Mana Pools Wildlife Conservation


A unique opportunity to support the wildlife in one of Africa’s most magical National Parks. Mana Pools is a true Garden of Eden, one of Africa's last great wilderness areas: remote, pristine and unbelievably breathtaking.

Set on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, this wildlife programme gives volunteers the opportunity to contribute to the ecological security of Mana Pools National Park; to many, Zimbabwe's number one wildlife destination.

Monitor the endangered African wild dog, study Mana's unique herds of elephant, and collect data on a variety of other keynote species, including hippo, lion, leopard and buffalo. Experience the magic of Mana Pools, with its vast uncluttered floodplains, giant trees and magnificent Zambezi River.

Quick Facts

Who can join: Volunteers aged over 18 years (families and accompanied volunteers under 18 will be considered on application)
How long can I stay: 2 weeks
Accommodation: Tented camp
Transfer time: 5-6 hours
Pick up from: Harare
Meals: 3 meals a day
Project numbers: 6
Start dates: Various from June - November
How much: from $2,495 (2 weeks)


A unique opportunity for volunteers to experience one of Africa’s finest National Parks, and to contribute to its long term ecological security. Mana Pools is synonymous with those that are passionate for animals, and is a truly remote, wild African location. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers volunteers a true wilderness experience.


The Mana Pools National Park is rated the 5th Best Park in Africa (Getaway Magazine) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - based on its outstanding wildlife spectacles, populations of endangered species (most notably elephant, lion, cheetah, hippo and wild dog), and its ecological significance.

Mana Pools is famous for being the only National Park where visitors can go on self-guided foot safaris, surrounded by an immense variety of wildlife.

Mana Pools National Park is a 219,000 hectare (54,100 acre) national park in northern Zimbabwe. The region is an area of the Lower Zambezi River where the flood plain turns into a broad expanse of lakes after each rainy season. As the lakes gradually recede, the region attracts huge numbers of large animals in search of water, making it one of Africa’s most renowned game viewing regions.

In the local Shona language, Mana means ‘four’, in reference to the four large permanent pools formed by the meanderings of the Zambezi River. These 2,500 square kilometres of river frontage, islands, sandbanks and pools, flanked by forests of mahogany, wild figs, ebonies and baobabs, is one of the least developed national parks in Southern Africa. It is home to Zimbabwe’s biggest concentration of hippos and crocodiles and large dry season mammal populations of elephant, buffalo and zebra.

The area is also home to other threatened species including lion, cheetah, African wild dog, and near-threatened species, including leopard and brown hyena.

Volunteers will work alongside Mwinilunga Safaris’ Dave McFarland, Tess Arkwright and their son Andrew, at a dedicated volunteer bush camp on the banks of the Zambezi River. Mwinilunga Safaris is an experienced, family-run safari company, passionate about Mana Pools and dedicated to conserving the biodiversity, ecology and wilderness of the area.

What you'll be doing

The programme is split into three main parts: wildlife research, conservation and park management.

Wildlife and Ecological Research

Volunteers will collect data on a variety of keynote species, including hippo, wild dog, elephant, leopard, crocodile and plains game, to study the effects of these species on each other and their natural environment.

Data collection will include identifying populations of each species, family units and observations of animal behaviour with one another and other surrounding species. Volunteers will also study predator-prey connections and synergies, and ecosystem relationships.

  • Create and maintain ID kits of priority species such as elephant,wild dog and leopard for the benefit of National Parks staff, research students and park visitors 
  • Motion sensor camera surveys overnight to increase knowledge on nocturnal species
  • Volunteers will collect data on wildlife movement patterns, identify trends and establishing causes. Patterns are documented on a map to visually identify trends.
  • Collect data on water levels and rainfall to establish any links to growth or decline in species numbers.
  • Collect data on unique flora, and the symbiotic relationship between plants and wildlife
  • Study the impact of boats on the river, oil or petrol spills, species diversity in high traffic areas, document and report any illegal nets in the river or signs of poaching.

Wildlife Conservation

Volunteers will be immersed in one of the most unique wilderness areas in the world. In order to collect meaningful data, participants will learn a number of techniques, including animal identification, tracking and trailing and animal behaviour.

  • Identify animal spoor, based on footprints and dung, and identifying the species. Spot the differences between different herbivore and carnivore tracks
  • Learn to track based on footprints and other evidence of animals in the bush; 
  • Study animal behaviour and what certain displays mean
  • Learn about animals’ behaviour with other species and identify which animals coexist comfortably together.

Park maintenance and development

Volunteers participate in a number of National Parks support programmes, including infrastructure development and maintenance, especially of the road and river networks. Depending on the time of year, volunteers may get involved with:

  • Repairing elephant damage
  • Digging out water points
  • Building and maintaining hides
  • Erosion repair
  • Join anti-poaching patrols to check for and remove snares and traps. Record and report signs of poaching
  • Help in the workshop - learn to change a tire and maintain game viewing vehicles

A week at a glance

Activities will depend on the time of year and what the current focus of study is. However, this is an example of what a typical week might look like.

Every morning 0530 / 0600 start (depending on weather): tea / coffee and rusks / fruit. Check and record weather conditions (windy / rainy / dry / hot etc), temperature, rainfall, river water level.

