Wildlife Research & Small Mammal Care


Volunteer with the wildlife research team at a field station in Zimbabwe. Get hands-on experience in small animal care, learn research techniques and get involved with rhino management as you journey into national parks. Learn from dedicated Wildlife Trust staff as you live on this working research station.

Learn about rhino management as you journey into wild national parks and get involved in local communities as you help deliver their environmental education programmes. Ideal for volunteers who want to improve their practical experience in research techniques and reporting.

The Dambari Wildlife Trust is an well established and reputable not-for-profit wildlife research trust established in 1997 by John Knowles, the founder of Marwell Zoo and Preservation Trust UK.

It carries out research and conservation work on three main animal groups: small African antelopes; carnivores - primarily cheetah; and rhino. Dambari, in association with numerous students, academics and international researchers has produced and published a number of scientific publications, reports and educational materials.

This volunteer programme is ideally suited to anyone who is looking to improve their knowledge and experience of wildlife conservation and animal welfare as well as getting hands on experience of life on a working research station. You will get the opportunity to see how research can impact on long term policy making as well as assist permanent researchers in their projects, collecting data, looking after animals and compiling reports.  In addition volunteers will assist with the Trust’s environmental education programme - teaching rural schoolchildren how to monitor and research their own environment and opening their eyes to careers in conservation.


This programme is a great opportunity to real get a feel for hands on research and data capture,
as well as experiencing life working for a well-established and respected wildlife trust.

Quick Facts

Who can join: Anyone aged 20 years and over
How long can I stay for: 2 weeks - 4 weeks (up to 6 weeks on request)
Accommodation: Volunteer house
Transfer time: 30 minutes
Pick up from: Bulawayo
Meals: 3 meals a day included
Project numbers: 6
Start dates: Any Monday throughout the year
How much: from $1,320 (2 weeks)


The Dambari (Duiker And Mini-antelope Breeding And Research Institute) Wildlife Trust is a well established not-for-profit wildlife research trust started in 1997 by John Knowles, the founder of Marwell Zoo and Preservation Trust UK.

The Trust carries out research and conservation work on three main groups - small African antelopes, carnivores, primarily cheetah and the African rhinoceros. Dambari has also produced and published a number of scientific publications, reports and educational materials.

The Trust’s key areas of expertise are integrated within the Conservation Across Boundaries programme, centred on the Matopos Hills in south-west Zimbabwe. This programme aims to establish programmes to achieve natural resource management to the mutual benefit of people, animals and the environment, specifically in areas where there are a variety of stakeholders using land for different purposes.

The Matobo Hills encompass National Park land, communal areas and large and small-scale commercial farmland. The Trust consults closely with communities and stakeholders in the region to ensure the conservation work which is carried out address the needs of the region.

Marwell Wildlife and Paignton Zoo UK fund Dambari to support the staff and infrastructure needed to carry out animal research, community outreach and conservation work associated with the Conservation Across Boundaries programme. Without funding and support from a number of international donors, DWT would struggle to continue its research and conservation program.

Dambari is also very involved with Save the Rhino and have been assisting them with rhino conservation in Zimbabwe for over ten years, spanning a difficult period in Zimbabwe’s history. DWT’s initiatives for rhino conservation have included training and employing rhino monitors, training Parks’ ecologists in rhino conservation and database management, and providing technical and practical advice and equipment. In addition, DWT assist the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority with identification and ear notching of rhino in Parks across Zimbabwe.

Volunteers will stay at the Dambari Wildlife Trust Bulawayo field station, which is located on 65 acres of land just outside Bulawayo. The land which the field station occupies is largely undeveloped and is maintained as a wild area for indigenous flora and fauna. More than 150 species of bird, 13 amphibian species and 10 ammal species have been recorded within the area as well as a wide variety of reptiles, insects and spiders.


  • A unique opportunity to get close to and learn about shy and retiring animals
  • Assist permanent research staff with small antelope projects
  • Experience daily life in a 65 acre research station - help with land restoration projects, maintenance and caring for the animals who live in the reserve
  • Spend time in the magnificent Matopos National Park where you will help rangers involved in rhino conservation activities
  • Further your understanding of field research as you work with National Parks policy-makers
  • Experience the heart of Zimbabwe in this off the beaten track adventure
  • Help children in rural areas to understand the importance of biodiversity and the environment; show them practical ways to get involved in conservation
  • Help permanent staff in the running of the Dambari Field Station in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
  • Work at a dedicated Trust who are linked with Marwell Wildlife and Paignton Zoo

What sort of things will I be doing?

Assist with a wide range of research and conservation-focused activities, visit the ancient Matopos Hills and explore the historic city of Bulawayo. Volunteers will assist research and Trust staff in areas including:

Field Research:
Small antelopes are a relatively little-known group and Dambari Wildlife Trust have been conducting antelope surveys in the Matopos National Park since 1999 to understand their behaviour, movements and numbers. They use camera traps and indigenous knowledge systems to determine the occurrence and relative abundance of other large mammals, including rhino, across the Matopos Hills in order to pinpoint the key areas and resources used by these animals.

