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Volunteering With Primates in Madrid: Rainfer Primate Rescue Centre

Rebecca is a traveller and animal lover. She volunteered at Rainfer in the summer of 2019.

In 2019, I decided to take a break from my day job and undertook a volunteering placement at Rainfer Primate Rescue Centre in Madrid.

During my 6 week placement, there was plenty of hard work and fun, opportunities and challenges. This article will explore the work that Rainfer does, what volunteering with them entails and whether it is right for you.

One of the three groups of chimpanzees at Rainfer

One of the three groups of chimpanzees at Rainfer

About Rainfer

Rainfer was established in 1995 as a safe haven for mistreated primates. The centre is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of animals who have been kept as pets, exploited for film, TV and circus acts or otherwise mistreated and abandoned.

Unfortunately, most of the primates who come to Rainfer have been so badly treated that they will never be able to return to the wild. Every attempt is made to ensure the animals can live as full a life as possible. The enclosures are spacious and natural and social groups of animals of the same species live together. The centre is not a zoo, public access to the centre is permitted only as part of small private tours.

Rainfer is also a centre for research and education, offering school visits, specialised training and internships.

A group of school children visit the centre

A group of school children visit the centre

Rainfer provides specialised care for 130 rescued animals who will remain at the centre for the rest of their lives.

Guille- one of Rainfer's rescue stories

Guille- one of Rainfer's rescue stories

Daily Routine

For volunteers, the working day starts at 09:00. The majority of the work done by volunteers is in the 'Nave’, the building which houses the smaller animals, such as the marmosets and owl monkeys.

The morning is spent preparing food for the primates. This involves cutting up fruit and vegetables, cooking rice, pasta and eggs. Volunteers are responsible for feeding the smaller monkeys, whilst the highly experienced caregivers look after the larger animals.

The afternoon is spent cleaning. All of the feeders must be washed and rinsed by hand ready for use the next day. The enclosures are cleaned according to a regular schedule. Volunteers are responsible for cleaning inside the Nave as well as the larger enclosures. Primates are not afraid to make a mess, so if you’re not prepared to get your hands dirty, this is not the place for you!

Once the necessary tasks are done, volunteers may have the chance to prepare treats for the animals or develop enrichment activities.

There is a break at around 12.30 for a rest and a drink. Often, a member of staff or a volunteer will bring in something for the team to share, such as biscuits or cake. Lunch is at around 15.00. You are responsible for bringing your own food, but water, tea and coffee are provided. Breaks are a time to relax and socialise. The work is hard, but being part of a friendly team makes it a little easier!

The day ends at 18.00. A member of staff will give you a lift to the bus stop or all the way home if it's on their way. International volunteers have the option to stay on-site. At the time of my stay new accommodation was being built to house volunteers.

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A day at Rainfer during COVID-19

Is Volunteering at Rainfer Right For You?


  • Practical experience of primate care
  • The chance to improve your Spanish skills
  • Meet like-minded people
  • Take a break from a stressful day job
  • Be involved with valuable work for the rehabilitation of mistreated animals

Potential Challenges

  • The centre is quite remote, about a 40-minute walk to the nearest small town. However, there is a bike available to use and you have the opportunity to go grocery shopping with the staff once a week.
  • The accommodation is shared with other volunteers, but you may be living alone if there are no other volunteers at the time.
  • The language of the centre is Spanish. Some of the staff and volunteers speak English and will explain your tasks to you in English, but generally the chat in the break room is in Spanish.

General Considerations

  • Physical fitness- looking after 130 animals is hard work! Be prepared for your back and feet to hurt for at least the first week, but rest assured, you get used to it!
  • Clothing- don't bring your best kit! You will be coming into contact with food, excrement and bleach, so don't count on leaving with everything that you brought!
  • Footwear- bring something sturdy and at least water-repellent. Comfortable footwear is an absolute must as you will be on your feet a lot!
Jane Goodall visiting Rainfer

Jane Goodall visiting Rainfer

My experience

Overall, I am so glad that I followed my dream and took a chance on Rainfer. It was an experience I will never forget, and one that I would highly recommend to others.

I got to spend time with incredible animals, made some good friends and improved my Spanish. Granted, I mostly learnt the Spanish words for things like bucket, brush and various fruit and vegetables, but every little counts!

For me, the feeling of isolation from being the only English speaker and living alone in the volunteer house was challenging, and I made the decision to cut my stay short after six weeks, instead of staying for the three months I had intended.

At the time I applied, I wasn't able to find any accounts of volunteer experiences, so I hope this article has been helpful to any prospective volunteers.

I would whole-heartedly recommend a volunteering placement at Rainfer, just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into!

Ximene, one of the centre's (very vocal) gibbons

Ximene, one of the centre's (very vocal) gibbons

Other Ways to Help

Volunteering isn't for everyone, but there are a number of other ways you can help support Rainfer.

Sponsor a Primate

Rainfer offers three levels of sponsorship, ranging from 3 Euros to 25 Euros a month. You can choose a specific primate to sponsor or allow Rainfer to choose one for you.

Make a Donation

You can also make a one-time donation via international bank transfer or PayPal.

Support a Campaign

On occasion, there is an opportunity to support a specific campaign, such as to provide heating for the animals in winter. At the time of writing, due to the challenges caused by COVID-19 and the damage done by the recent severe weather in Madrid, all donations are being put towards the general upkeep of the centre.

Rainfer is facing extreme challenges due to COVID-19, but they are still happy and able to accept new volunteers.

Boris, the centre's only Orangutan, enjoys some watermelon

Boris, the centre's only Orangutan, enjoys some watermelon

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 R L Blackmore

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