Under
18

African Wildlife Conservation Teen Volunteering in South Africa

Spot lions, elephants, and other wildlife on a safari conservation awareness experience in South Africa.

GVI Hub: a home-from-home
Durations: 2 weeks
Free parent consultation

Program information

Find out what it takes to pursue your dream job in conversation. Learn what a career in wildlife conservation would really be like and join other teens to learn how to identify South African animals in a private wildlife reserve. Visit Kruger National Park and go rock climbing, hiking, and kayaking in the Drakensberg Mountains. You will live and learn with fellow teens from around the world, making lifelong friends in the process.

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Overview
Dates & Prices
Itinerary
What's Included
Life On Base
Cultural Immersion
Speak to alumni
MEET THE TEAM
Arrivals
Flights
Your Impact
publications
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Qualifications & Training Options
Parent Info
Support & Safety

Program overview

This project gives you a real and unfiltered look into South Africa’s iconic wildlife. However, unlike a traditional tourist safari, you will learn about conservation issues in the region and what is being done by local organisation like the South African National Parks authorities and international organisations like the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Panthera, to conserve the habitat of these animals as well as South African species under threat. At the end of this two week group program, you will have gained a first-hand insight into local and global conservation initiatives as well as how the complex South African savannah ecosystem fits together.

This wildlife conservation volunteering program is designed for teens between the ages of 15 and 17, to teach them what a career in conservation would really look like. GVI has successfully been operating ethical and responsible programs for under 18s since 2012. Since then, it has treated health and safety as a number one priority and takes extra measures for its under 18 programs. As such, it is also a British Standards 8848 compliant provider.

Learn how to identify South African animals and how tracking them and recording data on their location and behaviour assists with their conservation. The program also includes a visit to the Kruger National Park and adventure activities in the Drakensberg mountains. Teens will be lead by experts in their field who have been chosen for their mix of relevant experience and ability to mentor and inspire young people.

All teen participants are greeted by GVI staff at their arrival destination and supported throughout their GVI program. 

Highlights

  • Go on a wildlife safari adventure in a private South African nature reserve.
  • Learn about conservation issues in Africa and what a career in conservation is really like.
  • Visit the famous Kruger National Park and go hiking, climbing, or kayaking in the Drakensberg Mountains.
  • Live with a group of teens from around the world and make new life-long friends.
  • Successfully complete this program and get a professional reference from your program manager. You’ll also have the option of earning a certificate endorsed by the University of Richmond if you choose to complete our included online leadership course, which is valued at £295.
  • Listen to the quiet hush of the wild open spaces, waking each morning to a chorus of savannah birds and drifting off to the nighttime hum of endemic frogs and crickets.
  • Learn to identify predators, like lions, cheetahs, and leopards, as well as megaherbivores like elephants and rhinos.
  • Master radio telemetry techniques and learning how to track and record animal movements.  
  • Live and work alongside Field Guide Association of South Africa, FGASA, qualified guides, growing personally and professionally by learning from their experiences.
  • Sleep under the star-filled Southern night sky, its beauty enhanced by the lack of light pollution, and wake to a golden African dawn.

Program details

Dates and prices

Select a start date:

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Secure your spot before spaces fill up.
Payment plans. Flexible payment plans allow you to pay in instalments.

What happens next?

Once you apply, a personal Enrollment Manager will be assigned to walk you through the rest of the process.

Itinerary

The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date.

Day 1

Welcome to the South African bushveld! Your first night will be spent getting to know your new friends over a welcome feast.

Day 2

Safari time! On your first game drive, you’ll hopefully spot lions, leopards, elephants, as well as other iconic species. End the day by watching a classic African sunset.

Day 3–4

The basics of field guiding. Find out how to identify South African animals based on their appearance, paw prints and scat, as well as the tracking techniques used to find them.

Day 5

Meet the local community and assist with programs aimed at teaching children about the importance of protecting their natural environment. Lunch will be a traditional South African barbeque, known as a ‘braai’.

Day 6

Explore the South African bush on foot during an early morning hike. Learn how indigenous plant species are used in traditional South African cultures.

Day 7

Spend the day helping out at a local primary school. Then we set up for a slumber party under the stars. Dinner is a traditional South African ‘potjie’ – a stew cooked over an open fire.

Day 8

Head out on your second bushwalk and put your knowledge of plants to the test. Then head out on an afternoon game drive.

