Calling all wannabe Eliza Thornberries! If you’ve dreamed of watching giraffes gallop across African plains, getting up close and personal with big cats, and lending a hand in keeping a species alive for generations to come, then overseas animal encounters are a perfect way to spend your gap year (or uni holidays, FYI).

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1. You can make a difference

We all know about palm oil- but seriously do we ever think about our mates the Orangutans? Due to clearing of forests for agricultural purposes (growing palms for palm oil), Orangutans are now at population levels less that ¼ of what they were a century ago. What’s worse is that their populations are dispersed, so interbreeding to increase genetic stability no longer occurs. The Borneo Orangutan Sactuary looks after Orangutans who have been injured in deforestations, as well as other wildlife. By helping Orangutans, we are also helping the environment! Orangutans play a vital role in seed distribution in the forest ecosystem, which is important for other animals such as Asian elephants and Sumatran rhinos. Our small contribution can make the world of difference for a host of species!

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2. Some species don’t have much time

Take our good friends, the giant panda, who are counted as conservation reliant critically endangered species. Or the White Rhino, who you may encounter in Africa, whose population is on the exponential downfall thanks to poaching. With high efforts of conservationists and volunteers alike we can see these awesome beasts live out for generations to come!

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3. Travel and get to know the locals

Volunteering days are full on, but there will be some downtime on weekends. The best part? Get to know the full time animal workers on your experience and they’ll help you to hit up the best secret local spots. Hike to sacred water falls in Fiji with no tourists around. Meet local Namibian families and share some raw mango salad. Scuba dive in reefs off of South America every single day. No matter what gap program you do, you will get to experience wayyy more of your destination than if you had just gone there as a tourist.

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4. You want to work with animals in your career

Any of these experiences are like gold on a resume if you ever want zoo work, or entrance into vet nursing or a veterinary degree.

A lot of the programs will have some science data collection involved, which is a valuable skill if ever you wish to have a career involving conservation. You will learn about the creature’s dietary habits, reproductive behaviour and the best practice of keeping captive animals. For example- did you know that Pandas only ovulate for 24 hours in an entire year!?! In any job application, employers will froth!

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5. They’re just SO. DAMN. CUTE!!

I mean, look at this guy:

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Or this little sweetheart:

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Oh, my ovaries:

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 Do I need to say more?!?

6. Make like minded friends for life

Hanging out around the animal programs are gonna put you in some sweet, creature loving crowds filled with peeps from all around Australia and the globe! And every traveller knows the best thing about friends in other countries is free accom when you next travel…

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And finally, a quick note on volunteer realities:

A lot of the work you will be doing may not involve cuddling animals all day. Your duties may range from feeding animals to checking their poo (a good indication of whether or not they are healthy), counting hatched baby sea turtles or taking water samples whilst viewing gorgeous rainbow reefs. Close human interaction can be dangerous for some animals and may mean that they will never be able to be released into the wild. You will still get to interact with them from metres away. Some sanctuaries have animals that are unable to be released due to health problems and hence are more tame, so there is possiblility for closer encounters. Just remember that you are making a difference, whether close-up or from afar, and that is the most important and valuable thing!

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If this sounds like something you’re interested in being a part of, check out our gaps site!

Written by our local and effervescent vet Becky Burns who we interviewed last month about what it’s like being a vet and how to get there- check it!