Every day: create ID kits of priority species - hyena, leopard, elephant, wild dog, lion, cheetah.

Every day: take note of movement patterns of animals on map - hippo and other priority species.

Every evening 1700 / 1800 finish: set up camera traps in high traffic areas. Dinner and bed.


Volunteers are housed in a beautiful tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River. There are three pop-up dome tents, sleeping two volunteers (same sex sharing), with stretcher beds, mattress, linen and pillows. There is a flush toilet and shower with hot water - both of which look straight out onto the river life of hippo and crocodiles.

There will be a maximum of six volunteers at any one time, which ensures you will have a hands on and important role to play within the research team. Larger private groups can be accommodated - please enquire for details and pricing.

Food is provided, and volunteers will have tea/coffee and rusks/fruit early in the morning, a large home cooked brunch and then dinner, which will be a hot meal of meat and vegetables, with pasta, rice, potato or salad. Vegetarians and vegans can be catered for.

There is no access to internet at this site (except for emergencies), but the area has some mobile reception hotspots. NetOne SIM cards are the only server with network in Mana Pools and can be purchased for $1 upon arrival at the airport.

The camp is unfenced and wildlife will walk through regularly!

Rates & Dates

When can I volunteer?

The project runs in two week blocks from June - November. You will need to arrive into Harare on the Sunday, ready for an early charter flight on Monday morning. Return flights should be booked for a Tuesday as you will return from Mana by air on Monday. Pre and post programme accommodation is for your own account.

Project pricing

2018 pricing for this project is as follows (USD):

2 weeks: $2,495

Please enquire should you wish to stay longer than 2 weeks. This may not always be possible but we can certainly find out for you.

What does the cost include?

  • Project fee: this goes straight back to the project and covers the cost of equipment, vehicles, maintenance and staff
  • Accommodation at base camp, all meals and soft drinks
  • All project related transport
  • Return charter flights from Harare to Mana airstrip (minimum 2 people sharing)
  • 24 hour supervision, full orientation, guide and support from project staff
  • All activities on the project and equipment needed to do your work
  • All pre arrival information and guidance

The programme fee does not include:

  • Flights to Harare International Airport or Lusaka
  • Visa fees (from $30 - $75 depending on nationality)
  • Travel insurance (compulsory) - must include emergency evacuation and repatriation
  • National Parks fees ($54 per day - to be brought in cash and paid directly to National Parks)
  • Personal expenses such as souvenirs, drinks, snacks
  • Pre and post-programme accommodation
  • Additional excursions / activities (fishing $10 / canoeing $10)
  • Administration fee ($40)

View our booking terms and conditions.


What level of fitness is required?

A reasonable level of fitness is required as there is some walking and foot based tracking involved. The ground is flat but dense.

Volunteers should be prepared to work in a variety of weather conditions, including cool winters and very hot summers. Please check the prevailing weather conditions before you travel.

Who should volunteer on this programme?

In addition to the fitness levels above, the project welcomes volunteers who have a passion and interest in wildlife. The ability to communicate suitably in English is required, as much of the information recorded will need to be documented and shared. Bring an open mind and a willingness to participate in all activities, in a variety of weather conditions!

How old do I need to be?

The minimum age on the project is 18. There are no upper age restrictions, subject to the fitness levels detailed above. The project would also be appropriate for families on an application basis.

How do I keep in touch? 

There is no access to internet at the camp (except for emergencies) but the area has certain mobile phone reception hotspots.

How many people will there be?

There is a maximum of 6 volunteers at a time. This is to ensure everyone has a personal and hands-on experience and makes a real impact.

Is there any time off?

Sunday will allow time for volunteers to relax, catch up on sleep and enjoy the tranquil setting that surrounds camp. Hippo on their doorstep, and an indescribable number of birdlife socialising nearby.

When can I arrive?

Transfers to camp run early Monday morning from Harare. Volunteers arrive into Harare no later than the day before (Sunday) and arrange accommodation overnight. Volunteers will be transported out of camp on Mondays so return flights home from Harare should be booked for the Tuesday. Prices in the Rates section assume a start on the project on a Monday and departure on a Monday.

How do I get to the Park?

Included in your project price is a charter flight from Harare to Mana airstrip and back. This is based on a minimum of two people flying. Other options are available, including a vehicle / boat transfer from Harare (500km); a vehicle / boat transfer from Lusaka (Zambia - 80km) or charter flights from Victoria Falls or Hwange National Park. Please enquire for details of alternative transfer options.

How long can I volunteer for?

2 weeks, from June to November.

What visa do I need?

Volunteers should obtain a tourist visa which will allow you 30 days in Zimbabwe. The cost for this visa varies country to country – please research this prior to arrival to ensure you have cash (USD) to make payment. Most nationalities can obtain a tourist visa upon arrival, but please check this well before you travel to make sure.

Volunteering in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is the true home of Conservation Travel Africa. The country has previously been in the international news for all 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 through adversity, 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 everyones To Do list.

Join our volunteer programme in Hwange National Park and the Zambezi National Park and support their wildlife and rangers.

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 Milibizi 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.

Other volunteer programmes in Zimbabwe:

Why not combine your volunteer experience in Mana Pools with one of our other amazing projects in Zimbabwe:


Project Gallery - Mana Pools Wildlife Conservation

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