This program allows you to witness nature in its simplest form. In the African bush, you can never tell just what will be around the corner. Some participants have been lucky enough to witness a stand-off between two elephants, or even to see newborn cheetah cubs playing, while taking part in the programme. Journey to the home of the Big Five in the South African bush, with unforgettable experiences like these, while assisting the GVI team with important conservation research in the process.
The Elephant Research program gives you a real and unfiltered look into this incredible species and others. Unlike in a tourist safari, you will play an active and meaningful role in the research and long term conservation of this species, including tracking, logging and collecting data, while studying their behaviours along with our international team. Our research is conducted in conjunction with Elephants Alive who have been actively involved in elephant conservation for over 20 years.
You may also participate with collecting vital behavioural data on reintroduced predators and large herbivores on the reserve. In order to assist with this, you will be trained to use research equipment to help locate predators in the reserve as well as invaluable training in large mammal 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 qualified field teams. Please note, this program offers a duration of up to 24 weeks. Speak to your Country Expert for more details of extending your in-country stay in South Africa should you wish to do so.
- Experiencing a unique African bush adventure at the heart of a spectacular game reserve;
- Mastering radio telemetry techniques and learning to track animals through the bush;
- Getting acquainted with big game and apex predators - predominantly elephants, but also including lion, cheetah, leopard, and rhino;
- Exploring nearby regions to experience such breathtaking views as from the Blyde River Canyon in the Drakensberg Mountains and Kruger National Park;
- Living and working alongside FGASA qualified South African Guides receiving ongoing training and practical experience.
"Taking part in this programme has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life, I had a fantastic experience and have found a career that I am determined to follow in. Every experience that I had was incredible.
One of the best parts about being a volunteer for GVI is that I immediately felt a part of the team amongst both the staff and the other volunteers – we all worked together and helped each other out. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and keen to share their ideas and experiences which meant I came away with a new mind set."
What's Not Included
Before being fully immersed in the inner workings of GVI’s research, you will undergo training that will cover how to carry out extensive radio tracking skills to locate our focus animals, 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 familiarise yourself with the wildlife on the reserve whilst following their progress and observing their 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. Majority of the general research of the program is conducted on predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyena, but the specific focus for this particular project revolves around studying elephants. There is a daily schedule and if not assisting on game drives, you may be working on data entry or helping with camp and cooking duties. You could spend up to 8 hours a day collecting data, so you should expect some long days. These hours can be extensive, in order for you to develop a baseline and holistic understanding of all aspects of the bush.
Base camp is basic but comfortable. Situated deep within the game reserves, you will be in dormitory-style rooms, with shared bathrooms, a kitchen and outdoor social areas.
What's Not Included
As the project is always evolving, exact details are generally subject to change due to partner requirements, time of year and game movements. We do however 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 and to ensure that you get the best experience possible.
A typical expedition may involve involve the detailed monitoring of elephants and other predators (lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena), herbivore sex/age ratio and its effect on predator movement, elephant vegetation surveys to monitor impact on sensitive areas of the reserve;, as well as smaller community projects that help teach and spread the message of the importance of wildlife conservation. Further activities may also include dartings, fitting radio collars to animals or even working to help eradicate invasive vegetation in the area.
This program will allow you to increase your knowledge of the South African bush through extensive classroom taught and practical lessons. You will develop a deep understanding of the complex ecosystems the bush boasts as well as current, local conservation issues and strategies.
How this project makes a difference
GVI spends up to 8 hours a day collecting data on a variety of animals, including elephant, 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 improving the quality of wildlife viewing for the tourists, we help to ensure that the lodges also remain competitive, helping to sustain the industry too. This in turn this contributes to the sustainability of the reserve and allows us to expand our projects and programs.
Limpopo's short, mid, and long-term objectives
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualize their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Specific long term objectives you will be contributing to in Limpopo:
1) To provide long term and consistent data for Karongwe Reserve Management to assist with Reserve Management decisions based on scientific data
2) Increase local awareness of GVI's purpose and impact on Karongwe PGR
3) Increase scientific output
4) Contribute to three large scale reserve management projects alongside the Warden in accordance with the Reserve's Management Plan
5) Increase our in-country capacity by providing environmental and conservation education and training
6) Increase our in-country capacity through community upliftment projects
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, participants will visit the renowned Khamai Reptile Park as part of the training. Later on during the phase, participants are also taken to a local curio market where a variety of quality carvings and other gifts are sold.
Optional Side Trips
Participants at base have one day off per week. For longer duration participants, at the end of each 4 week cycle there will be the opportunity to take 4 consecutive days off.
Independent travel from Karongwe is best done by renting a car, something participants usually do in groups to make it more economical. Bear in mind there are additional costs 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 a wealth of fantastic opportunities for further travel available for you to explore, should you wish to extend your stay at the end of the course. 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. Talk to our support staff about some options for you to explore!
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.”