• Wildlife Conservation

Conserving wildlife: A tail of four big cats

Article by Mark Easterbrook

Mark Easterbrook

Posted: September 12, 2019

Admire the big cats, from the king of beasts to the shy and elusive. Spend time learning conservation skills and capturing images of endangered wildlife.

Have you already seen all the National Geographic and Discovery Channel documentaries on Netflix? Ever looked at your house cat and thought you wanted to see bigger? If so, you are probably looking for that next level of understanding. And you want to get off the couch and into the wilderness 

Well, there is a GVI wildlife volunteering program for you. Read on to find out which program will suit you best.

Wildlife photography: A picture paints a thousand words


If photography is your thing, then the wildlife photography and conservation awareness course in Costa Rica may be just what you need.

Produce your best images in a jungle, where the diversity of fauna and flora creates a feast for the eyes. All this can be captured through your lens. As you ride on canoes in the canals within this unique coastal rainforest, you’ll be introduced to many colourful birds, noisy frogs, and cheeky monkeys. 

Cheetahs: The smallest, but the fastest


“Dynamite comes in small packages” is a saying applicable to the burst of speed the cheetah achieves when hunting. Spend some time at GVI’s base in Karongwe Private Game Reserve on the Cheetah conservation and research project in South Africa. 

Get to see the behind-the-scenes action not shown in those National Geographic programs. This includes tracking the animal, and observing them as they prepare to hunt or relax in the shade.



You’ll learn to understand the cheetah’s position in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. As the more shy and timid of the big cats, cheetahs face great challenges with keeping their kill away from scavengers and other big cats. They may be on the lowest rung of the big cat ladder, but they pack a punch in the race for survival.

The cheetah is being introduced back in to Karongwe. They need to familiarise themselves with the new environment, and keep their distance from other predators. And at the same time, they’ve got to keep themselves fed and healthy!

Lions: The king of beasts


The lion, star of a full-length movie and many Broadway and West End theatre productions, spends its off-time in the African savannah. On the South Africa big cat research short term internship you’ll have the opportunity to see this star in its natural habitat, doing the things we humans do: eating dinner, keeping cool, teaching the younger generation the lay of the land, socialising, and interacting with their surroundings.

You’ll get to know the behaviour of the male lion and his partner the lioness. You’ll become familiar with how she keeps her pride healthy, fed, and develops the next generation. You’ll see how the lion builds respect from the cheetah and the other predators on the lower rungs of the big cat ladder.



We all want a healthy ecosystem in which to live, and so does the lion. Adequate prey species are required in a reserve to sustain a healthy predator population. You’ll be supporting tracking activities on lion feeding behaviour. 

Through telemetry and camera trapping, you will be able to see how the king of beasts uses the space within the park. Interactions between lions and cheetahs also make for exciting campfire stories.

Jaguars and leopards: The elusive and the agile


The leopard and the jaguar are the stealthy, sleek and shy members of the panthera family. Sightings are rare, but these big cats form an integral part of the ecosystem. 

Spend time doing jaguar research in Costa Rica, trekking through the jungle to identify paw prints, or edit your camera trap images. 

To understand the lifestyle of the elusive leopard, travel to South Africa to learn camera trapping and data collection skills. 



Wait with excitement as the computer reads the data on the SD card taken from the camera that you set up last night and have just retrieved. Celebrate with your new friends as the image of a leopard stares right at you from one of the pictures, then turns and gives another full side image. 

You’ll use the images from your camera trapping to support conservation activities. Once all the work is done, set your favourite as your screensaver, giving you great inspiration when you return home. Wildlife documentaries will take on a new glow once you capture your image and know the work that goes on in the background.

Sign up to one of the big cat projects that GVI has to offer. Choose your continent, select your cat and get ready to volunteer abroad. Your housecat will be so proud.

Mark Easterbrook is an intern at the GVI Writing Academy. The Writing Academy is a skills-development program that pairs development editors with budding travel writers. Learn more about the program here


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