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Animal Experience International

About

We are a B Corp that provides safe, ethical and authentic animal volunteering. Everything is curated by us: travel and animal experts.

Our commitment is to change the lives of AEI clients AND to change the lives of our placement partners. One of the goals of AEI is to encourage our clients to share their knowledge. Students, vet techs, accountants and chefs all have very different skill sets but each has the potential to make a difference in a very real way.

All of the AEI Experiences are built around what the placement needs. We refuse to take management roles at these centres as we are not local and can not understand the local cultural and social lenses that leads to the systemic conservation problems unique to each community. We work for the community with the community in the community.

For 5 years we have been honoured as The Best FOR the World, taking into account our social and environmental community benefit.

Headquarters

30 Owen Street
Barrie ON l4n7e9
Canada

10% off African Wildlife Fees

Want to journey to southern Africa and help wild animals? Want to see antelope up close as you help with their feeding? Want to make breakfast for owls and dinner for baboons? Want to help improve the quality of life for servals in sanctuary?
We want you to do that, too. Apply to volunteer with us in Malawi before April 30th and we will give you 10% off your fees. Go for two weeks, go for two months, 10% off applies to all Malawi programs.

Reviews

Default avatar
Justine
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The elephant sanctuary was a lovely experience and I am so glad I got the chance to work closely with elephants in a place where the elephants were happy, well cared for, and where their well being was the number one priority.

The daily routine involved hand feeding banana balls to the elephants, chopping up fruit, making enrichments for the elephants, and cleaning the enclosures. Depending on the elephants you were with for the day you would also sometimes shower and scrub them with a hose and brush and take them on short - long walks. You also had daily special projects that varied and were mostly designed to help with the upkeep of the facility.

The accommodations were decent. The rooms varied from old to new. Most rooms were shared by at least four people, however, the older rooms slept two. The bathrooms also varied from old to new - all bathrooms had a shower and toilet - some toilets were flush and others you had to pour water into to get them to flush. All showers were cold but they weren't freezing and most days it was refreshing because it had been very hot. There was no air conditioning but all rooms had fans.

Default avatar
Sean
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Mags and her team were such an amazing group to be working with. They were very informative and allowed us hands on tasks that we will never forget. I planted mangrove trees, cleaned up the ocean side, visited a locally Women ran recycling center and of course studied and observed the amazing Sea Turtle. I learned a lot of different aspects about Sea Turtle Conservation that I had not thought about prior. This program helped me feel that I am doing something to better our environment and there is also so much more to be done. I really appreciate everyone's time and efforts that went into this program. It was very beneficial for me!
I am now armed with fictional data and real life experience to explain to people why change is a must and it needs to happen immediately.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
While staying near the facility I went swimming one day after volunteering with some other members of the course. The view for me was breathtaking. One side of the gulf was raining and the other was sunny. A large rainbow appeared almost perfectly in the center of the two gorgeous scenes. A few meters out there were dolphins swimming together. Nearby sea turtles would pop the heads up for air within an arms length of me. At that very moment a scarlet macaw flew over us making its bird calls as only they can. I just took a moment slowly inhaled and realized I was in a literal paradise.
Default avatar
Jenna
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

What an incredible experience! Nora, from AEI, perfectly planned every detail of this trip. We were connected with an outstanding host in the local community and an inspiring organization (LAST). Nora was available before the trip to video call and answer all of our questions. She also communicated with our group throughout the entire trip to ensure we were having an amazing experience. I was also impressed with the organization of our transportation. Being in an unfamiliar location, it could have gotten quite overwhelming, but, with AEI's help, our transportation was always well organized. We worked with sea turtles, mangroves, and a local spay and neuter clinic. This trip was truly life-changing thanks to AEI, and I learned so much about conservation.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
To get the most out of your experience, entirely immerse yourself in the local community. Take time to explore the area and meet new people. After an amazing day working with the sea turtles, I would also recommend heading to the beach, which was just a short walk down the road. We saw beautiful sunsets, dolphins, and other marine life.
Default avatar
Morgan
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My trip to Costa Rica was unlike any other trip aboard I've experienced! Thanks to AEI, I had the best time and also gained so much valuable knowledge from this trip. I had assumed I would just being doing a lot of manual labor while in Costa Rica, but the education aspect of this program really helped me understand why the work was so important and needed to be done in the first place. LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) was the organization that I worked with and because of them I was able to learn so much about sea turtles, their habitats, the ecosystem in the Osa Peninsula, and about the importance of conservation. Without AEI I'm sure I would've never found LAST or been able to plan a trip like this on my own, so I am very grateful for everyone at AEI who handled the logistics because everything went smoothly and I felt very safe and comfortable at all times.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
In addition to working with turtles and planting mangroves for their habitats, my group also did a beach cleanup. It truly shocked me at how much trash we picked up within a 3 mile stretch, but it also really drove home the message about conservation and how people need to do better and work to create less waste for the betterment of our planet and wildlife who suffer the consequences of actions.
Default avatar
Amy
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

