Big 5 Conservation
South Africa

Gain hands on experience in conservation management on a wildlife reserve, assisting the local team in a diverse mix of conservation activities including monitoring of the Big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard).

You will support some amazing local community projects, making a difference to the lives of those who live near the reserve and giving you a full experience of life in South Africa.

Living on the reserve, you will have the opportunity to explore this African wilderness and the two beautiful rivers that run through it. The reserve is on the Garden Route, a short drive from stunning beaches of the Indian Ocean, which you can enjoy at weekends.

Join the team and help the conservation of this incredible wildlife reserve and the communities that surround it.

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Key Info

key info
  • Location: Eastern Cape
  • Start dates: Throughout the year
  • Duration: 1 – 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (17+ for families)
  • Availability: Spaces available
  • Cost: From £895 / €1040 / $1120 - see fees table below
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Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

You will take part in an innovative hybrid of conservation and community volunteering, allowing you to get behind the scenes and make a lasting difference by assisting on and around a stunning 11,000 hectare Big 5 reserve. The reserve is home to a spectacular variety of wildlife including elephants, lions, cheetah, rhino, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, lynx, hyena, warthog, zebra, aardvark, honey badger, porcupines and much more!

Your time is split evenly between wildlife conservation and community volunteering and you will get to contribute to many varied activities, which makes for a fascinating and diverse experience based in a stunning safari setting.

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

Every bit of help is needed to get the jobs done on this extensive reserve. Conservation projects and activities can include:

  • Endangered & priority species tracking and monitoring – primarily focusing on elephant, cheetah, rhino and lion
  • Recording information on animals using identification and data sheets
  • Predator and prey behaviour monitoring – cheetahs and lions
  • Elephant research – movement patterns, habitat selection, behaviour
  • Bird research and surveys – 354 species in the area
  • Camera trap set up and collection
  • Removal of alien invasive plant species and selective clearing of areas of the reserve
  • Removal of old fencing and water pipes 
  • Equipment & vehicle maintenance

Each role is accompanied by a briefing so that you understand the activity and learn more about the wildlife reserve. You will be introduced to the many animals and plants found on the reserve through orientation drives and a field booklet which includes animal, plant and bird checklists and identification kits.

While carrying out the work you’ll get to experience the most incredible encounters with the Big 5 - lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard - as well as plenty of other South African wildlife!

Every day is different in the bush and depends on the season, weather, animal behaviour and what’s happening on the reserve.  

COMMUNITY WORK 

The reserve has several impoverished communities nearby and the team believe passionately that you can't succeed at conservation without engaging and helping the people who live in the area. As a volunteer you will meet new people, experience different cultures and help improve their lives and environment.

Community activities can include:

  • Soup kitchens (providing vulnerable children with a hot meal) – helping to serve meals, playing games and doing educational activities with the children 
  • Maintenance of community buildings and facilities
  • Establishing and maintaining community vegetable gardens
  • Sports – helping coaches with after school sports (football, rugby and netball)
  • Domestic animal care – helping with education, vet treatment days, building dog houses

Typical day

On your arrival Monday you will settle in and receive a full orientation.

Volunteers work Monday-Friday, with a morning session beginning at 8am, followed by a lunchtime break and then an afternoon session from around 2pm to 5pm. You will spend half your time doing conservation activities and half your time doing community activities - mornings and afternoons usually alternate between conservation and community volunteering. 

We recommend volunteering for at least 2 weeks if possible, to get the full range of actitivies. However you can join for 1 week and still have an amazing experience (orientation on the first day followed by 4 days of volunteering and then the weekend to explore the local area).

Evenings are for you to relax and spend time with your fellow volunteers. There are some organised evening activities too:

  • A sunset / night safari drive
  • A visit to town and dinner
  • A South African Braai (BBQ)

Weekends are free and volunteers are encouraged to make the most of their free time in this incredible location, with beautiful beaches and many activities right on your doorstep.

Other volunteers

There are usually 8-16 volunteers (with a maximum of 16), numbers vary throughout the year. 

Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) award

This placement has been approved by the DofE as meeting the requirements for the Residential section of the Gold Award.

Local support

You will be supported by the local team which includes:

  • Jo – Conservation and Volunteer Programme Manager
  • Jaco – Conservation Volunteering Coordinator
  • Malibongwe – Community Volunteering Coordinator

Jaco lives on the reserve and you will get to know him well.  Jaco has an Honours degree in Nature Conservation and is an outdoor enthusiast who aims to awaken enthusiasm for nature and wildlife in everybody who he comes across! 

“Hard work is vital in conservation practices and volunteers will learn new skills, make new likeminded friends, grow personally, bond with nature, and have encounters with many of Africa’s most magnificent animals.” Jaco, Volunteer Coordinator

Accommodation

Volunteers stay at the very comfortable conservation centre on the edge of the reserve and you may wake up to the sound of lions calling or see zebras eating at the fence!

