Volunteers choosing this project have a unique opportunity to work with a dedicated, professional team (supported by the WWF) on genuine conservation initiatives throughout Zululand in South Africa. The main focus is on critical endangered wildlife species and volunteers will track and monitor animals like Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Rhino, Lion, Elephant and Leopard. This vital conservation work is important across Zululand and the unique bonus in joining this project is that the work is conducted on a number of amazing National Parks and Game Reserves in the area, each with its own distinct eco-system, wildlife and landscape. For volunteers joining for more than 2 weeks there is the opportunity to join multiple locations on the placement. The work is conducted in the stunning African bush and volunteers witness an ever-changing environment as they monitor these beautiful animals - this is a African wildlife experience of a lifetime!
This is not a safari: volunteers are out in the African bush with dedicated conservationists on planned and valuable wildlife tracking and monitoring activities. No prior skills are necessary, the most important thing for wildlife volunteering is the passion to make a difference, be in a reasonably good physical condition and of course, have a positive attitude. The days are full, the work is important and provides volunteers with a true conservation experience. The research carried out, not only provides valuable and necessary data so that the game reserves can make informed wildlife conservation decisions, but also for wider research and publication that has a valuable impact on wildlife conservation throughout Africa.Volunteers will gain "In field" training and practical experience in a wide range of conservation activities including:
- tracking animals using traditional methods such as the identification and following of animal spoors
- the use of hand-held GPS devices and telemetry tracking equipment
- how to produce animal identification kits
- the setting up and use of camera traps to monitor certain endangered species
- collecting animal behaviour data and learning how this data is extrapolated and used to inform and enhance management objectives on these reserves, as well as other reserves across Africa
- data imput and analysis where necessary
- understanding of conservation issues facing endangered species across Africa.
Other activities that volunteers may be involved in - if they are necessary whilst on their placement include:
- darting or trapping and radio collaring of various animal species
- animal tracking and notching
- relocation and re-introduction of game
- identity tagging of animals
- setting and checking of camera traps
- game counts
- bird ringing and alien plant control
A Typical Day
A typical day may involve rising with the sun and after early morning coffee and breakfast, heading out in the back of an open 4x4 vehicle with at most 4 other wildlife conservation volunteers to locate the animals which the monitor has earmarked for the morning. This is done using radio telemetry equipment. Volunteers will be properly trained to use the telemetry equipment and after just a few days will be doing the telemetry tracking themselves. Once animals have been located the sightings will be mapped using a handheld GPS device, and identity kits updated if necessary, as well as taken down behavioural notes used in research. The species monitored include critically endangered species such as the African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Black Rhino and Vulture. Incidental monitoring of focal species like Elephant, White Rhino, Hyaena and Leopard is also undertaken.
Volunteers are usually back by late morning to have lunch and then there will be some time to relax, have a nap or watch the abundant bird and animal life which occurs around the camp before heading out again between 2.00 pm - 3.00 pm to follow up on those animals that were not located in the morning, such as elephant or rhino.
Everyone returns to camp shortly after sunset, to prepare supper together and then sit around the fire listening to the sounds of the African bush and discussing the day's activities. Some nights endangered species' volunteers go out to track species such as the hyaena who are active at night, but most volunteers are usually in bed early to be ready for the next day and the excitement it holds!
The Game Reserves
The Zululand ecosystem is amongst the most diverse and productive wild lands in the world, yet amid its gallery of wildlife, conservation efforts face tremendous challenges. Some of these challenges include: rapid encroachment and fragmentation of natural habitat; poaching; insufficient research and inadequate funding for monitoring and research; coupled with the occurrence of many endangered species. Zululand makes a dramatic backdrop to the project's initiatives as it is a place of unspoilt beauty with cultures as diverse as its landscapes. The rolling hills are disturbed only by the zig-zagging of rivers, and the picture-perfect coastlines are framed by abundant forests. Close encounters with an abundance of wildlife can be expected, as well as spectacular panorama and sunsets.
