Journey to wildest Africa and volunteer to conserve cheetah in the South African bush whilst experiencing these incredible predators in their natural habitat.
You will head out on daily research drives on a game reserve in the Limpopo province to assist in the tracking and data collection of this vulnerable predator. Once successfully tracked you will be given the opportunity to get up close and personal, by viewing these fascinating animals on foot. Time spent with these individuals will allow you to deepen your understanding of the ecology of cheetah as well as gaining hands on insight into current research techniques used to conserve this species.
Cheetah populations are racing towards extinction. Shockingly, since the early 1970’s their numbers in Africa have declined by half facing threats of habitat loss, hunting and the demand for individuals in captive facilities. Intervention and the need for intense monitoring to save this species is crucial.
Our ongoing partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust enables us to contribute the data collected on our cheetah program to their established databases. Their current successes using a meta-population approach to achieve sustainable and ultimately, increasing cheetah populations is well renowned.
On project you will be trained to gain all the vital skills necessary for data collection such as animal identification, tracking and using research equipment. No previous experience is required, but you should bring with you a willingness to learn and become immersed in the project.
Experiencing a unique African bush adventure at the heart of a spectacular game reserve; being part of cheetah conservation efforts; mastering radio telemetry techniques and learning to track animals through the bush; getting up close and personal with big cats; 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 receiving constant learning and inspiration.
"My highlights? Taking part in wildlife conservation and the feeling that your work had a part to play in the aim of the expedition. The close experiences with the amazing wildlife was incredible.
The program was everything I imagined it to be and more, meeting new people from all over the world is another incredibly influential factor in choosing another GVI expedition, just an amazing, life changing, all round experience."
What's Not Included
Majority of your time will be spent out on the reserve, where you will be busy tracking big cats and collecting data from the research vehicles. You may also have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of cheetahs by foot if it is safe to do so. When you are not on a game drive you will be back at camp entering the data you have collected, some of which will be utilised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Your home for the duration of the project will be our GVI camp, in the heart of the reserve. You will be sleeping in a dormitory-style room, and will share facilities such as bathroom, kitchen and living areas with your fellow volunteers. Camp duties are allocated on a rotational basis, so you should come prepared and complete with a teamwork spirit.
What's Not Included
Your primary task on project will be researching cheetah including; monitoring their feeding, behaviour, movements, interactions and health. In addition you will be given the opportunity to work closely with our science team to take part in our long-term cheetah specific study. Aside from this, you will also get involved in a variety of other studies and ecological work, such as removal of exotic and invasive vegetation species.
While you are on the project you will be given a basic and introductory overview of conservation in action, developing a good overall understanding of the environment in which you are living, and the tasks and challenges involved in protecting both its flora and fauna.
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, assessments of species population dynamics or the creation of micro fauna species lists. Any such mini-projects are as required, would make up the minority of your time on this program, and only for durations of 4 weeks or more.
How this project makes a difference:
As a result of habitat loss, hunting and the farming industry, South Africa’s cheetah populations are now increasingly under threat. It is important to develop an accurate picture of the genetics, behaviour and spatial movement of South Africa’s cheetah as high quality data is vital in developing effective conservation efforts.
This program is suitable for those who wish to volunteer on a serious cheetah conservation program. GVI works with the Endangered Wildlife Trust to monitor and maintain their portion of the viable Lowveld meta-population. These individuals are born on the reserve, grow, hunt, mate, and breed naturally. Only on exceptionally rare occasions, intervention is required. To avoid inbreeding and ensure the ongoing success of the meta-population, offspring are relocated to other reserves. These actions are not part of the volunteer program but pertain to decisions made by the Endangered Wildlife Trust who are well renowned for their successful contributions to conservation in Africa.
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
At our 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
Both research bases 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 bungee jumping, 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.
Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven director for all our projects around the world. 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!
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.”