The lush green rainforest of Costa Rica never sleeps with the world’s third largest cat – the stealthy jaguar – lurking between the foliage. These solitary beasts can also be spotted climbing up a guanacaste tree – the national tree of Costa Rica – in search of prey.
Just a few branches up, the red-footed booby bird plucks a worm from its nest. Meanwhile, wildlife conservation interns trek safely below the green canopies, collecting valuable data that’s used by scientists to find sustainable ways to conserve and protect wildlife.
Approximately 12,155 kilometres away in South Africa, interns on wildlife research internships are measuring footprints of big cats in the bushveld and recording the data. And across the sea to Thailand, Asian elephants are being reintegrated into their natural habitat.
GVI runs wildlife conservation internships in locations around the world, with efforts to safeguard the natural life cycle of animals like these. And you can be part of the impact by signing up for one of our wildlife internships abroad.
Our wildlife internships abroad are available as one of the following types:
And, for those of you who aren’t too sure which type to choose – our enrolment staff will happily guide you through the details of each and help match you up with the perfect type of wildlife internship for you.
How wildlife conservation internships help nature
Conservation is more than just planting trees. It requires an educated understanding of how to interact with the environment in a way that allows us to meet our basic needs while maintaining natural resources. It’s also about protecting wildlife that depend on natural resources for survival, so that species can continue to thrive and contribute to nature’s biodiversity.
That’s why GVI’s wildlife conservation internships aim to give participants a well-rounded experience on our programs. We couple theoretical work with fieldwork to ensure that all our participants are trained in sustainable practices and are able to put theory into action by doing fieldwork like data collection and species recording. We also offer virtual components on our career internships that allow our participants to have a more well-rounded experience collaborating with partners and fellow interns from all over the world.
What’s the difference between wildlife research internships and volunteering?
Our wildlife research internships are perfect for participants who want to pursue a career in wildlife conservation and aim to use our wildlife internship opportunities to gain their first steps into the industry.
Our volunteer programs are shorter in duration, starting from 1 week and can go up to 12 weeks. Our internship programs are longer, starting from 4 weeks and can go up to 24 weeks.
This is because our wildlife research internships provide participants with in-depth industry knowledge and practical skills development. Our internships also offer a remote career mentor, who’ll take you through two free post-program mentoring sessions to enhance your career opportunities.
All our programs aim to educate participants and other stakeholders on sustainable best practices and conservation, but our internships take this a step further and give you relevant experience to put on your resume or academic application, and to help you compete in the job market.
Our internship programs aim to refine the specific knowledge and skills that industry employers are looking for, through various developmental opportunities. Our pre-program online course in wildlife conservation offers participants the opportunity to receive a certificate endorsed by the University of Richmond.
Participants will also receive one-on-one mentorship from a remote supervisor while on their program as well as a professional recommendation and/or LinkedIn endorsements, depending on the internship type you select. Further opportunities to develop leadership skills will be provided on in-field research projects.
Types of wildlife internships
Depending on what you want to get out of your wildlife internship abroad, you can choose to become either a career, research or core intern.
As a career intern you’ll work closely with GVI partners across our global hubs, either locally or virtually, to complete a range of project work that’ll give you a more advanced and specialised experience in the wildlife conservation sector.
In between your project work on the ground, you might work with a partner organisation like the Coastal Jaguar Conservation (CJC) to create an effective social media strategy that’ll increase their brand visibility and therefore improve awareness of jaguar conservation projects.
You could also work alongside organisations such as the Seychelles National Park Authority to conduct research, deliver an analytical report and propose a plan that will transform St Anne Marine National Park into a community-managed national park.
But, if you’re looking for a more advanced and investigative experience, then a research internship might be the best choice for you.
Maybe you’re a wildlife researcher, or doing your university thesis. A research internship would be the perfect opportunity for you to collect data on your chosen research topic while having the experience of a lifetime. You could spend your days monitoring the effects of predator and prey numbers in an enclosed park, for example, and determining the effects that jaguar predation has on sea turtles in Jalova.
