Volunteer in South Africa and Research Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Cheetah & Leopard populations in a Big Five Game Reserve

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The Shamwari Game Reserve Conservation Volunteer Programme offers a once in a lifetime chance to get behind the scenes and involved with the conservation efforts of the Game Reserve. Wildlife conservation volunteers take part in game monitoring, assisting at the Born Free big cat sanctuary, looking after orphaned animals at the wildlife rehabilitation centre and much more.  Shamwari, meaning “my friend” in Shona, is the pinnacle of game reserves and home to the coveted Big five on one of the largest conservation initiatives in Southern Africa, and is located in a malaria-free environment.

Volunteers can join from 2 to 12 weeks in duration. We have places available throughout the year.

Individuals, groups, families and students doing research all welcome.

Cost includes lodge accommodation, 3 meals a day, training & supervision, use of BBQ, swimming pool, and other volunteer facilities; starts at £795.

Giraffe drinking from a waterhole Herd of elephants and little baby Baby impalas Bull Buffalo 3 curious giraffes in a row Help with lion research as a volunteer Volunteers can help with elephant capture and monitoring Mother Rhino and Baby Environmental volunteers can also do primate research Cheetah conservation at Shamwari Open skies and stunning views at the volunteer accommodation at Shamwari Hippos at Shamwari Leopards at Shamwari Termite mound Zebra Oxpecker sitting on a rhino Oryx Waterbuck Darting a male lion at the Born Free Sanctuary Volunteers monitoring the wildlife of Shamwari Female Kudu Taking part in an elephant capture Daddy Ostrich and his chicks Volunteers telemetry tracked this male cheetah Monitor Lizard Adolescent elephant Volunteers viewing wildlife surgery Volunteers with vet Shamwari Lioness Volunteers assisting with rhino capture

The Project

The Shamwari Game Reserve Conservation Volunteer Programme is a once in a lifetime chance to get behind-the-scenes and involved with the conservation efforts of the world-renowned Shamwari Game Reserve.  A fully operational 25 000 hectare Big Five Game Reserve - all projects undertaken are based around the requirements of the various short and long-term conservation projects and the need for assistance by the award-winning Shamwari Wildlife and Conservation Department.

Adult RhinoWildlife Conservation Volunteer Programme Highlights

  • Become part of the team at Shamwari Game Reserve and work amongst Africa's Big Five.
  • Game monitoring and counting to assist in monitoring the ecological balance on the Game Reserve
  • Track and monitor predators (Lions and Leopards) and large herbivores (Rhinos and Elephants)
  • Set out camera traps and do anti poaching night drives
  • Work alongside conservationists and enjoy related lectures and talks

Wildlife conservation volunteers will have the chance to assist with many on-going short and long term projects. However, due to the nature of working in and around wildlife and a reliance on prevailing conditions, there is no guarantee that you will be involved in all projects during your placement. 

Wildlife Conservation Volunteer Possible Activities:

Two male cheetahsGame Monitoring: Rhino, Elephants, Predators
With regular monitoring, it is possible to identify individuals, compile information about the family structure and determine feeding and special ecology. Data collected is used to assist in the managing decisions for the reserve.

Game Count
Annual game counts are conducted to establish the carrying capacity of the reserve. Game counts assist in the decision making of predator to prey ratios and the movement of animals on or off the reserve.

Telemetry Tracking
Monitoring of some high profile animals like cheetah and leopard are required using telemetry tracking equipment as result of the neighbouring properties carrying livestock and the elusive nature of some of the species.

Restoration & Rehabilitation of Reserve Landscapes
The need to return the once pristine landscape to its original splendour includes the collecting and removal of old fence lines and rehabilitating degraded and overgrazed land.

Research and track lions in Shamwari, South AfricaManagement of Breeding Centre
Management of the breeding centre can include anything from veld (open country or grassland) assessment of conditions, mapping of breeding area and alien vegetation, monitoring animal numbers and managing water points.

Internship Research Projects
Undertakings of research projects with a focus on a value added outcome for the reserve or conservation as a whole, are greatly encouraged.  These projects are often undertaken in conjunction with both local and foreign research and academic institutions and may range from elephant fertility testing to capturing data on lesser known species such as Brown Hyena.

Alien Plant Control
Alien plants were introduced to the land by the farmers for different reasons and uses. Today these invasive plant life need to be removed to increase the natural biodiversity and decrease fire risk.

Born Free Foundation
It is the mission of both the Born Free Foundation and Shamwari Game Reserve to promote the conservation of species and the protection of habitat while maintaining a humane and compassionate approach to the welfare of animals. Therefore, it is their goal to create an awareness about the horrific way in which wildlife is exploited in captivity around the world. An opportunity will be given on a weekly basis for individuals to volunteer at the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary.

Impala herdAnimal Rehabilitation Centre (ARC)
Shamwari Animal Rehabilitation Centre was set up to aid in rehabilitating injured animals found on the reserve and surrounding community. The aim is to give the animal short-term care and release it back into their natural environment. Volunteers are sent when, and if, assistance is required as the centre is not a sanctuary. No animals are kept for purposes of breeding in captivity but are hosted with the aim of giving them a second chance to take on life back in the wild.

