This topic is an offshoot of another topic found HERE.
Volunteering wildlife is an odd thing. It's popular, as wildlife, and working with wildlife, is popular. Yet, funding for conservation is scarce. Quite a few organisations have jumped on this, and started attracting paying volunteers to run help their conservation organisation.
I think everybody knows about voluntourism, often in some kind of aid project. There's a growing amount of critism on this. Here's an interesting blog about that: http://matadornetwor...four-questions/
The focus of this topic is at volunteers in wildlife conservation, but the questions raised in the above linked blog are often applicable to volunteering in wildlife conservation too. These questions are:
1) Would you volunteer abroad if you had no cameras with you?
2) Does the agency have the same intentions and values that you do?
3) Are you going to do more harm than good?
4) Would you trust yourself enough to do this job in your own country?
I don't think question 1 is really an issue, so I'll leave it out in the rest of this post.
Question 2 is often not clear for the well-intended volunteer as the organisations intentions and values aren't always clear. Quite a few organisations taking short-term volunteers have come under scrutiny the last few years. Both from an ethical perspective (mainly those in the cub petting business, who pretend to do conservation) as from a scientific perspective (few have contributed to conservation knowledge beyond the area they work in, and their work within their area is sometimes questionable with respect to having a positive influence on the wildlife in that area).
Question 3 is a tricky one.
Here's a quote from the other topic:
I agree that every person should be allowed and encouraged to make a difference. But I disagree that this should be applicable to any volunteering. Just because you do something, and think it's ethical, doesn't mean you do good. This is best seen in teacher volunteers who teach for a few weeks. Who in the western world would send his kids to a school with different, unqualified, volunteer teachers every few weeks? You can argue that it's unethical to do such a thing in volunteer 'job', but the people actually volunteering would argue it is ethical because they're 'helping'. Is a volunteer a qualified person to judge on this?
How can you know that you're doing more harm than good? Especially if you have no applicable background, and thus little knowledge how to answer this question properly. Protecting sea turtle nests and carrying hatchlings to the ocean sounds great, and many people happily pay to do that. Does it help? Probably, it reduces the mortality to the shoreline. Does it help considerably/effectively? Most likely not. But changing hooks in long-line fishing has a much much bigger impact on seaturtle populations. But it's much harder to find funding to push that agenda.
So overall it's a good question to ask, but can be a difficult one to answer.
Question 4 might not be so applicable when it comes to volunteering with African wildlife, as there is no African wildlife in the countries most volunteers come from. Many volunteers have also been involved with conservation work in their home countries, many others have not.
I think a distinction should be made between 2 types of volunteering (in wildlife conservation).
Short-term volunteering and long-term volunteering.
Short-term volunteering is often paid (ie, you have to pay to volunteer), many projects who take up short-term volunteers are mainly funded by those volunteers. People usually don't need any applicable (to the job) qualifications for these positions.
Long-term volunteering is often free, and sometimes with a small stipend (ie airfare gets covered after completing of a certain period). People often need some kind of applicable qualification for these positions.
I personally think that volunteering in wildlife has it's place as long as it's overseen by professionals. Many jobs within conservation work, can be done without an applicable background, as long as there is oversight from professionals. I would wish there were more options for those who do have an applicable background. There is enough to do, but this is largely constrained by funding. But slowly the world is realizing the actual value of intact ecosystems, so hopefully funding will increase over the years to come.
Additionally to that I think organizations offering volunteer positions should be clear on their goals and their ethical standards. Their work should also be assessed by either government or international agencies (or a certifying organisation) with regards to their contribution in conservation, both locally and beyond their own little patch. Likewise the contribution and impact of volunteers on the work of the organisations should be evaluated too.
So why wouldn't organisations use paying volunteers? Many organisations don't, and these are mostly ones with a serious scientific side. If you collect data in a way it can be scientifically analyzed (for conservation purposes!) you need to train people how to collect the data. Often, these are long-term researchers with an established study population. The volunteer would need to learn the animals within this study population. The volunteer would need to learn the area, the roads, where he/she can or can't drive off-road, when he/she can or can't drive off-road, how to approach the animals, learn the people in the area, how to fix the car when it breaks down etc etc. At this point it becomes clear that a short-term paying volunteers aren't much benefit. They bring in a few hundred dollars, but cost considerable time too. Time which can be spend on writing a grant proposal for a considerable larger amount.
@Game Warden Not sure which the most applicable sub-forum was to put this.