Core interns won’t take part in any additional projects or work with any international partners. They will, however, have additional responsibilities including:
- organising workshops, leading animal or insect surveys, and planning program activities like research hikes or data collection dives
- helping with fundraisers and GVI Charitable Programs activities
- creating content for social media and blogs
- organising testimonial content from GVI alumni.
Interns on all of our wildlife programs will get preferential recruitment on all GVI roles, a professional reference, access to our GVI online careers course as well as use of our specialised job search portal. In addition, career and academic interns who complete a 6-month program will receive our job guarantee.
Careers in wildlife conservation
GVI offers international wildlife conservation internships that will amplify your access to careers in the industry. On any one of our wildlife research internships, you’ll be involved in conservation work that gives back to nature while you gain invaluable skills and opportunities for your career.
You’ll get exposure to insights and opportunities through mentorship from GVI staff and have the chance to network with the GVI partners and stakeholders who you’ll collaborate with on our programs.
Wildlife internships also provide opportunities to develop personal and professional skills that will boost your resume. This includes leadership training and the ability to work in a diverse team of people. And you can use the valuable insights you’ve gained on our wildlife internship programs to market yourself professionally. Having real-world work experience under your belt and a reference from the expert that supervised you on your wildlife conservation internship will make you a competitive applicant in the industry.
Read this article for insight into ten of the best career paths in wildlife conservation.
Through collaborative work, you could also learn the languages spoken by people in the local communities that we operate in, and gain direct insight into cultural practices around the world. This language and cultural immersion experience will teach you how to interact with people from all walks of life, which is an important addition to your skillset when applying for jobs in an increasingly interconnected world.
Whether or not you’re looking for a long-term career in wildlife conservation, our internships will equip you with practical, unique experiences that’ll positively impact your future employability. In fact, we value the training we provide on GVI programs so highly that we often hire our alumni. Many of our current staff members were previously GVI interns like you.
If you’re interested in a future in the wildlife conservation sector, check out this article: How to start a career in African wildlife conservation.
On a wildlife conservation internship, you’ll have access to:
- pre-program training including an expectation group call, our GVI around the world presentation, and GVI Online leadership and specialisation courses endorsed by the University of Richmond
- expert industry knowledge and networking opportunities
- practical skills development, like animal-tracking using telemetry equipment
- comprehensive staff mentorship and internationally recognised qualifications
- real-world experience within conservation
- opportunities to enhance your interpersonal and leadership skills
- comprehensive feedback and a reference from your remote supervisor
- skills development aimed at increasing your chances of employment in the industry.
Following your wildlife conservation internship, you’ll also have the opportunity to make use of our career offerings, including:
- preferential recruitment on all GVI vacancies
- a professional reference
- access to our GVI online careers course
- access to a specialised job search portal.
GVI is a reputable, award-winning, international volunteer and internship organisation. We were voted as a Top Rated Internship Organisation in 2016 by GoAbroad, and in 2017, we received the GoAbroad Top International Internship award. For more information about our other awards, visit this page on our website.
The work we do on our wildlife internships abroad also contribute directly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These include Goal 4: Quality Education, Goal 13: Climate Action, Goal 14: Life Below Water, Goal 15: Life on Land and Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals.
Where does GVI offer wildlife internships?
GVI offers wildlife internships in four locations around the world:
GVI also offers virtual wildlife internships for participants who are unable to travel, but are still looking for ways to gain practical experience and industry exposure.
Each of our wildlife research internships offer their own unique benefits, with opportunities to sightsee and travel to locations close to our bases during your free time.
Ziplining: This activity is a must-do for anyone visiting Costa Rica. Because of its popularity, there are plenty of opportunities and places where you can zipline through the tropical rainforest. Take to new heights and catch sight of the tropical fauna and flora as you zoom your way through the foliage.
Canyoning: Not for the faint hearted, this activity is best suited for participants who have an eye for adventure and are looking for a thrill. Canyoning in Cimarrones will have you abseiling, floating, hiking, or swimming down a valley river.