There are currently monitoring projects on four different game reserves in Zululand, namely: Tembe National Elephant Park, Zululand Rhino Reserve (ZRR), Mkhuse Game Reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) (2 projects).
Currently there are 412 African Wild Dogs in South Africa, 226 of these being in metapopulation reserves and 834 in KwaZulu-Natal. The metapopulation reserves in KwaZulu-Natal are: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), Tembe Elephant Park, Mkhuze Game Reserve and Zululand Rhino Reserve and the project is now actively involved in monitoring all of these managed populations.
In terms of size, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) is 96,000 hectares (370 square miles) with the iMfolozi section comprising about 66,000 hectares (254 square miles); Mkhuze Game Reserve is 40,000 hectares (154 square miles) and Tembe National Elephant Park is 30,000 hectares (115 square miles).
There are many diverse species on each reserve and although the focus on any particular reserve may be on a specific species, volunteers will find that while they are driving around the reserves each day there will be many incidental sightings of various other species in addition to the species being tracked and monitored.
The main monitoring focus of each reserve is as follows:
- Tembe National Elephant Park - the elephant, wild dog and lion populations.
- Mkhuze Game Reserve - African wild dog, cheeetah, elephant herds, vultures and rhino when sighted.
- The Hluhluwe section of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park - the main focus in this Section of the park includes an extensive camera trapping survey of leopard, as well as monitoring of wild dogs.
- The iMfolozi section of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi section of the park includes wild dog monitoring and camera trap surveys throughout the year focusing on either the cheetah, leopard or black rhino population
- Manyoni Private Game Reserve (previously known as the Zululand Rhino Reserve) - main focus is monitoring of wild dogs, cheetah, elephant and rhino as well as some population surveys conducted through remote camera traps. The team also occasionally assists with game counts on this reserve.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP)
Set in the heart of Zululand, and established in 1895, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) is one of the oldest Game Reserves in Africa. The Park covers some 96 000 hectares and contains an immense diversity of fauna and flora. Due to the size of the protected area, the park is divided into two Management Sections: Hluhluwe Section and iMfolozi Section, but the two sections are not separated by fences and they are still managed as one natural system.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including the "Big 5" (Black and White Rhinoceros, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard) as well as species such as African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Hyaena, Jackal, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Zebra, Nile Crocodile, Hippopotamus, Bushpig, Warthog, Mongoose, Chacma Baboons and Vervet Monkeys as well as various antelope species including Waterbuck, common and mountain Reedbuck, Nyala, Kudu, Steenbok, Duiker and Impala and a variety of Tortoises, Terrapins, Snakes and Lizards. The Park is also a prime birding destination with over 320 recorded bird species. Due to the vast size of the reserve there are two projects situated within two separate management sections of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park - one in the northern "Hluhluwe Section" and one in the southern "iMfolozi Section".
Hluhluwe Section - This northern section of the park has hilly topography with altitudes ranging from 80 - 540 m above sea level and these high ridges support coastal scarp forests in a well-watered region with valley bushveld at lower levels. The main focus in this section of the park is an extensive camera trapping survey of leopard, conducted in conjunction with the international big cat conservation organisation, Panthera, and includes the monitoring of the African Wild Dogs as well as Lion and Elephant populations. These population surveys are conducted using remote camera trapping techniques across various locations within the Reserve and the work involves setting up or taking down the motion sensor cameras at different locations, checking the SD cards and recording data as well as helping with identikits for each animal, if necessary. Incidental sightings of other priority an endangered species such as rhino, elephant and vultures also occurs on a regular basis during all field and monitoring sessions.
iMfolozi Section - The topography in this southern section ranges from the lowlands of the Black and White iMfolozi River beds to steep hilly country with some wide and deep valleys. The area is primarily grassland which extend into Acacia savannah and woodlands. iMfolozi was the home of the now famous "Operation Rhino" in the 1950s and 60s which resulted in the saving of the Southern White Rhino from extinction. The area is also famous for its Wilderness Trails which originated inthe1950s and the renowned Game Capture Unit. The main focus in this section of the park includes the monitoring of the African Wild Dogs, which is done twice a day in the early mornings and late afternoons. Volunteers will also be actively involved with camera-trap surveys throughout the year, focusing on either the cheetah, leopard or black rhino population.
