AEI facts

Family Travel Matters

How can you encourage a heart for empathy and compassion than volunteering with your kids? How can you reconnect with your grown up siblings than travel? How can you make memories that will last a life time with your grandkids? Traveling and volunteering of course?

AEI programs are safe, ethical and authentic. We go to the placements first to make sure! We have you volunteering directly with animals, scientists and experts in the local community so you know you are helping the animals you and your family members love so much. The best news? All your food and accomodation is sorted! That’s right, these are all inclusive trips so you just have to focus on the animals!

Want to learn more? Read our interview with the Family Travel Association and see why family travel matters so much to us!

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Namaste Jan

Since May I have been trying to write something proper about Jan Salter MBE, founder of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre and my friend. She died in 2018 and it was clear to me she changed my life and I wanted to tell others how much. Unfortunately, during times like this words often fail us.

I had the wonderful opportunity to write something about my experience in Nepal for Musa Masala. Of course, I knew I couldn’t write about Nepal without writing about Jan. Words continued to fail me but at least I was able to write something. Please accept my humble offering of how Nepal, a country of tremendous beauty, welcoming smiles and impossibly interesting history changed my life by helping my path cross Jan’s.

Nepal: Inspiration for a New Beginning.

Namaste,

Nora

A Podcast Just For You!

What makes AEI different from other social enterprises who are owned by women and have a dozen awards for their benefit to the community and the environment? Well... we are actually the only one! Listen to our story and what our founder has to say about being 'successful'. 

Listen to the newest episode of The School for Humanity Podcast to learn more about AEI and why travelling ethically helps us, you and the planet!

Adventures are in the speed bumps

Imagine you are going on the adventure of a lifetime to volunteer with a sea turtle conservation group in Australia. Everything is in place. Your pick up from the airport is all arranged - you know exactly where and when to meet the shuttle. You have accommodation at a local hostel and they have all your arrival information and are expecting you. The organization where you will volunteer is all set up, and you know exactly where to meet the group on your first day of volunteering and at what time. How exciting! And then at the last minute disaster strikes. One of your many flights has a gate change and you miss your connecting flight! Your new flight has you arriving in Australia a full day after you planned to get there. Your flight is boarding, you're hurrying to get on the plane and you have no time to make any changes to your many arrangements.

What do you do?!

If you have booked your travel adventure through Animal Experience International, you simply relax. A quick email to the AEI Coordinator, and you will know everything will be taken care of for you. Your shuttle will be re-booked. Your hostel will be notified that you will be delayed. The people meeting you from the sea turtle organization will be informed and a new arrangement will be made for you. You can get on your flight and relax, knowing everything has been taken care of for you. Animal Experience International is a registered travel agency. Not only are we animal lovers, we are also travel counselors and travel managers and active members of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario. Booking through AEI gives you peace of mind - knowing that you can sit back and enjoy your trip.

Including all the bumps in the road that make travel an adventure - not an inconvenience!

"Why is that monkey in a cage?"

monkey in a cage

I was recently talking to someone about our work at Animal Experience International, when she stopped me to ask why the photo I was showing her was of a spider monkey in a cage.

Did AEI support caging wild animals?

This was an important question, and a topic I am also passionate about as a wildlife veterinarian. I do not want to see wildlife kept in captivity if they can be living their lives free in the wild. The spider monkey in the photo was actually being housed at a wildlife rescue centre in Guatemala. This is an amazing organization that works tirelessly to rescue wild animals that have been captured as part of the illegal wildlife trade. When animals are confiscated from smugglers or from people using them to entertain tourists, they need somewhere to recover from their terrible ordeal. Some require medical attention. Others need supportive care. And orphaned babies need to be raised until they are old enough to care for themselves. While at the rescue centre, the animals are housed in enclosures that keep them safe, while protecting the humans that care for them.

So yes, they are in cages - but only temporarily. The goal is always to release them back to the wild. Staff and volunteers work hard to make the animals’ experience at the rescue centre as comfortable as possible. The wildlife are provided with environmental enrichment, places to hide and an enclosure set up that allows them to carry out their natural behaviours. The animals are moved to larger and larger enclosures as they begin to heal, and contact with people becomes less and less. For this spider monkey, he will eventually be housed with other spider monkeys in a large enclosure deep in the forest of the rescue centre and will see people as little as possible to minimize his exposure to humans. One day these spider monkeys will all be released to live their lives free in the jungle.

Gibbon Island in Thailand

Gibbon Island in Thailand


AEI also supports several wildlife sanctuaries that provide a safe home for animals that cannot survive in the wild, and therefore cannot be released. Our elephant and wildlife sanctuary in Thailand is an excellent example of an organization working to provide a dignified and comfortable home for rescued, non-releasable animals. Their enclosures help to protect the animals, and are as large and natural as possible to ensure the animals are comfortable. Take for example their gibbons that cannot be released for one reason or another. These amazing primates are given an island to live on, separate from the main centre and are even fed remotely using a pulley system so that they are very rarely in contact with people. They are allowed to live as naturally as possible without human interference.


It is a sad reality that wild animals need to be kept in captivity at times in order to help or protect them. AEI supports organizations that house wildlife on a temporary basis, as part of a rescue and rehabilitation program. If providing long-term sanctuary we ensure that the best possible care is being offered the animals and that their lives are enriched and natural behaviours are encouraged. This is something that is very important to us - because wild animals deserve to be kept wild.

Want to volunteer with us in Guatemala or Thailand? Check out our program pages to volunteer anytime during the year (animals need help all year round and so we send volunteers all year round). Want to volunteer in Guatemala WITH us? Why not sign up for Expedition Guatemala? Take part in the rehabilitation of wildlife with your own two hands and understand the amazing work that is being done, first hand. 10 days volunteering with wildlife in February, sign up today!