- Rock climbing: Go rock climbing on the largest island in the Seychelles archipelago, Mahe. With peaks reaching up to 1,000 metres high, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds and sights of the jungle as you ascend granite boulders to make your way to the top for the best views of the treetops below.
- Snorkelling: Dive into the crystal blue waters surrounding Seychelles and get the opportunity to swim alongside schools of fish, sea turtles, eagle-rays and reef sharks. If you’re lucky, you could even spot bottlenose dolphins on your way to the dive site.
- Table Mountain National Park: Located under an hour’s drive from our base in Gordon’s Bay, this national park stretches from the city of Cape Town, along the Cape Peninsula and all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. Here, you can travel by cable car and take in panorama views of the city, or go on foot and hike alongside the fynbos to reach the flat top of Table Mountain. With a summit of 1,086 metres, this marks the perfect spot to snap pictures of some of Cape Town’s most popular sights, such as the Cape Wheel, Cape Town Stadium and Robben Island.
- Kruger National Park: About an hour away from our base in Limpopo, South Africa’s largest game reserve is definitely worth a visit. Explore the surroundings and take a break under the shade of the marula tree to watch the African fish eagle take flight. While you’re visiting the park, you might get lucky and spot the famous Big Five animals – buffalos, elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos.
- Doi Suthep: Just 12 kilometres away from the city of Chiang Mai – approximately 40 minutes by car – is the Doi Suthep mountain. Here, you’ll find the golden Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple. The temple houses the International Buddhism Center, where local people and visitors can take part in meditation.
- Wat Suwan Kuha: Explore a complex of caves near the town of Phang Nga and see the Wat Suwan Kuha temple that’s built into a cave that houses the famous reclining Buddha. You might even spot a few crab-eating macaques – long tailed monkeys – lurking around the greenery.
GVI wildlife internship programs
GVI’s virtual wildlife internships provide you with practical hours that you’ll need for your future career in conservation and sustainable development, without you having to leave home.
On a virtual internship, you’ll gain exposure to a range of government organisations, NGOs and social enterprises that are based in our locations around the world. You’ll collaborate on and help to address real-world problems like poaching or the effects of climate change on wildlife.
You’ll gain valuable insight into the industry and experience work that requires problem solving and sustainable solutions. At the end of your virtual experience, you’ll have upped your employability and be ready to compete in your field of choice.
On a virtual wildlife internship, you will:
- solve a problem for a real organisation through project work
- receive a professional recommendation from your assigned mentor
- learn valuable skills and how to best apply them in real-world situations
- complete three online courses and earn a certificate endorsed by the University of Richmond
- attend one-on-one check-ins and receive career coaching from your mentor on a weekly basis
- attend immersive and interactive lectures led by academics, professionals and local experts.
On-the-ground wildlife internships
GVI offers wildlife internships on-the-ground in our locations around the world.
At our Costa Rican base in Jalova, you can work to conserve the endangered jaguar, as well as tropical birds, reptiles and amphibians, and the sea turtles that nest along the nearby shoreline.
Our wildlife research internships are conducted in Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park. The park covers a whopping 19,000 hectares of land, so you’re sure to be surrounded by green canopies and chirping tropical birds throughout your stay.
Join a conservation internship in a Costa Rican rainforest and get industry exposure to add to your resume. On this program, you’ll conduct conservation research with us, alongside the other organisations we collaborate with, like the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET); Panthera; Coastal Jaguar Conservation; and the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Some of your activities on this program will include conducting biodiversity surveys in the rainforest, and setting up and monitoring camera traps for data collection on jaguars. You’ll also go on walks along the Caribbean beaches during the turtle nesting season, and collect and record data on mother turtles and their hatchlings. Not only will you upskill yourself with data collection techniques, but you’ll also have the opportunity to learn how the data you collect is recorded, inputted into the databases, and analysed.
If you decide to join a conservation internship for a longer duration, the first three months of your internship will be an initial training phase, consisting of the work done on our shorter programs. After successfully completing the training phase, you’ll receive a work placement either with GVI or one of our partner organisations like the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve and Aso Macao, where you will continue to contribute towards conservation research. On this program, you also have the opportunity to be certified in Emergency First Response (EFR).
