Travel to a private Big Five game reserve in South Africa and volunteer alongside an international team assisting in vital conservation work. Learn to track animals through the bushveld, study their behavior and get acquainted with charismatic game species such as lion, leopard, elephant and rhino.
Witness nature in its simplest form, from watching a lion take down its prey or newborn cheetah cubs playing, to a stand-off between two elephants. In the African bush you can never tell what you will find just around the corner...
Travel to the home of the Big Five in the South African bush, assisting our team's important conservation research.
This project gives you a real and unfiltered look into Africa's incredible iconic wildlife. But unlike a tourist safari, you play an active and meaningful role in the research and long term conservation of South Africa's natural resources in this stunning region of the world.
You will volunteer alongside an international team to collect vital behavioural data on reintroduced predators and large herbivores on a private game reserve. In order to assist with this vital conservation work you will be trained to use research equipment to help locate predators in the reserve and you will receive invaluable training in large animal identification, tracking and behavioural study skills.
No special skills or qualifications are required to join this program, as all training will be provided by our fully qualified field teams. All we ask is an enthusiasm to learn and become fully involved and immersed in this unique opportunity.
Please note, this program offers durations up to 24 weeks. Speak to your Country Expert for more details of extending your stay in-country
Experiencing a unique African bush adventure at the heart of a spectacular game reserve; be woken by a dawn chorus and sent to sleep by the roar of lions; mastering radio telemetry techniques and learning to track animals through the bush; getting acquainted with big game and all the main predators, including lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant and rhino; exploring nearby regions to experience such breathtaking views as from the Blyde River Canyon in the Drakensberg Mountains; living and working alongside FGASA qualified South African Guides getting constant learning and inspiration; having the chance to sleep out in the bush under the spectacular African stars and wake up to a beautiful sunrise.
"My favourite moments were on the drives collecting data and observing the animals, improving my knowledge and understanding of the environment and working with young people who were committing time to help understand and improve the world in which they live. It was most reassuring to see young adults working together. The project gives one a more intimate knowledge of the environment and the animals, than it would seeing them as a tourist."
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So what does Life on the Project actually involve? See below for an idea of what to expect on a day to day basis…
Before getting fully involved in the inner workings of our research, you will undergo training that will cover how to carry out extensive radio tracking and monitoring of all the collared predators on the reserve, all while learning a variety of new skills, including mammal and bird identification, ecology and bush first aid. This training will allow you to effectively contribute to the overall program, as you get to know animals on the reserve individually and following their progress and monitor behaviour.
A typical day involves spending time out in the reserve tracking the wildlife and conducting research from the game vehicles. This usually happens during the cooler weather at dawn and dusk when the wildlife is more active. Most of the research is on predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyena but we also monitor other wildlife, including elephants. There is a daily schedule and if not assisting on game drives then you may be working on data entry or helping with camp and cooking duties.
We can spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data, so you should expect some long days. All this will do is develop a baseline and holistic understanding of all aspects of the bush.
Another aspect is our community work, where you will be expected to participate in educational days with local communities, highlighting the importance of conservation.
You will have opportunities to enjoy the surrounding areas and activities, including visits to local reptile parks and animal sanctuaries, as well as mountain trails.
Camp is basic but comfortable, the old fashioned African way. Situated deep within the game reserves, you will be in dormitory-style sleeping arrangements, with shared bathrooms, a kitchen and outdoor social areas.
What's Not Included
As well as being prepared for changes in what is an evolving project, exact project details are also always subject to change due to weather conditions, time of year and game movements.
Overall, we have regular contact with our partners, the reserve managers and other members of the broader conservation and research community to determine our areas of focus.
A typical expedition may involve the detailed monitoring of predators (lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena); herbivore sex/age ratio and its effect on predator movement; elephant impact vegetation surveys to monitor impact on sensitive areas of the reserve; community projects that teach the importance of conservation.
Other activities and ecological studies can also include darting/fitting radio collars to predators or invasive vegetation species eradication.
From a personal perspective, you will increase your knowledge of the South African environment, its importance and the threats to it, and help to increase both local and global knowledge and awareness, while contributing to our overall goals and objectives.
We also try to assist where required with off-site studies or mini-projects that may focus on different biota if we believe them to be relevant in the conservation context of the region. Such studies allow staff and volunteers to get a broader knowledge of conservation research across more than one ecosystem. Examples could include documenting bird of prey nesting sites and celebrating environmental calendar days. Any such mini-projects will only be available to volunteers staying longer than 4 works and would make up the minority of your time on this program.
