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Big 5 Wildlife Research in a National Park


Lions are known as the king of the jungle for many reasons. They’re strong, beautiful and powerful but, most importantly, they’re the top of the food chain - remove them and the system collapses. This means that research into their breeding and conservation is vital. On this project you’ll be actively involved in lion research and get up close to these impressive cats. You’ll spend your days in the game vehicle and occasionally on foot, tracking, spotting, observing and recording the behaviour of lions, rhinos, elephants and leopards. You may even have the chance to participate in animal re-collaring and darting when it’s necessary. This project is a dream come true for anyone who has a passion for animals, or has dreamed of experiencing the true heart of Africa. Your help is vital for the immediate and long-term success of the project, so your contribution, like your memories, will last for a long time after you return home.

Trip Highlights:

Tracking and monitoring the lions every day - probably the most exclusive safari in the world!

Tracking black rhino on a daily basis on the quad motorbike – just you and the field guide, out in the bush for the entire day, monitoring endangered black rhinos.

Experiencing a genuine African bush experience.

Getting up close to Africa’s amazing wildlife.

At a Glance

Project duration: Min 2 weeks - max 12 weeks

Location of project:  Limpopo Province, South Africa

Arrival airport: Johannesburg (airport code JNB) arrive by 4.15pm at the latest

Activities: Tracking and monitoring animals, recording and inserting data, general reserve management activities (such as alien plant removal, road maintenance etc), duties when back at base on a rotary basis.

Working hours: From Monday to Saturday, Sunday afternoon drive optional. Possibility of doing excursions (extra) during the week.

Requirements: Minimum age 18.

Accommodation: Shared dormitory room in volunteer house on reserve; a couples room is also available on request if available.

Food: Self-catering – food is provided. Volunteers will cook following a menu and do the washing up on a rotary basis with the other volunteers.

Airport pickup: Included on arrival date - ask us for details if you're arriving early.

You need to organise: Flights, insurance, visas, return airport transfer

Your Role

The research done on this reserve contributes to vital wildlife management and conservation efforts and your input is invaluable to this important initiative. Volunteers play a role in every part of the research and without your assistance, and the funds you bring to the project, it could not continue operating.

The reserve’s research focusses on two main projects. The first centres on their pride of lions. You’ll be involved in observing and recording the big cats’ day-to-day life, from their social interaction to their hunting behaviour. You’ll receive expert training on arrival and will then head out in the game drive vehicle twice a day, tracking the lions and recording their behaviour. You will also be part of dedicated drives to monitor the female collared leopard and elephants of the reserve.

As a member of this pioneering research team, you will learn skills such as tracking collared animals using radio telemetry and ground tracking, navigation techniques and animal and plant identification. You’ll gain rare insight into the animals and this environment and will soon realise what an unbelievably unique chance this is.

The second major focus of the reserve is on rhino protection and poaching research. Every day one volunteer will accompany a staff member for the entire day to track and monitor the black rhinos of the reserve to make sure that they are healthy and alive. The pressure of international poaching syndicates continues to increase and become more dangerous – the reserve’s team is actively working to find ways to protect black and white rhinos.

Your hours will vary depending on lion activity so you’ll usually be out early in the morning and sometimes late into the night. Like the lions, you’ll probably find yourself taking cover during the heat of the day. During this time there’s always reserve or house maintenance to be done. Wherever you help out your input will be much appreciated! You’ll learn all about the many amazing animals, their ecosystems and research techniques. You’ll make lifelong friendships, contribute to conservation and have an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.



Day 1 (Monday) – hello and welcome!

Arrive at Johannesburg Airport (airport code JNB) where you’ll be picked up and taken to our backpacker’s hostel in Pretoria. The trip will take about 45 minutes and we ask that you book your flight to arrive before 4.15pm so that you’re there for orientation at 5pm. Orientation will take you through what you can expect from your project, dos and don’ts and safety. It’s also a great opportunity to ask any burning questions you’ve got. Then dinner will be served and you can relax and prepare for your first day.

Note: If you aren’t able to arrive before 4.15pm we recommend you fly in a day early. We can arrange an early airport pick-up for you including one night’s accommodation. Please give us a call for more information.

Day 2 (Tuesday)– on your way to the reserve!

On day 2 you’ll hop on an early morning bus for a seven-hour journey to the project site. The team will be there to meet you on arrival and take you to the project where you’ll settle in to your happy home. They’ll stop in at Phalaborwa so you can do some personal shopping (like cooldrinks, toiletries, snacks etc) as well as buy something for the evening’s dinner. Once
at the project, you’ll have a chance to check out the team offices and your fantastic setting, and get to know how everything works. The project team will be on hand to answer any questions.

