Reaping the rewards of volunteering

Nicola Field has over 20 years’ experience working in animal welfare. She spent twelve of these years in China - caring for and rehabilitating bears rescued from bile farming. Keep reading to discover how volunteering helped Nicola advance in her career and learn more about her latest adventure – co-founding the non-profit, Global Animal Welfare.

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People often say ‘oh you’re brave and I couldn’t do that’, but I think, well, if you want to you can. If you really want to do something, then you’ll find a way.

Nicola Field

MSc Wildlife Biology & Conservation 2005

Nicola (Nic) Field has always been passionate about animal welfare, wildlife conservation and charity work.  

Having spent years gaining practical experience of animal management and conservation through volunteer and paid roles, including a spell as a zookeeper, Nic decided to study at Edinburgh Napier University to add a professional qualification to her portfolio.  

A bear playing in treesAfter she graduated with an MSc in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, obtained through distance learning, her career headed in a direction she never imagined. 

While searching for jobs, Nic discovered Animals Asia - a charity committed to ending the farming of bears for bile extraction. With their values aligning to Nic’s, she contacted them to ask if there were any opportunities to get involved.  

A few days later, Nic received a message from the Animals Asia recruitment manger. Through sheer luck, she would shortly be travelling to the UK and wanted meet to discuss a volunteering opportunity. 

Animals Asia’s usual volunteering programme lasts 3 months but Nic was in full-time employment and couldn’t get that much time off work. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up and so Nic added up her annual leave and headed off to China for a 2 and a half week volunteering shift. 

A lot happened during this fortnight. A bear rescue was carried out and Nic got to witness first-hand the gravity of the bile industry and the appalling condition it leaves the bears in. Also, Nic was offered a job! 

A vacancy had opened up as a bear manager at the China facility because the existing staff member was relocating to Vietnam to establish a new Animals Asia sanctuary.  

It took Nic all of 5 seconds to accept.  

Nic returned to the UK, packed up her life and in January 2007, along with another volunteer who was offered a job as a veterinary nurse, headed to the other side of the world to embark on a new adventure.  

She spent 12 years at the organisation, the final eight as Bear & Vet Team Director where she managed a team of 70 people and oversaw sanctuary operations.

A new chapter

Two women standing in the sunshine, with trees behind themDeciding to leave Animals Asia was one of the hardest decisions Nic has ever had to make. After dedicating over a decade of her life to rescuing bears and rehabilitating them into loving bear communities, the time was right for her to strike a better work-life balance.  

After taking some time off to unwind – which included heading to Borneo to volunteer at a bear sanctuary – in July 2019 Nic co-founded the animal welfare non-government organisation (NGO), Global Animal Welfare.  

Nic co-founded the non-profit with Annemarie Weegenaar who was one of the first people Nic met when she joined Animals Asia.  

Global Animal Welfare’s mission is to build capacity at wildlife rescue facilities and sanctuaries, facilitate advice and training to increase potential for successful release and ensure animals remaining in captivity receive optimum care. 

There is a plethora of sanctuaries in the world who have good intentions but don’t have access to appropriate training, expertise and often resources. 

That’s where Global Animal Welfare comes in.  

What does the future hold for Global Animal Welfare?

A large group of people smiling at the cameraAnimal sanctuaries and rescue centres have been badly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Many sanctuaries rely on visitors for income which has been lost due to enforced closures during the pandemic. They also depend on international support – such as people paying to volunteer abroad. Due to travel restrictions, these trips have been forced to stop which has caused widespread financial difficulties. 

Global Animal Welfare continues to support and provide guidance and advice to sanctuaries and rescue centres regarding animal management and welfare. It is anticipated that the need for help from many facilities will have increased as a result of COVID-19. Global Animal Welfare is already planning a workshop and further support for a rescue centre in Indonesia once restrictions lift. They are ready to expand their reach and develop ways they can build capacity in sanctuaries as restrictions across the globe relax.

Thinking of following in Nic’s footsteps?  

If you’re thinking of doing more voluntary work, or setting up your own charity, Nic has one piece of advice for you:

Just do it. I was concerned about timing but sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and work out how it works around everything else

To find out more about Global Animal Welfare and how you can support them, please visit their website and follow them on social media:
Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and grow your network. Click here to discover how you can help support Edinburgh Napier University through volunteering.