This award winning and Fair Trade Tourism certified conservation project focuses on the monitoring and conservation of endangered and priority species including African wild dogs, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, lion, vultures and leopards.
Volunteers work in a small group of up to 5 alongside a knowledgeable team of field and research staff. Getting out into the African bush on the back of 4x4 vehicles, you will help the team with their vital tracking and monitoring activities as well as other wildlife you may encounter, including the Big 5.
You will have the chance to live and work on one of 5 unique reserves in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, surrounded by the African wilderness and its fascinating wildlife!
Join this project and make a real difference to the protection of endangered animals in Africa.
The project supports vital conservation work by providing wildlife monitoring to under-funded reserves in South Africa. This makes an invaluable contribution to the protection and conservation of endangered species including the African wild dog, cheetah, vulture and black rhino.
You will be involved in the daily monitoring and conservation activities of these species, which includes:
There will be a focus on monitoring specific wildlife and so the team may need to drive large distances if the animals are harder to find or located far from the project base. Being out in the field on an open vehicle is an enriching experience, being immersed in an African game reserve and you may encounter other wildlife on your dives such as elephants, lions and leopards!
Occasionally you may have the opportunity to help in other roles including tranquilising and tagging of animals, collaring, relocation and reintroduction, night tracking and plant control. This depends on the needs of the reserves and it can’t be predicted when this will take place.
Volunteers work in small teams across 5 diverse reserves in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, each reserve having its own research focus and unique mix of wildlife that is encountered. The area is famous for having the highest biodiversity in the whole of Africa – per square kilometre you have the opportunity to encounter more wildlife than almost any other place you can visit in Africa!
If staying longer than 2 weeks you will have the opportunity to work on different reserves, transferring to a new location after each 2 week cycle. This gives you an amazing opportunity to work with different teams, research objectives and environments.
The project works in conjunction with internationally recognised organisations such as the WWF and Endangered Wildlife Trust as well as the local conservation authorities. It has won multiple awards for its work and is Fair Trade Tourism certified.
"The primary function of our teams is to provide vital monitoring and animal tracking services for the reserves which would not be able to take place without the ongoing commitment of volunteers!"
Johan, co-founder of the project
Volunteers start early and leave camp before sunrise on the back of an open 4x4 vehicle. In summer (October - April) this is around 3-4am, in winter (May- September) around 6am.
The first task of the day is to locate the animals being monitored using the radio telemetry equipment that tracks radio collars on the priority species. Once sighted, the team then observes and records data on them.
Around the middle of the day when it’s hot and the animals are less active, you will return to base where you will have lunch and time to rest before heading out again between 2-3pm to conduct further monitoring. Normally you will return to base shortly after sunset, to prepare supper and relax during the evening, often sitting around a camp fire listening to the sounds of the African bush!
At least once a week, you have a day at the research base doing data input and analysis, which provides highly valuable input to the management of priority wildlife species on the reserves and is shared with the local conservation authorities.
Volunteers don't have set days off as the conservation work continues 7 days a week, but you can take a day off to rest or catch up with personal admin, if you would like to.
Each 2 weeks volunteers travel back to airport and switch around for the next 2 weeks, picking up new arrivals and dropping off departing volunteers.
There are usually 2-5 volunteers at on each project at any one time with a maximum of 5, allowing you to work closely with the wildlife team and get fully involved in the conservation work.
You will be supported by the local conservation and research team who you will work with and live alongside at the research bases.
English is used to communicate with volunteers, so a good grasp of the language is required.
Most free time is spent at your research base during breaks between daily monitoring drives and in the evenings relaxing around a camp fire under the stars listening to the sounds of the African bush! Volunteers don't have set days off as the conservation work continues 7 days a week, but you can take a day off to rest and relax if you would like to.
It's sometimes possible to organise a group day off to explore the local area, such as a trip to the beach to enjoy South Africa’s stunning coastline! The region also has a rich cultural backdrop, being the traditional homeland of the Zulu nation.
If staying longer than 2 weeks, you will also get to spend some time in the local village on the bi-weekly transfer weekends.
Popular activities in South Africa that you might like to combine with your project are:
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!
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 peak around 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.
Volunteers live within research bases which are located on each of the 5 reserves. The bases are basic and functional but it’s an amazing experience as you are surrounded by forest, grasslands or bush, where you can enjoy the daily animal and bird activity in and around your new home!