Day 3 (Wednesday) and following days – get stuck in!

The first morning will start with an induction talk in which the team will explain everything about the project, the reserve and safety rules – and answer all your questions. Then it’s time to get going with whatever tasks you’ve been set for the day.

Days generally follow a similar routine:

Wild animals are most active in the early morning and just before sunset so you’ll start with the birds (literally) at around 4-5am. Have your coffee ready! This is also the most beautiful time of day in the bush (well, apart from sunset) so heading off in the 4x4 game vehicle is an absolute pleasure.

The pride of lions is tracked, located and monitored every day. On a typical day you will attend two research drives (morning and evening) and you might be asked to be involved with additional research during the day and at night where necessary. You will also have a chance to go with one of the guides on the quad bike for a day, as part of black rhino monitoring.

Your vehicle is equipped with all the gear you need for expert tracking: telemetry kit, data recording set, spotlight and, very importantly, a box with drinks and snacks. The expert researchers and rangers you’ll be working with will share their vast store of knowledge and experience about elephants, rhinos, leopards, antelope and many more amazing animals, as
well as the incredible bird life in the bush.

While at the project you’ll also be involved in basic maintenance of the accommodation and reserve activities. It’s all useful to the reserve and a lot of fun!

Your last day – goodbye, we’ll miss you!

The project team will drop you back at the bus station for your journey to Pretoria. Your return bus ticket is included in your project fee. If you intend flying home or elsewhere in South Africa on the same day, we recommend you book your flights for after 8pm as the trip takes seven hours and you want enough time to get to the airport. If you’re flying the next day and need an overnight stay in Pretoria, our team can help you to arrange this.

Return transfer from Pretoria to the airport is not included but our team will be able to help you arrange your travel – the journey will cost around US$20.

About the Project

The project is located in a beautiful game reserve in the Limpopo Province and it focuses on animal research, particularly with lions - monitoring behaviour patterns, movement and the impact on prey and predator species in their ecosystem – and black rhinos, together with other key species such as white rhinos, elephant, leopard, spotted hyena, cheetah and some other mammals and birds of interest. The game reserve has seven lions, nearly 100 elephants, numerous leopards and plentiful game species, living in their natural habitat – thousands of hectares of pristine African bush. The experienced reserve managers and conservationists have years of field experience which they are only too happy to share with their eager, passionate volunteers

While you're here


You will stay in a comfortable farmhouse on the reserve, sleeping in shared dormitory-style bedrooms (a couple’s room is available on request at a small extra cost) with the sounds of night time wildlife as your lullaby – it’s not uncommon to get woken at dawn by a lion’s roar! Bedding is not provided so please bring your sleeping bag. Bathrooms are Western style with hot running water and showers (provided by a ‘donkey’ wood-fire boiler for most of the day) and flush toilets.

There’s a communal lapa (thatched roof) and braai (bbq) area where you’ll spend your Friday evenings cooking on an open fire under the African stars, sharing stories with new friends and enjoying the amazing sounds of the bush at night.


Food is provided and you and other volunteers will take turns to prepare meals for the group and complete house duties on a daily basis. You can do grocery shopping with the staff when they go into town to replenish stocks.

Facilities and the area

The house is equipped with solar electricity – a torch is required as during the night the power is off.

There are facilities to charge batteries and cell phones during the day time.

You’ll be expected to complete house cleaning duties on a rotary basis.

There is a safe at the farmhouse to store your valuables.

Most amenities are available in town, including a supermarket, internet café, and public telephones.

You’ll have free days to do with as you please. If you’d like to organise an excursion to tour the area and further afield, the project staff will be able to assist you with this.

What to bring from home

Sleeping bag

Torch (this is very important as lights go out at 22h00)

Roll mat


Mornings and evenings can be chilly even in the summer months so be sure to bring some warm clothes with you.

Hard-wearing, durable clothes and shoes in neutral colours (beige, brown and khaki green) that will blend easily into the bush.

Tap water in South Africa is generally safe to drink but bring your own drinking bottle and buy bottled water if you prefer.

A mosquito net, especially during the summer months. You will certainly need one if you are travelling into the Kruger National Park as it’s a malaria zone.

What you get

Expert help-desk

We're always available to offer support and guidance before, during and after your trip.

Thorough project briefing materials

Once you’ve booked you'll receive a full pack of all the information you need for the project. It contains general information about volunteering, your specific project and South Africa as well as advice on safety, visas and inoculations.