Community Projects
The role of conservation does not stop at conserving nature alone, but also includes a responsibility to uplift local and impoverished communities. This responsibility includes education of the community as to the role and benefit of conserving biodiversity and further stresses the importance of conserving our natural resources.  Weekly trips are made into the local community to assist in various community projects that range from creating and maintaining vegetable gardens, recycling projects, painting classrooms and building jungle gyms.

Female ostrich with her chicksGeneral Reserve Maintenance
Possible Activities Include:
• Game capture and other wildlife veterinary work
• Sleep outs on the Big five reserve
• Orientation and nature walks
• Assisting in night and anti-poaching patrols

The reserve is constantly monitoring existing game and introducing new game throughout the year, making it a very active conservation project. The wildlife department where you will be working has received the Global Nature Fund Award for Best Conservation Practice, and the wildlife director, Dr Johan Joubert, was voted one of South Africa's Top Ten conservationists by the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Opportunities for Groups
We can also arrange opportunities for groups to join the programme for up to 30 people, for individuals ages 13 yrs and over.  For more details, please email:  Victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com

Dates & Costs  

24th October to 7th November 2016
31st October to 14th November 2016
28th November to 12th December 2016

5th December to 19th December 2016

23rd January to 6th February 2017

30th January to 13th February 2017
6th February to 20th February 2017

13th February to 27th February 2017
20th February to 6th March 2017

27th February to 13th March 2017
6th March to 20th March 2017
13th March to 27th March 2017
20th March to 3rd April 2017
27th March to 10th April 2017
3rd April to 17th April 2017
10th April to 24th April 2017
17th April to 1st May 2017
24th April to 8th May 2017
1st May to 15th May 2017
8th May to 22nd May 2017
15th May to 29th May 2017
22nd May to 5th June 2017
29th May to 12th June 2017
5th June to 19th June 2017
12th June to 26th June 2017
19th June to 3rd July 2017
26th June to 10th July 2017 
3rd July to 17th July 2017
10th July to 24th July 2017
17th July to 31st July 2017
24th July to 7th August 2017
31st July to 14th August 2017
7th August to 21st August 2017
14th August to 28th August 2017
21st August to 4th September 2017
28th August to 11th September 2017
4th September to 18th September 2017
11th September to 25th September 2017
18th September to 2nd October 2017
25th September to 9th October 2017
2nd October to 16th October 2017
9th October to 23rd October 2017
16th October to 30th October 2017
23rd October to 6th November 2017
30th October to 13th November 2017
6th November to 20th November 2017
13th November to 27th November 2017
20th November to 4th December 2017
27th November to 11th December 2017
4th December to 18th December 2017

Mother Rhino and BabyAll volunteers should start on a Monday and you can join for minimum 2 weeks up to 12 weeks in duration.  If you want to start on a Monday that is not listed above, that will be fine, all Monday starts are accepted - please just note this on your application form.

The costs for the project are as follows: 2 weeks is £795, 3 weeks is £1095, 4 weeks is £1395, 6 weeks is £1995 and 8 weeks is £2595. This cost includes all on site meals, accommodation within the Game Reserve, linen (bedding), laundry once weekly, cleaning twice weekly, all on-reserve conservation activities and training, tea and coffee, WorkingAbroad backup and support. What is not included is your flights and travel to and from the Game Reserve, visa costs, personal expenses, and your own health and travel insurance. 

Food, Lodging, Travel, Free Time

Potes treesLodging
Conservation volunteers live in any one of our three varying accommodation facilities which have dining and common and/or lounge areas, and most of the time, you will be hosted in an area locally known as Pote’s, which is on the wildlife breeding area of the Shamwari Wildlife and Conservation department, but is predator-free allowing for total freedom for volunteers.  General game including zebra, kudu and waterbuck can be found along with buffalo on the adjoining property.   Shared rooms with twin beds or three beds (if in tented accommodation).  Plunge pool, DVD facilities, Internet access (you have to buy WIFI vouchers) with shared computer for volunteers, outdoor boma and fireplace available at Pote's.  Although any room or facility changes are averted, participants may be moved during their stay.

Three meals are provided on a daily basis. Meals will either be served at the facility itself or taken as a pre-packed serving, depending on planned or as result of unscheduled activities. Vegetarians and other dietary requirements can be catered for, if notified in advance. Cooked breakfasts are served once weekly – generally Fridays.  Meals are prepared with exposing participants to an array of local dishes in mind and are generally taken on a self-service basis with the option of juice, tea or coffee. Still and spring bottled water is available for purchase from local trading stores.

Hippo in the waterWorking hours & Free Time
Our conservation work generally runs in-week from Monday to Friday fron 08H00 to 17H00 daily or as is required by the operations of the reserve’s conservation efforts, therefore participants may be asked to assist and conduct related weekend activities from time-to-time.  Evenings are at leisure with any need for early morning or late night activities dependent on the tasks at hand.

