach and after a 7 km trek, ends at Besant Nagar Beach. Though this is the tail end of the season you might still find hatchlings that have emerged from wild nests and need help to reach the sea. Hatching normally starts around early March and goes on till end April/early May. Meanwhile if you want to catch the magic of baby turtles eagerly scrambling to the shoreline with a little help from you — head to the hatchery. Remember to contact CSSTN and coordinate before doing so. Usually the release is slated for 5.30 pm at the Besant Nagar hatchery, which is located on the beach next to the Adyar estuary. The releasing of the hatchlings takes about couple of hours. Meanwhile reports confirm that the number of eggs collected this year is double from last year — clearly the efforts have not gone unrewarded!
Whale Shark, Central America
These volunteering programmes not only enhance your diving skills but also you get to swim with a whale shark, experience the excitement of thwarting the invasive lionfish, and finally the satisfaction that you have helped in conserving marine environment — at least for that week! The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef in Belize claims to have the largest concentrations of whale sharks in the world. Whale shark season/migration in Belize is between March to June — yes, we are definitely sorted this summer! Did you know that the presence of the whale sharks is dependent on the health and population of the spawning fish? Enter Reef Conservation International that actively participates in working on the spawning fish in the area. Their mission is to protect oceans through science, action, and advocacy. Price, from $1330 onwards. ReefCI trips also offer opportunities to protect the reef ecosystem by directly participating in their ongoing marine conservation projects!
Rhino, South Africa
While you might want to help rescue, preserve, and rehabilitate wildlife across the world — remember it is a serious commitment even if it is for a short period of time. You might find yourself treating injured and/or abandoned wildlife to bottle-feeding orphaned rhino calves. Care for Wild Africa is running a fascinating volunteer programme that has been running for the past 18 years and has seen many volunteers becoming conservation ambassadors. Spending time up close with the amazing rhinos, you’ll also get a fantastic insight into their behaviour and personalities that promise to create unforgettable moments for you. Besides rhino, Care for Wild Africa looks after many other species, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the company of hippo, lions, meerkats, antelope and even birds of prey among others. Volunteers get the opportunity to learn first-hand how to care for abandoned and injured wild animals and the cost for volunteering is available on request only.
Russell's Viper, Karnataka
Another snake that needs our attention is the Russell's Viper. The Gerry Martin Project's on-going, long-term research venture is Russell’s viper telemetry project in Hunsur district of Karnataka, which is aimed at studying and gathering crucial ecological data on this species in a human-dominated landscape. Their work covers three broad categories - Snakebite mitigation, Human-snake conflict mitigation, and Rural school transformation through effective education. If you wish to volunteer for this project do note that you need to have at least a two-wheeler driver's license and minimum 15 days of commitment. Over the next three years, The Gerry Martin Project will be focusing on human-snake conflict mitigation and management in the Mysore District. Volunteers will be expected to do a combination of field research, door-to-door surveys, animal care and a host of other research and conservation-based activities. Their base is near the town of Hunsur. The cost of food and accommodation is Rs. 1,000/- per head per day plus GST.