Witness nature in its simplest form, from watching a lion kill to a newborn cheetah cub play, to a stand-off between two elephants. In the African bush you can never tell what you will find just around the corner...
Travel to the home of the Big Five in the South African bush, assisting our team's important conservation research.
This project gives you a real and unfiltered look into Africa's incredible iconic wildlife. But unlike a tourist safari, you play an active and meaningful role in the research and long term conservation of South Africa's natural resources in this stunning region of the world.
You will volunteer alongside an international team to collect vital behavioral data on reintroduced predators and large herbivores on a private game reserve. In order to assist with this vital conservation work you will be trained to use research equipment to help locate predators in the reserve and you will receive invaluable training in large animal identification, tracking and behavioral study skills.
No special skills or qualifications are required to join this program, as all training will be provided by our fully qualified field teams. All we ask is an enthusiasm to learn and become fully involved and immersed in this unique opportunity.
Please note, this program offers durations up to 24 weeks. Speak to your Country Expert for more details of extending your stay in-country
Experiencing a unique African bush adventure at the heart of a spectacular game reserve; be woken by a dawn chorus and sent to sleep by the roar of lions; mastering radio telemetry techniques and learning to track animals through the bush; getting acquainted with big game and all the main predators, including lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant and rhino; exploring nearby regions to experience such breathtaking views as from the Blyde River Canyon in the Drakensberg Mountains; living and working alongside FGASA qualified South African Guides getting constant learning and inspiration; having the chance to sleep out in the bush under the spectacular African stars and wake up to a beautiful sunrise.
We are always looking for enthusiastic and dedicated people to join our team. This expedition offers qualifying and high-performing volunteers the chance to stay on the expedition for a longer duration on a GVI Scholarship free of charge and as part of the staff team in the field. If you would like to work towards a field career and make the very most of your time abroad, you might want to work towards a place on a GVI Scholarship. Successful scholars may find themselves offered full time employment with GVI, and many of our current staff have come through this route. Contact us for more information!
Please note, the awarding of scholarships is at the sole discretion of GVI and may be offered immediately after the completion of your program or at a later date.
GVI is real volunteering
Our projects are constantly evolving according to the needs on the ground at any given time. All the information displayed here will give you an overall feel for the project, but you should be prepared for any changes in the field when you travel. An evolving project means that we can constantly meet the needs and requirements of our partners, who dictate the work that we do. The way it should be.
If interested in a specific wildlife species, we also run a number of other programs out of this location:
So what does Life on the Project actually involve? See below for an idea of what to expect on a day to day basis…
Before getting fully involved in the inner workings of our research, you will undergo training that will cover how to carry out extensive radio tracking and monitoring of all the collared predators on the reserve, all while learning a variety of new skills, including mammal and bird identification, ecology and bush first aid. This training will allow you to effectively contribute to the overall program, as you get to know animals on the reserve individually and following their progress and monitor behavior.
A typical day involves spending time out in the reserve tracking the wildlife and conducting research from the game vehicles. This usually happens during the cooler weather at dawn and dusk when the wildlife is more active. Most of the research is on predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyena but we also monitor other wildlife, including elephants. There is a daily schedule and if not assisting on game drives then you may be working on data entry or helping with camp and cooking duties.
We can spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data, so you should expect some long days. All this will do is develop a baseline and holistic understanding of all aspects of the bush.
Another aspect is our community work, where you will be expected to participate in educational days with local communities, highlighting the importance of conservation.
You will have opportunities to enjoy the surrounding areas and activities, including visits to local reptile parks and animal sanctuaries, as well as mountain trails.
Camp is basic but comfortable, the old fashioned African way. Situated deep within the game reserves, you will be in dormitory-style sleeping arrangements, with shared bathrooms, a kitchen and outdoor social areas.
As well as being prepared for changes in what is an evolving project, exact project details are also always subject to change due to weather conditions, time of year and game movements.
Overall, we have regular contact with our partners, the reserve managers and other members of the broader conservation and research community to determine our areas of focus.
A typical expedition may involve the detailed monitoring of predators (lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena); herbivore sex/age ratio and its effect on predator movement; elephant impact vegetation surveys to monitor impact on sensitive areas of the reserve; community projects that teach the importance of conservation.
Other activities and ecological studies can also include darting/fitting radio collars to predators or invasive vegetation species eradication.
From a personal perspective, you will increase your knowledge of the South African environment, its importance and the threats to it, and help to increase both local and global knowledge and awareness, while contributing to our overall goals and objectives.
