Volunteers are essential for wildlife monitoring and tracking, and play a vital role in assisting the permanent research monitors on their conservation projects.
Volunteers are the monitor’s direct assistants, and you will experience what life is like as a African wildlife researcher. You will learn about focus species and other aspects of the African bush, and get exclusive hands-on experience.
One of the focus species is the African wild dog, currently listed as critically endangered – with just 3,000-5,000 left in the wild worldwide. South Africa is home to around 550 of these animals. The team and volunteers monitor around 30% of this population daily.
Your daily activities will include the tracking and monitoring of endangered wildlife, including African wild dog, cheetah, black rhino and vulture. Monitoring of other species such as elephant, lion, buffalo, hyena, leopard and white rhino, will take place on a more ad hoc basis.
- Get involved with active monitoring – where animals are tracked on a regular basis using telemetry and camera traps, or by traditional tracking methods (spoor etc)
- Locate focus animals and once found, record data such as GPS location, group composition and behaviour
- Photo ID of animals and groups to develop identikits for individual animals
- Maintenance of identikits to ensure animals can be easily identified via information and up to date photographs
At least once a week there is a day set aside to input the information you have gathered into the computer and make an analysis of the data. The more that is known about the reserve’s animals, their location, movements and behaviour, the more that can be done to successfully protect them.
Training and skill development
Volunteers will get practical tuition in a number of research and conservation skills while in the field. These include:
- The proper use of telemetry tracking equipment
- The use of hand-held GPS devices
- How to produce animal identification kits
- How to set up and use camera traps to monitor certain endangered species
- How to track animals using traditional methods like the identification and following of animal spoor
- How to collect animal behaviour data and how this data is extrapolated and used to inform and enhance management objectives on these reserves, as well as other reserves across Africa
- A firm understanding of conservation issues facing endangered species across Africa.
Conservation volunteers prepare their own meals (food is provided), and are responsible for general cleaning and maintenance around the camps.
Depending on how long you join the team for and the time of year, you may also be part of the following activities:
- Join the Zululand Leopard Census (enquire for opportunities on this project)
- Darting, trapping and radio collaring of various animal species
- The relocation and re-introduction of game
- Identity tagging of animals
- Setting and checking of camera traps
- Game counts, bird ringing and alien plant control.
(Please note that these other activities occur strictly when the need arises and cannot be guaranteed).
There are five project sites across Zululand in reserves of varying different sizes and environemnts. The Zululand ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the world, and its wildlife is in dire need of protection. For every two weeks you join the project, you have the opportunity to live and work in a different park. Most volunteers spending four weeks or more, spend two weeks on the Leopard Census project and then multiples of two weeks at other sites across the region.
Once you have made your booking we can assist in recommending the project site most suited to your interests.
The accommodation at each site is basic but comfortable, in a purpose-built volunteer house or camps. Volunteers will generally share a twin room, with separate shared ablutions and a communal living / eating area. Camps have will have power (either electricity, solar or generator), running warm water and flushing toilets. A bed, mattress, pillows and bed linens are provided.
There will be a communal kitchen where volunteers prepare their own meals – the kitchens have a stove, oven, microwave, solar cooker and a fire to cook on. Volunteers usually take turns cooking meals and other volunteers assist in preparation and cleaning. You will be taken into town to shop for groceries every week or two weeks. Vegetarians and vegans can be catered for. Three meals a day are provided within the project fee.
Some camps have internet access, but please bear in mind the limitations and reliability of the internet in remote Africa and be patient if the connection is slow or unavailable. There is usually intermittent cell phone signal while you are in camp.
Volunteers are responsible for helping to keep camps clean and tidy. There is always an outside seating area where you can sit by the fire under the stars. Because you will live on the reserve itself and often don’t have fencing around the camp, you can expect visits from antelope, monkeys and baboons during the day, and hyena and bush-babies at night.
There is a laundry service available and a housekeeper who comes Monday – Friday.
“The rooms are in the middle of the national parks and you feel completely immersed in nature. There is always hot water for a shower. You are provided plenty of food to self-prepare all meals with. Lots of fresh food and different food you can make a hot meal from. It’s perfect after a long day in the field.”
When can I volunteer?
