Volunteer in South Africa

Contribute to wildlife conservation in Africa!

Ready for a game-changing conservation adventure in South Africa? In Limpopo, near Kruger National Park, you’ll get hands-on with conservation projects, protecting elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs and other vulnerable species. Or, head to Gansbaai, near Cape Town, and contribute to the well-being of penguins, dolphins and whales. Whether you’re into land or sea, make a positive impact and leave a lasting mark on our planet’s biodiversity.

Overview

Welcome to South Africa, and your chance to work with and live among some of the world’s most beautiful, thrilling – and vulnerable – wildlife. 

Along with our wide range of wildlife conservation programs run from our research station in Limpopo, we also offer a penguin, dolphin and whale conservation program in Gansbaai, a small coastal town 2.5 hours from Cape Town.

Wildlife conservation

Home to approximately 297 mammal species, 858 bird species and over 20,000 plant species. Joining a wildlife conservation program in South Africa is an extraordinary opportunity for anyone who is passionate about wildlife and protecting the environment. With its diverse landscapes, South Africa is home to a wide variety of wildlife species, including the famous Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino – as well as many other unique and endangered animals.

When you join a wildlife conservation program in South Africa, you’ll have the chance to work alongside experienced conservationists and researchers, learning about wildlife behaviour and ecology, monitoring and tracking animals, and participating in conservation efforts.

In Limpopo, participants also take part in community development initiatives alongside their conservation efforts. Through GVI’s partnerships with local schools and education centres, volunteers and interns contribute to education-focused projects, promoting community engagement and connections between people and wildlife.

We offer a wide range of volunteer, internship, research fellowship and professional apprenticeship opportunities with a focus on wildlife and conservation in South Africa:

 

 

Marine conservation

In Gansbaai, near Cape Town, our Flex program is your ticket to a world of underwater adventures. You’ll engage in hands-on activities with penguins, dolphins and whales, contributing to eco-tourism, research and education. This unique opportunity involves initiatives like habitat monitoring, underwater exploration and research projects. It’s more than conservation; it’s an experience connecting you with marine life while leaving a positive impact on our oceans.

Our programs

Volunteering
Penguin, Dolphin and Whale Conservation in South Africa
Volunteering
Wildlife Research Expedition in South Africa
Internship
Wildlife Conservation Internship in South Africa
Research Fellowship
Wildlife research fellowship in South Africa
Professional Apprenticeship
Wildlife Conservation Apprenticeship in South Africa
Internship
Professional Field Guide Course in South Africa
Internship
Big Cat Conservation Internship in South Africa
Internship
Bushwise 60-day Safari Guide Course
Volunteering
Big Cat Conservation Research in South Africa
Volunteering
Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo Research and Conservation in South Africa
Under 18
African Wildlife Conservation Teen Volunteering in South Africa
Volunteering
Rhino Poaching Awareness in South Africa
Volunteering
Cheetah Conservation and Research Project in South Africa
Included in your program, at no extra cost

Make the most of our unique programs with these exclusively curated local adventure and wellness experiences.

Offered once a month, expand your adventure with GVI Experiences. These are just some of the activities offered on your program!
Discover the medicinal uses of indigenous plants
Discover the medicinal uses of indigenous plants
Master basic bush survival skills
Master basic bush survival skills
Watch a magical sunset at a watering hole
Watch a magical sunset at a watering hole
 Enjoy a night sky safari
Enjoy a night sky safari
Programs

In Limpopo, GVI has partnered with the Karongwe Game Reserve Association to offer you wildlife conservation volunteer programs, wildlife conservation internships, professional apprenticeships and research fellowships in South Africa.

In Gansbaai, just outside Cape Town, we work in collaboration with a local partner on a GVI Flex program where volunteers contribute to penguin, dolphin and whale conservation.

Why it matters

Our wildlife conservation programs aim to protect the unique savannah habitat from the impacts of biodiversity loss, climate change, illegal poaching and animal trafficking. 

Our penguin, dolphin and whale conservation program contributes to eco-tourism, research and education efforts. It’s a fantastic opportunity to make a positive impact in this diverse marine ecosystem while developing a sense of responsibility and advocacy for our oceans.