It would be so much work to try to put a trip together like this on your own, and going through AEI is an awesome option. They provide support leading up to the trip, and are also available for help during the trip, which is very comforting. Everything ran so smoothly for our trip there, thanks to their careful planning.
Working with LAST (Latin America Sea Turtles) was an amazing experience, and I was confident in them and their work because I know AEI had already done their research and worked with them before. If you want to work with animal organizations overseas but do not know which ones to trust or choose, working through AEI is a great option for you. They do research on organizations, and carefully plan trips that are environmentally friendly and do not cause harm to places, people, or animals. They are a great organization to work with.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Pack clothing/towels that can dry easily because it is humid at all times. We had some t-shirts and towels that never fully dried due to the humidity.

Programs

Displaying 1 - 9 of 13

Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Mera Sande

Mera has a particular fondness for dogs, horses, elephants, sea turtles, sea horses, starfish, wombats and butterflies, but really, she loves all animals. One of her favourite quotes is “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World” (Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)).

Why did you choose this program?

I really wanted to participate in a volunteer experience with animals, the environment and conservation, but I didn’t know where to start. There are so many programs advertised on the internet that it is overwhelming and there is no way of knowing which programs are legitimate. When I found Animal Experience International, something about it resonated with me.

My first email contact with Nora, the CEO, confirmed my intuition. She really took the time to talk to me about AEI and answer all of my questions concerning volunteer placement, without making me feel rushed to make a decision and choose a placement. AEI offers so many interesting programs that I just couldn’t make up my mind. When Nora announced that she was leading a group expedition to Guatemala, I made my decision to go right away.

Having Nora as a group leader was an added bonus as I had many reservations about volunteering in a strange country and concerns about safety.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

AEI offered a wealth of assistance. As soon as I signed up, I received a program manual, which covered everything from pre-trip health care to safety during the placement to packing lists. AEI also partners with a travel agency as an option for volunteers to book their flights. I used them and it really took away the stress of researching and booking flights.

Nora and her team were always there to provide information and answer questions: she even gave us a history lesson on the country. All I really had to do was pack my bag and go, knowing that AEI had also arranged for someone to pick us up at the airport. Even after the trip, I have kept in contact with Nora and AEI. She and the other volunteers on this program will always be my Guatemala crew!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don’t go with the expectation of what you will get out of the experience. Rather, go with the intent to work, to give to the world, to be a good citizen. Giving of oneself, one’s time and energy, is the most precious gift that we have to give. It is best given without intent of reward.

When you return home, to work, to school, to your everyday life, you will find that the experience has changed you. You may not be able to define that change, but you will stronger, more of yourself.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Each day followed a similar schedule.

  • Six-thirty AM: Prepare food and feed the animals and clean the cages.
  • Eight AM: Breakfast.
  • Nine Am: Volunteer meeting to discuss animal food intake, behavior and well-being. This meeting is very important as the information will be passed on to the veterinarians and used to determine the overall health of each animal. The caretakers of the animals at the Guatemala sanctuary constantly monitor their behavior for signs of illness or stress - such as a runny nose, missing feathers or fur, not eating and isolation (in the case of social animals) – or (happily) indications that they are ready to be moved to the next stage of rehabilitation. As a volunteer, the veterinarians and animal care technicians will rely on you to report these behaviors, no matter how small they may be. If in doubt, tell the vets or caretakers. What might seem insignificant to you could mean the world to a howler monkey or a macaw!
  • Ten AM: Special projects. for example, cleaning the turtle pond, raking leaves, building bird platforms.
  • Eleven AM: Prepare food and feed the animals.
  • Twelve Noon: Lunch and free time.
  • Two PM: Prepare food and feed the animals.
  • Three PM: free time. Some activities to engage in include swimming, hanging out in the hammocks, go into the nearest town, Flores.
  • Six PM: Dinner.