If you’re more of a beach goer, you can join our sea turtle research and conservation internship. Here, you can work towards the conservation of the green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles, which are all endangered species. You will help to protect sea turtle nests to contribute to hatchling success rates, you’ll also monitor hatching rates as part of conservation data collection efforts. This is a multifaceted program which will give you the opportunity to participate in other research programs nearby, such as jaguar research, wildlife surveys, and tropical bird surveys.
South of Tortuguero National Park is where you’ll find our jaguar research internship. You’ll work with Panthera and Coastal Jaguar Conservation towards the preservation of jaguars in the region. On this program, you’ll assist with setting up cameras to monitor jaguars, and collect data.
Seychelles is a popular beach destination, complete with soft white sand, turquoise waters, and two different species of sea turtles – all against a backdrop of verdant green palm trees. Here, you can conduct biodiversity research on environmental sustainability and marine conservation, and you’ll also be a part of sea turtle and sicklefin lemon shark conservation efforts.
Witness a mother hawksbill sea turtle creeping back to the ocean. Her eggs are left in a nest in the sand until they’re ready to hatch. Seychelles’ whitesand beaches are popular nesting sites for hawksbill and green turtles, and you can help keep them that way.
You’ll collect data such as the number of eggs laid to track hatching success rates. You will also measure shells, check sea turtle hatchlings for shell damage and make sure they can walk on their own and find safe passage back to the sea.
You’ll also assist in the sicklefin lemon shark catch-and-release program that’s providing data on this understudied species. Under the supervision of expert staff, you’ll carefully catch shark pups, conduct measurements to track growth rates and insert acoustic transmitters to track their movement underwater, before releasing them safely back into the ocean.
In South Africa, GVI interns work on the Karongwe Private Game Reserve, just one hour from Kruger National Park. Your activities on our wildlife conservation programs in South Africa will give you exposure to local organisations such as the South African National Parks authorities, Panthera, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, and Elephants Alive.
On our wildlife conservation project on the reserve, interns research big cats and megafauna. Here, you will spot and learn to identify wildlife like cheetahs, lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos, and use radio telemetry techniques to track animal movements and footprints.
We offer another South African wildlife conservation internship where you’ll be involved in tracking animal movements, recording and analysing data, and conducting wildlife research or reserve maintenance work. You’ll also get involved with local environmental education programs and participate in environmental rehabilitation and anti-poaching efforts.
If you’re looking for a longer stay, you can join our 6-month internship, which consists of 3 months on our conservation training program followed by a 3-month work placement to expand your field experience with a South African conservation organisation or a private nature reserve. You’ll learn to identify predators like big cats and megafauna like elephants. You’ll also track animals using radio telemetry techniques.
You also have the option of joining our Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Field Guiding and Conservation Career internship. Here, you’ll participate in data collection of target species within the specific Karongwe Private Game Reserve. You’ll use radio telemetry techniques, camera traps and visual data collection techniques.
You’ll also get to choose your work placement, with an option of 1, 3 or 6 months of field experience to add to your resume. You’ll train under Bushwise Field Guides trainers. Bushwise is a sister company to GVI and their staff are all seasoned trainers and FGASA certified. This course is FGASA accredited and combines theoretical and practical work to give you an all-rounded educational experience.
We also offer a 6-month wildlife conservation and research internship for those looking to gain specific on-the-ground skills as wildlife field researchers. These include camp set ups and management, field safety training, communication using VHF radios, 4x4 driving, fauna and flora identification, animal tracking and monitoring animal behaviour, and scientific data collection.
If you want a career in the African safari lodge industry, travel to South Africa’s lowveld and join our Safari Field Guide Course in South Africa. This course follows the official FGASA syllabus and focuses on skills training such as wildlife tracking, shooting range competency, 4×4 driving, first aid safety in the field, photography and animal surveying techniques. You’ll also learn how to apply wildlife subjects, like animal behaviour, conservation, ecology, geology and reserve management to in-field practices. This will make you a well-rounded guide with the skills to put your theoretical knowledge to task.