Airport pickup

Don’t worry about arriving in a new country on your own. We’ll be there to welcome you and take you to your accommodation.

Arrival orientation

Soon after you arrive you’ll attend a thorough orientation with our team. It covers everything you need to know about your next few days, dos and don’ts and your safety. You can ask any questions and find out more about the fun stuff to do around Cape Town and South Africa.

Accommodation and meals

Accommodation is included with all projects and meals are included with some. We only use locally-owned and operated accommodation so that part of your placement fee is filtering back into the local economy. Most projects offer homestay, guesthouse or shared volunteer houses as standard accommodation, but some offer the chance to upgrade to a more comfortable living standard.

24/7 emergency support

We’re always on hand in case of an emergency.

After you've booked

  • You will receive a welcome email confirming your booking
  • You’ll receive a full project pack with all the info you need
  • You’ll be asked for any extra info if we need it – such as doctor’s notes for medical conditions, or maybe a CV on some projects
  • You’ll need to pay if you haven’t paid already (at least 90 days before travelling)

Then the fun starts!

Next you should:

  • Book your flights
  • Arrange suitable travel insurance
  • Get a visa for your trip if it's needed
  • Visit a nurse or travel clinic for advice on inoculations and malaria prevention
  • Start packing and come and join us!

*Remember to keep our contact details in a safe place in your hand luggage in case you need to contact us during your travels.

About South Africa

South Africans are patriotic and passionate about their country. And it’s not despite the country’s famously troubled history – it’s because of it! The people of this democratic country are so proud of how far they have come from the dark days of Apartheid and it makes us grateful for the diversity of cultures and languages that make up our amazing rainbow nation.

South Africa is a country of diversity in so many ways. It’s not a big country but travelling across the length and breadth of it, you’ll encounter an incredible range of climates and landscapes. There’s beautiful Cape Town, with its Mediterranean feel, pristine white beaches, sparkling oceans and magnificent Table Mountain providing the craggy backdrop for every setting. Travel east along the Garden Route with its picture-postcard coastal villages and you’ll eventually reach Durban and surrounds, a tropical area where the sun shines almost every day, the sea is warm and the surfing is fantastic! Then there’s the rugged Drakensberg mountain range, a place of rich Zulu heritage, spectacular views and jagged sweeps of peaks.  Further north you’ll hit South Africa’s famous ‘veld’ or bush where you’ll find Africa’s big five and many thousands of other species of animals, hiding out in landscapes that are lit at sunset by the most vivid orange, pinks and purples.

There are so many things to see and do here that you’ll need years. But if your time is limited, here’s our top five must-dos:

Game viewing

You can’t come to Africa and not experience the amazing animals, the wild and beautiful African bush and the chorus of an African dawn. Kruger National Park is the most popular choice but there are a host of other parks in the northern parts of South Africa and the Free State as well as KwaZulu-Natal, offering a range of options from the most luxurious accommodation with chefs at your service to DIY game viewing and camping.

Adrenalin adventures

Adventure is the name of the game in this crazy country and if it’s outdoors and adrenalin-inducing, you’ll find it here. From the highest bungee jump and highest commercial abseiling in the world to shark cage diving, downhill mountain biking, trail running, walking safaris, big wave surfing and multi-day hiking, there’s something for ever thrill seeker.


South Africa has thousands of miles of glorious coastline, with Blue Flag beaches and hidden gems dotted along its length. There’s beaches for the glamorous, where you can go to see and be seen, beaches perfect for families, beaches for walking, beaches for swimming and beaches for watersports. There’s probably beaches which have never been trodden by a tourist before. Go on, we dare you to find it!

Nightlife, restaurants and entertainment

No holiday would be complete without a few good nights out and South Africa knows how to entertain. With so many cultures making up our population, there’s loads of delicious food on offer full of every fresh ingredient you could think of. There are pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes to suit every taste. South Africa is famous for its wonderful wines and there’s a craft beer revolution happening right here. Pack your dancing shoes!

A taste of township and culture

South Africa has a rich, tumultuous history dotted with dismal lows and incredible highs – and full of astounding stories from amazing people. It’s what makes South Africa the colourful place it is. Museums of every shape and size document the various aspects of our human and natural history, arts and culture – you’ll find them all over the country. Or why not take a township tour and experience the true heart of South African culture?  If you’re visiting Cape Town, come to Kommetjie and visit Masiphumelele with the Township Sisters, our special Volunteer and Explore partners, and help support the sustainable development of this vibrant township.


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