Travel to a private South African wildlife reserve, an hour from Kruger National Park, to track majestic herds of elephant, buffalo and rhino through the savannah landscape alongside an international team of staff and volunteers conducting a range of wildlife conservation research projects.
For many, witnessing herds of elephants, rhino or buffalo in the heart of the southern African bushveld for the first time is a life-altering experience. However, unlike a conventional safari trip, this program allows you to contribute directly to ongoing research and conservation, in partnership with Karongwe Game Reserve Association and other local conservation organisations. You’ll live and work with participants and GVI field staff from all over the world on a wide range of other long-term conservation initiatives as well.
Megaherbivores – like elephants and rhinos – are incredibly important to the health of the ecosystem, ensuring the distribution of plants throughout a habitat and uncovering water sources in dry times that other animals can use later. However, they can also be destructive to a habitat if their populations are not well managed, due to their habit of pulling up roots of plants to eat them.
You will work with a trained GVI researcher to track rhinos, elephants and buffalo through the bush on safari vehicles, noting the number of individuals, their age and sex, as well as their behaviour and any identifying details.
Develop an in-depth understanding of complex South African ecosystems and learn how to conduct surveys on species such as elephants, rhinos and buffalos.
Get the full safari experience in South Africa with this once-in-a lifetime chance to work with and live among some of the world’s most beautiful, thrilling and vulnerable wildlife.
Contribute to ongoing environmental projects that address critical challenges aligned to the global UN SDGs.
Join local conservation partners and qualified professionals to ensure your efforts are highly ethical, meaningful and sustainable.
Venture outside typical travel itineraries to get exclusive access to extraordinary remote habitats, rare species and unique ecosystems.
Share epic experiences with like-minded, passionate changemakers from all over the globe.
With expert local staff and 24/7 support at every step – you can relax and enjoy the experience stress-free.
Disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with nature, yourself and your purpose.
Some of the example typical activities you could participate in on this program.
Learn how to identify species, collect data and monitor individual animals. You will also receive health and safety training and training on the ethics of conversation work.
Gain experience identifying and monitoring your chosen focus species.
Assist our science coordinator with managing elephant data which includes spatial utilisation, development of identification kits, behavioural studies and elephant habitat destruction mitigation methods.
Collect data on mega-herbivores like rhino and buffalo. Data will include population dynamics, spatial utilisation, group associations and development of identification kits.
Help rehabilitate land degradation and erosion, remove alien species and assist with other reserve maintenance projects.
Get involved in environmental education awareness projects, teach English to the community, or contribute to other community development projects proposed by our local partner organisations.
Collect data on local bird species and upload it to citizen science databases. This data is used by researchers all over the world.
Some of the partners we work with on base.
|24-hour emergency desk|
|24-hour in-country support|
|Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)|
|All project equipment|
|Food (except on long-term internship placements|
|Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)|
|Group introductory call|
|Endorsed GVI Specialisation Course|
|Endorsed Leadership Course|
|Sustainable project work|
|Data collection and research|
|Real projects with partners|
|Weekly group check ins|
|Remote Academic Internship Supervisor|
|Remote Career Internship Supervisor|
|Preferential recruitment on GVI positions|
|Job portal access|
|Endorsed Careers Course|
|Career coaching sessions|
Certificates and achievements
|PDF reference - upon request|
|Linkedin reference and skills endorsement|
|Additional drinks and gratuities|
|Extra local excursions|
|International and domestic airport taxes|
|Medical and travel insurance|
|Personal items and toiletries|
|Police or background check|
Live in the heart of the South African savannah, sharing a renovated farmhouse with qualified guides from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, other GVI staff, and participants from around the world. The base is incredibly remote, and tourists are unable to visit. Completely open to the bush and close to a dam, animals frequently visit the property, including elephants, buffalo, impala and leopards.
Boasting more than 20 thousand acres of open savannah, our research station in Limpopo features some of the best wildlife viewing of any private South African game reserve. It’s home to all of the Big Five, including the elusive leopard, as well as cheetahs and spotted hyenas.
