Endangered Wildlife Conservation

South Africa

Support award-winning conservation to save endangered and threatened wildlife species in Africa. Make a direct contribution, and get involved in some of South Africa's most important and exciting conservation work. A truly unforgettable wildlife experience.

The project is based in Zululand, one of the most biodiverse wildlands in Africa - much of it declared 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. 

Species monitored: African wild dog, black and white rhino, cheetah, lion, leopard, elephant, vulture

 

Project videos:

Quick Facts

Who can join: Volunteers aged over 18 years 
How long can I stay: 2 - 16 weeks
Accommodation: Tented camp / volunteer house
Transfer time: location dependent (average 5 hours)
Pick up from: Richards Bay Airport
Meals: 3 meals a day
Project numbers: 6
Start dates: Various from mid January - early December
How much: from $1,525 (2 weeks)

WHY CHOOSE THIS PROJECT?

An incredible opportunity to actively help with the conservation of endangered and priority species, focusing on research into African wild dog, cheetah, rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and vultures. Support an award-winning conservation programme and get involved in exciting on-the-ground research.

Background

This is the only Fair Trade Tourism certified wildlife volunteer programme in Africa that works with and is supported by high-profile and international conservation organizations such as WWF, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Panthera and Wildlands Conservation Trust (to name just a few). The project was also the first wildlife volunteer programme in Africa to be Fair Trade Tourism certified.

Conservation volunteers will work across five different game reserves in South Africa, getting the chance to experience varied natural environments. Unlike other volunteer organisations that work solely on small, private game reserves (used as farmland in the past) this project is based predominantly on large, nationally proclaimed and protected game reserves that have always been home to wildlife - giving you a real sense of the true African wilderness.

Saving Endangered Species

Key to the survival of Africa's endangered species is ensuring that they are reintroduced to protected areas, where they can safely roam and strengthen in number. Key to the success of this is the intensive monitoring of reintroduced animals on a daily basis to assess how they are doing. The project have assisted in the reintroduction of over 200 endangered Black Rhino in the past 3 years, have have implemented tracking devices on the rhinos during the relocation process. This enables the close monitoring of these ancient animals to ensure their safety. The same process apples to all the endangered and priority species that are reintroduced.

Since 2010, the project has achieved:

Rhino:

  • Over 250 Rhinos fitted with tracking devices
  • Over 200 Black Rhino relocated to new homes
  • 55 Rhino dehorned and 32 notched

Wild Dog

  • Over 130 African Wild Dogs fitted with tracking and anti-snare collars
  • Over 100 Wild Dogs saved, treated and rescued from snares
  • Over 150 Wild Dogs retrieved and / or relocated

Cheetah

  • 29 Cheetah fitted with tracking collars
  • 17 Cheetah relocated to new homes
  • 6 Cheetah saved from snares

Lion

  • Over 60 Lions collared with tracking technology
  • Over 30 Lions relocated to new homes
  • Over 130 Lion call-ups performed

Elephant

  • 8 Elephants collared with tracking technology
  • 4 Elephants treated for wounds
  • Over 130 Elephant monitoring sessions

Vulture

  • 45 Vultures fitted with GPS backpacks / trackers
  • 125 Vultures wing tagged and sampled
  • 16 nest surveys and 6 vulture recoveries

All of these achievements have been possible through the critical help and support of volunteers.

What you'll be doing

The project conducts intensive endangered species monitoring work in Zululand, South Africa, and volunteers are an integral part of the exciting conservation work that is being done across the region.

You will get the chance to monitor a range of endangered and threatened species including the African wild dog, rhino, cheetah, lion, leopard, elephant and vulture.

Wildlife monitoring

Wildlife monitoring is essential for keeping track of animal movement patterns, habitat utilisation, population demographics, snaring and poaching incidents, and animal breakouts. This information has numerous management applications, including the planning of successful introduction and removal strategies of priority wildlife species.

  • This requires wildlife monitors and conservation volunteers to go out into the reserve every day and find the focus animals, using either VHF tracking equipment or conventional spoor tracking techniques
  • You will also develop photo and illustrated identikits of all the species you help monitor
  • All the projects have been approved by the Management Authority of each reserve and national park, to perform critical and essential conservation work for those reserves

Photo ID

  • Volunteers are responsible for ensuring that animal identikits are as up-to-date as possible
  • You will take pictures of individual animals on drives, set up camera traps near water holes and game trails and monitor GPS locations of animals. All this information is added to the individual animals' profile

Data collection and analysis

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.

Other activities

Depending on how long you join the team for and the time of year, you may also be part of the following activities:

  • 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 activities occur strictly when the need arises and cannot be guaranteed).

Real conservation

The activities are not always easy on the programme, and there are many challenges along the way, including long hours and tough work, but it’s one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences you’ll ever have. Due to the nature of the work, you may often have to track one animal for an entire day, covering large distances without success – but it’s important that the work is done.

