African Wildlife Conservation Teen Volunteering in South Africa

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

Durations: 2 weeks
Fieldwork hours20 hrs of fieldwork per week
Participant ratio1:6 staff to participant ratio
Free parent consultation

Program information

Step into the world of wildlife conservation! Learn to spot predators like lions and cheetahs, as well as mega herbivores like elephants and rhinos. Live in a game reserve and learn about endangered animals like elephants and pangolins. Connect with teens from around the world and get ready for some seriously cool adventures, like exploring Kruger National Park and hiking in Blyde River Canyon.

Under 18s brochure

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Travel flexibility, because life happens! Modify your booking, even up to 48 hours before departure. T&Cs apply.
Dates & Prices
What's Included
Speak to alumni
Arrivals &
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Qualifications & Training Options
Parent Info
Support & Safety

Program overview

This teen volunteer program is an opportunity to experience South Africa’s wildlife like never before. Spend two weeks in a South African game reserve, where you’ll learn all about local conservation efforts and how we protect habitats and endangered species. Encounter diverse wildlife like elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, wildebeest, hyenas, jackals, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, and more. As night falls, explore the world of nocturnal creatures such as aardvarks, civets and genets. It’s an adventure with purpose – are you ready to join us?

Teen volunteers 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 like hiking in the Blyde River Canyon. Teens will be led by experts in their field who have been chosen for their mix of relevant experience and ability to mentor and inspire young people.

This wildlife conservation volunteering program is tailored for teens aged 15 to 17. GVI has been running ethical and responsible programs for under 18s since 2012. We prioritise health and safety above all else and take additional measures for our under 18 programs. We’re proud to be compliant with British Standards 8848. Our dedicated GVI staff greet all teen participants upon arrival and provide support throughout the program.



Explore a conservation career

Learn to identify predators, like lions, cheetahs, and leopards, as well as megaherbivores like elephants and rhinos.

Experience the African bush

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.



Conservation surveys

Participate in surveys on a bush drive, spotting wildlife and documenting observations. Contribute to data collection efforts in the wilderness.

The basics of field guiding

Master field guide basics: ID South African animals by appearance, tracks, scat, learn tracking techniques for wildlife encounters.

Camera trapping

Explore setup, usage, analysis, significance of camera traps in conservation. Deploy traps, observe findings, understand wildlife preservation.

Tracking and bush walk

Refine your tracking skills on a bush walk led by experienced guides. Explore flora and fauna, observe and learn in an immersive outdoor adventure.

Women’s empowerment project

Visit the Zingela Ulwazi Trust Permaculture Site, empowering local women through skill-building. Support ongoing projects in permaculture gardening.

Visit the Blyde River Canyon

Hike scenic trails in Blyde River Canyon for breathtaking views and unique geological formations, an awe-inspiring adventure.

An evening under the stars

Enjoy a starlit evening in the South African bush, stargazing and sharing tales. See the Southern Cross constellation, adding magic to the experience.

Visit Hoedspruit Reptile Centre

Encounter fascinating creatures such as the African rock python, Nile crocodile and leopard tortoise. Gain insights into their role in the ecosystem.

Program details

Dates and prices

Select a start date:

This is summer!

Chase that feeling! Save up to 15% on selected programs.

Book and pay by 31 July to claim offer.
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.


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 might 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. Later, continue community outreach at the local school.

Day 12

Adventure time! We head out to the Blyde River Canyon for a day of hiking. The canyon is known for its unique geology and expansive views.

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
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
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
Impact & ethics
Child protection
Career services
PDF reference
Program certificate
University certificate – specialisation (University of Richmond)
PVSA certificate
What's excluded
Not included
International and domestic airport taxes
Medical and travel insurance
Visa costs
Police or background check
Personal items and toiletries
Additional drinks and gratuities

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 ...


We meet you at the airport.

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.


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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.


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
Kaite Elizabeth Thompson, Andrew Ford, Genoveva Esteban, Angelo Poupard, Kayla Zoon, Nathalie Pettorelli
GVI South Africa Limpopo Annual Report 2018
Annual Report
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

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

Austral Ecology

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

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

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

South African Journal of Wildlife Research

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

Science 346, 79 (2014)

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

Poster abstract for RCUK conference

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

Ecological Society of America: Preprint

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

Dissertation – BSc Ecology

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

BSc Dissertation

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

Austal Ecology: In Press

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


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


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

BSc Dissertation

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

Dissertation – BSc Equine Studies June 2011

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


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

Forest Ecology & Management

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

Journal of Mammalogy

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

DTech Nature Conservation Thesis

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


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

African Zoology

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


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

Mtech Nature Conservation

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

Master of  Science (title TBC) – thesis

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.