Big 5 ConservationSouth 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).

Volunteers receive conservation education and training to assist with the important research and conservation work on the wildlife reserve. You will also have the opportunity to support local community projects, giving you a full experience of life at a South African wildlife reserve.

Living in a house within 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.

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Key Info

key info
  • Location: Eastern Cape
  • Start dates: Throughout the year
  • Duration: 1 – 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (16+ for families or groups)
  • Availability: Limited spaces until Feb 2020
  • Cost: From £645 / €710 / $800 - see fees table below
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Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

The conservation work is very varied which makes for a fascinating and diverse experience, with the chance to get involved in many different aspects of life on a wildlife reserve, which may include:

  • Wildlife locating and monitoring during drives and using telemetry equipment
  • Recording information on animals using identification and data sheets
  • Entering data to the research computer
  • Camera trap set up and collection
  • Removal of alien invasive plant species and bush encroachment control through selective clearing
  • Planting of native species such as porkbush
  • Road repair / cleaning
  • Clean up operations such as removing old farm fences and water pipes
  • Assisting with animal capture / relocation / introduction (if you are lucky enough for it to take place while you are there!)
  • Community support to townships in the area – helping at a soup kitchen and environmental education sessions

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!

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. Each role you undertake is accompanied by a briefing so that you understand the activity and learn more about the reserve.

Current studies being undertaken include rhino movement patterns, elephant range and movement patterns, elephant vegetation preferences and impacts, lion social behaviour and bird surveys. Data is used by both external organisations such as Cape Town University and the reserve’s own ecologist.

You may also be involved with other roles during your time at the project such as assisting a local vet with providing treatment and vaccinations for pet dogs and cats in the community.

As part of their commitment to support the local community, the reserve is involved with two charities in the local township. The first is working with a small centre which provides vulnerable children with a hot meal each day. Volunteers help to serve a meal and play games with the children. The second is at a local school, running special environmental lessons. To help create a positive and fun atmosphere, volunteers plan and run activities, such as arts and crafts sessions with the students.

“Hard work is vital in conservation practices; there are no shortcuts to achieve success in this regard. However, in the process, you will learn new skills, make new likeminded friends, grow personally, bond with nature, and have encounters with many of Africa’s most magnificent animals. You are actively participating in conservation practices and your efforts will make a big difference!”
Jarrett, Volunteer Co-ordinator

Typical day

There isn’t really a typical day as the work is very varied and depends on the season, weather, animal behaviour and what’s happening on the reserve at any one time!

Volunteers work Monday-Friday, with the morning session beginning at 8am, followed by a lunchtime break and then an afternoon session through to around 4.30pm. One half of the day tends to be more physical, for example if volunteers are involved with planting or maintenance in the morning, then they may do research work in the afternoon. The local team structure the work with a good split between hard work, education and fun.

Community sessions are normally 1-2 half days a week, often on a Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning (during term times). When there is an afternoon session, the team go out for a meal after in the local beachside town. Friday is normally used for data entry, house chores and washing the vehicle which can get pretty muddy during the game drives!

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

Other volunteers

There are usually 6-10 volunteers at the project at any one time with a maximum of 10.

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 volunteer co-ordinator, Jarrett, who you will work with closely on a daily basis. He lives on the reserve, next to the volunteer house.

Jarrett has an Honours degree in Nature Conservation and grew up in the Northern Cape where he spent much time exploring and working in the arid savanna landscape. He is a very enthusiastic conservationist and happiest when he is sharing his knowledge and experiences to inspire others!

Accommodation

Volunteers stay in a comfortable house right on the reserve and it’s not unusual to wake up to the sound of lions calling or seeing zebras eating at the fence!

Big 5 Conservation bedroom

There are 5 shared bedrooms and bathrooms, a lounge with TV and DVD player, pool table, dining room and kitchen. There are also lots of games, books and magazines 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!

Big 5 volunteer house

The house has WIFI although it’s limited so you may want to bring an unlocked mobile phone which you can buy a local SIM card to access the internet.

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 and vegans are welcomed and can be catered for.

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

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, post office, 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.

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

Climate

There are hot and humid, rainy summers between October and April, and mild, dry winters between May and September. In the summer temperatures average around 30 degrees Celsius, but at times reach 35-40 degrees Celsius. 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 degrees Celsius.

Dates

You can join the project on Mondays for 2 – 12 weeks between the following dates:  
2020: 6 Jan – 20 Apr, 11 May – 21 Sep, 5 Oct – 14 Dec 

The project is available for 1 week placements on the following start dates:
2020: 20 Apr, 21 Sep, 14 Dec

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
  • Accommodation - a shared room
  • Food - all main meals
  • Induction
  • Support from the local team
  • Support from the Pod Volunteer UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Volunteering certificate and reference (on request)

Not included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations and medication
  • Transfers to / from the project
  • Living costs - snacks, drinks
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
1 week £675 GB Pounds
2 weeks £1095 GB Pounds
Each additional week £450 GB Pounds

Discounts

  • £75 discount for every additional project you book as part of the same trip
  • £75 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

Hannah - 2019

"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 - 2018

"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 - 2018

"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 - 2018

"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

Iona

Pod UK Manager

Apply and you'll hear from Iona soon!

We look forward to receiving your application! There is no commitment by applying and we will send more information.

Apply

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"

  • 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"

  • 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"

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AWARDS AND ACCREDITATIONS

  • Tourism Concern
  • Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust
  • Right Tourism
  • DOFE
  • theguardian
  • the independent
  • Sunday Times
  • Year Out Group
  • Best Volunteering Organisation
  • Wall Street Journal