This is not a safari operation. This project enables volunteers to experience what life is like as a real conservationist or wildlife researcher – it’s not always fun or easy. This is real Africa

A typical day

Get up early in the morning and bundle onto the back of the open 4×4 vehicle, and head out on a monitoring session along with your wildlife monitor and the other wildlife conservation volunteers (maximum of 5 other volunteers).

Your wildlife monitor will have specific animals he or she needs to monitor. Radio telemetry is used to locate the animals with tracking collars. You will be properly trained to use the telemetry equipment and after a few days you’ll be doing the telemetry tracking yourself.

Once you’ve located the animal you will map the sighting using a handheld GPS device and update identity kits if necessary. You’ll also need to document behavioural notes used in the project’s research.

The species you will monitor include critically endangered species such as the African wild dog (Painted Dog), cheetah, black rhino and vulture. You will also do incidental monitoring of focal species such as elephant, white rhino, hyena and leopard.

You are usually back at camp by late morning when there will be time to relax, read, write in your journal, have a nap or watch the abundant bird and animal life which occurs around the camp.

Head out again in the late afternoon for another monitoring session. You are normally back in camp shortly after sunset to start preparing supper. Most meals are enjoyed sitting around the campfire, listening to the sounds of the bush and discussing the day’s activities. After a long day, bed is usually early, excited for the day ahead!

Read volunteer, Rob's, incredible 'Day in the Life' which he experienced during his stay in 2017.

Accommodation

The accommodation at each reserve is basic but comfortable. Most volunteers will share a twin room, with separate shared ablutions and a communal living / eating area. Camps have electricity, 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 kitchen will 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.

There is internet in the camp offices which is available to volunteers once a week. 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 camp 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.

Rates & Dates

When can I volunteer?

The project runs in two week blocks throughout the year. Please enquire if you are interested in volunteering between mid-December and mid-January.

Volunteers should arrive into Richards Bay Airport either the day before your project starts, or Monday morning. Return flights should be booked for Monday afternoons. Pre and post programme accommodation is for your own account.

Project start dates 2018

27th August
10th September
24th September
8th October
22nd October
5th November
19th November
3rd December

Project start dates 2019

14th January
28th January
11th February
25th February
11th March
25th March
8th April
22nd April
6th May
20th May
3rd June
17th June
1st July
15th July
29th July
12th August
26th August
9th September
23rd September
7th October
21st October
4th November
18th November
2nd December

Project pricing

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

2 weeks: $1,525
4 weeks: $2,500
6 weeks: $3,495
8 weeks: $4,475
10 weeks: $5,450
12 weeks: $6,450

Please enquire should you wish to stay longer than 12 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 provides funding for monitoring equipment, vehicles, staff and maintenance
  • Accommodation at base camp, all meals and soft drinks
  • All project related transport
  • All transfers including airport collection and return transfer on the project start and end dates
  • 24 hour supervision, full orientation, full training 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 Richards Bay (via Johannesburg)
  • Visa fees (if applicable)
  • Travel insurance (compulsory) - must include emergency evacuation and repatriation
  • Personal expenses such as souvenirs, drinks, snacks
  • Pre and post-programme accommodation
  • Additional excursions / activities
  • Administration fee ($40)

View our booking terms and conditions.

FAQs

What priority species will I be working with?

A priority species is any animal species which is a management concern.

For example, the African wild dog is of concern, because it is an Endangered Species and their conservation status is listed as Critical, while on the other hand, lion and hyena are of a concern because they impact heavily on wild dog numbers. By understanding the lion and hyena demographics and feeding ecology, and by managing their populations properly, the reserve will be better able to conserve the wild dog.

The ecological impact that a species has can also be of concern. For example, high densities of elephant, especially on small reserves, can have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. Therefore, this priority species also needs to be monitored to establish the population’s demographics and feeding ecology.

The main focuses are:

African wild dog
Lion
Elephant
Cheetah

Other priority species include:

Black rhino
White rhino
Leopard
Vultures

Can I split my time between multiple reserves?

Yes, you can. In Zululand the project works on five reserves with different species of animal and vegetation on each. Note that the opportunity to move depends on your length of stay, and if you only stay two weeks you will be based on one reserve.

What level of fitness is required?

A reasonable level of fitness is required. Volunteers should be prepared to work in a variety of weather conditions, including cold winters, short rain showers and 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 and the ability to communicate well in English. Bring an open mind, a positive attitude and an understanding and respect for other cultures.

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.

How many people will there be?

There is a maximum of 5 volunteers at a time. This is to ensure everyone has a personal and hands-on experience, gets time with the wildlife monitor, and makes a real impact. This is not an experience aimed at large numbers of volunteers.

How do I keep in touch?

You should be able to access the internet once a week from the camp office. The internet is slow and unreliable by international standards, and no downloading is permitted. Bring your personal cell phone with you as this is usually the easiest way to communicate with people at home. You can purchase a local SIM card at the airport if required.


