Volunteering in a Megadiverse spot

Hi everyone,

I posted this question as a response to another thread, but I figured I’d get more visibility if I posted this as a thread of its own:

Does anyone know of any place with mega-high biodiversity (like Damun Valley, Napo Wildlife Center, somewhere in India or the Central African Republic) where I can volunteer for a few weeks during the summer?

I’ve contacted clouded leopard researchers back in the “dizzay” (around 2-3 years ago) explaining to them my passion for deepening our understanding of the behavioral patterns of some of the world’s most elusive mammals, and bringing them into light thereby increasing the awareness and conservation efforts blah blah blah.. But nobody had anything available in the field.

I want to volunteer in the field, obviously, not in an office somewhere in the USA.. Somewhere where I can help teach English/set up camera traps/ collect data/ enter data (data entry)/ even lead guided night tours or anything that doesn’t require hard physical labor. I’ve contacted Napo Wildlife Center and they haven’t replied. Really, I just want to spend some weeks during the summer, in a place where I can contribute during the day like 5-6 days a week, have basic living conditions (food, beds, showers) without having to pay for it (or pay very little), and explore the area on my free time in search of awesome infrequently-seen animals.

places of interest would be any biodiversity hotspot in Southern or South-Eastern Asia, anywhere relatively safe in Central Africa, if there are any good places in Sichuan or places in the Amazon that have a high concentration of species I haven’t seen (especially short-eared and bush dogs, margays, jaguarundis, oncilla, grisons, giant armadillos, sakis, bearded sakis and uakaris, and tayra is pretty much everywhere, though I still haven’t seen one)

Does anyone know of anything?
PS – some background: Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, currently studying for Master’s in Mechanical Engineering; Speaks English & Hebrew fluently, 3 years of French; Obviously good with computers / Microsoft Office programs; have conducted systematic studies on Geoldi’s Marmosets as part of an undergraduate symposium in collaboration with the St. Louis Zoo…
Obvious passion for nature and conservation.

Thanks in advance!



  • Arjan Dwarshuis


    this would be my first choice… especially if you’re planning on camera-trapping (golden cat, pangolins etc.).
    given the fact that you speak english and french, do camera-trapping and engineering (Are they working on a canopy-tower?) this would be the place for you!

    Cheers and good luck!

    Arjan Dwarshuis

  • Vladimir Dinets

    It’s strange NWC didn’t reply. They were desperate for volunteer English teachers just three years ago.
    Have you checked Birdjobs? http://birding.aba.org/maillist/BJ

  • mattinidaho

    As someone who works for a conservation organization, I can say there is fairly high demand for the more interesting wildlife research positions, and even volunteers. There are a lot of people who want to volunteer, but only want to do the really cool stuff. Not saying that’s you, but I do think you need to be flexible.

    The reality is that a lot of field work is grunt work, hard and/or tedious labor and not terribly exciting. Most researchers will want someone who understands this and is ready to pitch in and help.

    I know far too many instances when volunteers end up taking more time to manage. In even the best of circumstances, it takes time to manage volunteers. Therefore, a volunteer really needs to be ready to work hard and benefit the project. That will likely mean all sorts of tasks beyond the more exciting wildlife work.

    I would strongly suggest reading as many books and articles by field biologists as you can–it will give you a sense of the lifestyle and reality of the work. There is a lot of tedium and unexciting hard work, even for acclaimed field biologists. Vladimir’s book that I recommended yesterday would give you an idea of what you can accomplish with a very small budget, but also the hardships that entails.

    I’m not trying to be discouraging. I also know the reality of conservation volunteers. There are many, many fantastic ones. There are also some that have unrealistic expectations. Be clear on what you want but also be ready to contribute. My two cents.

  • tomeslice

    Arjan, that looks like an amazing place! I sent them an email and hopefully they will respond. I don’t “do” camera trapping, but I CAN DO camera trapping if they ask me to. Also my French needs much improvement, but I’m pretty damn good for someone who only took it for 3 years, 12 years ago in high school. Have you ever been there before? Did you volunteer there by any chance? Also, I’m a mechanical engineer, not a structural engineer, but if they needed someone to calculate the force-load distribution and investigate the modes of failure, I could probably help them with that!

