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South Africa - The Big 5 Wildlife Reserve

Participate in research initiatives on Africa's "Big 5" wildlife species – lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. Contribute to research and conservation work and play a part in vital conservation activities.



Fast Facts

Location of ProjectKwazulu-Natal, South Africa
Project LengthMin 2 weeks - Max 12 weeks
Arrival AirportDurban Airport. There are daily flights from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Durban
Volunteer WorkAnimal conservation, research and observations
Number of Participants8 international volunteers on this research project (the game reserve has a total of up to 24 international volunteers on 3 different research projects)
Age18 - 70
Special Note This project will relocate from Thanda reserve to the Greater Kruger area on May 24, 2015.

What's Included

AccommodationComfortable cabins on the game reserve
Food3 meals a day
SupportLocal in-country team and 24hr emergency support
Airport TransfersAirport pickup upon arrival
Transport Daily transfers between accommodations and project site
Pre-Departure Kit Full project details will be sent following registration
Orientation All necessary training and introductions provided upon arrival
Insurance Comprehensive travel health insurance with volunteer abroad coverage

What's Not Included

Flights, personal expenses, and visa (if required)


South Africa is a unique and interesting country with a plethora of stunning and diverse natural backdrops. Home to a wide variety of wild species, South Africa is the perfect destination for animal enthusiasts looking for adventure and a way to contribute to these amazing animals. 

Located on the northeast coast of South Africa, this private game reserve spans about 14,000 hectares of African bush and is home to Africa's "Big 5" wild animals. 


About the Project

This project aims to both study and conserve some of Africa's most unique and beautiful wild animals and the land they roam on. It is a joint effort which collaborates with local and distant communities, Universities, and other reserves to learn as much as possible about these animals and their behaviors to better provide them with a suitable environment in which to thrive. 

This reserve is home to a wide range of wildlife, and therefore has many different initiatives with each one. The main work is being done on Black Rhinos, elephants, and lions.

Their work with Black Rhinos focuses on providing these animals with a safe place to reestablish their population after a recent huge devastation due to hunting and poaching in the area. Today, there are fewer than 3,600 Black Rhinos left but after introduction into the reserve in 2009, the population has begun to see a slow but steady rise. 

Elephant research is done on the reserve to better understand their roaming behaviors in order to provide the best environment in which they can thrive. Elephants in Africa often have conflicts with humans, so the aim of the work with elephants is to decrease these types of conflicts and let them free to roam in their own environments. 

In the past 30 years, Africa has seen a decrease in its lion population of about 80-90%. Initiatives here focus on the reproductive, territorial, hunting, and social behaviors of the lions. 


Volunteer Work and Contribution

Volunteers will be carrying out research on endangered wildlife within the reserve. This research provides critical information to the organizations dedicated to conservation of these unique and beautiful animals. 

As a volunteer, there are a wide variety of tasks you will be involved with:

  • Monitor the behavior, feeding patterns and movement of elephants.
  • Collate and record data on a pride of lions. This entails being in the bush to observe hunting, social, breeding and territorial behavior at various times of the day (this may involve night drives).
  • Monitor the rhino population to support data recorded by the anti-poaching team. This helps the reserve managers better understand the health of the rhinos. 
  • Capture data as requested by the reserve management team for their ongoing endangered species work.
  • Carry out the physical work required to regenerate a natural environment for the animals. This includes prevention of further soil erosion and removal of old structures that may be harmful to the animals. 
  • Contribute to long term efforts of removing alien plants from the park. 

Volunteers' time at the reserve will be split between the focuses of the program in approximately the following way:

  • Big 5 monitoring: 40-50%
  • Conservation work within the park: 30-40%
  • Data recording: 10-20%

Living Arrangements

Accommodations: volunteers will be staying on the reserve in shared cabins. Each room has an en-suite bathroom with shower. There is a communal building where volunteers can dine, relax, and watch the animals together. A swimming pool is also available for use. All bed linens are provided.

Food: three meals a day are provided. Breakfast is on a serve yourself basis including cereals, toast, tea and coffee. Lunch and dinner are full meals prepared by one of the cooks. 

Internet: WiFi available at the lodge, and costs around R40 for 30 min.

Laundry: available for a small fee.


Travel Highlights

There are many additional travel excursions for your free time that you may arrange once on site. These include the following:

  • Photographic workshop in the Drakensberg Mountains
  • Swimming with dolphins in Mozambique
  • Game drives to the Tembe Elephant park
  • Boat and snorkel trips on the Kosi Bay lake systems
  • Trip to St. Lucia for whale watching (seasonal), relaxing on the beach, or boat excursions. 

Minimum Requirements

  • Genuine love and concern for animals and the environment
  • Minimum age 18 years
  • Good level of English
  • Immunizations (please consult your doctor)
  • Volunteers must be in good physical condition, as they will be expected to walk long distances and participate in physical activities
  • Ability to work as part of a team, be flexible and cooperative
  • Police clearance form



Here's an excerpt of Heather's experience:

  "Upon arriving, I was terrified. I was 18 years old and had never traveled anywhere alone before, let alone engaged in transcontinental travel alone. I had no idea what to expect for the next three weeks. Almost immediately, I learned that nothing could have enriched me more than traveling and volunteering, the abrupt thrust into the unknown that mandates meeting new people, understanding new cultures, trusting, collaborating, listening, and learning."

Read the rest of her story on the GoEco blog!


Check out GoEco volunteer Dane's video log of his amazing month in South Afica!

Check out our Volunteer Blog at blog.goeco.org to read experiences written by GoEco volunteers from all over the world!

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