Big 5 Conservation, National Parks
Up to 6 people
Up to 6 people
What's the project about?
The focus of this Big 5 Wildlife Conservation project is to assist with the operation and rehabilitation of two of Zimbabwe’s National Parks – its largest, Hwange, and one of its most neglected, the Zambezi National Park. The project supplies game water for wildlife, particularly to support Hwange’s ever-growing elephant population. It also assists National Parks rangers with park maintenance, deployment of personnel and environmental monitoring.
How will I be contributing?
This is a unique opportunity to volunteer as a Field Assistant, supporting the daily operations of the project staff. You will participate in park infrastructure and development projects, wildlife monitoring, bird and animal population surveys, and ranger field support. Learn about the work being done to sustain Zimbabwe’s wildlife and natural environment, and the challenges facing conservationists working to support animals in vast National Parks.
What makes this project ethical?
The Big 5 Conservation volunteer programme has been established for as long as the Trust have been operating. It allows wildlife enthusiasts to join the team, and enjoy a rare and exciting opportunity to experience the Africa of conservationists, and its vast, remote wilderness areas. At the same time, knowing they are actively assisting in the conservation and survival of iconic African wildlife.
The project’s goals in Hwange include:
- The ongoing preservation of game water points, including the installation and maintenance of permanent water pumps, in the main to sustain and manage Hwange’s immense elephant herd through the dry season. A good network of water points over a wide area, will enable Park managers to turn off pumps in rotation, forcing elephants to move and give the vegetation time to recover;
- The successful protection of wildlife through the deployment of anti-poaching teams and the provision of food and equipment;
- Environmental monitoring in conjunction with the Parks ecologist, monitoring wildlife populations through road transect surveys, water point game counts, giraffe and vulture surveys and bird atlassing;
- Tourism infrastructure development, including refurbishing hides and picnic sites, installing new signs and fixing roads.
In the Zambezi National Park, the project will continue to concentrate on restoring the area, encouraging wildlife (and therefore tourists!) to return, and focusing on significant anti-poaching efforts. Additional volunteers are instrumental in their ongoing research projects:
- Wildlife research into sable antelope, hippo, small carnivores, and the seasonal movements of buffalo and elephant;
- Vulture and raptor surveys to assess their status and protection requirements;
- Compilation of a bird atlas for the area.
Volunteers are instrumental to the project achieving their goals.
The project was established in 2010 to monitor the last remaining population of black rhino in Hwange National Park. The team found they were providing increasing assistance to National Parks in many facets of their operations, including anti-poaching ranger deployment, fixing and installing water pumps, helping maintain tourist camp sites and assisting with research projects. Their operations were extended to the Zambezi National Park, close to Victoria Falls, where they have been instrumental in reviving one entire section of the Park through the provision and maintenance of boreholes and water pumps, the restoration of natural pans (seasonal water holes), road development and game monitoring.
Volunteering in the Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls
The first four nights of your volunteer programme in Zimbabwe will be based in the heart of the Zambezi National Park. This park is situated on the edge of Victoria Falls on the western tip of Zimbabwe. A huge variety of animals are found within the Zambezi National Park, including all of Africa’s Big 5 game. You will enjoy amazing sitings and get off the beaten track, as you camp and help restore this pristine wilderness area. The park was neglected until a decade ago, when the programme moved in to begin its restoration, stop poaching and repair roads and waterways.
Volunteering in Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s oldest and largest National Park, established as a game reserve in 1928. The park’s western side borders the Kalahari Desert and its 14,000 km2 is home to over 100 mammal and 400 different bird species.
Volunteers will experience the largest concentration of elephants in Southern Africa, large packs of the endangered African Wild Dog (Painted Dog) and huge prides of lion. The northern section of the park, where the volunteers live, is also home to a small, but at the moment, unviable, population of black rhino.
Hwange is regarded as one of the top three places in Africa to view elephants in their natural habitat, and this is the only volunteer programme in this part of Zimbabwe, presenting a truly unique opportunity to get involved and make a difference!
Join a team of professional rangers, monitor big game including elephant, wild dog and lion, and assist with vital infrastructure development projects within the parks. This project is a unique opportunity for volunteers who are looking for a true wilderness experience, and want to gain an understanding of how a National Park operates.