When can I arrive?

Transfers to the research site are Monday afternoons, departing from Richards Bay airport (RCB) once the 1250 flight from Johannesburg has landed. Volunteers can arrive into Richards Bay on the Sunday and overnight at a local B&B (for your own cost), or arrive on one of the morning flights from Johannesburg - arriving at or before 1250.

Return flights should be booked for after 1300 on the Monday your project ends.

How long can I volunteer for?

Bookings run in multiples of two weeks, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.

Volunteering in South Africa

Stretching from the heat of the mighty Limpopo River on its northern border, to the waddling penguins of the Southern Cape, South Africa is one of the world’s most diverse, vibrant and fascinating countries.

Positioned at the southern end of the magnificent continent, it epitomises Africa’s iconic wildlife and natural beauty. From the deserts of the Kalahari, to bustling Cape Town, the winelands and Table Mountain; the wild beauty of the Drakensberg Mountains and of course, Kruger National Park and its wildlife-filled savannah.

South Africa is wildlife-lovers paradise: home to 10% of the world’s bird, plant and fish species and more than 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species - all this despite being 1% of the Earth’s surface.

Kruger National ParkIn terms of wildlife alone, Kruger is one of the world’s greatest national parks. At over 19,400 square km, it is almost as large as Israel and bigger than nearby Swaziland. You can be sure of seeing a huge variety of big game, including all of Africa’s iconic animal species - elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, hippo, and more than 3,000 crocodiles! The park has more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve (147 species). Mountains, bush plains and tropical forests are all part of the landscape.

Cape Town: One of the planet's most breathtaking cities, Cape Town is, by population, the second largest city in South Africa. Nature surrounds this multicultural city, which nuzzles between a rugged range of mountains and the sea. For a spectacular overview, hike to the peak of flat-topped Table Mountain, or glide up on the cableway. On Table Mountain's eastern slopes, the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens lie within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strolling along the waterfront boardwalk, visitors might see whales spouting from the harbor. Penguins waddle along the golden beaches in False Bay, while south of the city, Cape Point is home to abundant wildlife and diverse botanical wonders. 

The Drakensburg, KwaZulu-Natal: The spectacular Drakensberg, meaning "Dragon Mountains," is one of the most popular destinations in South Africa and home to the country's highest peaks. The region encompasses the World Heritage-listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, a region of jaw-dropping beauty with jagged basalt buttresses and San rock art, and Royal Natal National Park, home to the awe-inspiring Amphitheatre, a magnificent cliff face and source of South Africa's main rivers. The Giant's Castle Game Reserve in the region protects large herds of eland. Dense forests flourish in the sheltered valleys, and the area is home to more than 800 different species of flowering plants as well as a rich diversity of wildlife. Visitors flock here to hike and bike the scenic mountain trails, fish for trout, rock climb, abseil, parasail, and raft the waters of the fast-flowing rivers. Hot air balloon rides are a great way to appreciate the dramatic topography.

The Garden Route: Along the country's southeast coast, the Garden Route runs for about 200 kilometers through some of South Africa's most breathtaking coastal scenery. The route stretches along the Indian Ocean from Mossel Bay, in the Western Cape, to the Storms River, in the Eastern Cape. This popular driving route passes through rolling green hills, pretty coastal towns, lagoons, lakes, and coastal cliffs. Highlights of the route include the charming town of Knysna snuggled between dense forests and a sparkling lagoon; the beautiful Garden Route National Park with its gorges, tidal pools, and thick forests; Oudtshoorn's ostrich farms and Cango Caves; and the seal colony of the Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg Bay. 

Johannesburg and Soweto: Johannesburg, is the largest city in South Africa by population and a gateway for many travelers on safari. Named the "City of Gold" for its rich deposits of the precious metal, it's also the economic engine and vibrant heart of the country. Top historical attractions include the Apartheid Museum, a poignant look at the oppression of apartheid to the birth of democracy; Constitution Hill; and Gold Reef City, which traces the region's history through mining-themed attractions. If Johannesburg is the heart of South Africa, the shanty towns of Soweto, are its soul. An abbreviation for "southwestern townships," Soweto birthed the freedom movement, which created South Africa's new democratic constitution. Guided tours of the townships often include a visit to the Mandela House, now a national monument. 

Other programmes in South Africa:

Why not combine your volunteer experience in Zululand with one of our other amazing projects in South Africa:

Project Gallery - Endangered Wildlife Conservation

Testimonials

Endangered Wildlife Conservation This is my second time on the Endangered Species programme in South Africa, and round two was just as special as the first! One day, we were up and about early (just after 4am!) before dawn had even considered breaking. The silence across the reserve was deafening. Our focus species for the morning was to find one of the packs of wild dogs in the area using our telemetry. Two spotted hyena ran across the road. ... Rob H, Australia Read More

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