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Volunteering For Wildlife Refuges
December 31, 1969
Wildlife refuges are either naturally occurring or man-made areas for the protection of species—typically animals but also plants—from hunting, predation, destruction, or invasive species. The main goal of wildlife refuges is to preserve nature and to prevent extinction.
Today, most refuges are designated by state or federal government legislation, and can either be publicly or privately owned. According to legend, wildlife refuges have been present since the 3rd century B.C. when a Sri Lankan king declared an area to be preserved for wildlife, which was literally set in stone to prevent harm from animals or plants.
Today, national and international organizations—generally nonprofits—have taken the lead, whether through advocating to their respective governments to allocate supplemental funds for refuges, or by serving in supervisory roles to ensure sanctuaries around the world have high standards in their care of wildlife.
In the United States, the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) is a leading resource; a non-profit dedicated to engaging and mobilizing volunteers to support refuges, inform legislators in Washington D.C., create partnerships to enhance the protection factor of wildlife refuges in the United States, the NWRA is the only national advocacy organization that serves the National Wildlife Refuge System (publicly owned wildlife refuges). In addition to organizing, advocating, and informing legislators, NWRA also leads scientific partnerships in the area of conservation in their efforts to protect the diverse environments necessary for wildlife around the country and the world.
Why volunteer for wildlife refuges?
Among the obvious benefits of volunteering, such as personal growth, service to the planet, and real-life experience, volunteering in wildlife refuges also offers you a chance to experience undisturbed wildlife, participate in special events and projects, and receive free conservation and refuge education—including information about the history of refuges, culture and nature, animals and plant species in the area, and how to help prevent species extinction.
Plus—as with all volunteering experiences, you’ll gain great skills (particularly in conservation) and make contacts that can promote professional as well as personal growth well into the future.
Who volunteers in wildlife refuges?
Volunteers in wildlife refuges come from all walks of life, whether volunteering at home or abroad. Everyone, from retired individuals looking for a meaningful hobby, to parents hoping to teach their children about conservation, to college or gap year students who are passionate about wildlife and want a powerful experience to take back with them.
Volunteers can be habitual, offering their time and efforts on a weekly or monthly basis, or one-timers, whether serving for one day or one year. In the United States alone, nearly 42,000 volunteers contribute over 1.5 million hours of volunteer service, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
No special skills are typically required for volunteers, as on-site training is common, so everyone is welcome! Volunteers’ particular interests can typically be met, so speak up about your goals!
What does a volunteer do?
Volunteers are able to take on a number of tasks in refuges around the world, including but not limited to the following:
- Conducting wildlife population surveys
- Welcoming, leading tours, and providing information for visitors
- Creating information materials for visitors
- Assisting in lab research
- Trail maintenance and construction
- Clerical and other administrative tasks
- Photographing and surveying
- Assisting in the prevention and removal of invasive species
- Working directly with animals
- Planting trees and other plants
- Habitat restoration
If you’re interested in working on a full-time basis, most wildlife refuges and conservation organizations also offer internship and career opportunities, meaning you can take your passion to a professional level!
Now—let’s get started!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.