    Vladimir, maybe it was because I emailed their reservation email..? I later found another email address “projects@Napowildlifecenter.com” or something like that, but I received an immediate, automated failure-to-send response. I’m wondering if I should just call them and see if they have anything available. All the bird jobs are in the USA and Canada, from what I saw, which is less preferable. In fact, if I don’t find anything in a cool rain-forest location I will just pay the $25/day to stay about a month at Cocha Cashu biological station in Manu and roam around all day…

    Matt, I completely understand your point. But as I mentioned, I don’t mind teaching, working in data-entry, data analysis, or any boring job as long as the office/research station is at the place of interest (in the rain forest) and not in a city somewhere, where I can’t just get up after work and roam the trails in search of animals. The only reason I specified no hard, physical labor is because I have a terrible back and every single day I need to do painful stretches to keep my bad scoliosis from worsening. I know it doesn’t look like it from my studly Facebook pictures, but I’m not fit for hard labor 😉 But just so we’re on the same page here – my career is in Engineering, not in nature conservation; this is purely for fun. Don’t get me wrong, in Engineering I started from the bottom, had an underpaid internship while I was in college, then a beginner’s hourly/contract position with no benefits, and worked my way up from there. After a few years of experience and a good job I just took a break, moved to another country and now I’m working on my Master’s which means I have 2 months during the summer to do whatever the f*** I want, and since I currently don’t have a job or family obligations (yet) I would like to spend about half of that time in a place with super high biodiversity where I have the chance, every single day, during the hours when I’m not working, to just get up and walk through trails that penetrate the habitat of extremely cool and unusual animals like pangolins, bush dogs, clouded leopards, gorillas, golden cats, binturongs, margays, red pandas, or whatever, depending on the location. So the objective here is to spend a long time in a cool place without paying, or paying little money, and donate my skills and services several hours a day to the operation. Like I said, while obviously I would prefer an interesting and cool job where I can also encounter amazing creatures during the work hours, I’m completely fine with boring jobs.

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Right now is the hiring time for the next field season in North America, but if you watch Birdjobs regularly, sometimes there are calls for volunteers in other places, mostly in Latin America.
      I could easily get you volunteer job in Russian Far East, but that would be a bit tough and wildlife sightings are not that certain.
      Can you really stay at Cocha Cashu for $25 a day nowadays? Do they provide transportation?
      Sure, you can call NWC on Skype, wouldn’t hurt. You might also try looking them up on Facebook.

  • tomeslice

    I don’t have skype, but I will call them and look them up on Facebook.
    The Cocha Cashu website says that if you stay longer than 25 days it’s $25 a day… But you know their amenities are very basic. So that makes sense. But maybe it’s only for researchers, I have to get in touch with them and see if I’m even allowed to stay there for that long..

  • Alan

    Hi Tomes. Here is some contact info for a guide who works at NWC. His name is Delfin Gualinga. He was an outstanding guide for us last year at NWC. I think he might still freelance at other lodges in the area. So, he might know about any opportunities or be able to put in in touch with someone who does at NWC. Good luck in your search!


  • sjefo

    Hi Tomes,

    I agree with Arjan that Sangha Lodge is an amazing place (I have been there), but you probably have heard that the country is on the verge of a civil war. The situation in the country has been very volatile and dangerous in many places (including the capital city) since the Seleka rebels took the country over about 10 months ago. The Sangha area seems one of the less affected areas (in terms of mass killings) and I am sure Rod will inform you what to do, but I would keep a close eye on the situation in the C.A.R. because anything could happen in the next months. If you really want to explore this area, maybe check whether Nouabale-Ndoki NP in Congo-Brazzaville or Lobeke NP in Cameroon have volunteer options (Sangha and these two parks are all an (expensive) one-day boat ride away from each other). WCS run projects in Nouabale-Ndoki, not sure about Lobeke. For all these places consider that getting there might be very expensive unless you can hitch a ride with one of the conservation organizations.

    Other options to consider:

    Paraguay is underexplored, so exciting discoveries are possible (it has several of the mammals that you mentioned in your mail, jaguarundi should be doable and puma is almost guaranteed in the Chaco if you stay several weeks, the Chaco is good for cats in general (Geoffrey’s cat and jaguar are other options), giant armadillo is difficult, but you will definitely see several armadillo species, oncilla and margay are possible but not easy in San Rafael)


    Bolivia might be a very interesting country as well, but not sure what you can do there.

    Malaysia – Earth Lodge
    Not sure if they offer volunteer jobs but it is worth asking. It is quite remote and the area is under-researched.



  • tomeslice

    Alan, Thank you very much for this information! I will wait about 2 weeks and if the NWC doesn’t reply to either my Facebook message or my email I will go ahead and contact your guide!

    Sjef, that’s some Excellent information! Thank you. I’m aware of the situation in the CAR, and it’s been emphasized to me recently that I should worry about that.. So we’ll see if Rod writes me back and what he says. Or in second thought, maybe I will just skip going to the CAR for the time being. Unless things change dramatically over there. As for Nouabale-Ndoki, I actually sent a message to Mbeli Camp to see if they had anything, but I will also follow your advice and try to contact the WCS and explain my interest to them.

