In honor of the United Nations’ decision to declare 2001 “The International Year of Volunteers,” our last column devoted itself to an utterly shameless advertisement for the book “Kokusai Volunteer Guide: Inside International Voluntary Work,” published by The Japan Times and written by Midori Paxton.
|Terrestrial volunteer opportunities range from tracking black rhinos in Swaziland (above) to rehabilitating injured hedgehogs in the U.K. (below).|
In case you missed the last column, the book describes over 300 organizations that accept volunteers in fields ranging from famine-relief to the excavation of Aztec pueblos.
This being a Nature Travel column, last week we profiled volunteer opportunities related to the marine environment. Today, we turn our gaze to a few terrestrial opportunities.
If you want to help save the weta, a gigantic and sadly endangered New Zealand weevil, you should get in touch with Fiordland Ecology Holidays at www.fiordland.gen.nz
Fiordland is run by a husband/wife team of passionate ecologists and conducts studies of weta and other rare species in the remoter parts of New Zealand’s South Island.
Fancy a combination of telemetry and tortoises? Contact the Italian chelonian conservation organization Carapax at www.carapax.org
Radio telemetry, incidentally, is a tool used by biologists to monitor the movement and location of animals. You put a radio collar around the animal’s neck (if it’s a tortoise, you glue the thing to its shell and hope it doesn’t fall off), then wander around holding something that looks like a TV aerial, while clutching a global positioning system and looking like a berk.
If you’re pointing your aerial in the right place you hear a beeping in your headset. This column can personally state with authority that radio-tracking black rhino through the thornveld of Swaziland is an absolute thrill. Whether stalking the wily tortoise in a field in central Italy would produce the same adrenalin rush, we cannot say.
Tree planting is unquestionably a feel-good activity. Countless organizations engage in it. Particularly recommended are the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers at www.btcv.org and the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers at www.atcv.com.au
Both organizations run “working holidays” or “natural breaks” that involve forestry work, trail maintenance, planting, invasive weed clearance, creating ecologically rich habitats and so on. Accommodation is shared and simple. The atmosphere is invigorating.
Britain’s National Trust ( www.nationaltrust.org ) operates similar programs.
WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) provides volunteers with food and accommodation on organic farms, small holdings or properties. In return the WWOOFer puts in a preagreed number of hours work a day. WWOOF began in England but has since spread to countries ranging from Ghana to Finland. The indolent English WWOOF HQ has yet to set up a Web site. The colonies, by contrast, have got their acts together: Australia at www.wwoof.com.au; Canada at www.members.tripod.com/~wwoof; and New Zealand at www.wwoof.co.nz
Let us not forget the U.S. of A. “Service trips” are organized by the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org), Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (www.voc.org) and the Appalachian Mountain Club (www.outdoors.org), among lots of others. Again, these are working holidays.
You usually pay to join a bunch of like-minded people, and together you make trails to prevent erosion, you dig ponds, you ring birds, you improve or restore natural habitat. If this sounds a trifle dull, bear in mind that the habitat you are restoring could be a Louisiana bayou draped with Spanish moss and haunted by fireflies and cruising gators, a Hawaiian volcano or even Mount Everest. Several organizations do “cleanups” of Everest, clearing away all the rubbish dropped by thoughtless (or fatally hypothermic) mountaineers.
Even some mainstream tour companies have begun to include service trips among their itineraries, though personally if I want to clean up the Inca Trail I’m damned if I’ll be paying 3,000 bucks to a Californian travel agent for the privilege. I’ll go there and do it myself. Save a fortune.
Weevils and tortoises we mentioned earlier. If the prospect of working with cougars, golden eagles, elephants and other, perhaps grander, beasts, is more enticing, check the following Web sites:
The Ecovolunteer Program (www.ecovolunteer.org) is where you get to radio-track rhinos. Not to mention follow wolves, bears and a great deal more.
Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org) offers a similar but larger range of activities geared sometimes to the less intrepid.
Gibbon conservation in Thailand? www.war-thai.org Colobus monkey conservation in Kenya? www.kenyabeach.com/colobus.html Bats in tropical Australia? www.austrop.org.au Wildfowl in London? www.greenchannel.com/wwt Hedgehogs in . . . Darn. Nearly out of space.
Do bear in mind that the above suggestions are but the tip of a very large iceberg. The number of volunteer organizations and the number of people who volunteer each year are surprisingly large.
Canadian volunteers, for example, annually put in time and labor equivalent to over half a million full-time jobs (578,000, to be precise). In the United States, 56 percent of the population engages in voluntary work (the other 44 percent votes for George Bush). In South Korea, the economic value of volunteering comes to $2.182 billion.