Conservation as your ticket around the world

It can often feel difficult, and frankly overwhelming, that working in conservation rarely provides a set career path to embark on. Graduates, in particular, often feel pressure to hastily decide their career goals and secure a job in the relevant sector but quickly find that, as far as wildlife and conservation careers go, it’s very rarely that straight forward. However this doesn’t have to be a bad thing!

This provides an opportunity to explore many different career options, without the pressure to immediately pursue one path”

The most common advice given for seeking a career in wildlife conservation is to gain as much experience and as many new skills as you can, often through volunteering and internships. Although this can seem daunting, it does provide a great opportunity to explore many different career options, without the pressure to immediately pursue one path. Given the international nature of many wildlife careers, why not take advantage of the value of voluntary placements and internships by gaining experiences all over the world? What better way to spend your early career than travelling, gaining new skills and discovering what you really want to do in the future.

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Riona Bray graduated with a Zoology degree last year and has been travelling the world volunteering with wildlife ever since. Her highlights include weekly swims with wild dolphins, saving stranded long-finned pilot whales and seeing wild orcas for the first time on her 22nd birthday.

As Riona shares her adventures with Conservation Careers, it really shows that combining travelling with wildlife volunteering is a great way to see new places, learn new things and ultimately help decide the career path you really want to pursue.

So don’t be afraid to use conservation as your ticket around the world!

What have you been up to since graduating?

After I finished my degree I wanted to take a break from education for a while, to see and experience new things and to help me figure out what I want to do and where I want to be. I spent the first few months in France working on a small horse farm, followed by nearly three months in Western Australia volunteering at the Dolphin Discovery Centre. In May I’m heading to Vancouver with a friend to cycle down the pacific coast working on organic farms in exchange for board.

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Do you plan your volunteering before you get to your travel destinations or do you pick work up as you go along?

I planned to volunteer at the Dolphin Discovery Centre before heading to Aus. I was going to be over that side of the world visiting family so thought I would have a look for volunteering opportunities over that way. For the WOOFing (working on organic farms) my friend and I have hardly planned anything. We’ve arranged the first farm we’re staying at but that’s all. We aim to cycle southwards – potentially just using a compass to guide us (but we may resort to our phone maps if this fails!). We’ve left it as open as possible so that we can see where our journey takes us!

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Do you have any advice for people who are planning to go travelling and do volunteering at the same time?

Research the volunteer position to get a feel for the day-to-day duties of the role. The volunteering title may sound tempting but if it turns out you’d only do that role a fraction of the time and lots of odd-jobs (e.g. cleaning, organising files, etc) the rest, it may not be so fun!

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Have there been any struggles you’ve had to overcome?

Financing my time in Australia. The youth hostels available seemed pretty pricey so I ended up putting an advert up on GumTree. It was bizarre emailing strangers to potentially live with but I found a lovely Australian family and had my own room for about 2/3 of the hostel price and got great home-cooked meals which saved a ton more money. And an unexpected bonus – the mum of the family used to be a Park Ranger and has featured in an Aussie wildlife TV show so there were endless animal stories! The struggle definitely transformed into a success as staying with that family greatly improved my time in Aus.

What makes you want to work in a wildlife conservation career?

Without sounding too cheesy, there’s a quote which says “be the change you wish to see in the world” and that’s something I strive to live by. I think it’s easy to underestimate the difference that one person can make, but small changes really can add up to make a great difference.

Have your experiences of working with wildlife whilst travelling helped you decide what you want to do in the future?

Volunteering helped me learn a lot about how the ecotourism industry operates, the various countries I visited & of course the animals I worked with. I think I would like to do a Masters and onto a PhD but have no set plans as of yet! I hope to research and raise awareness for ocean conservation in the hopes that the devastating destruction we’re inflicting on our planet can be mitigated and controlled.

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