A Photo 10 Years In The Making...

AEIs co-founders are two animal lovers named Nora and Heather. A lot of people ask how they met. Back in 2008 Nora got at job at a wildlife centre in Toronto and Heather was (and still is) the head wildlife veterinarian there. Nora was the volunteer coordinator. Fresh back from a volunteering and backpacking adventure in central, south and east Asia Nora felt like she knew what made exceptional volunteer programs and what didn’t. She didn’t have much experience coordinating volunteers but she thought if she stuck with the golden rule and treated the volunteers as she wanted to be treated, everything would be great!

One day Nora was looking for resources and found a book: Something in a Cardboard Box. It was written by Les Stocker, the founder of a wildlife teaching hospital in England. The wildlife centre’s name? Tiggywinkles, named after the hedgehog in the Beatrix Potter series! Nora thought it sounded like an incredible place. Not only was it a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre (Nora’s fav.) but it also was called Tigglewinkles. What a name! Icing on the cake was they helped rescue hedgehogs, badgers, red kites and all matter of wonderfully English and European animals. At that time it seemed like it was so far away maybe Nora could only dream of visiting. Nora showed the book to Heather and they talked about how Tiggywinkles had a great name, wonderful ethos and some of the most photogenic animals they have ever seen!

Fast forward to 2017. Nora and Heather now run Animal Experience International and have travelled all over North America, Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa visiting wildlife centres along the way. They signed up for the 2018 British Veterinary Nurse Association Conference in Telford England and got ready for another trip together.

2018 came and they had a wildly fun and successful conference and then realised Tiggywinkles was right around the corner- in Canadian terms! It was just an hour and a half drive from where they were staying.

On Tuesday they visited the centre and were able to be absolutely delighted by the professionalism, the warmness and the commitment to animal welfare at Tiggywinkles. For Nora it was a dream fulfilled to go to THE Tiggywinkles and she couldn’t have been more delighted than to share it with Heather. The trip to Tiggywinkles wasn’t just a great outing to see red kites, ravens, polecats and hedgehogs in sanctuary, it was also a marker for them- to see how far they had come. Something In A Cardboard Box was there when they met each other and now this centre was there to celebrate a work friendship that blossomed into a social enterprise with hundreds of volunteers and alumni around the world. And how did they celebrate? With their very own hedgehog selfie, a photo truly a decade in the making.

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We Are Arc Benders!

Combining Adventure with Animal ConservationNora Livingstone, Founder & CEO of Animal Experience International

Nora Livingstone is the founder and CEO  of Animal Experience International, a certified B Corp on a mission to help animals around the globe by matching clients with animal related volunteer opportunities at sanctuaries, hospitals, wildlife rehabilitation centres, research projects and government programs. Her mission is to empower students, professionals and animal lovers to travel by providing exceptional volunteer adventures!

She shares how AEI got started, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and her advice for people that want to find their purpose.

What initially inspired you to make a difference and what career path did you follow?

I sort of fell into it, not realizing what my dream was or what my purpose was. When I graduated from university I decided to travel and volunteer. I thought that I would love for other people to do this and I wanted to help my friends have the same experience.

It was a low stakes idea – I could tell other people how they could volunteer. I was a volunteer coordinator at a wildlife center in Canada, which is where I met my current business partner. She’s a veterinarian there. After I left that center, I floated around for a while.

I loved coordinating volunteers and getting people involved and investing in people. I especially appreciated the amount of help and benefit that can go into one project, if you have a team. My (now) business partner, Heather, came up to me at a BBQ and basically pitched the idea for Animal Experience International

Bold Moves Podcast, episode 199

What is a bold move? Is it starting a social enterprise without any business background? Is it trying to make a difference? Or.. is it believing you CAN make a difference.

Nora sits down with Mandie from the Bold Moves Podcast to talk about big moves and how you can live messy and sparkly and authentically while helping animals.

Travel Towards a Career.

Travel isn't magic, it isn't going to make you taller, it isn't going to make you funnier, it won't make you rich... but maybe it can help you find you

What if when we booked trips we didn't see them as debt inducing, we saw the cost as investment? What if we looked at the world as a classroom? What if we didn't label travel as a separate and different part of life? Then, what if we didn't label our home as 'the real world'? 

What if the whole world, our whole lives, all our experiences were important? What if travel wasn't 'just' for tourism? What if it was an investment in our future? 

Those are a lot of questions, maybe your next trip will just be a vacation on a beach, perhaps it will be going to visit friends in a new town. Even though we are more than the sum of our parts, our travels, no matter where they lead us, change us. All our experiences mould and change us, if we realise it's happening or not. 

Our co-founder, Nora found this out when she went to Nepal in 2007. She didn't go to intentionally change her life, she didn't even think it was possible. She just went and now more than 10 years later she credits that first big trip as one of the reasons AEI exists today. You can read more in an article she contributed to in Student Loan Hero

We tell ourselves all kinds of reasons we shouldn't travel: we don't have enough money, we haven't worked enough yet, we haven't travelled enough before a big trip....

We want to inspire people to invest in themselves and in their future. Travel maybe won't suddenly change your life, but what if it did? What if hundreds of tiny little travel experiences changed your life over the course of a few years? Why not take the chance? Why not book the ticket?

We'll help you change your life through travel. We'll help you invest in yourself and your future. We'll help you do this while you help animals, local communities and broader ecosystems. We did it and we will be with you every step of the way.  

Contact us to talk more about where you want to go and how we will get you there!
Apply to volunteer on an international animal program with AEI.