After an early morning start and a long day, it was usually lights out by nine pm.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

As an introvert and a very private person, I feared that I would be lost in a sea of extroverts. That was not the case at all. Everyone, the other volunteers and the program staff, were all very accepting of all individuals. What is important is one’s dedication to the cause and to the work at hand. This is how one’s personality is expressed and this is what unites people. I learned that there is room for everyone and everyone has a voice. For older people who fear that these programs are for the young only, we had volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 62.

Any last thoughts?

When working with wildlife, it is important to understand that the volunteer programs are about the animals primarily, and our personal experience as a distant second. We are there to help care for the animals, in the most unobtrusive way possible.

Reducing the amount of human/animal contact is extremely important at the sanctuary in Guatemala, as its goal is to release as many animals as possible back to the wild. This means no selfies with wildlife, no eye contact, hand feeding, touching or talking to the animals. The latter is especially important regarding birds such as parrots as their tendency to mimic the human voice can disrupt and even prevent their return to the wild. Added to these rules, is one of my own: no photos through wire cages.

l would like to share with you, World Animal Protection's list of 10 things to avoid when on vacation:

  • Elephant Rides.
  • Wildlife Selfies.
  • Swimming with Dolphins.
  • Wildlife Souvenirs.
  • Monkey Performances.
  • Marine Parks.
  • Crocodile Farms.
  • Tiger Tourism.
  • Holding sea turtles.
  • Bull Runs and Bull Fighting.

“If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue. Don’t go.” (Quoted from World Animal Protection)

More Interviews

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Nora Livingstone

Job Title
Founder and CEO
Nora is the CEO and co-founder of Animal Experience International. She has volunteered with animals in such places as Nepal, Greece, Sierra Leone and Costa Rica. Nora holds FEMA certifications for volunteering, leadership and deployment during natural disasters, which she has put to good use rescuing animals in places like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Having spent thousands of hours in planes, trains, tuk-tuks, buses, canoes and in her dirty ol' hiking boots Nora is really good at figuring out how to make any travel adventure a great one.

What position do you hold at AEI and why do you like working there?

I am the founder of AEI! I do social media, volunteer coordination and experience management (I get to travel to the placements first and volunteer!!) I love it because I get to hear about all the great experiences people have when they travel and volunteer with animals. I also get to talk with our placement partners ever day. That means we get to share in the successes that come with organizations that put conservation and community building first. Oh, did I mention I get to travel the world and volunteer with animals? It's really a dream!

Did you volunteer abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?

I have volunteered in lots of wonderful places. We go on all the experiences first so I have been to all the places AEI goes! Inspiration to start volunteering came from the selfish idea of wanting to try something new.

When I first went to Thailand I had never seen an elephant in person before but the organization needed people to work hands on with them! Off I went. In Kenya our organization needs people to help with scientific monitoring of endangered giraffes. I have a humanities degree but sure, I'll be a citizen scientist! The coolest part of volunteering is if you are willing to try, you can help in amazing ways you never thought possible.

What does the future hold for AEI - any exciting new programs to share?

We JUST opened up a new project in Sri Lanka. It is turtle conservation on probably the most beautiful beach I have ever been on with hands on work with some of the most endangered species in the world. You live in the community and are hands and feet to some amazing conservationists and community builders. And the coolest part? Afternoon tea with fresh bread every day!

How does your organization differ from other ones in the industry?

I am so proud to talk about being a Benefit Corporation. This means we have a third party certifying non profit that looks through all our impacts and makes sure they are good for the environment and the communities we work in.

It's no longer enough to just think the places we volunteer at are good for humanity and the environment. I love that volunteers don't have to take our word for it, they can check and make sure our programs are economically sustainable, conservation oriented and empowering to all stakeholders. Being a B Corp means people KNOW their impact will be a great one.

What is one thing you would tell any future volunteer?

You don't need any special skill, education or knowledge to make a difference. If you have passion, you have everything you need to change your world.

How do you think AEI will change over the next 10 years?

Really, I have no idea. Everything so far has been amazing and full of surprises. We listen to what people ask us for and we make it happen. Who knows what they will be asking for in the next 10 years!

In 2015 we are holding our first group expedition, I can't wait to hold more of them. We have 5 people heading to Greece to take part in Sea Turtle conservation, including me and my mum! Who knows what other crazy things will be happening in the future! It's going to be amazing to be part of it!