Monitor critical elephant populations and their movements, and gather data for research projects and policy-making. Volunteers maintain and restore key waterpoints, repair damage throughout the park and restore roads and riverbanks, plus take advantage of amazing wildlife viewing, in this off-the-beaten-track adventure.
The Big 5 Conservation Programme works around the full moon, as this and the period just afterwards, is when some animals, especially lions, tend to be most active.
Your activities and itinerary will depend on the time of year you are in the park – but rest assured, there is plenty to do year-round and your work will always be necessary and interesting.
Volunteers monitor animal movements, recording the location of specific animals and herds, and look at the composition of known groups of elephants. Hwange has a very large population of elephants (in the region of 30,000-40,000) and they can be very destructive in their search for food and water.
In addition, the volunteer programme also supports research programs within the Parks estate, including hyena population dynamics, predator/prey relationships, vegetation mapping and fire management programs.
As you move from location to location on this project, the activities and duties will vary depending on the ecosystem and its needs. Volunteers may get involved with:
- 24 hour animal game counts
- Monitoring animal movements and looking at the impact of certain animals in the area
- Big game monitoring and identification
- Large animal and bird population surveys
- Population monitoring of African wild dog
- Road transect data surveys, data capture and analysis
- Learn about birds, butterflies, trees and grasses and how they impact the health of the Parks
- Set up and monitor camera traps, looking at animal activities around popular animal paths
Park maintenance and development:
Volunteers participate in a number of support programs, including infrastructure development and maintenance, especially of Hwange’s 50+ water points, vital for the survival of all animals during the dry season. NGOs and private individuals have supported the introduction of pumps at many waterpoints, but these are susceptible to elephant damage and general wear and tear from over-pumping. Depending on the time of year and location, volunteers may get involved with:
- Repairing elephant damage to pumps around water holes
- Refuelling diesel water pumps during the dry season
- Repairs and installation of solar and wind pumps
- Digging out waterpoints
- Building and maintaining new game viewing hides next to waterholes
Game Park Management:
Provide support to the permanent Trust staff. Experience the challenges and joys of running a 5,000 square mile conservation area.
- Repairs and maintenance to Park infrastructure such as game viewing hides and signs
- Create new roads and repair river erosion
- Environmental management and area rehabilitation
Your accommodation in Hwange is in clean and comfortable National Parks lodges. Chalets have a bathroom with hot and cold running water and a bedroom sleeping 2-4 people (same sex). In Hwange you will be based at Sinamatella camp, which has a fantastic location on the top of an escarpment overlooking the African wilderness.
In the remote locations within the Zambezi National Park, you will camp in two man tents, with basic washing and toilet facilities. All bed linen is provided, but please bring a sleeping bag. The campsite will depend on where the project work is based for that week. There are toilets and shower facilities, but they are quite basic, so some flexibility is required.
Meals are provided in both locations, with volunteers helping to cook, often over an open fire. Meals are wholesome and home-cooked and vegetarians can be provided for.
You will be based in the bush for the majority of your time on this project, but there will be a provisioning trip to Victoria Falls town during your base camp changeover, where you will have the option to check your emails at an internet cafe or do some shopping.
On the final Friday of the two week programme, you will be transferred back to Victoria Falls where you will have time to explore the Falls themselves and participate in some of the thrilling adrenalin activities the town has to offer. Bungee off Victoria Falls bridge, enjoy some of the best rafting in the world on the Zambezi River, enjoy a sunset river cruise, or take High Tea on the spectacular verandah at the Victoria Falls hotel. Lodge accommodation for that night is included in your programme fee.
Victoria Falls is also the gateway to Chobe National Park in Botswana, and most operators offer day trips to this magnificent National Park, which gives you the opportunity to tick another country off your bucket list!
“The hosts are amazing. They took care of us volunteers, with so much passion and love and I felt so very welcome from the start! I slept in a cabin where I had my own room with an amazing view. It was perfect! The food was made with love and care. I am allergic to pork and they already knew so I didn’t have to ask once if I could eat everything. Every meal has been amazing, home made and the taste… aahh! There was another volunteer who was gluten intolerant and that can be a real challenge. But Stephen and Su did everything they could to help Peter out. They were absolutely amazing!”