Day 9

Snakes, lizards and tortoises! You’ll visit a reptile rehabilitation sanctuary which does important outreach work to protect these species and educate local communities about conservation.

Day 10

Visit the famous Kruger National Park, where you'll spot the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. Expect another spectacular sunset.

Day 11

Have your morning coffee out in the bush during an early morning game drive – the best time of day to spot predators big and small. We return to the local primary school to carry on with our community outreach work.

Day 12

Adventure time! We head out to the Blyde River Canyon for a day of hiking, climbing, abseiling and kayaking.

Day 13

The circle of life: you’ll have one more morning bushwalk and afternoon game drive to put all you’ve learned about African wildlife to the test before a final feast back at base.

Day 14

It’s not goodbye, but see you soon. As we head to the airport, you’ll have one last chance for photos, exchanging details, and heartfelt farewells.

What’s included?

What's included
General
Food
Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)
Airport pick up (unless stated)
All project equipment
24-hour in-country support from local staff
24-hour emergency desk
Activities
Sustainable project work
Data collection and research
DofE Residential activity provider
Pre-program training
Pre-departure webinar
Pre-departure training (online)
University of Richmond endorsed leadership course
Welcome training
GVI welcome presentation
Health & safety
Local culture & environment
UN SDGs
Impact & ethics
Child protection
Career services
PDF reference
Certificates
Program certificate
University certificate – specialisation (University of Richmond)
PVSA certificate
What's excluded
Not included
Flights
International and domestic airport taxes
Medical and travel insurance
Visa costs
Police or background check
Personal items and toiletries
Additional drinks and gratuities

Life On Base

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.

Accommodation

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...

Transportation

Transport to conduct field research is provided by our vehicles and drivers. We have one 15-seater taxi for organised transfers, which includes w...

Communication

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...

Meals

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...

Climate

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...

Cultural Immersion

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.

Cooking

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...

Religion

The most dominant religion in South Africa is Christianity. As a land of acceptance and diversity, you will find many people of different faiths,...

Limpopo

The northernmost region of South Africa and home to the Kruger National Park, the Limpopo province feature...

South Africa

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, ...

Speak to alumni

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.

Get a first-hand perspective

Meet us

Meet the team

Get acquainted with the GVI Africa, South Africa, Limpopo family

Sophie Pyper

Program Manager

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 ...

Arrivals

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.

Your Impact

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.

Environmental Education

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.

Project objectives

 

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.

Publications

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.

All of our publications are on Google Scholar
Google Scholar
View publications
Impacts of African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) on tall trees and their recovery within a small, fenced reserve in South Africa
Peer-reviewed scientific publication
2022
Author(s)
Kaite Elizabeth Thompson, Andrew Ford, Genoveva Esteban, Angelo Poupard, Kayla Zoon, Nathalie Pettorelli
GVI South Africa Limpopo Annual Report 2018
Annual Report
2018
Author(s)
Leah Brown
‘Anthropogenic effects on wildlife: Do anthropogenic features affect African elephant (Loxodonta africana) space use in a small, protected area?’
Scientific Publication

Master of Arts in Conservation Biology, thesis

Author(s)
Katherine (Kaggie) Orrick
‘Resource partitioning of sympatric small mammals in and Africa forest-grassland vegetation mosaic.’
Peer Reviewed Article

Austral Ecology

Author(s)
Craig T. Symes (1), John W. Wilson (2), Stephan m. Woodborne (1, 3), Zara S. Shaikh (4) and Michael Scantlebury (5)
‘Wildlife road traffic accidents: a standardized protocol forv counting flattened fauna.’
Scientific Publication
2014

Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd (Open access)

Author(s)
1: The Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa 2: Wildlife and Reserve Management Research Group, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa 3: Department of Nature Conservation, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
‘Rapid growth rates of lion (Panthera leo) populations in small, fenced reserves in South Africa: a management dilemma’
Scientific Publication
2014

South African Journal of Wildlife Research

Author(s)
Susan M. Miller & Paul J. Funston
‘Flexible energetics of cheetah hunting strategies provide resistance against kleptoparasitism.’
Scientific Publication
2014

Science 346, 79 (2014)

Author(s)
David M. Scantlebury,1* Michael G. L. Mills,2,3 Rory P. Wilson,4 John W. Wilson,5,6 Margaret E. J. Mills,2 Sarah M. Durant,7 Nigel C. Bennett,8 Peter Bradford,9 Nikki J. Marks,1 John R. Speakman10,11
‘Occurrence, Diet and Management of the Invasive Lionfish Pterios spp. in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Quintana Roo, Mexico’
Conference Poster
2013