Volunteers will get involved with:

  • Accompanying project staff on field trips to the Matopos
  • Assisting with cataloging photographs from camera traps
  • Assist with data capture and collation

Antelope Research:
The Bulawayo field station is the Trust’s base for small antelope research and has a captive population of duikers (Africa’s smallest antelope species), steenbok, grysbok and suni. These animals are kept in areas designed to facilitate near natural conditions with minimal disturbance by researchers or observers. Volunteers will assist with the care of the animals to facilitate the research:

  • Assisting in data collection and collation
  • Feeding of animals
  • Collection of browse
  • Preparation of vegetables
  • Cleaning of pens

Land and station management:
The project aims to restore the land on which the station is situated back to its natural and original state to preserve the rich wildlife already found in the area. Volunteers will assist with:

  • Dealing with bush encroachment
  • Removal of alien and invasive species
  • Planting of indigenous trees
  • Maintenance of fire breaks
  • The station aims to be self-sustaining for the staff and captive animals so volunteers will assist in the vegetable gardens where food is grown for the antelope and people!

Education and outreach:
Dambari’s Community Biodiversity Monitoring Project aims to teach teenagers in school conservation clubs to effectively record and monitor key species and the biodiversity of their environment during their daily activities, such as walking to and from school. This will generate usable data for assessing the distribution and abundance of species whilst raising awareness of conservation issues to secondary school children. This programme also introduces children to career opportunities in the environmental field and assists the whole community in becoming more knowledgeable and responsible about environmental issues and solutions. Volunteers will get involved with:

  • Helping Dambari’s Educational Field Officer in the programme delivery
  • Assisting project staff with running sessions for school conservation clubs

Other projects
Cheetah research: Dambari is very involved in research into cheetah and cheetah preservation. This includes research into how the behaviour of cheetahs vary between commercial ranches and resettled farms. This is being investigated using GPS collars, spoor transects and local interviews. A cheetah education programme has also been initiated to try and alleviate conflict between humans and cheetah. Volunteers may get the chance to be involved in data capture and research.

Rhino conservation: Dambari plays a large role in the co-ordination of rhino management operations in the Intensive Protection Zone within the Matopos National Park. These operations may involve the translocation of rhino, marking rhino with unique identifiers, placing tracking devices to help facilitate better monitoring and protection of rhino by Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers.

At weekends:

Experience local Zimbabwean culture
Take an optional excursion and see the best of what Zimbabwe has to offer


Do I need any experience to volunteer on this programme?

We welcome volunteers with a passion and interest in wildlife and conservation and the ability to communicate suitably in English. If volunteers have some theoretical or practical work experience in wildlife conservation, animal welfare or environmental studies that is an advantage but my no means essential - we welcome all wildlife enthusiasts! Volunteers should be self-starters and able to work with minimal supervision. You will receive all the practical instruction require in animal handling and behaviour and species-specific care.

The minimum age to participate in this volunteer project is 20 years and maximum 70 years and you must have a reasonable fitness level.

How do I get to the project?

Included in your programme price is a return transfer from Bulawayo - either from Bulawayo International Airport or from another destination within the city. We can assist volunteers who require transfers from Harare.

What does the cost include?

Programme fee - financing which goes back into the programme your are involved with; this in-cludes funding for equipment, supplies, vehicles and foodstuffs
Transfers to and from Bulawayo on the scheduled date and time
Full board and lodging for the duration of your programme including laundry (exc. alcoholic and fizzy drinks)
Practical instruction on wildlife and plant identification as well as spoors, tracking and animal beha-viour
All programme-related transport and equipment required to do your work
24 support and guidance from the volunteer programme staff
Local VAT (charged to all foreign tourists)

The programme cost excludes:
Transport by air or bus to Bulawayo (we can assist with bus transfers from Harare)
Any expenses prior to your programme start date
Any personal items such as alcoholic drinks, snacks, additional food or souvenirs
Personal medical and travel insurance, which must cover the entire duration of your programme and should include cover for repatriation, air evacuation and any activities you may undertake or plan to undertake
Any additional trips outside the volunteer programme
Telephone calls and internet

Pricing and Dates

When can I volunteer?

Volunteers can begin the Wildlife Research and Small Mammal Care programme on any Monday throughout the year. The project is closed from mid-December to mid-January. We suggest that volunteers aim to arrive in Zimbabwe on the Sunday if they are flying into Harare.

Project pricing 2015-2016:
2 weeks: $1,320
3 weeks - $1,915
4 weeks - $2,495

View our booking terms and conditions 

Love rhinos? Expand your new knowledge about small mammal care and rhino management with rhino breeding and release at our unique Hands-on Black Rhino & Elephant Conservation Programme.