Accommodation is basic but comfortable. Volunteers normally will share a twin room with another volunteer of the same gender, and there separate shared bathrooms and a living/eating area. There is an outside seating area where you can sit by the fire each night under a blanket of stars. There is electricity, running warm water and flushing toilets.
There is limited WIFI at the bases so we recommend bringing an unlocked mobile phone which you can buy a local SIM card to access the internet.
Each base has a kitchen where everybody helps to prepare each meal. All ingredients are provided to be able to have 3 meals a day.
Breakfast is normally porridge or toast. Typically lunch and dinner meals are rice/potato or pasta alongside meat or vegan substitute accompanied by cooked vegetables or salad. There is fruit available.
Vegetarians and vegans are welcomed and can be catered for, with beans, lentils, oatmeal and spinach available in the food shop.
"I would thoroughly recommend the project to anyone of any age who is considering volunteering in conservation. Many iconic species are threatened with extinction, and I was compelled to volunteer and make a small difference in helping to prevent this. Volunteering in South Africa on reserves in KwaZulu-Natal was an amazing experience – witnessing and taking part in real conservation with such dedicated people. I saw amazing wildlife, took part in important conservation, and made amazing life-long friends."
"Being in the field monitoring various priority species daily, we are exposed to mind-blowing wildlife experiences. The contribution of a volunteer may appear small at first glance, however, overall this contribution adds up day-by-day, with the monitoring team providing invaluable information to help maintain the equilibrium of the whole ecosystem. This includes endangered and non-endangered species, their habitat, and ultimately protecting them from the threat of extinction."
"Days can be long, but the rewards of this experience will last a lifetime. I have made new life-long friends that share my passion for conservation and deepened my love of Africa and my resolve to do whatever, in the small way that I can, to make a difference. The project affords a meaningful hands-on participation opportunity to do just that – make a difference! So, if protecting endangered species is important to you, look no further. It is a wonderful project run by committed and passionate conservationists, and will be a life-enriching experience for anyone of any age."
"I think what I enjoyed the most about the trip was that I didn’t feel like I was a tourist being catered to, I felt like I had a job to do every day and that I had to pitch in. I loved being in the middle of the park, without the amenities of home; it was an excellent time to visit with other volunteers and reflect upon the morning or afternoon experiences.
You will experience the ups and downs of conservation, understand the struggles against poaching and loss of habitat, work with knowledgeable and passionate people, and you’ll see and encounter wild experiences that you will take with you for a lifetime."
"With each project you get to be part of real conservation, learning from amazingly dedicated and knowledgeable wildlife monitors, being part of a small team of international volunteers that very quickly become your bush family and hopefully lifelong friends, and of course seeing the wildlife. There is nothing like having an African elephant walk directly down the road towards you, seeing a lion napping under a tree, and spotting an African Wild Dog pack. These are experiences that most people will never have.
Though sometimes you may not find the animals you are looking for, there is no shortage of things to see. There is amazing bird life, plants and trees, as well as other animals all around the reserves. You will quickly learn the difference between a nyala and an impala! There are a lot of photo opportunities as well as time to get to know your monitor and team better, and just being in South Africa and taking in the natural surroundings is enough. While not all of the work is easy or pretty, you know that what you are doing is actually making a difference to the conservation and future of these animals and the reserves."
2019: 8 Apr, 22 Apr, 6 May, 20 May, 3 Jun, 17 Jun, 1 Jul, 15 Jul, 29 Jul, 12 Aug, 26 Aug, 9 Sep, 23 Sep, 7 Oct, 21 Oct, 4 Nov, 18 Nov, 2 Dec, 16 Dec
2020: 13 Jan, 27 Jan, 10 Feb, 24 Feb, 9 Mar, 23 Mar, 6 Apr, 20 Apr, 4 May, 18 May, 1 Jun, 15 Jun, 29 Jun, 13 Jul, 27 Jul, 10 Aug, 24 Aug, 7 Sep, 21 Sep, 5 Oct, 19 Oct, 2 Nov, 16 Nov, 30 Nov, 14 Dec, 28 Dec
|2 weeks||£1195||GB Pounds|
|4 weeks||£1945||GB Pounds|
|Each additional 2 weeks||£750||GB Pounds|
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.
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 www.xe.com
priority species recorded last year
"It was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever! Pod Volunteer provided the ideal amount of support and guidance"Satvinder
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