The Endangered Wildlife Conservation Project runs in two week blocks throughout the year. Volunteers should arrive into Richards Bay Airport either the day before the project starts, or on the Monday morning (before midday). Return flights should be booked for Monday afternoons (after 1300). Pre and post programme accommodation is for your own account.
2 weeks: $1,450
4 weeks: $2,550
6 weeks: $3,600
8 weeks: $4,500
10 weeks: $5,350
12 weeks: $5,995
All prices are in USD. If you would like to stay longer than 12 weeks, please enquire.
2023 project start dates (2 week blocks):
January – 9th / 23rd
February – 6th / 20th
March – 6th / 20th
April – 3rd / 17th
May – 1st / 15th / 29th
June – 12th / 26th
July – 10th / 24th
August – 7th / 21st
September – 4th / 19th
October – 2nd / 16th / 30th
November – 13th / 27th
December – 11th / 25th
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 equipment and vehicles, veterinary fees etc
- Accommodation and three meals per day
- Comprehensive orientation and supervision
- Practical instruction by experienced wildlife monitors
- Equipment and materials required to do your work
What’s not included?
- Flights or travel to Richards Bay, South Africa
- Airport transfers ($175 return to / from Richards Bay)
- Visa fees (if applicable)
- Travel insurance (compulsory)
- Personal expenses such as souvenirs, drinks and snacks
- Pre and / or post programme accommodation
- Additional excursions
- Local SIM card and data / airtime bundles (optional)
- Administration fee ($40)
View our booking terms and conditions. **September 2021 UPDATE: view our updated terms and conditions
The project’s mission is to save the planets endangered wildlife and wild places from extinction, using their expertise in the safe capture, transportation and reintroduction of endangered species into new areas.
Africa has over 400 species of endangered animals, and the monitoring of vulnerable species by volunteers and researchers, is an essential part of their conservation, particularly following relocation and reintroduction. The project also play a key role in the tracking and tagging of animals, particularly rhino, during the relocation process, to enable monitoring of these animals to be done more easily.
Many African game reserves, both private and nationally proclaimed parks, do not have the resources or capacity to run effective conservation management projects. In these areas, volunteers assist the project’s permanent research teams in providing tracking and monitoring services – to achieve the end goal of preserving critical and vulnerable wildlife.
The data collected by volunteers includes location data, feeding observations, condition assessments and behaviour observations. The data is captured in databases and the raw data and reports are transferred to Reserve Management on a monthly and quarterly basis. These reports form the basis of decision-making on areas such as prey species introduction or removal; focus species relocation and repopulation; stocking rates of predators.
Zululand has been called ‘the birthplace of conservation’, and is one of the most biodiverse regions in Africa – much of it a World Heritage Site. It makes a dramatic backdrop to this project, and is a place of majestic beauty with cultures as diverse as its landscapes. Zululand is a rare place with age-old cultures and traditions, yet it is the birthplace of wildlife conservation in Africa, where the rhino was saved from certain extinction 60 years ago.
Yet amid its gallery of wildlife, conservation efforts face tremendous challenges, and the project needs your help.
The project was founded in 2008 by three South Africans determined to find a way to implement long term, sustainable monitoring projects. With many parks in South Africa unable to run monitoring projects, the team decided to offer their services by providing tracking and monitoring programmes free of charge. In some reserves they implement and manage projects from initiation, or will take over existing monitoring projects on reserves that can no longer fund them.
Volunteers assist research monitors on five conservancies in KwaZulu Natal. The support of volunteers is 100% vital to the successful monitoring and tracking of the endangered species on these reserves. Conservation volunteers get much more than a safari experience, and play an active role in real conservation – and have incredible interactions with iconic wildlife.
For the latest travel advice, please see our South Africa destination page.
Who should volunteer on this project?
This programme is a wonderful experience for volunteers of all ages, where you can experience the real Africa, work hard and have incredible wildlife experiences. The small team also makes this a very personal experience. No specific skills or qualifications are needed, but all volunteers must have a love nature, a reasonable fitness level and a positive attitude. 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, and older volunteers are extremely welcome, 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 5 volunteers at one time, plus one research monitor. Care is taken to place volunteers in groups which will facilitate the best team cohesion.