Mkhuze Game Reserve
Mkhuze Game Reserve was proclaimed in 1912 and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. It is a place of great beauty and many contrasts with a diversity of natural habitats from the foothills of the Ubombo Mountains along the north western boundary to broad stretches of acacia savannah, swamps, a variety of woodlands and riverine forests as well as a rare type of sand-forest. The Mkhuze River, with a beautiful stretch of fig forest along its banks, curves along the Reserve's northern and eastern borders. The Mkhuze Game Reserve constitutes the north-western spur of the recently declared World Heritage Site: the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. The Reserve has reached "Big 5" status due to the reintroduction of lions to the reserve which also offers an abundance of wildlife including endangered species such as Black Rhino, Cheetah, African Wild Dog and Vultures. Other animals to be found in the Reserve include White Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Giraffe, Leopard, Nyala, Blue Wildebeest, Hyaena, Warthog, Jackal, Zebra, Bushpig, Warthog, Chacma Baboons, Vervet Monkeys, Honey Badgers, Mongoose, Kudu and other smaller antelope species including Waterbuck, Impala, Duiker, Steenbok and Suni. There is also a wide variety of Tortoises, Terrapins, Snakes and Lizards.
Mkhuze is also famous for its rich birdlife with 420 recorded bird species and attracts ornithologists from all over the world. The beautiful Nsumo Pan, the large natural 'lake' within the reserve is host to Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodiles, Pinkbacked and White Pelicans as well as a diversity of storks, ducks, geese and other water birds that gather in spring. Nsumo also supports one of only two major Pinkbacked Pelican breeding colonies in southern Africa.
The main focus on Mkhuze is the monitoring of the African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Elephant herds and Vultures. Mkhuze has a critical need to ensure daily sightings of the wild dog pack due to he fact that the Reserve suffers from an influx of poachers. Three-quarters of the reserve is surrounded by local communities who consistently trespass onto the reserve to set snares with the intention of catching bush meat - mainly antelope - but tragically these snares often trap any unsuspecting animal that walks into them - including rhino, elephant and very often the wild dogs as they daily cover huge distances in search of food.
For this reason is is vital that the monitoring team devotes the majority of its time to locating the wild dog pack each morning and evening to ensure that all the dogs are accounted for and unharmed. This does involve early starts and late returns to camp in the evening, but it is a vital part of the work being done.
Tembe National Elephant Park
Situated in Northern Zululand and adjoining the border wth Mozambique, Tembe National Elephant Park has more than 200 of the world's largest elephants which are also the last remaining indigenous herd in KwaZulu-Natal and includes the legendary big "Tuskers" whose enormous tusks weight more than 45.45 kg.
Tembe is comprised of 30,000 hectares - land once owned by the Tembe tribe, the ancestral custodians of the area. Nkosi (Chief) Mzimba Tembe donated the land for the formation of this game reserve and it is now co-owned and manged by the Tembe tribe, while the precious bio-diversity is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KwaZulu-Natal conservation service.
Although Tembe has no cheetah on the reserve it is home to many other wildlife including the "Big 5" (Lion, Leopard, Black and White Rhino, Buffalo and Elephant) as well as Hippo and various antelope species from the majestic Giraffe at 5 metres tall down to one of the smallest antelope in Africa - the Suni, at only 35 centimetres high! This is really wild country within the sand-veld eco zone and is mainly closed woodland and secondary thicket formation. It is between tropical and sub-tropical forms and therefore home to a real diversity of vegetation as well as more than 340 bird species, making it a delight for bird lovers.
