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How to Volunteer with Wildlife in Tanzania

Does your heart break more and more with every trip that you take to the zoo? Does your heart skip a beat when you think of seeing exotic creatures in their natural African habits? Does your heart flutter at the thought of helping these beautiful animals? Good news. Your heart is in the right place. (For what, you may wonder?) Why, for volunteering in Tanzania with wildlife!

Picture this: walking down dirt roads in the sunlight, being stopped by everyone along the way because they all want to talk to you. The warm, welcoming nature of the Tanzanian people is the icing on top of your bound-to-be-awesome-volunteer-adventure-cake. Volunteer projects in Tanzania tend to focus on preserving the bountiful wildlife this East African gem enjoys, such as giraffes, chimps, and sea turtles.

The need for wildlife conservation in Tanzania is at an unfortunate high; animals are in need of help, and that's where you come in. Ready to kickstart your volunteer trip? Here's everything you need to know!

Trip Preparation

Volunteering with wildlife in Tanzania takes some planning. In addition to the regular preparation you'll need for a trip to Africa, it's also important to think about specific things you can do to best prepare for your volunteer tasks and to meet the requirements set out by your volunteer program.

Health and Visa Requirements

Traveling to most African countries requires a great deal of preparation including the right vaccinations, and Tanzania is no exception. Requirements can change, so it’s best to go to a reputable source like the Center for Disease Control.

For up-to-date visa requirements, you should visit both the U.S. State Department and Tanzania Embassy websites. Visa requirements for volunteers are different than a typical tourist visa, so consult the websites and the organization with whom you will be traveling. They will be able to point you in the right direction and help you secure any additional permits required upon arrival.

Important Safety Tips

Travel insurance is often required for volunteers in Tanzania but not included in the program fees. However, there are many different options, so shop around. For more information about insurance for traveling in Tanzania, check out Travel Guard or World Nomads. Visit Insure My Trip to compare the travel insurance rates of multiple companies.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Avoid being out at night, and if you are, always go out with a group.
  • Trust your gut. When in doubt, ask your volunteer site coordinators.
  • Avoid raw and street food, and make sure everything is cooked thoroughly.
  • Use your bug spray! Malaria is very common in Tanzania.
  • Keep your shoes on. This will protect you from some nasty little parasites.
  • Avoid any fresh water source, including your tap, for drinking. Bottled water all the way.
  • Visit Cheetah Development for more Tanzania-specific safety tips.

Choosing the Right Volunteer Opportunity

A large number of both non-profit and for-profit companies organize volunteer projects in Tanzania for foreigners. Be picky when you are selecting who to volunteer abroad with. Some companies invest more energy into ensuring their projects are sustainable and actually creating good within the African communities. These are the types of organizations to seek out, as you do not want to be contributing to a dead-end project.

Volunteer abroad expert, Natalie Southwick, covers much of what you should look for in a volunteer program in her article on how to volunteer in Africa with animals.

Popular Types of Wildlife Volunteer Projects

Whether you volunteer for the greater good, to add experience to your resume, or just as a break from the daily grind, Tanzania has a lot to offer. While Tanzania is known more for community development and teaching volunteer work, there are many unique wildlife and conservation-focused opportunities to sink your teeth into.

Volunteering with Marine Wildlife

The beaches of Tanzania and nearby islands of Zanzibar are some of the best in the world. Crystal blue water invites the interested volunteer to plunge into the depths and assist in the conservation of all that lives there. Mafia Island provides an off the beaten path location for a volunteer to advance in diving certifications and help scientists maintain the health of the reefs. Some of the activities may include recording data about animal populations, studying the effects of global warming, or assessing underwater damage to coral. Discover the beauty that lies beneath!

Volunteering with Wildlife on Land

Land wildlife projects in Tanzania take a different approach to working with animals and volunteering. Many wildlife projects involve helping scientists study and research the local animals. You may also be involved in leading excursions and teaching people about conservation and the diversity of the surrounding wildlife. You will be able to work alongside experts, so if you have a background in animal science or have an interest in learning all about it, then this is for you. Being out in the wilderness is also a fantastic opportunity to take in the spectacular Tanzanian landscapes.

Consider Short-Term Projects

If you only have a short time period to volunteer, then maybe a hands on holiday is for you. You'll be able to take in the incredible sights of Tanzania, work directly with the animals, and contribute to the conservation mission. You may even be able to find opportunities to work with animals as a part of a safari (you'll get closer than any tourist!). Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of your short-term volunteer trip before taking the plunge. Including a few-week-long volunteer stint in Tanzania is a breeze to fit into your gap year or vacation in Africa.

Leave Your Heart in Tanzania

When volunteering with wildlife in Tanzania, you'll be on the front lines of conservation. Explore a stunningly beautiful country and meet one of the most caring communities of people in the world when you choose one of the wildlife volunteer options available. Life in Africa is sure not to disappoint -- don't be alarmed when you see people walking down the streets with an assortment of items balanced on their heads (like a fish tank!) or a dala dala (Tanzanian minibus) bursting at the seams (not only with people but chickens!). It’s just another day in the life of a volunteer, in a land you are investing your time, skills, and energy into.

Where else can you be completely out of your comfort zone but right at home at the same time? In the words of a fellow volunteer, "Tanzania requires a piece of your heart as the price of admission and gives a piece of itself to carry in your heart forever after."

Disclaimer: We have paid relationships with some of the companies linked to within this article.
Erin Dowd

Erin is a New Jersey native who has spent time on 6 of 7 of the world's continents, some of which as a volunteer in both Tanzania and Honduras. Learn more about her travel adventures at Dowd Travels, Amster Dowd, or on Twitter @eedowd27 and Google+.