There are 6 shared bedrooms and bathrooms, a lovely lounge to relax in, pool table, dining area and kitchen. There are also games and books for volunteers to enjoy. Outside there is a nice garden with BBQ area and a plunge pool to cool off in on a hot day!

The house has WIFI and good mobile signal.

Meals

There is a fully equipped kitchen and all ingredients are provided to be able to have 3 basic meals a day. Volunteers help themselves to breakfast and lunch and are divided into cooking teams to take turns preparing dinner.

Here are typical examples of the food you will have:

  • Breakfast – toast, cereals, porridge, fruit
  • Lunch – sandwiches
  • Dinner – pasta / stew / sausages with vegetables and salad

On days when there is a trip to town, volunteers often choose to eat at local restaurants which offer a variety of options including pizzas and burgers.

Vegetarians are welcomed and can be catered for.

There is a rainwater tank at the volunteer house which provides safe, fresh drinking water.

Getting there

You will need to fly into Johannesburg Airport (JNB) or Cape Town Airport (CPT) and then take a connecting flight to Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ).

We will arrange for you to be met on arrival at Port Elizabeth airport and have a private transfer to the project, which takes about 2 hours.

Location and free time

The reserve is situated along the Garden Route and incorporates 10,000 hectares of pristine African wilderness, as well as two abundant rivers. It is arguably the most beautiful of all the Eastern Cape game reserves, with stunning views and vistas. It is located in a malaria-free area.

Big 5 Conservation reserve

You are uniquely positioned to explore the reserve each day and as you drive through it you come across incredible wildlife, including the Big 5! Night drives offer surreal views of the stars as well as all the nocturnal life and sounds of being out in the bush. Volunteers love to spend time at the rivers, heading out on canoes, swimming and birdwatching.

There is a beautiful small beachside town 15 minutes’ drive from the reserve, which you will normally visit once a week. It has stunning beaches and sand dunes plus a variety of services including cash machines, supermarket, pharmacy, restaurants and bars to relax in! There are also two other towns approximately 30 minutes’ drive from the reserve.

Weekends are free to relax and explore. A popular choice is to spend Saturday by the beach in the local town, have a meal out and then return to the reserve to spend Sunday relaxing by the pool and reading a book. The local team can help arrange transport and activities for weekends and provide lots of suggestions.

Climate

The hotter summer period is from November to April, with a milder winter from May to October. There can be rainfall at any time of year, but the wetter months are usually at the start of summer in October and November.

In the summer temperatures average around 30°C, but at times reach 35-40°C. In the winter the mornings and evenings can be cold (especially on the back of a vehicle as you drive through the bush) but by midday temperatures are usually 20-25°C.

Travelling in South Africa before or after your placement

Popular activities in South Africa that you might like to combine with your project are:

  • Travelling the beautiful coastline along the Garden Route
  • Whale watching near Port Elizabeth
  • Visiting Cape Town and sampling local wines at the famous vineyards

For more information on South Africa and some of the things we loved when we visited there please see our South Africa country page. This also features all our other South Africa volunteering projects as you might like to consider combining this project with one of the others we offer to make a trip of a lifetime!

South Africa

Dates

2024: 8 Jan, 15 Jan, 22 Jan, 29 Jan, 5 Feb, 12 Feb, 19 Feb, 26 Feb, 4 Mar, 11 Mar, 18 Mar, 25 Mar, 1 Apr, 8 Apr, 15 Apr, 22 Apr, 29 Apr, 6 May, 13 May, 20 May, 27 May, 3 Jun, 10 Jun*, 1 Jul, 8 Jul, 15 Jul, 22 Jul, 29 Jul, 5 Aug, 12 Aug, 19 Aug, 26 Aug, 2 Sep, 9 Sep, 16 Sep, 23 Sep, 30 Sep, 7 Oct, 14 Oct, 21 Oct, 28 Oct, 4 Nov, 11 Nov, 18 Nov, 25 Nov, 2 Dec*

2025: 6 Jan, 13 Jan, 20 Jan, 27 Jan, 3 Feb, 10 Feb, 17 Feb, 24 Feb, 3 Mar, 10 Mar, 17 Mar, 24 Mar, 31 Mar, 7 Apr, 14 Apr, 21 Apr, 28 Apr, 5 May, 12 May, 19 May, 26 May, 2 Jun, 9 Jun, 16 Jun*, 7 Jul, 14 Jul, 21 Jul, 28 Jul, 4 Aug, 11 Aug, 18 Aug, 25 Aug, 1 Sep, 8 Sep, 15 Sep, 22 Sep, 29 Sep, 6 Oct, 13 Oct, 20 Oct, 27 Oct, 3 Nov, 10 Nov, 17 Nov, 24 Nov, 1 Dec, 8 Dec*

* 1 week duration only

July and August start dates are reserved for volunteers aged 18-35 years old.

