Pre-veterinary and vet students know how important it is to have hands-on experience before entering the field. Animal care and wildlife volunteer projects in Latin America are great opportunity for those who don’t have enough time for a full time internship abroad, or who don’t yet qualify for one. Depending on your interests and decided vet track, students can volunteer with domestic animals, exotic animals, or rehabilitation of wild animals. No matter your decision, you can be sure to indulge in a rewarding experience assisting volunteer projects abroad that are understaffed and under-resourced.
Various volunteer placements where your help is needed can be found in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. Read on to learn more about the projects available in each country and how you can advance your standing as a vet student by supporting animal projects abroad.
Costa Rica enjoys some of the most progressive animal rights and protection laws in the world, but that doesn’t mean that they are immune to the devastating effects of global warming and improper waste management. For these reasons, the sea turtle populations that come home to nest on Costa Rica’s beaches have been greatly affected.
In an effort to reverse these trends, independent biologists and researchers began creating projects on Costa Rica’s shores that track current populations, protect newly laid eggs, and provide community outreach and education. Pre-Vet and Veterinary students work side by side with these experts to gather and analyze data, understand nesting trends, build and protect hatcheries, and get involved in community outreach. Should a situation arise where a turtle needs to be tended to medically, pre-vet and veterinary volunteers can assist under the guidance of research biologists.
If you’re interested in getting hands-on with more exotic species, Guatemala has the project for you. At the exotic animal rescue center, the focus is on rescue, recovery, and relocation. The project caters to ill and injured reptiles and amphibians brought to the site to be nursed back to health. After vet clearance, animals are re-released into the wild.
International pre-vet and veterinary volunteers work with local veterinarians and animal care professionals. Duties include maintenance of the rescue center and enclosures, handling and care, and feeding. You might also be responsible for hosting visitors as you tour them through the center, and wow them with your newly learned knowledge of the patients and their recoveries.
Another unique project in Guatemala is horse rescue and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, in many parts of Latin America, horses, donkeys, and mules are seen simply as work animals. When they are no longer of use to the owners, they are typically neglected and abandoned. The horse rescue project seeks to take in these animals who are no longer wanted to ensure they are properly cared for.
Pre-vet and veterinary students assist with the daily care of the animals including grooming, feeding, and cleaning the stables. For a more hands-on experience, volunteers might get involved with basic veterinary care for sick and elderly animals under the guidance of a professional veterinarian.
The illegal capturing and selling of exotic animal species continue to be a problem in countries with an abundance of wildlife. The University Zoo in Cusco, Peru works to rehabilitate animals confiscated by illegal exotic pet owners. The zoo houses endangered species and native wildlife. The project’s mission aims to rehabilitate these animals and re-release them into the wild, if possible.
Pre-vet and veterinary students help to maintain the day-to-day operations, provide daily care for the animals, and may even require some conservation work. This university zoo leads education programs for the public in hopes of instilling a life-long commitment to all animals in children. Therefore, you might also host visitors and provide tours. Pre-vet and veterinary volunteers work alongside university professors and students from the Zoology and Biology disciplines.
Another animal project provided especially in Peru is the Alpaca Farm. Alpacas and llamas are native to the Andean region in Peru, but they’re one of the most domesticated animals. The farm produces traditional Peruvian textiles from alpaca and llama wool, so it’s of utmost importance that the animals are well cared for.
Pre-vet and veterinary students assist with cleaning and maintaining pens. It’s also important to properly observe feeding time and report any usual behavior. Volunteers might assist with sick or injured animals and take into account the challenges that come with tending to moody camelids. Students and volunteers who take initiative and embrace a positive attitude in the face of obstacles will be most successful in this role.
In both Guatemala and Peru, volunteers can get involved with dog and cat shelter projects that cater to the protection of homeless and abandoned pets. The dogs and cats brought to the shelters are typically street roamers without shelter to stay warm or consistent meals. The projects receive little to no government funding so it’s up to small grassroots organizations to get the work done.
Pre-vet and veterinary volunteers help by tending to the overwhelming populations. Facility maintenance and assisting with veterinary care is a high priority to ensure the health and safety of the animals. You might also get involved with spay/neuter campaigns, educational outreach, and fundraising events. The shelters depend heavily on animal-loving volunteers.
Volunteer placements abroad can be as little as one week to as long as one year. Join a volunteer program with another pre-vet or vet student or just bring an animal lover from a different industry. No matter your decision, you’ll be guaranteed a unique experience that brings you closer to your chosen career path and more knowledgeable about animal care.