Pursuing animal care internships abroad can provide the experience of a lifetime. You will gain valuable career knowledge and skills while serving the planet and fostering your own personal growth. In this guide, explore the most important factors to consider when looking at internship programs outside the United States that involve hands-on animal care.
Narrowing the Field of Animal Care Internships Abroad
Hundreds of organizations offer a diverse range of animal care internships all over the world. To start your search, ask yourself about your specific interests within the field of wildlife and animal biology. For example, do you imagine working with small or large mammals, marine life, insects, reptiles, or some other type of species?
You should also think about the type of work you would like to do during your internship. Ideally, it should support your educational and career goals, whether you eventually want to be involved in direct animal care, research, conservation or one of many other areas within the field.
Selecting a Location
Think about the climate and geographic area of the program you select before deciding to apply. If you’re focused on working with a certain animal, that preference will often inform the available locations for your internship. Once you have a clear idea about the type of work you envision, you can begin to investigate specific opportunities. These are the benefits of some of the most popular geographic areas to find animal care internships abroad.
The incredible biodiversity of Australia makes it a natural choice for those interested in animal conservation internships. You can potentially work with a vast variety of creatures from sharks in the Great Barrier Reef to koalas in the rainforest. Many interns are also attracted by Australia’s relaxed, beachy lifestyle.
Central America makes sense if you want a global experience without actually traveling too far from the U.S. In addition to its easy access, Costa Rica offers diverse tropical landscapes with cool opportunities like rain forest conservation and sea turtle habitat protection. If you aren’t sure where you want to go for your global internship, start your search here.
If you want to work with large animals like rhinos, elephants and big cats, an internship opportunity in South Africa may be your best bet. Interns also appreciate the country’s welcoming culture. It’s safe to travel in most areas, and you’ll be able to get around even if you only speak English. You can also take part in conserving awe-inspiring species like baboons, zebras, giraffes, penguins, sharks, tigers, cheetahs and lions.
Those who have an interest in zoology or animal science should consider an internship program in Thailand. Opportunities for education abound at beachside marine conservation centers, elephant sanctuaries and wildlife preserves. If you’re on a budget, you’ll also find it less expensive to travel in Thailand compared to the cost of other destinations.
Exploring the Benefits of Animal Care Internships Abroad
An international experience in your area of interest offers unmatched insight that can inspire your future path and provide the skills you need for a successful career in animal care. Consider these awesome advantages of dedicating a semester to an animal care internship abroad:
- Gain perspective on global wildlife and conservation challenges
- Learn what daily life is actually like in your possible future career
- Provide care for wild, farm or domestic animals beyond those you’ll find in the U.S.
- Work directly with experienced professionals who serve as guides and mentors
Understanding Eligibility for Animal Care Internships Abroad
While qualifications vary by program, most internships require you to be at least 18 years old and a high school graduate. You usually have to be fluent in English and pass a criminal background check. You may have a better chance of acceptance if you’re currently studying for a college degree in a relevant area such as environmental science, veterinary medicine, animal behavior or biological science.
However, you don’t necessarily have to be a college student to benefit from this type of internship program. Some organizations offer opportunities for high school students, families, or adults who have retired or want to change careers.
Finding Animal Care Internship Opportunities
Most internship opportunities in this field involve working at wildlife centers, nature preserves, rescue centers, and animal shelters. You can start your search by reviewing the websites of organizations in your location of interest. Other good sources of animal care internship opportunities abroad include:
- Your academic advisor
- National government organizations (NGOs)
- The international studies department at your college or university
- Volunteer organizations and websites
- Conservation organizations
- Job boards, especially those focused on nonprofit work like Idealist
You can even reach out to a specific location of interest and inquire directly about potential opportunities, even if they don’t have posted information about internship programs. These reputable conservation organizations offer educational opportunities for college students.
This organization focuses on conservation in Northeast India, protecting and preserving biodiversity through political advocacy, capacity building, environmental education and scientific research. Students can apply for a variety of paid animal care internships abroad at Aaranyak, including:
- Research fellowship in restoration ecology for doctoral candidates
- Elephant research and conservation internship for graduate students
- Herpetology research apprenticeship for doctoral candidates
- Documentation of historical pygmy hog populations at Manas National Park for undergraduate students
The World Wildlife Fund
This organization strives to protect global wildlife diversity through research and action in six key areas: climate, food, oceans, fresh water, wildlife and forests. The World Wildlife Fund also hosts the paid BRIDGE internship program for undergrads and grad students, which focuses on the acronym Building Relationships, Inclusivity, Diversity, Growth, and Excellence. Students can apply directly for varied domestic and international projects such as working with the Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance or studying global forest degradation.
