15 trips for animal lovers

15 trips for animal lovers

Wash elephants or rehabilitate lions. Vacations don't need to be all about the suntan

Riding on elephants is cool, but helping them live well is cooler. That's the thought behind the rise of what's known as voluntourism.

Here are 15 ways animal lovers can contribute to the welfare of their furry, feathered and finned friends all over the world. 

1. Wash elephants in Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai province of Northern Thailand was established in the 1990s to provide a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants. You can make a difference to the lives of these basts by becoming an Elephant Nature Park volunteer. 

There is a variety of programs to choose from, with the most popular running for between seven and 28 days, allowing participants to get involved in the day-to-day life of the park: feeding and bathing the animals, learning about elephant communication and family groups and experiencing the secret life of the pachyderms in their natural environment.

Price: US$400 per week (including on-site accommodation and meals).

Elephant Nature Park; +66(0) 53 818754; www.elephantnaturepark.org

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2. Research koalas in Australia

Conserving Koala Country
In Victoria's Great Otway National Park you can conduct valuable research on koala habitats to understand the impact of climate change on their population and behavior.

The 10-day expedition, which departs from the town of Apollo Bay, allows volunteers to work closely with koalas and be involved in all aspects of the research, including: capturing and handling koalas under close supervision of an experienced handler, radio tracking koala observations, tree measurements, habitat assessments and nighttime spotlighting for animals.

Price: US$3,115 (including on-site accommodation and meals).

Earthwatch Institute; +61 (0)3 9682 6828; www.earthwatch.org

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3. Fund-raising horse treks in Turkey

Fund-raising Horse Treks

Relief Riders International is an award-winning adventure travel organization that combines tourism with humanitarian projects.

They host 14-day horse treks through the stunning scenery of Turkey's Cappadocia region, with riders in the saddle for up to six hours per day.

Participants (the trip caters for a minimum of six and maximum of 12 riders) will not only experience Cappadocia's ancient villages, handicrafts and culture, but will also help set-up and run dental camps and distribute free educational materials.

Villagers in rural Cappadocia have access to basic health care, but accessible and free dental care is vital. Riders of all abilities are welcome.

Price: US$5,800 (including equestrian costs, most meals, accommodation and some transfers).

Relief Riders International; info@reliefridersinternational.com; www.reliefridersinternational.com

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4. Release Przewalski horses in Mongolia

Volunteer with Przewalski Horses
The Przewalski horse, or takhi in Mongolian, is a small, sturdy animal that was almost hunted to extinction by Kazakh tribes.

This volunteer program accepts participants for a minimum stay of 10 days, between March and November, in the Hustai National Park, west of the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, where a sanctuary prepares Takhi for release back into their natural environment.

Volunteers live in shared Mongolian gers and participate in the research of released takhi: observing newborn foals, the behavior of horses and their locations, as well as wildlife and vegetation in the region.

Price: US$85 per day (for stays between 10 and 21 days, including accommodation, transfers to and from Ulaanbaatar and meals).

Samar Magic Tour; +976 11 311051; www.ecovolunteer.org

5. Spread turtle awareness in Malaysia

Turtle Project

Help Our Penyu promotes turtle conservation and marine awareness volunteering opportunities on one of the most beautiful island chains in Malaysia -- the Perhentian Islands.

Green turtles are in dire need of help in Terengganu, where multiple breeds of marine turtles traditionally nest, but populations have decreased by 80 percent in the last 50 years. Volunteers collect vital sea turtle nesting data and help provide marine conservation awareness to tourists and school children.

The program runs between March and October and volunteers commonly stay between seven and 28 days, departing for the islands on Mondays from Kuala Besut.

Price: US$250 per week (includes return boat transfer to Perhentian Islands, marine park entrance fee, accommodation, meals and a snorkel tour).

Help Our Penyu; +60 12 605 3449; www.helpourpenyu.com

6. Live with orangutans in Indonesian Borneo

Indonesian Borneo

Steppes Discovery, in co-operation with the Orangutan Foundation, are offering voluntourists the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes of orangutan conservation in the lush rainforests of Indonesian Borneo.

Based in an eco-lodge, overlooking the Sekonyer river, this adventure grants up to 10 participants per tour unique access to orangutans in their fragile natural environment.

Gain a deeper understanding of the role the forest plays in securing the animals' future and meet the communities who live in the region. These nine to 12-day tours are available on several dates until September, 2011.

Price: US$3,756 - 4,900 (including accommodation, meals and domestic flights).

Steppes Discovery; +44 (0)1285 643 333; www.steppesdiscovery.co.uk

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7. Play with pandas in China

Volunteer with Pandas

The China-based Panda Tour company runs a variety of tours for panda fans who want to volunteer with the country's most recognisable creature at the Bifengxia Panda Base, 150 kilometers from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.

Volunteers will be put to work assisting the park's keepers, cleaning the panda's living areas, preparing food for the animals and collecting behavioral data. These tours are highly customizable, depending on the length of stay and areas of volunteer interest.

Price: US$460 for a seven-day tour (including hostel accommodation with bathroom, meals and transportation to and from Chengdu).

Panda Tour; +86 28 8889 8804; www.pandatour.com.cn

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8. Study tigers in India

India Tiger

This 12-day tour starts in November, 2011, and is organized in support of Global Tiger Patrol and Travel Operators For Tigers. Led by India's most experienced tiger researchers, it is designed to offer participants an insight into tiger behavior and research, which the cost of this tour helps support.