Volunteers will be based at the Dambari field station in the Research Cottage which is a comfortable house with shared accommodation. The house has a communal lounge, dining room and kitchen with housekeeper. Volunteers will be expected to share their accommodation with other volunteers in bedrooms sleeping 2-3 people, where possible with same sex sharing. Each bedroom has its own en-suite bathroom with shower and toilet.

You will receive three meals per day plus mid morning and afternoon tea. You will be expected to prepare your own breakfast and lunch (food will be supplied), supper will be cooked for you and set up as a help-yourself buffet.



Volunteering in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is the true home of Conservation Travel Africa as our founders were all born and still live there. Zimbabwe is often in the international news for the wrong reasons but the reality is quite different and tourism is beginning to grow again in one of Africa’s most beautiful and unspoilt countries.

The country offers something for every traveller - from the absolute wilderness of Gonarezhou and Mana Pools to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and the hustle and bustle of Africa’s adventure capital,  Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe is rich in colour and the people have retained their resolve, sense of hu-mour and friendliness.

No trip to Zimbabwe would be complete without a visit to Victoria Falls. Mosi-au-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders) is accepted to have the largest sheet of falling water in the world (1,708m wide and 108m high) and is located on the far western tip of Zimbabwe on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Victoria Falls is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. As well as the Falls being a definite must-see for visitors, Victoria Falls town is a also lively centre for adventure. For white water rafting the best time to visit is when the waters in the Zambezi are low (August - December) - these rapids have often been referred to as the best one-day white water rafting in the world.

Hwange National Park: at 14,000 square kilometers, Hwange is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. With some of the most unspoilt wild areas in Zimbabwe, an abundance of elephants as well as leopard, lion, rhino, buffalo and over 100 bird species, a trip to Hwange must be on everyones To Do list.

Mana Pools National Park: Mana Pools is synonymous with the Zambezi River, elephants, lions, wilderness and remote beauty. It is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its wild-ness and beauty together with its wide range of large mammals and birdlife. The name “mana” means “four” in Shona, relating to the four large pools inland from the Zambezi River, the remnants of four ancient ox-bow lakes. Spread over 2,196 square km, the Park is part of a region of 10,500 square km, from the Kariba Dam to the Mozambique border, which has no physical boundaries and animals are able to move freely throughout the area. It is the only National Park where visitors are allowed to walk unaccompanied by a guide.

Lake Kariba: the world’s third largest man-made lake offers spectacular elephant and buffalo sit-ings on its shores as well as being home to the ferocious tiger fish! Take the 24-hour ferry from Mi-libizi on the southern tip to Kariba town in the north and witness the beauty of remotest Zimbabwe.

Great Zimbabwe: a ruined stone city in south Zimbabwe, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s late Iron Age, in around the 11th Century. One of its most prominent features are its 5m high stone walls, constructed entirely without mortar and the ruins are some of the oldest, largest and most impressive stone structures in Southern Africa. The city was built over a period of 300 years and it is believed that over 18,000 people lived there at its peak before being eventually abandoned and falling into ruins.

Nyanga: Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands is home to rolling green hills, majestic waterfalls and the country’s highest peak, Mount Inyangani. A tranquil retreat from the heat of the Lowveld, Nyanga is a haven for bird-lovers and hikers and is also home to rivers ideal for tubing and canoeing.

What will the weather be like?

During the Zimbabwe summer (September - April) temperatures average 28-30°c. Volunteers should bring light clothing in neutral colours (not white), a wide-brimmed hat or cap, polarised sun-glasses, a water bottle, plenty of high factor sunscreen (and after-sun!), strong mosquito spray and closed shoes. A light waterproof jacket is also essential for sudden downpours! Average lows are around 15-20°c.

During winter (May - mid-August) daytime temperatures average 25-27°c with no rainfall at all. Temperatures during the night and in the mornings and evenings can get down to 7-10°c (and it has been known to frost!) so volunteers are advised to bring lots of layers including fleeces and a warm hat for nighttime camping with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and loose light clothing for daytime.


Do I get some time off?

Volunteers get one and a half days off per week. Bulawayo is close to Victoria Falls (approximately 5 hours) and we highly recommend you factor in a trip to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Bulawayo is a very historical city and there are lots of things to see. A visit to the Natural History museum is a must - considered to be one of the best in Africa and wandering the wide, tree-lined streets, relatively unchanged in the last 100 years is an interesting experience.

Combination Projects

We highly recommend making the most out of your trip to Africa and consider combining two or more volunteer projects. You could start and finish in the same place (Harare to Harare) or use it as an opportunity to get from one country to another (e.g. Zimbabwe to Namibia).

Take a look at a selection of tailor made itineraries that previous volunteers have enjoyed.

Project Gallery - Wildlife Research & Small Mammal Care

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