The main focus on Tembe is the monitoring of the Lion, African Wild Dog and Elephant populations. During the week there are two monitoring sessions each day: an early morning session with lion or wild dog being the focus, and a second session of elephant monitoring, usually beginning late morning and ending in the afternoon. At weekends there are no elephant monitoring sessions: two sessions a day are still done (early morning and late afternoon) focusing on lion or wild dog.
Manyoni Private Game Reserve - (Zululand Rhino Reserve)
Zululand Rhino Reserve (ZRR) lies within the Msunduzi valley in northern Zululand, in the province of Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa. The area falls under the Mkuze Valley Lowveld vegetation type, varying from open savannah thornveld, bushveld to riverine woodland, characterised by acacia and marula tree species. The reserve has over 70 mammal species and an exceptional diversity of birdlife.
The Zululand Rhino Reserve was established in 2004 and comprises of 17 landowners who have dropped their internal fences to create a "Big 5" endangered species reserve. Besides the "Big 5" (lion leopard, black and white rhino, buffalo and elephant) the reserve has cheetah, African wild dogs, hyaena, jackal, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, bush pig, warthog, chacma baboons, vervet monkeys, honey badgers, mongoose and various antelope species including kudu, nyala, impala, reedbuck, duiker and a variety of tortoises, snakes and lizards.
The WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project was the conduit for the formation of the reserve which was chosen as a release site for the this project and in 2005 a founder population of black rhino were released into their new home. In 2009 the reserve was proclaimed as a Nature Reserve under the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 acknowledging the reserve as a site of biodiversity importance that makes essential contributions to the conservation of species and habitats and is an important system that provides ecosystem services.
Exciting New Short Term Leopard Population Surveys
This project has been chosen to work with the international wild cat organisation, Panthera, to conduct short-termLeopard population surveys within KwaZulu-Natal using remote camera-trapping survey methods. These camera-trap surveys are conducted on a number of specifically chosen game reserves. With the use of camera-trap surveys it is possible to estimate the population density and gauge population trends over time. On each reserve the team sets up a minimum of 30 camera-trap stations, each of which has two camera-traps (to capture the left and right hand side of the animal). The stations are set up along roads, animal paths and other areas such as river beds or drainage lines which leopards may frequent. Each survey is conducted across an area that covers 100 - 120 km sq and runs for 50 days before moving on to a different reserve.
The main focus for volunteers on these leopard population surveys involves the setting up or taking down the motion sensor cameras at different locations across the reserve, changing the batteries and checking the SD cards as well as recording data and helping with identikits for each animal if necessary.
However, incidental sightings of other animals will occur during the course of driving around the reserve to perform the camera trap fieldwork and check the cameras. Monitoring vehicles have access to all roads on the reserves (including the management roads that are closed to tourist vehicles).
Once the selected camera sites have been downloaded for the day, and the photographs have been correctly catalogued, volunteers will have some free time.
By monitoring leopards using camera-trap surveys, the data collected informs conservation staff on basic leopard ecology, use of their range and interactions with local communities and livestock, all of which helps to shape South Africa's regional conservation initiatives; informing Policy (laws) and effecting real change. This is an important project and a very exciting one to which volunteers can contribute - they will be able to look back one day and say they were actively part of a team that informed government decisions regarding a threatened species in South Africa.
Each reserve has its own accommodation which is basic but comfortable. The camps generally have simple communal kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms or chalets. Each room has two or three single beds and volunteers may have to share a room with other volunteers of the same gender. The bathrooms uisually have a warm water shower and flushing toilet. There is often an outside dining area and barbecue for a real South African outdoor dining experience.