Rise each morning to the sound of African birdsong at dawn, before heading out in an open-topped safari vehicle to conduct research vital for the conservation of key predator species, like cheetahs and lions. Heading back to camp when the sun is at its height, you’ll input data, study, assist with cooking or tidying, or relax with the team in our shared outdoor social space. In the early afternoon, when the sun starts to set over the Drakensberg mountain range, you’ll head out again to conduct further research. Returning when the stars are at their brightest, you’ll share a meal and the day’s stories with your team. In your free time, visit Kruger National Park, an hour’s drive from your accommodation, travel to the scenic Panorama Route, which takes you through the magnificent Blyde River Canyon, or spend some time in the local town called Hoedspruit.
With one of most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and home to many of the most threatened African wildlife species, South Africa is a nature, wildlife, and adventure lover’s paradise.
Lodgings consist of large dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms. The base is solar-powered to ensure less impact on the environment. When it’s time to relax, there are hammocks...
Transport to conduct field research is provided by our vehicles and drivers. We have one 15-seater taxi for organised transfers, which includes w...
Our base has good connection to local cell phone towers, and participants with unlocked mobile devices can purchase local SIM cards during weekly trips into town. There is Wi-Fi...
Participants make their own breakfast, which is continental style, including bread and spreads. For lunch, it’s usually sandwiches and salads. Dinner might be anything from a tr...
Limpopo is well-known for its warm climate. Sunny days and low rainfall are the norm on most days throughout the year. Summer, starting in October and ending around March, coinc...
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards – the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development.
Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.
Joining a GVI program not only allows you to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems – but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer over weekends.
Field staff are a great source of advice and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. You can choose to travel before or after your experience with GVI (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships you’ve established on the program. Please note that the below options are not included in the program fee, and would be up to you to arrange at your own expense.
The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga province is one of the most scenic parts of South Africa. It runs along the eastern edge of the Drakensberg, the...
Choose your adventure: a solo self-drive or team up with a skilled guide in a custom open safari vehicle (OSV). Opt for a day trip or an overnigh...
Further south, In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, you’ll find the historic Zululand, as well as the grave and memorial of the famous leader, King ...
Experience the unique cultural milieu of the coastal town of Durban. On the coast of the Indian Ocean, its warm waters make the city a haven for ...
Watch the sunset from the top of Table Mountain (you can hike to the top or take the cableway up and down) or walk the circular route to the top ...
The rusty sandy expanse of the Kalahari stretches from South Africa to Namibia and Botswana. Home to dunes reaching the heights of several buildings and a diverse range of wildl...
The Drakensberg mountain range is dotted with canyons, and many people experience the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping for the first time he...
South Africa might not be top of mind when considering skiing destinations. Tiffindell Ski Resort in the Drakensberg is South Africa’s only ski a...
There are 19 national parks you can visit during your stay in South Africa. Run by South African National Parks (SANParks) the closest park to us is the famous Kruger National P...
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program.
On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts.
From a fisherman’s meal of fish and chips to a spicy curry with naan, the diversity of South Africa lives in the dishes available in most communi...
The most dominant religion in South Africa is Christianity. As a land of acceptance and diversity, you will find many people of different faiths,...
The northernmost region of South Africa and home to the Kruger National Park, the Limpopo province feature...
Possessing one of the highest biodiversities in the world and the home to many of the most threatened African wildlife, South Africa is a nature, ...
30 May, 2022
If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.
We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.
Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.
This is Sophie, she is our Program Manager at GVI Limpopo here in South Africa. Originally from Northern Ireland, Sophie’s journey with GVI start ...
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
GVI is a proud member of the Gap Year Association.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Many of Africa’s wildlife species are under threat. Private reserves, like Karongwe, where we run our conservation projects, are a haven for at-risk species. Karongwe is located within the UNESCO protected Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve. This biosphere represents only 1.4% of South Africa’s land, but contains 55% of the total natural life found here.
Karongwe Private Game Reserve
Karongwe Private Game Reserve was once made up of individual farms. In 1998 the landowners banded together and created an 8,500 hectare game reserve. In 2001 GVI was brought onto Karongwe to assist the Karongwe Ecological Research Institute (KERI) in their monitoring of the large predators and herbivores on the reserve. In 2006, GVI Limpopo took over this role. This helps reserve management understand the impact of predators on the prey species, and maintain a healthy ecosystem by ensuring a balance of natural resources. Predators are often tracked using telemetry, or monitored using camera trapping. Through this we learn how they use the space within the reserve, what their feeding behaviour is like, how they interact with one another and other predators. Herbivores might be counted, their numbers, age, and sex listed, and their impact on vegetation noted. This data is presented to Karongwe management and landowners on a weekly, monthly, half-yearly and yearly basis. We also assist with anti-poaching efforts by monitoring and recording the movements of individual rhino on the reserve through the use of our ID kits. Sometimes we assist with the upkeep of the reserve’s fences and roads. We also assist with removing old farm infrastructure and invasive alien plant species, and work on soil rehabilitation to help with habitat recovery.