These programs allow you to contribute to the preservation of ecosystems vital to the health of the African continent – and the planet – while learning valuable practical research skills and gaining first-hand knowledge of this incredibly diverse and special environment. 

South Africa volunteer programs

These are programs for nature enthusiasts or thrill-seekers who want to dedicate their gap year, safari holiday or career break to meaningful conservation work that makes a direct and positive environmental impact. 

You can either join a more generalised wildlife conservation volunteer expedition or a volunteer program that specialises in a specific animal:

 

 

Wildlife conservation internships in South Africa 

When you join a conservation internship, you’ll work alongside local and international staff and participants. Here you’ll assist with recording animal species and numbers, protecting the habitat, and conducting environmental education and anti-poaching initiatives. Participants will receive guidance from experienced mentors and gain work experience, relevant qualifications and skills in conservation.

If you’re looking to take the first step in your career as a wildlife conservationist or are looking to become a safari guide, trained and certified by CATHSSETA-qualified experts, we recommend joining one of our South Africa wildlife conservation internships:

 

 

This is an opportunity for you to learn from the best, and build valuable professional networks. 

Wildlife conservation professional apprenticeship in South Africa 

When you join our six-month wildlife conservation apprenticeship in South Africa, you’ll get a head start in your career in conservation. On this program, you’ll learn valuable wildlife research techniques and then put them into practice during a three-month work placement. Partnering with local and international conservation organisations, you’ll work with a research team in a private game reserve, just one hour from the Kruger National Park. You’ll gain skills identifying predators and megaherbivores – such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants and rhinos. 

After your training, you’ll complete a three-month work placement at a South African conservation organisation. With four recognised qualifications, a LinkedIn reference and a guaranteed job offer upon successful completion, this program is the perfect way to gain international experience and build a network of industry contacts.

Wildlife research fellowship in South Africa 

If you’re looking to gain hands-on research experience, then our wildlife research fellowship is for you. Located within a private game reserve in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere in South Africa with diverse flora and fauna, you’ll work on research projects that contribute to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and the species that live there. With the guidance of industry experts and access to scientific datasets, you’ll have the chance to collect data on a variety of species, including lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo, cheetah and spotted hyenas. You’ll learn valuable skills such as species identification, data presentation, project management, teamwork and time management. 

You’ll also have the opportunity to complete three online courses and co-author or publish a scientific paper on a conservation topic, or complete your own thesis or dissertation. At the end of the fellowship, you’ll gain international experience, four recognised qualifications and a LinkedIn reference to boost your CV.

Penguin, dolphin and whale conservation program in South Africa

In Gansbaai, a quick ride from Cape Town, you can soak up the coastal vibes and jump into marine life protection with our GVI Flex program, which is all about penguin, dolphin and whale conservation.

GVI Flex programs offer an innovative approach to independent volunteering, allowing you to make a positive impact while exploring new global locations and projects. This streamlined volunteering experience provides flexible hours determined by partner organisations and emphasises essential support services.

Locations

South Africa is a country on the southernmost tip of Africa. Famed for its temperate climate and beautiful coastline that stretches across two oceans, from the tropical Indian to the frosty Atlantic, its habitats include forest, savannah, desert, sea and the unique Cape fynbos biome. It’s one of the most biodiverse countries in the world – and one of the only places where the natural world’s most elusive and charismatic animals can still be found in the wild. 

GVI operates in three locations in South Africa: Limpopo, Gansbaai and Cape Town.

Limpopo

Limpopo is one of South Africa’s northernmost provinces, and home to the famed Kruger National Park – which is easily accessible from our research station. 

Our research station is located in a private game reserve, offering the quintessential safari experience, a must-see travel destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Located just 45 minutes from the town of Hoedspruit, the reserve is home to a number of species – including elephant, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala, lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, honey badger, baboon, vervet monkey, mongoose, warthog, bushpig, porcupine, aardvark, civet, hippo, crocodile and terrapins. Many bird species can be spotted, particularly around the large dams and along the rivers.

As a wildlife conservation volunteer or intern in Limpopo, you will live in the heart of the African savannah, surrounded by big cats, elephants, rhinos, buffalos and everything in between. 

