Big 5 ConservationSouth Africa

Our Big 5 Conservation project researches lion, elephant and rhino populations as well as contributing to the conservation and management of a game reserve in South Africa.

Volunteers complete Bush Craft training concentrating on animal behaviour, orientation and navigation as well as basic bush skills, GPS and GIS techniques. You will work alongside experienced guides to collect vital data on the elephants, rhinos, lions and other predators. Research is used to track populations as well as to create conservation plans for predators and herbivores on the reserve.

Living in a camp in the centre of the reserve, you will have the opportunity to encounter the Big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard) on your commute to work!

Join the conservation team and be part of vital Big 5 research in South Africa.


Key Info

key info
  • Location: Gauteng Province
  • Start dates: 1st and 15th of each month
  • Duration: 2 – 10 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (groups also welcome)
  • Availability: Limited availability
  • Cost: From £1095 / €1280 / $1400 - see fees table below
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Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

The Big 5 Conservation project is based in a unique ecosystem that is home to free roaming wildlife close to an urban area. The reserve houses the Big 5 (elephant, lion, rhinos, buffalo and leopard). It also boasts cheetah and brown hyena and a large variety of antelope, zebra and giraffe.

Since the reserve opened in 2012, the conservation project has aimed to research issues surrounding human-wildlife coexistence, they have played a vital role in conserving the ecosystem and work closely with rangers to manage the reserve.

Each day will differ and volunteer tasks may include:

  • Predator monitoring
  • Conservation research
  • Game reserve management

When you arrive at the project you will receive an introduction to the camp and the surrounding area. Throughout your first week you will have Bush Craft training concentrating on animal behaviour, orientation and navigation as well as basic bush skills, GPS and GIS techniques. The training also includes modules on animal, tree and bird identifications during game drives and bush interpretation skills such as spoor identification, tracking and animal behaviour during game walks.

Working days and hours

You will usually work 6 days per week. You will work in the field in the mornings and late afternoon when the temperature is coolest. During the hottest part of the day volunteers rest, help around the park and attend lectures on the ecology of the park and conservation techniques. On your day off there are a variety of free time activities for you to get involved in.

Other volunteers

There are usually 6-10 volunteers with a maximum of 18 but this varies considerably throughout the year. There are generally more volunteers in July and August.

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.

Volunteer reviews

Read about volunteer experiences and challenges in our South Africa Big 5 Conservation reviews.

Why are volunteers needed?

The reserve is the first free roaming Big 5 game reserve next to an urbanised area in South Africa. The reserve is the first inclusive reserve which has humans co-existing with wildlife close to an urban area.

Research into how the reserve and its wildlife can be effectively managed requires extensive effort. Whilst the reserve employs a local team of staff, volunteers are able to help with the extensive data collection required. The additional help means that more accurate data and wider samples can be collected.


Volunteers stay in a closed camp on the reserve, in shared dorm style bedrooms and shared bathrooms. The volunteer house is a comfortable and spacious farm house which has a large dining room, lounge, communal kitchen and braai (BBQ) area on the veranda. There is an outside dining and BBQ area where volunteers enjoy their meals and socialise in the evenings. There is no access to WIFI and volunteers access the internet using 3G.


Volunteers prepare their own meals with ingredients provided by the project. Here are typical examples of the food you may have: 

  • Breakfast – fruit, cereal, toast
  • Lunch – sandwiches, salad, pasta 
  • Dinner – pizza, salads, pasta, burgers, stews

There are vegetarians and vegans options available. 

The tap water is safe to drink.

Location and free time

The camp is in a game reserve in the Gauteng province, close to the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Despite its close proximity to these urban area, the reserve is 18,500 hectares and has a traditional safari feel; there are opportunities to see the Big 5 and much more!

Volunteers have 1 day off per week. You can choose to stay at camp or join one of the organised tours to sights in the local areas. Volunteers often choose to spend the day in the nearby city of Pretoria. The city is home to a number of museums, galleries and botanical gardens making it a fantastic place to explore during your time off.

Free time during the week is spent in camp, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Time is generally spent socialising, reading or learning from the local guides.

Travelling in South Africa before or after your placement

South Africa is situated at the southern tip of Africa and ranges from desert to sub-tropical. With dramatic landscapes, amazing wildlife and a rich and diverse culture and interesting history, South Africa has something for everyone. Popular activities in South Africa include:

  • Spotting the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) on safari
  • Travelling the Garden Route
  • Visiting Cape Town and sampling some of the local wines

To find out more, see the Lonely Planet South Africa.


Start dates are the 1st and 15th of each month.

What's Included


  • Dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist to support you
  • Airport pick up (Johannesburg airport) and return transfers
  • Accommodation - a simple 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
  • Living costs - snacks, drinks, laundry
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
2 weeks £1095 GB Pounds
Each additional 2 weeks £480 GB Pounds


  • £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). 


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

Read volunteer reviews from the Big 5 Conservation project


“I had an amazing time in South Africa! The work felt worthwhile and it was great to be part of the bigger picture of managing the reserve and helping to protect the big 5 and other animals on the reserve.

I worked with a great team and loved getting to know fellow volunteers and the team at the camp. Life on the reserve was very relaxed and it was great to live and work with such knowledgeable rangers. Whilst the animal sightings were a massive highlight, I also loved learning bush craft skills and research techniques that will really help me in the future. I would love to go back!”


“My whole stay in South Africa was absolutely amazing and I will try to integrate all I have learned going forward, and I can’t wait to come back.”


“I really enjoyed the time in Africa and we had the best leader. I will return home with great memories.”


“South Africa is a beautiful country with a very interesting history and huge diversity of traditions, languages, people and wildlife… It’s definitely a rainbow nation.”

Read more reviews


acres protected

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


Pod UK Manager

Iona has visited the project, apply and you'll hear from her soon!

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




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  • 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