What could possibly be more rewarding and meaningful than an internship abroad caring for injured kangaroos in an Australian nature conservancy? Or helping conduct research on great white sharks in the chilly coastal waters off of Cape Town, South Africa? Maybe you’d rather help protect the habitat of the thousands of species dwelling in the rainforests of the Amazon.
The reality is that the options for interning in wildlife conservation are endless, and taking an internship in this field is a wonderful opportunity to spend time abroad, furthering your own education while taking an active hand in the well-being of our planet.
But where can you find an internship with wildlife abroad? What do you need to know to get started? What opportunities are out there? Explore our guide and the programs below to get started.
Planning Your Trip
There are a ton of options for internships with wildlife (many of which are listed right here), but try not to get overwhelmed. Set a focus or goal for your internship and let it drive your search. Are you more interested in marine biology? Primates? Insects? Learning how to conduct scientific research? To start, think about the type of wildlife you want to work with, and in what capacity.
Secondly, think about location. In the zoology and wildlife field, you can literally go anywhere in the world. However, some spots are better than others -- especially after you've decided you'd rather work with large mammals or reptiles, or what-have-you.
Often, if you have an interest in a specific animal, that will determine where you end up going. For example, if you want to work with lemurs, your only option is Madagascar. However, if its rehabilitation of elephants you’re into, then you could choose between internships in South Africa, Kenya, Thailand, or Tanzania.
Keep in mind any particular places you’ve been wanting to visit, or any animal you feel a particular affinity towards, when making up your mind where to apply. Start your search by figuring out what you are interested in and where youwant to go.
Where to Look
Though you could stumble on some great opportunities online, talking to your international studies departments, academic advisor, or any other connections, you may also have some luck looking at specific websites *cough cough* like this one *cough cough*
Also, don’t discount the opportunities you may find by talking with volunteer providers, NGOs, and conservation organizations. Sometimes, organizations won't take on volunteers who can't commit for at least a month -- it's not worth training an individual if they're not going to stay long enough to make an impact -- but they'll be happy to take on an intern with the understanding that this is a learning opportunity.
The point here is, if you find a volunteer position that works with wildlife in exactly the capacity that you're looking to learn more about, yet they don't have an internship posted, just ask.
When to Look
Timing largely depends on if you’re looking to intern abroad for a summer or semester. Generally, you should start looking 2-3 months out. International internships have more paperwork than a traditional internship, and you’ll want to make sure you can get those in on time.
Also take into consideration any seasonal issues with the wildlife population you’re working with. For example, you may only be able to work with certain wildlife populations during certain parts of the year -- which is especially important if hands on experience is a goal of yours.
However, if you’re more interested in conservation in general or the administrative/business side of working with wildlife, you should be able to find opportunities year-round.
Since you’re most likely going to be interacting with fellow employees and volunteers on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to consider what sort of work culture your internship will offer. The easiest way to figure this out is to ask, ask, ask questions of your internship provider and, if available, read reviews of the program online.
You’ll most likely be surrounded by like-minded people who love animals and working in conservation, however, so you’re bound to make friends or at least contacts in the field you’re interested in. This type of work will allow you to spend plenty of time outside (be it in the ocean, the rainforest, the tundra….the list goes on!), so consider the amount of physical labor required and the weather of the location you’re hoping to go to before diving in headfirst.
Work and Labor Laws
Yes, everyone’s favorite topic -- work and labor laws. What type of visa will you need? What type of work constraints and limitations do you need to consider when applying for a visa? How much will it cost?
The questions in this category are pretty much endless, but luckily the U.S. government offers an incredible resource for Americans considering living and working abroad.
Take care to search for any rules and regulations that a particular country might have about working with their wildlife populations - you never know what sort of laws you’ll encounter when you travel, so keep that in mind! It’s always best to be prepared.
Since you can find an internship in wildlife in just about any country worldwide, we’ll stray away from giving you exact numbers. Instead, to get a general idea of how much it might cost to live in a particular country, look up data on Numbeo or Expatisan. Lonely Planet guides also have rough estimates of common expenses to help you out.
However, interning with wildlife will often bring you to more rural and remote areas (re: cheaper areas). Your expenses will generally be lower than, say, a business internship in London.
On the other hand, you will be looking at higher airfare to get to a national park in super remote places like Madagascar or Nepal, whereas closer to home destinations like Belize have lower airfare. Make sure you budget this into your overall expenses.
Lastly, you may or may not get a stipend or pay. Be sure to ask about this in advance, and even if you don’t get a stipend, you may want to also ask about housing or food that may be provided with your internship. Again, in rural areas abroad, it’s much more common for them to provide housing and food than it is in urban centers.
Where to Go
As mentioned before, the destinations are endless for wildlife internships abroad. However, below are a few more popular destinations to give you some ideas on where to go:
Australia has such a vibrant culture and laid-back lifestyle, not to mention a vast array of ecosystems -- whether you want to work in a rainforest or deep in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, there’s something here for you. The wildlife of Australia is incredibly diverse as well, from cuddly Koalas to reef sharks. You can definitely get a great exposure to a wide variety of animals!
South Africa is absolutely beautiful, and an excellent choice if you’re hoping to work with great white sharks or big game animals, like rehabilitation of lions or cheetahs. As long as you use common sense, it’s generally a safe place to travel, people speak English, and you’ll find the culture incredibly warm and inviting.
With the ease of accessibility and yet the draw of being a beautiful land of rain forests, Costa Rica is a great choice for someone wishing to work with wildlife. Due to its geographical location between North and South America, its neotropical climate, and its wide variety of habitats, it supports an enormous variety of wildlife. You can work with sea turtles or aid in rainforest conservation -- there’s something for everyone here.
Nearby Belize is another good (English speaking) alternative in Central America
Alaska -- so far, and yet, still a part of the United States! Alaska is a great place to explore and offers a plethora of options when it comes to working with wildlife. Maybe you’d like to work with salmon, grizzly bears, wolves...keep your mind open and the options are endless. Alaska has over 430 species of birds and the largest population of bald eagles in the nation, so if birds are your thing, consider heading here!
Contributed by Lauren Fritz
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