How this project makes a difference
GVI spends up to 12 hours a day collecting data on large predators such as lions, leopards and cheetah. The information gathered is used to give an accurate picture of the predators impact on prey populations, determine social structure, genetics, and spatial movement. This vital information helps maintain a healthy balance of these natural resources and ultimately conserve some of Africa’s important ecosystems.
By our research teams normally bring the first to locate the focus animals we monitor, we are able to call in their locations to the commercial safari guides at the nearby lodges. By improving the quality of wildlife viewing for the tourists, we help to ensure that the lodges remain competitive in an already saturated market. This in turn this contributes to the sustainability of the reserve by bringing in the much-needed capital to keep it up and running.
What's Not Included
Participating with GVI not only allows you to work on programs assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield either before or after your program. Below is some information on trips and travel options in South Africa.
Side Trips Included
While at the Karongwe Base, volunteers will visit the renowned Khamai Reptile Park as part of the training. Later on during the phase, volunteers are also taken to a local curio market where a variety of quality carvings and other gifts are sold.
Optional Side Trips
Volunteers at base have one day off per week. For longer duration volunteers, at the end of each 4 week cycle there may be the opportunity to take 3 or 4 consecutive days off. Independent travel from Karongwe is best done by renting a car, something volunteers usually do in groups to make more economical. Bear in mind there is additional cost associated with pick-ups or drop-offs at the reserve gate. Hoedspruit, the nearest town is about 45 mins drive away. In the area around Karongwe Game Reserve you can visit the Kruger National Park, with entry gates no more than an hour drive away. There’s also the ‘panoramic route’ which takes you on various scenic drives along the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment, the Blyde River Canyon and to the historic towns of Pilgrims Rest, Graskop (where Harry’s Pancakes will serve you the best pancake on the planet!) and Sabie, where you can also book onto a variety of adventure activities such as zip-lining, quadbiking, canyoning and hiking, or just chill out with a picnic lunch at one of the many nearby waterfalls.
Further Travel Opportunities
South Africa has such a wealth of fantastic opportunities for further travel. Possibilities include the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains, the beauty of the Kalahari Desert, historic Zululand, the vibrancy of Cape Town (check out GVI’s Cape Town volunteer programs!), the fantastic Garden Route along the Southern Coast , the world-renowned National Parks of Kruger and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, and many more highlights that will leave you wanting more of this amazing country
Meet Kutullo, our brilliant research assistant in Limipopo, South Africa. He spent most of his childhood years in the bush looking at birds, trees and some reptiles. It is then that his love for wildlife began and he was fortunate enough to be part of the GVI Community programme when he was about 12 years old.
At that time they had a competition between the learners at his school and the prize was a research drive at Karongwe with GVI. Fortunately his group won the competition and he decided what he wanted to do. He worked hard at school and after high school he was offered a bursary to do Environmental Education Studies at the Southern African Wildlife College.
After his studies it did not take long for him to be reunited with GVI. He was offered a scholarship for three months and he then did his FGASA Level 1. Soon after that he was offered a job.
"That was the best day of my life to have finally reached my dreams with the company that gave me all the interest."
Assistant Base Manager
Meet Leah, our brilliant assistant base manager in Limpopo, South Africa. She spent the best part of her younger years at zoos or wildlife parks fascinated by the exotic animals behind enclosure walls.
It wasn’t long after leaving high school that she completed a diploma of animal technology in the hopes that she could win herself a position as a zoo keeper, which unfortunately proved much more competitive than she thought. After working as a veterinary nurse for 2 years, she knew this wasn’t where her heart was and applied for the 6 month internship at GVI Karongwe, South Africa.
During her internship she attained her FGASA Level One and her dreams of one day working with wildlife she had always been captivated by started to become a reality. In December 2015 she was offered a position with GVI.
“It took me all of 30 seconds to fall in love with the South African bush. Observing these incredible animals in their natural environment cannot be explained, it must be experienced. Not a day has gone past when I don’t consider myself extremely lucky and privileged to be living out my dream.”
Meet Kate, our research assistant in Limpopo, South Africa. Kate's first contact with GVI was in 2004, as a volunteer on the wildlife research expedition in Limpopo, fulfilling a childhood ambition to see lions in the wild.
After the program she returned home to the UK to study for a degree in Biology and spent time volunteering at a zoo giving talks to the public on reptiles and creepy crawlies, but never forgot about her experience in South Africa or stopped wanting to go back. Finally in 2015 she got the chance to return and gain her FGASA level 1, after which she was offered a job at GVI - back at the very same program she had volunteered on over a decade earlier.
