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8 trips for animal lovers

By Casey Hall
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 8 trips for travelers passionate about animal conservation
  • Research koala habitats to understand the impact of climate change on their population
  • For $400 a week, travelers can help bathe and feed elephants in Thailand
  • Walk with lions on a private game reserve in Zimbabwe
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(CNNGo) -- Riding on elephants is cool, but helping them live well is cooler. That's the thought behind voluntourism -- travel that lets visitors help out along the way.

Here are 8 ways animal lovers can contribute to the welfare of their furry, feathered and finned friends all over the world.

Research koalas in Australia

In Victoria's Great Otway National Park you can conduct valuable research on koala habitats to understand the impact of climate change on their population and behavior.

The 10-day expedition, which departs from the town of Apollo Bay, allows volunteers to work closely with koalas and be involved in all aspects of the research: capturing and handling koalas under close supervision of an experienced handler, radio tracking koala observations, tree measurements, habitat assessments and nighttime spotlighting for animals.

Price: US $3,115 (including on-site accommodation and meals).

Earthwatch Institute; +61 (0)3 9682 6828; http://www.earthwatch.org/exped/whisson.html

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Rehabilitate lions in Zimbabwe

In 1975 more than 200,000 lions roamed the African continent. Estimates from 2002 put their number between 23,000 and 39,000, representing a steep decline in less than 30 years.

Against the backdrop of the majestic Victoria Falls, this project involves working on a lion breeding and rehabilitation program at a private game reserve, where you can walk and work with lions, exposing the cubs to the African bush as they hone their natural skills.

You will also be involved in the research of lions' behavior and work on the world's only program for their release into the wild. Also assist with conservation in the Victoria Falls National Park, as well as conservation education at a local primary school.

Price: US $1,975 for two weeks (including transfers to and from Victoria Falls airport, assistance from trained guides, accommodation and meals).

African Impact; +27 (0)86 618 3370; www.africanimpact.com

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Conserve sea turtles in Greece

This 14-day volunteer project focuses on assisting in the construction of a new sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island of Zakynthos, monitoring sea turtle nesting activity and a beach clean-up.

The Mediterranean Loggerhead Sea Turtle is an endangered species with its primary nesting grounds on the beaches of Gerakas, adjacent to volunteer accommodation.

As well as working, the trip includes a trek up Mount Skopos, snorkeling and a two-day catamaran sailing tour of the Ionian Sea where you will have the option of learning and participating in the sailing of the vessel. There also may be opportunities to see and swim with turtles in the wild.

Price: US $3,495 (including accommodation, meals and planned activities).

Inside/Out; www.theinsideandout.com

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Release Przewalski horses in Mongolia

The Przewalski horse, or takhi in Mongolian, is a small, sturdy animal that was almost hunted to extinction by Kazakh tribes.

This volunteer program accepts participants for a minimum stay of 10 days, between March and November, in the Hustai National Park, west of the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, where a sanctuary prepares Takhi for release back into their natural environment.

Volunteers live in shared Mongolian gers and participate in the research of released takhi: observing newborn foals, the behavior of horses and their locations, as well as wildlife and vegetation in the region.

Price: US $85 per day (for stays between 10 and 21 days, including accommodation, transfers to and from Ulaanbaatar and meals).

Samar Magic Tour; +976 11 311051; www.ecovolunteer.org

Volunteer with lemurs in Madagascar

Volunteers work on an extensive range of projects from the collection of data on endangered lemur species to environmental education with local communities and tree planting for reforestation purposes.

Programs with the Voluntours organization run for between two to 10 weeks and are located in the beautiful lakeside camp of Lanirano in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar.

During this time participants have the opportunity to get close to the three species of diurnal lemur you are likely to encounter in the bush Verreaux's sifaka -- ring-tailed lemurs and brown lemurs.

Price: US $983 for two weeks (including transfers from Fort Dauphin, required daily transport, use of campsite facilities and meals).

Voluntours; +27 (0)11 315 4049; www.voluntours.co.za

Wash elephants in Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai province of Northern Thailand was established in the 1990s to provide a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants. You can make a difference to the lives of these basts by becoming an Elephant Nature Park volunteer.

There is a variety of programs to choose from, with the most popular running for between seven and 28 days, allowing participants to get involved in the day-to-day life of the park: feeding and bathing the animals, learning about elephant communication and family groups and experiencing the secret life of the pachyderms in their natural environment.

Price: US $400 per week (including on-site accommodation and meals).

Elephant Nature Park; +66(0) 53 818754; http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

Save sharks in South Africa

Shark education features as a prominent part of this one- to 12-week volunteer program (four weeks is the recommended length of stay), based in Gaansbaai, Western Cape Province.

There is still a great deal of research needed to understand and interpret shark behavior and volunteers play a pivotal role in observing, collating data and promoting these graceful creatures.

Participants will have the opportunity to see sharks in their natural environment, either from a boat or from a cage. A maximum of eight volunteers can be accommodated at one time and the program runs year round.

Price: US $3,050 for four weeks (including private self-catering accommodation, project donation, daily transportation, orientation and training, boat trips).

Voluntours; +27 (0)11 315 4049; www.voluntours.co.za

Fundraising horse treks in Turkey

Relief Riders International is an award-winning adventure travel organization that combines tourism with humanitarian projects.

They host 14-day horse treks through the stunning scenery of Turkey's Cappadocia region, with riders in the saddle for up to six hours per day.

Participants (the trip caters for a minimum of six and maximum of 12 riders) will not only experience Cappadocia's ancient villages, handicrafts and culture, but will also help set-up and run dental camps and distribute free educational materials.

Villagers in rural Cappadocia have access to basic health care, but accessible and free dental care is vital. Riders of all abilities are welcome.

Price: US $5,800 (including equestrian costs, most meals, accommodation and some transfers).

Relief Riders International; info@reliefridersinternational.com; www.reliefridersinternational.com

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