Tembe Research Camp - volunteers are based at a research camp within the natural sand forest. The camp offers three wooden cabins nestled amongst the trees and thickets, with a separate toilet and shower block, and laundry facilities as well as a communal kitchen, dining, lounge and braai area that is shared with other scientists and researchers carrying out studies in the park.
Manyoni Private Game Reserve - (Zululand Rhino Reserve) - volunteers are housed in a large and secluded house within the reserve, and the camp offers twin rooms, an indoor bathroom, a large kitchen and a lovely patio seating area. There is also an outside solar shower.
Mkhuze Research Camp - volunteers are based at a small research camp, which has two bedrooms with separate shower and toilet facilities, a kitchen with an outside dining room, and an outside lounge and braai area. The camp is situated within walking distance of the main tourist camp "Mantuma Camp" which is open to the general public and has a small take-away/diner, a small curio shop and a swimming pool.
Hluhluwe Research Camp - volunteers are based at the Hluhluwe research camp, affectionately known as "Dung Beetle", which is located on top of a hill, in a coastal scarp forest. Volunteers stay in twin rooms and have shared toilet and laundry facilities. There is a communal kitchen and a lively barbecue area that is shared with other scientists and researchers carrying out studies in the park. The camp is situated within walking distance of the main tourist camp "Hilltop Camp" which is open to the general public and has a restaurant, small shop and swimming pool. This camp does house some other research staff and visiting staff members to the park (although their rooms are separate from those of the volunteers). However it does provide a great opportunity for socialising with these researchers in the evenings.
iMfolozi Research Camp - volunteers are based on top of a hill at a Section Ranger's outpost, in a new eco camp. The camp offers twin rooms, separate toilet and shower facilities, a rustic kitchen, decked sitting area and barbecue area. There is a spectacular view of the Black iMfolozi River from a lookout post below the camp, known locally as "the Rock". The accommodation at this camp is basic, isolated and reliant on a generator and solar power for electricity.
Each camp has a communal kitchen where volunteers prepare their own meals. There is an oven, hob, microwave, solar cooker and of course a fire to cook on. Volunteers are encouraged to take turns preparing meals but can cook independently if desired. Volunteers are taken into town to shop for groceries every two weeks. Basic food items are provided for within the volunteer food budget, enough for three healthy meals a day and the aim is to be environmentally friendly. Any additional ‘luxury’ items can be purchased by volunteers to take back to camp with them. The drinking water at the camps is of good quality, but bottled water can be purchased if preferred.
South Africa - Help Local Communities Get Started
Why visit South Africa?
Every country in the world displays some diversity, but South Africa, stretching from the hippos in the Limpopo River to the penguins waddling on the Cape, takes some beating. There’s the deserted Kalahari, Namakwa’s springtime symphony of wildflowers, iconic Table Mountain and Cape Point, Africa’s biggest game reserve - Kruger National Park - boasting the most mammal species of any game reserve, and the magnificent peaks and plunging valleys of the escarpment of Drakensberg.
Cape Town is widely described as one of the world's most beautiful cities. Some of its more famous landmarks include Table Mountain, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades), Cape Point, Chapman’s Peak, Kirstenbosch Gardens and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. A combination of historical coastal charm and urbane sophistication, Cape Town has some of the finest beaches and is also the gateway to the lush Cape Winelands, famous for world-renowned wines. From here, it is an easy journey to the Whale Route, where Southern Right whales can be seen (June - November) and humpback whales, Bryde's whales, Minke whales and bottlenose dolpins can be viewed year round.
The Garden Route is renowned for its beaches, indigenous forests, nature reserves, lakes, mountain ranges, adventure opportunities and hiking trails. Plettenberg Bay is a relaxed beach paradise with spectacular walks and hikes where one can watch dolphins and whales on eco-marine cruises. With some of the world's finest beaches, the Eastern Cape's untouched and pristine coastline also has a rich social, cultural and political history. Port Elizabeth is the gateway to the Eastern Cape, and the perfect complement to the Garden Route. Cape St Francis is situated on the Indian Ocean coastline, in and around Africa's largest man made web of canals and waterways, and is renowned for its long, sandy beaches, surfing, rock fishing and tranquil lifestyle.