Choosing Animal Care Internships Abroad
When you have a few programs in mind, review these questions to thoroughly check out the program before you get on the plane:
- Does the internship site adhere to ethical values for animal care and conservation?
- Do interns receive thorough training, including a comprehensive safety orientation?
- Will you receive academic credit for your experience?
- Is there a cost for the internship, and what does it cover?
- Does the organization monitor the environmental impact of its programs?
You should also read reviews from interns who have completed the program and talk to them directly if possible. They will be able to give you the best possible insight about what to expect if you decide to enroll. Be wary of an internship program that discourages you from contacting its graduates.
Red Flags of an Unethical Animal Internship Program
Some unscrupulous groups pose as animal sanctuaries or conservation programs while engaging in practices that compromise the species and create environmental issues. Without experience, it can be difficult to determine whether a particular organization truly acts in the best interests of the wildlife it serves. Some red flags to look for include:
- Lack of housing that reflects the species’ natural habitat
- Interactive “entertainment” opportunities with the animals, such as riding, feeding, bathing or taking photos with them
- Animals taught to perform
- Unlimited unsupervised animal access
- Limited care and safety training
- Animal breeding programs that do not account for limited resources
Career Paths for Animal Care Internships Abroad
An international animal care internship can prepare you for a wide range of future opportunities. These are the most common careers interns pursue after completing this type of program.
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
These professionals study how animals interact with their environments and work in both field and lab settings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, zoologists and wildlife biologists earn a median annual salary of more than $66,000. The agency predicts that about 1,700 new opportunities will open in this field each year as older workers retire and new conservation initiatives arise. In the U.S., you’ll find the most job opportunities for zoologist and wildlife biologist positions in Alaska, Oregon, Florida, California and Washington.
If you’re interested in conducting lab work and experiments involving animals as a biological technician, animal care internships abroad could help improve your career prospects. The BLS says these professionals earn a median salary of more than $46,000 and primarily work in laboratories and other research settings. The agency projects more than 6,000 new jobs in this field over the next 10 years, particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, California and Texas.
Animal Care and Service Workers
When working directly with animals is your passion, you may consider a service or technician career with wildlife or domestic pets. The BLS reports that you could earn a median annual salary of almost $27,000. While you only need a high school diploma to pursue this type of career, you can boost your resume and become more attractive to employers by completing a relevant international internship opportunity.
These professionals work in diverse settings including kennels, zoos, veterinary practices, stables and wildlife preserves. The BLS also notes that opportunities for animal care and service workers will increase must faster than the average growth of other professions over the next decade, with nearly 111,000 new jobs available. You can expect an even higher level of job security with more potential opportunities if you live in New York, Illinois, California, Florida or Texas.
If you’ve always wanted to work as a veterinarian, animal care internships abroad can help make your dream a reality in this competitive field. The BLS says vets earn a median annual salary of nearly $100,000, but you must commit to several years of professional school after college. This profession is also expected to have faster than average growth over the next 10 years, particularly for those who plan to practice in Pennsylvania, New York, California, Florida or Texas.
Examples of Animal Care Internships Abroad
The diversity of available internships in this field mirrors the vibrant biodiversity of the animal kingdom itself. Some of the currently available programs include:
- Coral reef monitoring, farming and restoration in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean
- Research on the effects of climate change on the protected environment of the Seychelles
- Conservation of bird populations in Peru
- Construction and renovation of a bear sanctuary in Cambodia
- Field guide and conservation education work in the South African bush
- Divemaster internship in the Caribbean Barrier Reef
Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Care Internship Abroad
These are some of the most common questions students ask when considering an international animal care internship.
Do I have to handle wild animals to participate in conservation?
Not every animal care internship involves working directly with wildlife. You should select a program with requirements within your comfort zone, whether you’re squeamish about snakes or prefer fish to furry creatures. In addition, while you may need to monitor and observe creatures as an intern, legitimate programs do not allow unnecessary handling of animals.
How long will I spend abroad for an animal care internship?
The answer to this question largely depends on personal preference. Some internship programs last just a week while others require a stay of three months or longer.
When should I start looking for an animal care internship abroad?
Generally, you should begin researching programs about six months before your planned start date so you can apply at least two to three months in advance. Having plenty of lead time gives you the opportunity to complete international travel requirements such as medical appointments and paperwork.
Timing may also depend on your target region or animal population. Some projects must take place at a certain time of year, although research and administrative efforts are usually ongoing and have year-round opportunities.
Do workers get paid for animal care internships abroad?
While many internship opportunities do pay an hourly wage or stipend, others charge a fee for program participants. Some programs pay for your travel and lodging in addition to or in lieu of payment. Be sure to read the fine print before you agree to an internship, especially if you plan to earn money to cover your living expenses.
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