A web search for volunteer projects to work with elephants, tigers, and other iconic species will bring up hundreds of possible results. But beyond the glossy images and promises of adventure, it can be difficult for potential recruits to know whether their time and money is well spent. Since 1999, Biosphere Expeditions has worked to distinguish itself in a crowded field and provide ethical, transparent, and effective volunteering projects that truly deliver on their claims.
The organisation’s ethical principles define the way it operates – a non-profit, Biosphere Expeditions works on a non-growth model, instead focussing on delivering steady sustainability through an average annual turnover across all operations over the last five years of around half a million pounds – from which all surplus is reinvested into its conservation. Over the last 17 years, that has meant 1.5 million pounds going directly into conservation projects worldwide, and over half a million pounds into local projects and communities as in-kind donations.
These principles are as clear in the details as in the overall vision. All its expeditions offer only vegetarian food, and no bottled water is allowed – Biosphere Expeditions relies instead on filtration and purification systems to use locally available water. Waste is minimised and any highly toxic items such as batteries are distributed amongst participants to be taken back to countries where they can be recycled. All carbon debt created by the expeditions is offset via Climate Care in the UK, and participants are encouraged to do the same for their individual travel itineraries to the in-country expedition assembly point.
As an organisation whose main focus is the gathering of data to support essential conservation, Biosphere Expeditions is committed to transparency about its own operations, publishing a report for each expedition, which shows in a clear and transparent way the income and expenditure for each project, the percentage of income spent on the project, as well as any research and conservation outcomes and recommendations.
The data on Biosphere Expeditions itself also supports its approach. Over the last 17 years, the organisation has delivered over 150,000 hours of voluntourism wildlife conservation and research, helping projects as diverse as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (the world’s largest conservation area); a national park in Ukraine that is a stop-off point for many migratory birds; and the creation of a protected area in the Altai where snow leopard now thrive. In all, data gathered by volunteers on its expeditions have helped create protected areas across four continents, while its conservation recommendations and policies have been adopted in countries all over the world.