When can I volunteer?
The project is closed from November to March / April each year, as heavy rains in the area make some roads impassable, and campsites can be soggy. However, if you would like to volunteer on this project outside of the dates below, please enquire and we will see if there are any opportunities available for you to shadow the project staff.
2 weeks: $1,995
All prices are in USD.
2020 project dates:
17th – 31st October – TBC
2021 project dates:
24th April – 8th May
22nd May – 5th June
19th June – 3rd July
17th – 31st July
14th – 28th August
9th – 23rd October
What’s included in the cost?
- Project contribution: this goes directly to our project partner and provides funding to ensure the programme can continue to meet its goals. For this project it will cover things like staff costs, equipment purchases, maintenance of pumps, equipment and vehicles, purchase of materials for building projects etc
- Accommodation and three meals per day
- Return transfers from Victoria Falls Airport
- Comprehensive orientation and supervision
- Practical instruction on building and techniques and wildlife identification
- Equipment and materials required to do your work
What’s not included?
- Flights or travel to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
- Visa fees
- Travel insurance (compulsory)
- Personal expenses such as souvenirs, drinks, snacks, activities in Victoria Falls
- Pre and / or post programme accommodation
- Additional excursions
- Local SIM card and data / airtime bundles (optional)
- Administration fee ($40)
For the latest travel advice, please click on our Zimbabwe destinations page.
Who should volunteer on this project?
No wildlife experience is necessary, but a passion for the outdoors, an adventurous spirit and a willingness to work hard and part of team, are absolutely required. The project is about benefiting the wildlife in Zimbabwe and learning about how the project works for the conservation of Zimbabwe’s wildlife.
You should be able to communicate reasonably well in spoken English.
How fit do I need to be?
A moderate level of fitness and all-round good mobility will make your time more comfortable.
How old do I need to be?
The minimum volunteering age for solo travellers is 18 years. There is no upper age limit, but for volunteers aged over 65, we do require your medical form to be signed by a doctor.
How many people will there be?
There is a maximum of 6 volunteers at one time, plus staff.
When can I join?
Projects begin on a Saturday, so you should either arrive into Victoria Falls no later than 1300 on your project start date, or plan to overnight in town the night before. You will be collected either from the airport or from your lodgings.
When is the best time to come?
During the summer (October – March) temperatures in the Victoria Falls area average 30°C and can often reach over 35°C. A light waterproof jacket is also essential for sudden downpours! Average lows are around 17-20°C. Game viewing is at its best during the dry winter months, and if you can bear the heat, September and October are prime months, when the bush has thinned out and animals make their way to waterholes to find food and drink.
During winter (April – August) daytime temperatures average 25-27°C with no rainfall at all. Temperatures during the night and in the mornings and evenings regularly go around 10°C, so lots of layers are needed!
How long can I volunteer for?
Projects run for two weeks every month.
Do I get some time off?
Your first Wednesday is changeover day, so you will have the opportunity to check your emails or do some shopping for snacks. Your final Friday is also a leisure day in Victoria Falls, so it is usually easier to leave souvenir shopping until the last day.
How much spending money should I bring?
We recommend bringing around $100 a week in local currency to cover personal expenses such as drinks, souvenirs, snacks, tips and internet usage. Please bring USD cash and have access to a Visa card.
Do I need a visa?
Most nationalities, including British, American, Canadian, Australian and most EU citizens, can get a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival into Victoria Falls. Fees are dependent on nationality and range from $30 – $75 (paid in USD cash). You must request a tourist visa.
It is your responsibility to check your visa eligibility prior to arrival.
What animals will I encounter?
Hwange National Park is home to Africa’s Big 5 game (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo), and you will also be in with a chance of seeing African wild dog, hyena and cheetah, plus hippo, giraffe, zebra and more than 100 bird species. Hwange is home to one of the largest (if not, the largest) concentrations of elephants in Southern Africa, and it is an ancient migratory route for elephants.
What vaccinations do I need?
Please consult your GP or travel clinic for detailed medical advice. All volunteers should make sure their Tetanus, Polio and Hepatitis A and B are up to date.
Malaria – the project is regarded as a medium-high risk malaria area, but please consult your GP for guidance.
Please visit this UK government website for more details.
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