Poster abstract for RCUK conference

Author(s)
Fulton, S. And Ponce-Taylor, D.
‘Moving to stay in place - behavioural mechanisms for coexistence of African large carnivores.’
Scientific Publication
2013

Ecological Society of America: Preprint

Author(s)
Abi Tamim Vanak, Daniel Fortin, Maira Thakar, Monika Ogden, Cailey Owen, Sophie Greatwood, Rob Slotow
‘An investigation into the distribution of ground dwelling mammals on Mariepskop Mountain, Drakensberg, South Africa.’
Scientific Publication
2012

Dissertation – BSc Ecology

Author(s)
Dawson, Emily
‘The feeding ecology of Loxodonta Africana: Vegetation selection and foraging impacts.’
Scientific Publication
2012

BSc Dissertation

Author(s)
Leanne Doran
‘Quantifying resource partitioning on a South African forest-grassland small mammal community using stable isotopes.’
Scientific Publication
2011

Austal Ecology: In Press

Author(s)
Symes CT, Wilson JW, Woodborne SM, Shaikh Z & Scantlebury M
‘Minimum prey and area requirements of the Vulnerable cheetah Acinonyx jubatus: implications for reintroduction and management of the species in South Africa.’
Scientific Publication
2011

Oryx

Author(s)
P. Lindsey, CJ Tambling, R Brummer, H. Davie-Mostert, M. Hayward, K. Marnewick & D Parker
‘Minimizing predation risk in a landscape of multiple predators: effects on the spatial distribution of African ungulates.’
Peer Reviewed Article
2011

Ecology

Author(s)
Thaker M, Vanak A and Owen C
‘Importance of scavenging food from animal carcasses in human evolution.’
Scientific Publication
2011

BSc Dissertation

Author(s)
Emma Staniforth
‘Observations on the factors that influence the movement and habitat choices of zebra (Equus quagga) in Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa.’
Peer Reviewed Article
2011

Dissertation – BSc Equine Studies June 2011

Author(s)
Georgina Baldry
‘Minimizing predation risk in a landscape of multiple predators: effects on the spatial distribution of African ungulates.’
Peer Reviewed Article
2011

Ecology

Author(s)
Maria Thakar (1), Abi T. Vanak (1, 2), Cailey Owen (1, 2), Monika B. Ogden (2), Sophie m. Niemann (1) and Rob Slotow (1)
‘The response of small mammals to natural - and human-altered edges associated with Afromontane forests of South Africa.’
Scientific Publication
2010

Forest Ecology & Management

Author(s)
Wilson JW, Stirnemann RL, Shaikh Z & Scantlebury
‘Copulatory parameters and reproductive success of wild leopards in South Africa.’
Scientific Publication
2010

Journal of Mammalogy

Author(s)
Cailey Owen, Sophie Niemann, and Rob Slotow
‘Lion conservation on small game reserves in South Africa: a metapopulation approach.’
Scientific Publication
2010

DTech Nature Conservation Thesis

Author(s)
Susan Miller
‘Group Dynamics of Zebra and Wildebeest in a Woodland Savanna: Effects of Predation Risk and Habitat Density’
Peer Reviewed Article
2010

PLoS ONE

Author(s)
Maria Thakar (1), Abi T. Vanak (1, 2), Cailey Owen (1, 2), Monika B. Ogden (2), and Rob Slotow (1)
‘Reproductive biology of a pride of lions on Karongwe Game Reserve.’
Scientific Publications
2008

African Zoology

Author(s)
Monika B. Lehmann, Paul J Funston, Cailey R. Owen and Rob Slotow
‘Home Range Utilisation and Territorial Behaviour of Lions (Panthera leo) on Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa’
Peer Reviewed Article
2008

PLoS ONE

Author(s)
Monika B. Lehmann (1, 2), Paul J. Funston (1), Cailey Owen (2, 3) and Rob Slotow (3)
‘The behavioural ecology of a solitary lion pride in Karongwe Game Reserve’
Scientific Publication
2007

Mtech Nature Conservation

Author(s)
Monika B. Lehmann
‘The effects of land use and other anthropogenic effects on the population dynamics and behaviour of small mammal communities in the Limpopo Province.’
Scientific Publication
2017

Master of  Science (title TBC) – thesis

Author(s)
Jawi Ramahlo

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.

 

We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.