Big 5 Wildlife Conservation, National Parks

Zimbabwe

A fantastic opportunity to volunteer as a Field Assistant in two of Zimbabwe’s most magnificent national parks. Join a team of professional rangers, learn to track and monitor big game including elephant, leopard and lion, and assist with infrastructure development within the parks. This project is a unique opportunity for volunteers who are looking for a true wilderness experience.

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.

Hwange National Park is home to Africa’s Big 5 game, and you will learn to identify the tracks and signs of these iconic animals, monitor poaching activity, locate missing animals and help identify and record family groups. Volunteers gain a deep insight into the management involved in running a huge National Park with very limited resources.

Quick Facts

Who can join: Volunteers aged 18 years and over
How long can I stay for: 2 weeks
Accommodation: National Parks Chalet / Camping
Transfer time: 1.5 hours
Pick up from: Victoria Falls
Meals: 3 meals a day
Project numbers: 6-8
Start dates: Saturdays (set start dates)
How much: $1,995

WHY CHOOSE THIS PROJECT?

Support National Parks rangers and work with a local not-for-profit organisation in two of Zimbabwe’s finest National Parks. Experience the thrill of living in the heart of a big game area and enjoy the peace of the African wilderness. Work alongside dedicated conservation professionals as you learn to track and monitor big game and help with park-wide maintenance and repair. Witness amazing animal sitings, massive elephant herds and make a difference to the long-term survival of Africa’s most iconic species.

Background

This Elephant Conservation volunteer programme is based in two of Zimbabwe’s most stunning National Parks: the Zambezi National Park in Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park, about 100km south-east of Victoria Falls town in Western Zimbabwe.

Volunteering in the Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls

The first four nights of your volunteer programme in Zimbabwe is 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. Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya or the The Smoke That Thunders, is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and as well as boasting the largest sheet of falling water in the world, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls on earth.

A huge variety of animals are found within the Zambezi National Park including all of Africa’s Big 5 and you will enjoy amazing sitings and get off the beaten track as you camp and help restore this pristine wilderness area. The park has been neglected until a decade ago when the programme moved in to restore it to its previous abundance, 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 sqkm is home to over 100 mammal species and 400 different types of bird.

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 volunteers live, is also home to a small population of black rhino which are carefully monitored by volunteers and park rangers.

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 so this is a truly unique opportunity to get involved and make a difference!

Highlights

  • A true African experience - enjoy vast pristine wilderness as you venture off the tourist trail and immerse yourself away from civilisation
  • Join a team of Park rangers and scouts as you have the opporunity to observe elephants, rhino, wild dog and lions
  • Get behind the scenes and become part of a dedicated team doing real hands-on conservation work
  • Watch hundreds of elephants at a time come to drink at waterholes
  • Learn to track Africa’s Big 5 game and monitor their movements and territories
  • Repair damage to waterpoints, roads and riverbeds
  • Experience unparalleled wildlife sitings and witness incredible animal and birdlife
  • Help locate collared animals using radio tracking
  • Camp out under the night skies and experience the wonderful world of nocturnal animals - watch packs of hyena as they go hunting and track leopard and lion through the bush
  • Undertake essential conservation work as you maintain vital waterholes in far-flung reaches of the park
  • Join anti-poaching scouts as you check for evidence of snares and traps

What sort of things will I be doing?

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 and when poaching is often at its worst. Your activities and itinerary will also depend on the time of year you are in the park - but rest assured, there is plenty to do year-round!

Wildlife Conservation:

Volunteers monitor animal movements, when required, will record 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 and synergies, 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
  • Animal movements and the impact of certain animals in the area
  • Rhino patrols, monitoring and rhino research
  • Data collecting and animal tracking
  • Rhino monitoring - under the supervision of expert rangers, track these ancient animals through the bush and observe their behaviour and movements
  • Carry out large animal and bird population surveys
  • Population monitoring of rare and depleted antelope species including sable, roan, gemsbok (oryx) plus wild dog and brown hyena
  • Carry out road transect data surveys, data capture and analysis
  • Use photographs for animal identification
  • Learn about birds, trees and grasses and how they impact on the health of the Parks
  • Collect and record data on elephant numbers
  • Set up and monitor camera traps, looking at animal activities around popular animal paths
  • Basic bush education and bush living skills

Park maintenance and development:
Volunteers participate in a number of National Parks 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 hands-on support to the permanent Trust staff member on site and National Parks scouts and rangers. Experience the challenges and joys of running a 5,000 square mile conservation area.

  • Join anti-poaching patrols to check for and remove snares and traps
  • Help in the workshop - learn to change a tyre, Africa-style!
  • Carry out tree planting, reforestation and alien species removal
  • Create new roads and repair river erosion
  • Environmental management and area rehabilitation

Details

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. You should be of reasonable mobility and fitness as there is some walking and foot-based tracking involved in the project.

During your stay in the Zambezi National Park you will be camping under canvas - toilets, washing and shower facilities are available in camp, but are basic. 