What's Included

Included

  • Dedicated Pod Volunteer specialist to support you from booking on until you complete your trip
  • Comprehensive trip planning guide
  • Accommodation 
  • Food - all main meals
  • Induction and training
  • Support from the team onsite in South Africa
  • 24/7 emergency support from the Pod Volunteer UK team 
  • Donation to Pod Environmental Fund tackling climate change
  • 100% payment protection through ABTOT 
  • Volunteering certificate and reference (on request)

Not included

  • Flights
  • Transfers to / from the project (we will arrange this for you, it costs 1,000 South African Rand each way) 
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations 
  • Living costs - snacks, drinks
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
1 week £895 GB Pounds
2 weeks £1295 GB Pounds
Extra weeks £525 GB Pounds

Discounts

  • £50 discount if you have previously volunteered with Pod Volunteer 

Where the money goes - financial transparency

Your fee covers the overseas costs of volunteering and the costs of running our organisation in the UK, on a non-profit basis.  For more details and a breakdown of our costs please click here.

Book with confidence - financial protection

All monies paid to us are financially protected through The Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited (ABTOT). 

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Fees in currencies other than GBP are indicative only and volunteers are invoiced in GBP. For current exchange rates please see www.xe.com

Read volunteer reviews from the Big 5 Conservation project

Mary 

“Thanks for checking in- yes, it’s incredible here. We have seen so many animals and done some pretty crazy stuff on weekends. It’s been amazing, I wish I could stay longer”

Eli 

"The Pod Volunteer team is just amazing, super accessible and ready to help you with anything you need and answer as many questions as you have. Go with an open mind, open heart and open soul. The peace and harmony you'll get by being in the bush surrounded with all those beautiful animals and being able to do something for them and the Soup Kitchen community, will fill your life with joy. Embrace every second of it, it doesn't matter if you're going for two, three weeks, or two months, it's so beautiful that it's never going to be enough."

Hannah 

"My experience at the Big 5 Conservation project was amazing. I was supported by Pod from the start to the end and always received quick responses to my questions. Everyone at the project was lovely and everyday was an interesting, educational, and fun experience!

Each morning I woke up knowing I was going to have a great day and learn something new while having fun. Every day was a new adventure! My highlight activity was tracking, monitoring and taking data on the herd of elephants - being surrounded by these giants was something I will remember forever. I particularly enjoyed our work in the local community - helping at the soup kitchen, assisting with lessons at the school, and marching with high school students in the Global Climate Strike were the most incredible experiences.

The people I met on the project really made the experience great. Spending my two weeks with likeminded people from around the world was definitely a highlight. I’ve made memories that will last a lifetime and will definitely be volunteering again in the future!"

Carine 

"I really had the time of my life.  Coming to Africa has been a life-long dream of mine and my stay here exceeded all expectations.  In the past two weeks I have learned more about birds, plants, reptiles, mammals, star signs and even about myself than I ever thought possible. 

Because of my time here I’m now also one step closer to finding out what I want to do further in my life.  I’m going home knowing that I’ve made great friends and great memories.  My only regret is not booking a longer stay." 

Matilde 

"As soon as I arrived, I understood that living on this reserve for a month was going to be the most amazing experience of my life.  Everything here seems unique, more beautiful and intense; the stars shine brighter and just by walking outside the front door I can see animals that I used to see only on the pages of my school books.

South Africa is a wonderful country, the landscapes are breath-taking and the people are probably the nicest I have ever met.  Thanks to this experience I will definitely come back to this country.  Our coordinator has taught me so much and I’m very grateful for it.  Thank you for making this experience even more extraordinary."

Daniel 

"It was one of my best experiences in life.  Since the moment I’ve arrived, everyone was so friendly and made me feel at home.  Our coordinator had so much wisdom to share about the fauna and flora on the reserve. 

We were able to see a huge herd of elephant right next to us, an encounter between a white and black rhino, lions walking around and many other fantastic moments.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity of joining this programme." 

10,000

hectares of conserved area

"It was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever! Pod Volunteer provided the ideal amount of support and guidance"Satvinder

Alex

24/7 support

Alex and the Pod UK team are here to help you throughout your trip

Reserve your place and start your volunteering adventure to South Africa!

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VOLUNTEER REVIEWS

  • South Africa Big 5 Conservation volunteer – Daniel

    "We were able to see a huge herd of elephant right next to us, an encounter between a white and black rhino, lions walking around and many other fantastic moments"

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • South Africa Big 5 Conservation volunteer – Carine

    "In the past two weeks I have learned more about birds, plants, reptiles, mammals, star signs and even about myself than I ever thought possible"

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • South Africa Big 5 Conservation volunteer – Kwenta

    "I was very lucky to be part of a great group of volunteers. In such a short time, we all got so close. We learnt so much from our coordinator. Thanks, I will never forget this!"

    Read more volunteer reviews

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