When you join us as a wildlife conservation intern in Thailand, you’ll help manage the reintegration of Asian elephants into their natural habitat in the forests of Chiang Mai. Trek the forested hillsides of this mountainous terrain and witness nature’s biodiversity, while collecting valuable data on the elephants while monitoring elephant behaviour and doing elephant health checks. This information allows us to track their progress in their natural forest environment, and is also used to teach local community members and traditional elephant keepers – local people who work with elephants – as well as school children on the importance of elephant conservation.
In Thailand, you also have the opportunity to work on a sea turtle conservation program. You’ll mainly work with green turtles – the predominant species of sea turtles in the area – as well as the less abundant leatherback, olive ridley and hawksbill turtles. Your activities on this program will include conducting biodiversity surveys, tracking sea turtle movements using camera traps, and working with community members in Phang Nga to deliver sustainability initiatives.
As a GVI intern in Thailand, you’ll work closely with local community members. You’ll work closely with a local Karen community in the Mae Chaem District of Chiang Mai and may also get involved in community development work such as teaching English to local community members. You will spend time in a local nursery, a school and afterschool clubs, teaching English and elephant conservation to children, conducting educational games and participating in sports. In the evenings, you’ll teach English to community members. English language lessons help community members to empower themselves by being able to communicate and interact with tourists, giving local people the opportunity to develop alternative livelihoods and generate an income, and to lead their own conservation programs.
What should I know about wildlife internships?
Eight questions to ask before joining one of our wildlife internships abroad
Q: How does GVI operate given the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: During the international lockdown, GVI made the choice to temporarily pause all on-the-ground operations. We spent this time revising and updating our comprehensive Health and Safety policy, as well as our on-the-ground procedures. With a close eye on updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), as well as travel advice from the UK, US and Australian governments, and health advice from local governments in our operational locations, we were able to create safe opportunities for our staff and participants on all of our on-the-ground programs. Learn more about our Health and Safety policy and COVID-19 protocols.
Q: Can I touch the animals I work with?
A: GVI does not allow animal handling or contact, unless done for scientific research and completed carefully under the supervision of a trained staff member. For example, interns may take shell measurements of nesting hawksbill turtles to contribute to ongoing research efforts. For more information, read our stance on animal proximity and handling.
Q: How old do I have to be to join a wildlife internship?
A: GVI’s internship programs are for participants over 18. If you’re under 18 and you’d like to join a GVI program, you can join one of our teen volunteering programs abroad.
Q: Is this type of program ethical?
A: GVI’s commitment to ethical best practices is displayed in our badge of ethics. The badge represents our dedication to uphold the highest level of ethical policies and practices. We work with ethics officers and external experts to ensure the best possible standards. Our organisation is also governed by ten ethical principles and five human empowerment principles. All our policies and procedures are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that our operations are in line with the most up-to-date best practices in the industry.
Q: Will I be safe and are the animals on a wildlife internship dangerous?
A: GVI prioritises the health and safety of all its participants and staff. Our programs are guided by our regularly revised and updated Health and Safety policy, and we comply with British Standards 8848 guidelines of best practices. All of our staff members are also Emergency First Response (EFR) trained and certified, and are equipped to implement our Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) if necessary. To ensure optimum safety of our participants, we assign one staff member per group of three to six participants.
Q: Do I need any specific qualifications?
A: Qualifications aren’t required before joining a GVI wildlife conservation internship. All the training you’ll need will be provided online and on-the-ground before carrying out project work. You’ll be trained by our qualified staff members and field experts who will also continue to supervise all project work.
Q: Where will I live?
A: Your enrolment manager will provide you with information on accommodation options in the location you choose to intern in. Depending on your location, some options include living with a local family, sharing accommodation with fellow volunteers and staff on the GVI base, or staying in a local bnb.
Q: Who will I work with on-the-ground?
A: You will work under the supervision and mentorship of expert staff members on GVI wildlife research internships. You’ll also work alongside like-minded, international participants on the program. Since all our programs are community-led, you can expect to work with local community members too.
Download our program brochures