Now a research assistant at the Limpopo hub, Kate is mainly involved with the Internship program giving educational drives and lectures. Her favourite thing about the job is giving the volunteers unforgettable experiences, in particular getting people their first close-up encounters with elephants. She is also a big fan of invertebrates and has secured her place as the crazy bug lady of the house
Eilene Janse van Vuuren
Meet Eilene, our awesome science officer in Limpopo, South Africa. Growing up in South Africa Eliene has a strong affection for the country. Being able to live and work in the bush together with her GVI family has given so much more value to her studies.
Together with this immense passion, she finds it extremely rewarding to educate volunteers and interns from around the globe on specific research focussed areas as well as general wildlife management in South Africa.
Senior Country Expert
Meet Michael, our laid-back country expert for our South African wildlife and Seychelles marine hubs. He is passionate to make a difference in the world and GVI’s dedication to make a long-term impact in the field sparked his interest.
Mike is a keen diver and has had the opportunity to travel to the Seychelles as well as various other stunning dive locations to explore the underwater world. If not diving he enjoys spending time in game reserves and loves being surrounded by nature.
If sarcasm is your thing, Mike will ensure for endless entertainment! He’s also quite the music enthusiast and has an impressive knowledge of different genres. His favourite travel memory? “Flying over the Okavango Delta and witnessing the vastness and beauty of Botswana.”
Assistant Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven country director for all our projects in South Africa. She has two honours degrees, one in Industrial and Organisational Psycology, and another in Developmental and Education Psycology. Shayle also has over 10 years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating environmental and community programs across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
She is well-practiced in facilitating meaningful and effective intercultural engagement and this makes her the perfect person for overseeing our operations in the multicultural country of South Africa.
When not attending meetings or planning her next endeavour, Shayle can be found spending time with her family or taking part in some or other exciting outdoors activity!
Director of Programs
Meet Danny, our Director of Programs. Although he’s based in Playa del Carmen, Danny oversees the development and running of all of our field operations. He started out with GVI as our Country Director in Mexico and quickly became an invaluable part of the team.
Although being Director of Programs is a pretty demanding job, Danny manages to find time to do the other things he loves in-between. He’s an avid photographer and is always training for a triathlon or ironman.
What’s Danny’s favourite aspect of his job? “Starting new projects – we get lots of request for assistance and it’s difficult to decide when funds are limited. The evaluation process and those initial talks with local partners are very interesting. Seeing projects grow from an idea to full programs is very exciting. I also love the relationships you create with local organisations, they become friends and we jointly work to achieve the project aims.”
Meet Veronica. In addition to being a Research Assistant on Karongwe, she’s also the resident ‘Mountain Coordinator’. To find out how one coordinates a mountain, we asked her to describe a typical day…
“Starting early, we head up and up and up the mountain and check our traps for any small mammals. If we caught any, we record the data and then release them. After that, there’s time to visit one of the many viewpoints or relax at the river. After lunch, we go to look for reptiles or check butterfly traps and then it is back up and up and up the mountain to check the mammal traps again.”
Veronica’s favourite aspect of her job? “Seeing the excitement on the volunteers’ faces when they help to locate a focus animal or seeing and sensing their awe at being at the top of the mountain, seeing the countryside below them.”
Meet Rosie, our Base Manager in Karongwe. A former Environmental Scientist for the New Zealand government, with an honours degree in Astronomy and Planetary Geology and a qualified Field Guide, Rosie is a total all-rounder!
Having volunteered herself since she was 18, Rosie understands the value of having volunteers on Karongwe and loves to see them progress in their knowledge, skills and passion. “I love watching how volunteers that have been here for a month step it up a notch when a new lot of volunteers arrive. You feel proud to see how much they have learnt when compared to the new arrivals.”
Her favourite experience on Karongwe so far? “Without a doubt, Ketswiri’s four little cheetah cubs. There is nothing cuter on this planet than cheetah cubs and as they have grown they have got more and more active and curious, and more interesting to observe. If I could, I would sit with them all day long.”
Meet Nico, a Research Assistant on Karongwe. He was a professional guide for over 4 years before joining GVI. Although He dreams of being a storm chaser, Nico seems pretty happy to spend his free time chilling out with the volunteers, playing pool and darts with them and playing Frisbee with Zuri, the base dog.
Our favourite story about Nico is how he saved Ketswiri, a resident female cheetah. “I noticed she couldn’t step on her left front leg, so I called the game warden and we got the vet in that same afternoon.” The vet removed a 10cm stick which was lodged in her leg – a death sentence without Nico noticing her limp. “It did feel amazing to know we had saved her life.”
What does Nico like about being based at Karongwe? Life in general! “Finding the animals, all the random awesome sightings, having a good time with the volunteers and staff and making some really good friends all round.”