Whilst the focus is very much on tigers, there will also be opportunities to search for a whole range of animals -- including leopards, sloth bears and wolves -- who call Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve home.

Activities include guided walks with park rangers, animal census, night safaris, traditional game drives and elephant-back safaris.

Price: US$4,250 (including accommodation, meals, domestic flights and transportation, based on twin share and minimum group size of six people).

Responsible Travel; +44 (0)1273 600030; www.responsibletravel.com

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9. Feed sloths in Costa Rica

Sloth Sanctuary

Sloths may not be the cutest or cuddliest of critters, but volunteers can help injured and rescued animals at this sanctuary in Aviarios all year round.

A dedicated staff of full-time employees cares for these animals, but volunteers are always welcome to play an active role in maintaining the jungle trails and sanctuary grounds, guiding tours, cage cleaning and maintenance, preparation of sloth meals, as well as lending a hand to staff veterinarians and other specialists and researchers.

The sanctuary has a special need for volunteers who are experienced in veterinary/pet care, biology, information technology, marketing, landscaping, graphic design, grant writing, fund-raising and cooking. A two-week minimum commitment is required and does not include the two-day travel time each way from San José to the sanctuary and back.

Price: US$30 per day for 14-28 day programs (includes full board).

Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica; +506 750 0775; www.slothrescue.org

10. Save the Tasmanian devil

Save the Tasmanian Devil

Volunteers are involved in field monitoring and management of Tasmanian devils, helping with trapping at various sites across the island state of Tasmania.

A typical survey lasts approximately 12 days. While team leaders trap and release Tasmanian devils, volunteers assist with scrubbing and cleaning traps.

Days can be long and conditions can be wet and cold for much of the year, but volunteers can experience four-wheel drive journeys into beautiful places that very few people get to see, and help an endangered animal at the same time.

Price: Free (but you will have to organize your own meals and accommodation).

Save the Tasmanian Devil Program; +61 3 6233 2006; www.tassiedevil.com.au

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11. Mingle with llama and vicuna in Peru

Lamma and Vicuña Conservation
Enjoy the spectacular Andes scenery and high altitude conservation with not one, but two unusual animals -- llama and vicuna -- with the A Pas de Loup organization in the southern province of Arequipa in Peru.

Volunteers who speak Spanish and are willing to commit to at least one month are welcome to join the on-site team, responsible for overseeing a reserve, as well as the establishment of scientific research and advocacy with the local population.

Price: US$8 per day (including meals and rudimentary accommodation).

A Pas de Loup; info@apasdeloup.org; +33 (0)4 75 46 80 18; www.apasdeloup.org

12. Volunteer with lemurs in Madagascar


Volunteers work on an extensive range of projects from the collection of data on endangered lemur species to environmental education with local communities and tree planting for reforestation purposes.

Programs with the Voluntours organization run for between two to 10 weeks and are located in the beautiful lakeside camp of Lanirano in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar.

During this time participants have the opportunity to get close to the three species of diurnal lemur you are likely to encounter in the bush Verreaux's sifaka -- ring-tailed lemurs and brown lemurs.

Price: US$983 for two weeks (including transfers from Fort Dauphin, required daily transport, use of campsite facilities and meals).

Voluntours; +27 (0)11 315 4049; www.voluntours.co.za

13. Conserve sea turtles in Greece

Turtle Conservation
This 14-day volunteer project focuses on assisting in the construction of a new sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island of Zakynthos, monitoring sea turtle nesting activity and a beach clean-up.

The Mediterranean Loggerhead Sea Turtle is an endangered species with its primary nesting grounds on the beaches of Gerakas, adjacent to volunteers accommodation.

As well as working, the trip includes a trek up Mount Skopos, snorkeling and a two-day catamaran sailing tour of the Ionian Sea where you will have the option of learning and participating in the sailing of the vessel. There also may be opportunities to see and swim with turtles in the wild.

Price: US$3,495 (including accommodation, meals and planned activities).

Inside/Out; www.theinsideandout.com

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14. Rehabilitate lions in Zimbabwe

Lion Rehabilitation

In 1975 more than 200,000 lions roamed the African continent. Estimates from 2002 put their number between 23,000 and 39,000, representing a steep decline in less than 30 years.

Against the backdrop of the majestic Victoria Falls, this project involves working on a lion breeding and rehabilitation program at a private game reserve, where you can walk and work with lions, exposing the cubs to the African bush as they hone their natural skills.

You will also be involved in the research of lions' behavior and work on the world's only program for their release into the wild. Also assist with conservation in the Victoria Falls National Park, as well as conservation education at a local primary school.

Price: US$1,975 for two weeks (including transfers to and from Victoria Falls airport, assistance from trained guides, accommodation and meals).

African Impact; +27 (0)86 618 3370; www.africanimpact.com

15. Save sharks in South Africa

Shark education features as a prominent part of this one- to 12-week volunteer program (four weeks is the recommended length of stay), based in Gaansbaai, Western Cape Province.

There is still a great deal of research needed to understand and interpret shark behavior and volunteers play a pivotal role in observing, collating data and promoting these graceful creatures.

Participants will have the opportunity to see sharks in their natural environment, either from a boat or from a cage. A maximum of eight volunteers can be accommodated at one time and the program runs year round.

Price: US$3,050 for four weeks (including private self-catering accommodation, project donation, daily transportation, orientation and training, boat trips).

Voluntours; +27 (0)11 315 4049; www.voluntours.co.za

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Casey is a city/lifestyle journalist from Melbourne, Australia, who has been based in Shanghai since 2007.

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