How to Virtually Help All Animals…. Remotely

By Nora Livingstone

The most responsible thing we can all do right now is to stay home and shelter in place. But between all the Netflix and Zoom parties, did you know you can help animals (for free) from your computer?

Helping animals around your house, your pets and the neighborhood wildlife is great! You should keep on doing that, but if your heart yearns to help far off animals- as far as Antarctica, they still need your help. There are citizen science and remote volunteer opportunities for all ages and all skill levels and we want to help you find them! From counting penguins to identifying local wildlife, you can help science and all the researchers who use that data to conserve and protect the animals we love. For those who want to use their professional skills for good, there are remote volunteer positions at a lot of wildlife and domestic animal centres.

Citizen Science

Being a citizen scientist is a great way to help without requiring advanced training. One of the ways we help animals is by watching them. By counting how many they are, recording what they are doing and seeing where they are going, we are able to understand how to help them. We can’t protect what we don’t understand so therefore we can help animals thrive by learning about how they interact with each other and the ecosystem they live in. We can have a hand in helping scientists collect data! Citizen scientists have been able to help researchers make thousands of discoveries. From the first ever paper written about dolphins in northern Croatia to a better understanding of how large a wild Mongolian horse’s territory – citizen scientists have changed the world and helped animals over and over again. 

Zooniverse is an incredible website to find projects you can volunteer on while staying safely at home. All you have to do is register and then search through the programs that you find the most interesting. We recommend volunteering on their Penguin Watch Program. Counting penguins in remote regions helps us better understand their behavior and how many there are. This is critical for us to understand the affects of climate change and of course the conservation of our fancy bird friends.  

NASA, that’s right, THE NASA, needs your help, too! From your computer or even cell phone you can look through photos to help identify different animals. You are given camera trap pictures, then you write out the animals you saw and the time stamp. Can’t anyone do this? Yes! That is the point. While the researchers and scientists are busy on their projects you can help them by doing the interesting stuff: looking at animals! The more people who participate, the more data they get and a better understanding we will all have of animals. You provide the data and the scientists mine it for clues! Special mention to their Snapshot Wisconsin Program

eMammal is another wonderful way to look at animals from around the world all day. Here, you also sign up to look at camera trap footage but you can also help analyze the data. Truly, any age and skill level can help with this! This is a great activity to do with kids, too! You just have to sit down with them at the computer. While you look at pictures of the candid critters in backyards and forests all over the world, your whole family will be helping scientists demonstrate how all animals live together. 

Digital volunteers are needed right now at the Smithsonian. To help make the world more reachable, they need you to transcribe their historical files. Field notes, log books, photo albums and more need to be transcribed so we can all have access to the information. A great way to work on your typing, reading comprehension, and of course see field notes before anyone else! It won’t always be animal related but imagine transcribing the field notes of an explorer who saw a narwhal for the first time? Neat! Sign up and volunteer online to be on a team of more than 16, 000 ‘volunpeers’!

Reconnecting with the nature we share our backyard with is really important. Not only is going outside good for your physical health, it’s also good for your mental health. Taking in the flowers, bees, and birds is a calming alternative to mindless scrolling. But, did you know that watching the birds is also good for the scientific community? Last year BBC’s Springwatch did one of the largest citizen backyard bird counts in history. What would have taken thousands of dollars, dozens of researchers and probably years, was all collected by people in their backyards over the course of a few weeks. This bird and wildlife count continues to help conservationists around the United Kingdom better understand the animals living in backyards! In America, the Smithsonian does backyard bird counts and to the north, The Canadian Wildlife Federation is wants to know the birds you are seeing and hearing in their Bio Blitz program! There are even facebook groups popping up so naturalists can come together and share the beauty of their backyards. 

Are you into pollinators? You can be part of The Great British Bee Count! There are more than 50 species in the UK alone, by taking pictures of who you see in your back gardens, conservationists are able to understand population numbers and where they all live. Getting population numbers helps us understand what bees need to be protected. You can start by downloading a handy bee saver kit that has a great identification guide for everyone from experts to bee-ginners!  

Bees too small? What about sharks? The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy has developed the Sharktivity App! We can not only help them understand where sharks are off our coasts, but also we can all make really safe choices when spending time in the ocean. Researchers and citizen scientists upload photos as well as the date and time so the data can be used to conserve and protect these (hopefully less and less) misunderstood animals. Peaceful co-existence between humans and animals is more than possible with these small activities that turn into big positive changes for animals!

Remote and Virtual Volunteering

An important thing to remember about wildlife and domestic animal centres is that there is a massive team behind every well-functioning centre. There are, of course veterinarians, technicians and nurses but there are also web designers, social media managers, fundraising story developers, artists, graphic designers, writers and many more. Each person is an important team member because all of them are helping make sure the animals get exactly what they need. Consider a really flashy fundraising campaign with a great logo. An artist made that logo so a fundraiser could email it out so the support staff could buy bananas so a vet could give a rescue howler monkey her vitamins. Truly, teamwork makes the dream work!

So, what can you do for centres around the world? If you have visited them before you can tell their stories on social media! Tell the world about the amazing staff and volunteers you worked with and get more people to love the centre like you do. You can change the world with a story. More supporters means more donations and volunteers in the future!

Do you follow an amazing centre that you haven’t visited? That is great, too! Go on social media and spread the love, there is a reason that you fell in love with them. Show the people around you why the centre is so great. Help your network see there are really great people out there who are doing incredible work! You can be a virtual fundraiser while you are at it just by asking your friends and family to donate if they can. Think about how many people follow you on Instagram, what if everyone just donated a dollar? That would add up! 

Looking to do a bit more? Many centres right now are also doing as much remote work as they can. Since they aren’t going into offices, you won’t have to either! If you can offer fundraising, social media, writing, artistic or logistical support, we can find you a centre who would love your help. These centres generally are looking for at least 2 or 3 months of commitment and they will ask for you to do online training, but if you want to help, remote volunteering is a great way to be on the animal rescue team. 

Top tip: ask what they need help with but also tell them how you are willing to help and what skills you may have. Right now a lot of centres can’t have any in person volunteers so they are very overwhelmed with the work that volunteers would normally do. Animal welfare always comes first so they are spending their days with the animals and their evenings doing admin. Help them out by giving them an idea on where you could start. Getting an email that says you would like to help and then details on how you can, will really help them!

You can also contact me! After working on animal programs in more than 40 countries I have made a quite a few contacts. If you want to remotely volunteer internationally then send me an email. We can have a chat to see where and what and how. 

Contact me Nora (@) 

Productivity is not the most important thing in a pandemic, your health is. Helping shouldn’t be overwhelming so if the idea of sitting at a screen doesn’t sit right with you, that’s okay. Remember to take care of yourself first: rest, get sunshine, stay safe, and clap for care workers. When the time comes for you to volunteer with animals, whether it’s in person or online, it should and will feel good.