To try and learn something about the culture your visiting and to meet the local people rather than just doing all the touristy things
I've just spent the past 2 days volunteering at a wildlife rescue centre on the picturesque island of Sulawesi. It's an amazing project which carries out vital work in the field of rehabilitation and release. Most of the animals at the centre have been rescued from ships where they were being illegally transported from Papa New Guinea or Borneo to be sold.
The location of the project is stunning. The volunteer dorms are perched on the top of a hill and have a spectacular outlook over the ocean and the surrounding forest. I'm lucky enough to have been housed in the posh accommodation that is used to to house guests that are doing ecotours but is also an upgrade option for volunteers.
It's a great feeling to wake up bright and early in the morning to and to walk out onto the balcony and watch the sunrise in the midst of a melody of birdsong and other animals calling out to eachother to say that it's time for breakfast!
I'm not usually a morning person but getting up at 5.30am to be ready for 6amhere really isn't a chore. It's such a beautiful time of day with the sun just beginning to rise above the ocean and a thin layer of mist covering the grass where deer are grazing putside my window, my tiredness soon fades into awe at the natural beauty of my surroundings.
Work starts at 6am anf involves going out to collect food for the animals such as grasses, leaves and berries, and thn distributing this to the various birds and animals. Breakfast time is around 8am and is a feast of mouthwatering fresh fruit, bread and porridge. After this we head doen to the enclosures again for some more feeding and cleaning.
As we move arounf Simon, the project manager, explains more about the project and the importance of the work that is carried out by volunteers. Much of the volunteer work revolves around providing enrichments for the animals. This basically means feeding the animals in such a manner that iis as close to how it would be in nature as possible.
Before Simon became manager and before volunteers started being accepted the animals were given their food once per day and it was all jjst dumped on one pile in their cage. The result of this was not only that the animals became very hungry as they ate all of their food at once, but also that the animals became very bored because they had nothing to do.
Feeding is now spread out throughout the day and the food is distributed on the cages in such a way that means they have to search for it as they would in the wild. The main goal of the centre is releasing the animals back into their natural habitat so distributing the animals food in ths manner is very important so as to keep their natural food finding skills in tact.
Through volunteering at the centre I definately feel I've learned a lot about animal care and welfare and also about the importance of sustaining our ecosystems in which all parts of natures systems are important and interdependent on each other. Everything is nature is balanced and harmonious and when this balance is disrupted for example by deforestation or illegal hunting then this has a knock on effect that can affect the whole area.
After hearing some of the stories about the conditions that the animals were found in and how they were likely to be treated if they hadn't of been rescued, it highlighted the importance of travelling responsibly to me. It's always something I've taken seriously but seeing firsthand the effect of the illegal wildlife trade has pushed this home to me even further. The animals at the recue centre are not all elligble for release as some of them would be unable survive in the wild. a;though they are well taken care of, they are still in captivity and therefore not as happy and free as they should be. And they are the lucky ones; for the animals that aren't rescued their outlook is likely to be pretty bleak, many spending their lives in squalid conditions in cages little bigger than themselves and being beaten to train them to perform.
Therefore, it's very important to remember when travelling abroad, if you see animals performing, do not stop and watch or give any donations as it is promoting the illegal trafficking of animals.