Kruger National Park is the flagship of South Africa's game reserves, offering an unrivalled wildlife experience over two million-hectares. Private concessions operating within and alongside Kruger National Park feature luxurious, exclusive game lodges with many exciting safari activities. Some of these lodges are unfenced, allowing for the free movement of wildlife. Madikwe Game Reserve, in the North West province, is one of South Africa's largest private Big Five game reserves and features numerous lodges and camps. The Waterberg area in the northwest is also malaria-free and is aptly named for its strong streams that flow even in dry seasons, making for excellent game viewing. Both reserves are great for those seeking an accessible malaria-free wilderness experience.
Durban is a sub-tropical city and the gateway to KwaZulu-Natal. It offers a unique mix of Zulu, Indian and colonial cultures. Visit the Anglo-Zulu battlefields, take a fascinating glimpse into Zulu culture, hike in the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains, dive the reefs, marine and coastal reserves of Maputaland, as well as experience Big Five game reserves. The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is renowned for saving the white rhino from the brink of extinction, and Phinda Private Game Reserve is well known for its award-winning lodges and conservation initiatives.
Johannesburg meaning "Place of Gold", is South Africa's economic powerhouse. This vibrant and cosmopolitan city is home to many attractions including the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill, and also offers shopping from world-class to atmospheric curio markets. Known as the "Jacaranda City", the state capital of Pretoria features beautiful blossoming trees, significant old buildings and fascinating museums, including the Transvaal Museum, home of Mrs Ples, the australopithecine fossil found at the Cradle of Humankind.
Highlights of South Africa
- Breathtaking scenery, quaint coastal villages, cosmopolitan cities, wine routes and exclusive bush lodges.
- Exciting Big Five safaris in unspoilt wilderness areas.
- Malaria-free game viewing and sunshine all year round.
- See Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held in prison for 27 years.
- Go up Table Mountain by cable car for stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and beautiful Cape Town.
- Whale watching and great white shark cage diving.
- Beautiful, pristine beaches perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
- The Cradle of Humankind: Sterkfontein is one of the world's most productive and important palaeoanthropological sites.
|Seasons ||Max ||Min
|Summer (September - April)
|Winter (May - August)
|Rainfall: October to March, with November to January heaviest
South Africa has typical seasons of weather for the southern hemisphere, with the coldest days in July-August. The Benguela Current, a cold motion that moves from the lower South Atlantic Ocean, causes moderate temperatures on the West Coast. On the central plateau, which includes Free State and Gauteng provinces, the altitude keeps the average temperatures below 30 °C.In winter, also due to altitude, temperatures drop to freezing point, and in some places, even lower. Heavy snows have fallen recently for the first time in decades in Johannesburg. During winter, it is warmest in the coastal regions, especially on the Eastern Indian Ocean coast and Garden Route, where it has year round mild weather with occasional rain. As winter is cooler and drier, it is more suitable for hiking and outdoor pursuits, and is also a good time for game viewing as vegetation is less dense and thirsty animals congregate around rivers and other permanent water sources.
In summer, South Africa experiences the hottest temperatures and this is generally when most rain falls, October – March. However, there is one exception - the Western Cape, which is a winter-rain area that enjoys a Mediterranean climate (average 26°C).
Christmas to mid-January, and Easter are the height of the peak season for visitors.
Autumn (April/May) and Spring (mid-Sept to November) are ideal almost everywhere.
Population – 50 million
Capital – Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial), Cape Town (legislative)
Currency – Rand (ZAR)
Official Language(s) – Afrikaans, English (South African English), Southern Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu
Time difference – GMT +2 hours
Telephone – country code 27, international access code 00