Cheetah Research and Conservation
Cheetahs are a species listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species. They are a rather fragile species as they naturally have a low genetic diversity and are not able to compete well with other larger, stronger predators like lions and hyenas. One aspect of our study focuses on how cheetahs make use of their kill, as well as prey preference. We record how much time the cheetahs spend on their fresh kill as well as what potentially encourages them to leave. This helps to know how they are dealing with competition with other predators. We also collect data on breeding success and interactions with other predators.
Bird Research and Conservation
We also contribute to the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2), one of the most important bird monitoring projects in Southern Africa – and its largest citizen science database. Because they are popular and well-studied, birds are appropriate indicators of ecosystem health. The availability of significant, long-term datasets in South Africa makes birds a good choice for an early-warning system for climate change impacts and other systematic, ecosystem-wide threats to broader biodiversity. The number of critically endangered birds in South Africa has increased from 5 in 2000 to 13 in 2017. One group in particular features particularly dramatic statistics: 22 of the 79 raptors occurring in the northeastern region of the country are now considered threatened. Of concern are the low numbers of scavenging raptors. Most of South Africa’s vulture species, as well as the tawny eagle and the bateleur (two obligate scavengers), are listed as endangered or critically endangered. In December 2016, SABAP2 featured 9 million records across 17,339 pentads, 5 minutes of latitude by 5 minutes of longitude, squares with sides of roughly 9 kilometres, in South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini. The selection of sites and habitats critical to bird conservation rely on this data. All other conservation initiatives depend on the results of the bird atlas, to a greater or lesser extent. One cannot determine the conservation status of a species unless you know its range and how this is changing.
We also conduct environmental education programs at one primary school and one day care centre in the area. We make ourselves available for conservation-focused mini-projects. This might include documenting bird of prey nesting sites or the creation of lists for microfauna species in the reserve. In the past we have partnered with a range of conservation organisations, as well as academic institutions like the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, and Bournemouth University. Exact project details are also always subject to change due to weather conditions, time of year, and animal movements. As the requirements of our partners change over time, so do the details of our projects.
The specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) we work on in Limpopo is Goal 15: Life On Land.
Over the past 21 years, GVI Limpopo has:
1. Presented at over 70 land owner meetings.
2. Assisted more than 1,200 children in learning about the environment and wildlife (since 2014).
3. Constructed 3 day care centres (since 2015).
4. Recruited 17 national scholarship students (since 2013).
5. Taken more than 300 learners on game drives.
6. Supported over 20 partner organisations.
7. Published 17 peer-reviewed papers.
8. Placed tracking devices on 25 individual animals, including cheetahs, lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs.
9. Monitored 375 individual animals and rare game.
10. Assisted with over 25 rhino dehorning events.
11. Raised over £46,000.
12. Hundreds of participants have passed through our doors, and many have gone on to have careers in wildlife conservation (or another aspect of the natural environment), due to the experience gained with us.
GVI Limpopo’s Long-term Objectives:
1. Provide long-term and consistent data for the Karongwe Game Reserve Association to assist them in making decisions based on scientific data.
2. Increase local awareness of GVI’s purpose and impact on Karongwe PGR.
3. Increase scientific output.
4. Contribute to three large-scale reserve management projects alongside the warden in accordance with the reserve’s management plan.
5. Increase our in-country capacity by providing environmental and conservation education and training, and through community upliftment projects.
The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.
Master of Science (title TBC) – thesis
Mtech Nature Conservation
DTech Nature Conservation Thesis
Journal of Mammalogy
Forest Ecology & Management
Dissertation – BSc Equine Studies June 2011
Austal Ecology: In Press
Dissertation – BSc Ecology
Ecological Society of America: Preprint
Poster abstract for RCUK conference
Science 346, 79 (2014)
South African Journal of Wildlife Research
Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd (Open access)