    Paraguay is also quite dangerous, isn’t it? I actually almost took a Chaco mammal-watching tour last year but the timing didn’t work out. The thing is that exploring this area requires driving and not necessarily walking distances, I think. (right?) so I don’t know how much I would see on my time off, but I’ll still send them an email. I’m pretty much shooting in all directions, and in the best case scenario I get a ton of responses and get to choose where to go.. The worst case scenario is I get zero responses and stay at home 🙁 (just kidding, I will still go somewhere, just for a much shorter period of time)
    The most likely case is that if I contact 20 places, one or two of them will have something for me. And that’s where I’ll go. Expensive transportation there and back is fine, it’s just that Lodge prices for the duration of time I want to visit (4-5 weeks) with food and beds would be freaking ridiculous. A good example of that is Fauna Paraguay – 800usd/day for a trip to the Chaco…

    I will also check out the Malaysia Earth Lodge and see if it’s a place of interest, and if they have something.

    Altogether, this is exactly the kind of information I was hoping to get, so thanks so much and keep the ideas coming. If anyone has any contacts at Nouabale-Ndoki or the Danum Valley, these would probably be the highest on my wish list. Well, those or similar places like Kibale/Bwindi/Mahale (TZ), and other places on borneo or maybe even Sumatra.

    • vdinets

      I’ve only been in Paraguay very briefly, but it never seemed to me to be a particularly unsafe country. I’m actually considering simply going to some remote Chaco village and renting a room for a couple weeks if I end up going to S Am next summer. Probably wouldn’t be that different from a national park.

  • tomeslice

    Jason, now I have..
    And I contacted them and already got a positive response about a project in Peru. I might end up doing that, but it’s a bit expensive and it’s in the Manu Biosphere, off the Madre de Dios river, around 500m elevation. The Goeldi’s marmosets, Monk Sakis and pygmys aren’t there either, but supposedly the dogs are, and all the wild cats.

    The Cocha Cashu is cheaper, $25 a day, and they contacted me too, I think I kind of hinted (based on previous facebook conversations I had with them) that I want to join or perform a research on one of the aforementioned species… so hopefully that’s not one of the stipulations for being able to stay there for that price. I guess I will find out soon because I will be contacted by their scientific director

  • Chris Kirkby

    Dear Tomes,


    I lead a number of long-term wildlife research and monitoring programs in the Amazon rainforests of southeastern Peru, in the Tambopata Province of the Madre de Dios region to be precise. I’d like to bring to readers’ attention that Fauna Forever, the small Peruvian non-profit organization that I direct, is currently recruiting student and recent graduate interns to help with these wildlife programs over the summer period (June to September), particularly those interested in gaining valuable field work experience in tropical rainforests on numerous taxa, including mammals (primates, cats, peccaries, deer, tapir, large rodents), birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and trees. The types of sampling methods we employ include camera traps, unbounded line transects, pitfall traps, acoustic counts, scat/sign counts, mist-netting and banding, and following focal animals or family groups in the case of primates. We are also very keen for people of all ages and experience to assist us with managing the non-profit, from logistics and photography to data analysis and planning. We are a small team of Peruvian and international conservationists, so external assistance is always appreciated.

    The crux, however, is that we don’t have much central funding for this program at present, so we ask interns to cover all their in-country expenses. These we’ve packaged up into a simple fee structure of minimum US$50 per day, that covers all conceivable expenses, including accommodation, food, and field training from our staff, from the moment of arrival at our base in the city of Puerto Maldonado. On top of this, successful applicants will need to cover flights and travel insurance too. The minimum intern period is 30 days, and some people in the past have stayed as long as 9 months. Knowing Spanish, though an asset, is not a prerequisite for acceptance. Passion for nature, a willingness to work in a team, and getting very dirty occasionally, are a must.

    All the best,

    Dr. Chris Kirkby
    Research and Conservation Program Director | Managing Director
    ARCAmazon | Fauna Forever
    Carretera Tambopata Km 1.5, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
    E-mails: chris@faunaforever.org, chris_kirkby@yahoo.com
    Facebook: http://facebook.com/faunaforever
    Web: http://faunaforever.org

    • tomeslice

      Hi Chris, and thank you for bring this opportunity up to my attention!

      Sorry, I was in China, so I got the notification via email, and could not log onto the Mammal watching blog to respond… Anyway, this is awesome, but there are two things which will most likely prevent me from being able to participate in this program:

      1. As a grad student, $50 per day is currently more than I had been hoping to spend for a volunteering program over the summer. (I know it’s actually a good deal, but it’s still a bit high for me right now)

      2. According to the expectations from my Thesis professor, I may not be able to go for a whole month during the summer after all…So this whole idea may have to wait until next summer when I graduate.

      Thanks again and I will keep you updated if anything changes!! 🙂

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