This study explores identity in providing voluntary help for endangered animal species. Identity is a cornerstone of social psychological explanations of helping behaviour but has not been understood in relation to human–animal relationships. Open-ended questionnaires were administered to 111 volunteers working in a range of international conservation projects aimed at protecting endangered animals. Participants were asked their reasons for volunteering, choice of project, experiences and expectations. Thematic textual analysis explored common features across the dataset. Themes identified were identifying with animals, humans dominating nature and collective identity with the organization and fellow volunteers. The paper suggests social psychological knowledge about helping behaviour be applied to understand human–animal interactions to offer insight into the conditions under which we will engage with conservational and environmental concerns and provide aid. Social psychology has been slow to apply its knowledge to an examination of human responses to the challenge of loss of biodiversity. To act, humans must identify with those they seek to protect. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.