How do I get to the project?

Included in your programme price is a return transfer from Victoria Falls - either from the International Airport or from another destination within the town.

What does the cost include?

  • Programme fee - financing which goes back into the volunteer programme; this includes funding for equipment, supplies, vehicles and foodstuffs
  • Transfers to and from Victoria Falls on the scheduled date and time
  • Full board and lodging for the duration of your programme (exc. alcoholic and fizzy drinks)
  • Practical instruction on wildlife and plant identification as well as spoors, tracking and animal behaviour
  • All programme-related transport and equipment required to do your work
  • 24 hour support and guidance from the volunteer programme staff

The programme cost excludes:

  • Transport by air or bus to Victoria Falls
  • Visas (note you must request a tourist visa upon arrival)
  • Any expenses prior to your programme start date or once your project finishes
  • 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

An outline programme itinerary:

You will be collected either from the airport or your lodgings on Saturday morning. Spend the first four nights in the beautiful, unspoilt Zambezi National Park and then travel to Hwange on the first Wednesday. On that travelling day there is an opportunity to shop in Vic Falls and resupply. Spend the next 9 days in Hwange National Park. The final Friday is a day off, where volunteers leave the park early, travel to Victoria Falls and stay that night in a lodge (included in your project fee). 

A day in the life: Hwange National Park

Volunteers live within an unfenced Hwange National Park campsite on top of an escarpment overlooking miles and miles of stunning African bush. Accommodated in chalets, complete with beds and linen, you will eat breakfast on your verandah watching the rock dassies play nearby.

Depending on the time of year, the weather, the phase of the moon and what’s been happening in the park, volunteers will go out on their daily activities, sometimes taking a packed lunch and spending the day out in the park monitoring far off waterholes, helping with anti-poaching or undertaking road strip counts.

If you come back to camp early, you may undertake a second activity – either with a planned purpose or maybe with a new focus dependent upon what was found earlier that day (maybe predator tracks were found or a carcass located).

After a substantial evening meal, chatting about the days sitings underneath the incredible starry night sky, volunteers retire to sleep in comfort and to a background of animal cries and calls.

Although this is characteristic of a typical day, some mornings may start at 3am or may continue beyond midnight into the kingdom of nocturnal creatures.

Rates & Dates

When can I volunteer?

This project is closed from November to March each year because heavy rains in the area make many roads impassable, and vehicle breakdowns very frequent! 

However, If you would like to volunteer on this project outside of the dates below, please do email us and we will see if there are any opportunities available. Volunteers have previously joined the team outside of the normal volunteer project dates and had a fantastic time shadowing the permanent staff and Parks Rangers.

Project dates 2019:

START FINISH
13th April 27th April
11th May 25th May
8th June 22nd June
6th July 20th July
3rd August 17th August
7th September 21st September
28th September 5th October

Project pricing 2019:

2 weeks $1,995

View our booking terms and conditions 

Accommodation & Leisure

Accommodation

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 the Zambezie National Park you will camp in 2 man tents, with basic washing and toilet facilities. All bed linen is provided, but please bring a sleeping bag.

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 Zambezi National Park 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.

Leisure

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!

Reviews

This project was an incredible experience. I got to see and do things that no normal visitor to a National Park would ever get to do. Working with the rangers and Trust staff was amazing and I learnt so much about wildlife and about conservation. And I know I will never see so many elephants in one place again! We saw lions on a kill, tracked rhino, watched wild dogs hunting, fixed water points, camped out in the bush and did I mention the elephants?!

Stephen and his team are doing an amazing job, I’ll definitely be back!

Emma J, UK
Big 5 Wildlife Conservaton, Zimbabwe

An AMAZING wildlife experience

I have been to African many times as a tourist but this was my first volunteer experience and it was incredible! The project is a good mix of game watching, tracking and physical work - fixing water pumps. repairing elephant damage to water holes and fixing roads. Stephen is an incredible guide and we learnt so much from him about birds, trees and the animals that we saw. We were lucky enough to see lions regularly and we even caught a glimpse of a pack of wild dogs. Sunsets at Sinamatella are sensational and the camp is in a prime location.

Loved every minute of it!

Jake W, UK
Big 5 Wildlife Conservation, Zimbabwe

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 humour 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 everyone's 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 in the Hwange and Victoria Falls area average 30°c and temperatures can reach 35°c+ in October and November. Volunteers should bring light clothing in neutral colours (not white and no camoflague), 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 night-time camping with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and loose light clothing for daytime.

Project Gallery - Big 5 Wildlife Conservation, National Parks

Testimonials

Big 5 Wildlife Conservation, National Parks I volunteered in Hwange National Park and right from the start I loved landing at Victoria Falls Airport, and then being whisked literally 40 minutes down the road in a no-roof 4x4 vehicle to what felt like the middle of the bush, and being instantly asked to set up my tent for camping! I felt instantly exploded away from my usual daily life of spreadsheets and computers, into Africa veldt - being up close ... Yvie A, United Kingdom Read More

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