Gansbaai

Nestled along the Cape Whale Coast, Gansbaai is a short 2.5-hour drive from Cape Town. It’s known for the Marine Big 5 – sharks, whales, seals, penguins and dolphins – thriving within the Dyer Island ecosystem.

In neighbouring Walker Bay, there’s an annual whale migration that draws quite a crowd. Gansbaai pulls in around 80,000 global visitors each year, and it’s not just for the marine life. If you’re into shark cage experiences or exploring nature in Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Gansbaai has a bit of everything.

Cape Town

If you are interested in our South Africa community development work, our base in Cape Town offers programs specialising in: 

 

 

Travel to the south-west coast of South Africa and join a team of community volunteers in Cape Town. Visit our GVI People site for more information on our community development programs.

Ethics

GVI is committed to adhering to the highest level of ethical best practices throughout all focus areas. We are governed by our ten ethical principles and five human empowerment principles. We also hold a badge of ethics – our dedication to continuously reflect on and improve our policies and practices. 

Every GVI wildlife conservation program is planned and implemented in collaboration with local partner organisations – creating solutions that will have a lasting impact and can eventually be maintained without external support. 

GVI’s wildlife volunteer programs are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Each of our wildlife or animal conservation programs is aligned with at least one UN SDG. 

We also employ both environmental impact and science officers on the ground to ensure that our projects are up to date with the latest conservation best practices and most rigorous scientific standards. 

As part of our efforts to run our programs as ethically and safely as possible, all of our wildlife volunteering programs are governed by both a strict stance on animal interaction and our robust health and safety practices. In this way, our expert staff ensure that animal conservation volunteering activities are safe, ethical and impactful.

You can read about the work we’ve done with the help of volunteers like you in our Impact and Ethics Report

GVI is a British Standards 8848 compliant provider.

FAQs

Who can volunteer with wildlife in South Africa? 

You can! 

Maybe you are on your gap year abroad, or finding adventure (and your feet) out in the world. Maybe you are looking for a different kind of holiday experience – one where you can make a positive environmental impact. Maybe you are looking to take a career break. Or a summer volunteer internship. Maybe you’re a keen conservation student or a wildlife researcher on their first trip out in the field. Maybe you want to train to be a professionally certified safari field guide

Whichever category you fall into, we’ve got a wildlife or animal conservation program that can help you live a wilder life.

Who qualifies as a wildlife volunteer or wildlife intern? 

You do. We don’t require any pre-existing qualifications or certifications.

Most of our adult volunteering programs require you to be 18 years or older, but we do offer specially curated teen volunteer programs for ages 15 to 17 in both Limpopo and Cape Town. Read more about teen volunteering with GVI here

Is shark cage diving ethical?

Our partner in South Africa follows strict guidelines from the Department of Environmental Affairs, ensuring ethical management of shark cage diving. Prioritising safety and minimising impact, they hold an annual renewable permit for responsible diving with diverse shark species. Additionally, the organisation is committed to outreach and education, promoting sustainable coexistence with apex predators in South Africa.

Is it safe to volunteer in South Africa?

Extremely safe. We take every precaution to make sure our participants live and work safely, no matter where they are in the world. We have trained support staff on hand 24 hours a day to ensure that all participants across all our programs are well taken care of.

You can speak directly to one of our enrolment officers or alumni, who can answer any and all questions you might have about life in South Africa, life on the GVI base or the experience of volunteering with wild animals. 

Who will I live with?

You will work alongside GVI volunteers of all ages, from all over the world. This is an opportunity to meet people from a range of backgrounds. Our international team of GVI staff will be at every location to guide volunteers throughout their time on our programs. On community-based projects, volunteers work closely with local community members.

Do I need to know any other languages to volunteer in South Africa? 

Most people in South Africa are fluent in English. English is one of South Africa’s official languages, and all public and government communication is conducted in English. 

What are GVI Flex programs?

GVI Flex is designed for independent travellers looking for a pared-down volunteering experience. Your volunteer hours are determined by our partner organisations, varying from full-time to reduced hours, and the focus is on providing essential GVI support services. With GVI Flex, you have the flexibility to choose projects across the globe, from South Africa to Peru, including community development programs like our business and micro-enterprise initiative in Tanzania.

I’m interested. What are the next steps? 

We’d love to have you! You can enquire or apply here.