We also try to assist where required with off-site studies or mini-projects that may focus on different biota if we believe them to be relevant in the conservation context of the region. Such studies allow staff and volunteers to get a broader knowledge of conservation research across more than one ecosystem. Examples could include mountain biodiversity surveying; documenting bird of prey nesting sites; Celebrating environmental calendar days. Any such mini-projects are as required, would make up the minority of your time on this programme, and only for durations of 4 weeks or more.
How this project makes a difference
GVI spends up to 12 hours a day collecting data on large predators such as lions, leopards and cheetah. The information gathered is used to give an accurate picture of the predators impact on prey populations, determine social structure, genetics, and spatial movement. This vital information helps maintain a healthy balance of these natural resources and ultimately conserve some of Africa’s important ecosystems.
My favourite moments were on the drives collecting data and observing the animals, improving my knowledge and understanding of the environment and working with young people who were committing time to help understand and improve the world in which they live. It was most reassuring to see young adults working together. The project gives one a more intimate knowledge of the environment and the animals, than it would seeing them as a tourist.
My highlights? Taking part in wildlife conservation and the feeling that your work had a part to play in the aim of the expedition. The close experiences with the amazing wildlife was incredible.
The program was everything I imagined it to be and more, meeting new people from all over the world is another incredibly influential factor in choosing another GVI expedition, just an amazing, life changing, all round experience.
Participating with GVI not only allows you to work on programs assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield either before or after your program. Below is some information on trips and travel options in South Africa.
Side Trips Included
If at the Karongwe Base, volunteers will visit the renowned Khamai Reptile Park as part of the training. Later on during the phase, volunteers are also taken to a local curio market where a variety of quality carvings and other gifts are sold. Of course, there is also the beautiful Mariepskop Mountain satellite camp that takes volunteers to the top of the Drakensberg Mountains overlooking the spectacular Blyde River Canyon, and there will be a routine stop in Hoedspruit en route to Mariepskop.
For those allocated to our Zimanga Reserve base, volunteers will be taken on a full day visit to nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. This historic game reserve is Southern Africa’s rhino mecca (both species can be seen here) and there is also a plethora of other wildlife such as Wild Dogs, Lion, leopard, elephant etc. Our weekly re-supply runs also take us to the tropical coastal town of Richards Bay for a slice of civilisation and an hour or two on the beach (weather permitting)
Optional Side Trips
In the area around Karongwe Game Reserve you can visit the Kruger National Park, with entry gates no more than an hour drive away. There’s also the ‘panoramic route’ which takes you on various scenic drives along the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment, the Blyde River Canyon and to the historic towns of Pilgrims Rest, Graskop (where Harry’s Pancakes will serve you the best pancake on the planet!) and Sabie, where you can also book onto a variety of adventure activities such as bungee jumping, quad biking, canyoning and hiking, or just chill out with a picnic lunch at one of the many nearby waterfalls.
The area around our Zimanga Reserve base, if you are allocated there, offers just as many options for travel and adventure- Zimanga is unexpectedly close to the warm waters and white beaches of the Indian Ocean coast. The big attraction in the area is the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and World Heritage Site and this includes the remote beach camp of Cape Vidal, the festive-chilled St Lucia and the diving and fishing mecca of Sodwana Bay. If this is not enough to whet your appetite there are also a number of other game reserves to choose from, anglo-zulu battlefield tours, and of course the border with both Swaziland and Mozambique are a mere two hours’ drive of Zimanga base!
Further Travel Opportunities
South Africa has such a wealth of fantastic opportunities for further travel. Possibilities include the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains, the beauty of the Kalahari Desert, historic Zululand, the vibrancy of Cape Town (check out GVI’s Cape Town volunteer programs!), the fantastic Garden Route along the Southern Coast , the world-renowned National Parks of Kruger and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, and many more highlights that will leave you wanting more of this amazing country.
Build Your Program
- Pre-departure support and discounted services
- 24-hour emergency phone
- Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
- Arrival orientation
- Long term experienced staff
- Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
- All meals (unless otherwise stated in field manuals)
- Welcome meeting
- Location orientation
- All necessary project training by experienced staff
- All necessary project equipment and materials
- 24-hour in-country support
- Reserve fees and permits
- Research training
- Wildlife identification techniques
- Telemetry training as relevant
- First Aid & CPR training
What's Not Included
- Medical and travel insurance
- Visa costs
- Personal kit
- Additional drinks and gratuities
- Extra local excursions
- International and domestic airport taxes
- Airport and reserve transfers