Volunteering with humans is so antiquated. A wheelbarrow full of chimps? Orangutans in diapers? If you're a lover of all things prosimian and yearning for a hands-on adventure abroad, then welcome home: you've found your niche.
Instagram-ability aside, volunteering with primates is a unique and important opportunity: about one third of the world’s primates are critically endangered or vulnerable. You now have the chance to be a part of the global effort to save the monkeys and great apes who are facing the threats of deforestation, poaching, and fragmentation.
Whether you’re catching the next flight to Brazil to assist in the Kaapori capuchin rescue center or trekking to Ghana to restore the habitat of the Roloway monkey, you know your commitment will be fulfilling and impact-driven.
Practice your macaque call and pack your bananas -- you're going to volunteer abroad with primates!
Where to Go
Lucky for you, the primates are plentiful! From Latin America to Asia to Africa, your options definitely aren’t numbered.
Looking for a tropical paradise? Costa Rica is calling your name. Want to contribute to one of the largest primate rehabilitation centers in the world? Then you’re heading to South Africa. Craving a structured program with built-in learning opportunities? Then consider a 4-week stint with the orangutans in Borneo. Whichever program you choose, you’ll know that you'll be making a positive difference.
Home to the endangered Capuchin, the Rio Mayo Titi Monkey, and the Brown Spider Monkey, this region has plenty of need and lots of opportunity! Most of these incredibly lovable and clever primates are subjected to destructive deforestation, disease, and live capture, leaving them vulnerable and their numbers diminishing.
If your Spanish is muy bueno and your heart craves the tropics, then salsa on over to Bolivia, Argentina, Costa Rica, or one of the other countries in need of your support.
Fancy yourself the old world monkeys native to the motherland? South Africa houses one of the largest primate rehabilitations centers in the world, while Madagascar will have you saying, “look at all the lemurs!” Or instead, trek into Central or Eastern Africa to work with the majestic mountain gorillas.
The world's second-largest continent has lifetimes of experiences, boundless diversity, and incredible opportunities for you to support their primate wildlife. Reverse the destructive acts that have been detrimental to the community, such as hunting and fragmentation, while immersing yourself in culture, language, and purpose.
Skip over to Borneo, the largest island in Asia and the home of the Bornean Orangutans, or bound to Thailand’s western province where you can work in Gibbon Primate Sanctuary. Alternatively, travel to Vietnam, and help rescue and return endangered primates into the wild.
Volunteer opportunities are year-round, but some programs require an application -- so if you plan to travel during peak seasons (like the summer) or are making a last minute escape, be sure to book as soon as possible!
Although each program provides unique opportunities, focuses, and objectives for their volunteers, there are four common categories that your work will fall under while you volunteer abroad with primates:
Research and Monitoring
For the avid data collector, seize the chance to observe patterns or conduct research with a team of experts in the field. For the vast pool of volunteer abroad programs with a research component, you will be able to contribute to the scientific community with your trip overseas with primates! Discover your potential through the research programs based in Malawi, Madagascar, and Malaysia, among others.
Surrogate Parenthood – Primate Care
Oh the joys and pains of parenthood! Temporarily adopt a population of primates while learning how to help them thrive in their rehab center alongside key staff who are saving the population.
Responsibilities include feeding and grooming the primates, cleaning and maintaining their living space, and, of course, supervising playtime.
This is where the impact happens: get ready to roll up your sleeves and create a home for the primates. Tree planting and environment restoration to increase primate population will promote their survival for future generations.
Find your inner activist and help spread the word about primate conservation. You’ll get to interact directly with the community you’re working within by raising awareness and sharing knowledge all while catalyzing a lasting change in behavior.
Planning Your Trip
One of the best aspects of volunteering abroad with primates is that your housing options are as diverse as your locations. Often, your accommodations will be in close proximity to your place of work or directly in the primate sanctuary itself! On the rare occasion, you may be placed in a nearby town.
Guest houses are the most common form of accommodation. You will share a living space with fellow volunteers from all over the world. Sometimes these dormitories are single-gender, and other times they are co-ed. In locations where mosquito nets are needed, programs will most likely provide them, but it’s always smart to double check!
You can expect a place to shower, a place to cook or purchase local food, and a main contact to help you get oriented, find the best local spots, and settle into your new home for the next few months. Take advantage of your close quarters and bond with international volunteers with similar passions and goals while you're there.
Common Program Requirements
Made your list and checked it twice? Packing can feel like an overwhelming task, especially when you're traveling abroad. There are a few key to-do's to cross off your list before you bound away to the land of the primates.
We’ve compiled a list of the most common requirements for working with the primates so that you don’t have to! Common must-haves include (but are not limited to):
- A passport (make sure to check the expiry date!)
- Proof of Medical and Travel insurance
- Proof of vaccinations of: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and tetanus
- Negative test results for Tuberculosis and HIV (which could be transferred to primates)
Still don’t feel so ready? That’s OK! Most programs offer an informative phone call with key staff members to help you prepare for your trip so you can ask all your questions and hear about your placement from an expert
Be sure to bring funds for independent travel! We know that you’ll love your quality time with bushbabies, capuchins, and chimps, but don’t forget that you have an opportunity to explore a whole new region! You won’t regret bringing a little extra spending money for tours, SAFARIs, or souvenir shopping.
Contributed by Helen Seely
Primate Volunteer Programs
Operation Groundswell Financial Needs Grant
For those interested in an Operation Groundswell program, consider applying for financial assistance through the Operation Groundswell Financial Needs...
Rustic Pathways Scholarships
Every year, travel company Rustic Pathways give away $250,000 to students from across the world. Scholarships are varied and it's worth checking back...
United Planet Service Scholarships
Several scholarships are available for those looking to volunteer for a short or long-term period abroad with the non-profit organization United...