When can I join?
The project has set start dates – please see the Rates & Dates tab for more details. The minimum stay is one two week rotation.
Projects begin on a Monday, so you should either arrive into Richards Bay no later than 1200 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?
The Zululand region experiences dry, mild winters between May and September and hot, humid, rainy summers from October – April. It’s always advisable to bring a jacket and long trousers in all seasons as there is a wind chill on an open vehicle during the early morning whatever the season. Conservation volunteers will rise early throughout the year to leave camp before sunrise. In summer the sun comes up at around 0400, compared to 0600 in winter.
Zululand winters are dry, and the vegetation dies back, meaning animal sightings are more frequent. With reduced rainfall, animals are also more frequently seen at waterholes, rather than being in dense, remote bush areas.
Summer is the rainy seasons (so a rainproof hooded jacket is a must), and the first rains bring wild flowers, new green grass and plenty of young animals. Rain is vital to the welfare of the reserves, so while working during this season can be challenging and muddy, the arrival of the rains are universally welcomed.
The only time wild dogs are seen less frequently is during denning season which is usually around May – June, with the pups emerging around July.
Do I get some time off?
The focus animals need to be located every single day. The wildlife monitor will work seven days a week, but volunteers may take the occasional Sunday for an admin or rest day at camp. Volunteers normally have downtime between the morning and afternoon sessions. If you would like to visit St Lucia or Sodwana Bay, discuss this with your research monitor who can advise on how to get there and the best time to go.
What is the food like?
At every camp there is a communal kitchen where volunteers prepare meals. Volunteers usually take turns cooking for the group, but if you have different tastes, it is absolutely fine to cook separately. Volunteers are taken into town to shop for groceries on a weekly basis, and three meals a day are catered for. Vegetarians and vegans can be catered for. We do recommend that as your groceries are generally purchased at rural supermarkets, if you have very specific dietary needs, you bring some snacks and supplements with you. This is particularly true if you require a gluten or lactose-free diet.
How long can I volunteer for?
The minimum project length is two week, and the maximum stay is usually 12 weeks. However, it is possible to stay longer than 12 weeks in certain circumstances, so please do enquire for details if you would like to stay longer.
How many project locations can I experience?
The different project sites are several hours drive from one another. If you join for two weeks, you will spend the two weeks at one location. Longer stays increase the number of locations you can experience – or you can choose to spend longer in one place.
Can I choose which project I join?
Specific requests will depend on availability at the time you want to join, and availability is determined by the male-female ratio of confirmed bookings. Rooms are shared at all the research camps which are allocated by gender (or for couples). If you have a preference for a specific project, we will do our best to work with the programme to accommodate you.
How much spending money should I bring?
We recommend budgeting around ZAR 1,000 per week to cover personal expenses such as drinks, souvenirs, snacks, tips and internet usage. It is possible to withdraw cash at ATMs using either a Visa or Mastercard, so you don’t need to carry large quantities of cash with you.
Do I need a visa?
Most nationalities, including British, American, Canadian, Australian and most EU citizens, can enter South Africa on a 90-day tourist visa. Please see the South Africa Department of Home Affairs website for visa-exempt countries.
It is your responsibility to check your visa eligibility prior to arrival.
What priority species will I encounter?
A priority species is any animal of concern on a reserve. For example, the African wild dog is a priority species because it is endangered and their conservation status is critical. Hyena are of concern because they impact heavily on wild dog numbers, so studies of their populations and feeding is vital for wild dog conservation.
Each reserve has slightly different focus species. If you have a preference, please enquire for the best park to suit your interests.
Note that none of the locations allow volunteers to handle animals. Volunteers will monitor wild animals within their natural environments. You will usually be on an open monitoring vehicle, and contact is limited so they do not get habituated to humans. You may be able to participate in collaring, reintroduction, snare removal and tagging operations, where you can get closer to animals, but these activities cannot be guaranteed.
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. There have been incidences of tick-bite fever in the past, but African tick-bite fever is generally mild. There is no vaccination for it, but can be avoided with care and regular use of insect repellent.
Malaria – the project is regarded as a low-risk malaria area, but please consult your GP for guidance.
Please visit this UK government website for more details.