There are several adventure and leisure based activities in and around the Eastern Cape and bordering Western Cape districts. These range from seasonal whale watching in Algoa Bay, surfing J-Bay’s world-renowned Super Tubes, to bungy jumping at the Bloukrans Bridge and exploring the forests and coastline of the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Conservation volunteer requirements:

  • Age 18 yrs and upwards.
  • Interest / field of study: conservation, environmental science, wildlife management, ecology or wildlife biology, wildlife journalism, wildlife photography, veterinary science, animal behaviour studies.
  • Personal qualities of flexibility and adaptability.
  • Self-motivated: a carefully structured full programme is provided each week, but volunteers need to be adaptable to some programme changes depending on variables in the running of the project. Free time is also factored in, and volunteers need to be independent and mature enough to make constructive use of such recreational time.

How to get there
You need to arrange to fly to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa - connecting flights from Johannesburg.  The Game Reserve is a one hour drive from Port Elizabeth and transfers to the project can be arranged from there. 

Passport and visa
A valid passport with at least 2 blank pages in it, is necessary to enter South Africa. Since visa requirements vary from country to country, please check with your local embassy as to whether a visa is required to enter South Africa.

Interactive Map & Background

Video showcasing the conservation activities & work of volunteers on the project:

Interactive Map showing the project location:


Background on the project:

A baby lion in Shamwari Game Reserve

Shamwari Game Reserve is situated in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, only an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth. This area historically had an abundance of wild game roaming free with one of the richest wildlife areas on the African continent.  The Eastern Cape is famous for a number of other game reserves. The great herds of Knysna Forest elephants were almost totally eradicated at the turn of this century and in 1931 there were only 11 elephants remaining.  Miraculously, the man most responsible for nearly wiping out an entire species had a dramatic change of heart and spent the remainder of life fighting for a safe haven to conserve these rare and wonderful animals.  Addo National Park and the Mountain Zebra Park saw almost exactly the same thing happen to the rare mountain zebra. Shot to the brink of extinction, in the 1930s this rare species struggled to come back. Today, there are over 200 in the park. On 15th October 1992, Shamwari was officially opened, and an Animal Rescue and Educational program was launched, in partnership with the Born Free Foundation to home rescued big cats from captivity.  Over time Shamwari grew and established itself and by the year 2000, the Reserve was large enough and stocked sufficiently to support large predators. A dedicated and systematic re-introduction program was launched and finally in October 2000, the first lions were brought back to the Eastern Cape and released at Shamwari to fulfil a dream.

Today over 5000 game range freely, having been bred and/or re-introduced into Shamwari, now a Game Reserve stretching over 25000 ha.

Volunteer Testimonials

Game reserve volunteers in South AfricaRhinos in South AfricaRenata Varkonyi and Tamas Csako from Budapest in Hungary, spent 3 weeks at the reserve and this is what they said: 

"We would like to thank you for your help and for arranging for us to join the Shamwari volunteer team.

The environments were amazing, the Rangers are very kind and their knowledge unsurpassed. The organisation and implementation was perfect and the meals were delicious. We have learnt a lot about the animals and would like to continue the volunteering in future."

Julie Dennison, Volunteered at the project together with her daughter in 2016:

My 16-year-old daughter and I travelled from the UK through Workingabroad.  Thank you Vicky for keeping me right with travel documents.  We loved Capetown, a weekend crammed with fun.  A 1-hour flight had us in Port Elizabeth with our shared transfer waiting. Shamwari exceeded any of my expectations.  The staff are 100 per cent committed to educating us on conservation, but allowing us to have so much fun in the process that we want to return. The labour was enjoyable and for a worthwhile cause.

If you are interested in doing your bit for conservation, animals, vet work, don't hesitate.  Julie Ward from born Free foundation was an added value. My daughter would like to return next year with a school friend and I shall encourage them to do that.  We were in a group of mostly students, some school age, travelling alone.

My focus when I wanted to visit Shamwari was elephants, because I would like to help finish the ivory trade and hoped to understand it better.  Although we had signed up to the Conservation Experience, not vet practice, we happened to be on site when an injured White Rhino needed vet treatment for an injured foot.  Our co-ordinator (Simone) explained that because dusk was approaching they needed to work quickly to treat the Rhino in the open and have it on its feet by dark.  The vehicles were needed as a corral, to keep the Rhino he was with, back, simply to avoid him injuring us.  

He obliged by giving in to the sedation in a nice open spot, he was surrounded by vehicles and the vet worked quickly to treat a foot injury.  We were all blown away by the experience.  We helped push the Rhino  on his side and hold him there and realised how completely different he was to our expectations. He was a very soft a warm body, like a massive puppy. When he was brought round, he and his friend found each other in the dusk by quietly blowing down their noses.  When they were back together his friend snuffled down his side, exactly where our hands had been.

Brittney Graham from Ohio, USA gives her account of volunteering at Shamwari:

The experience was incredible! It was fantastic to be able to observe the conservation measures being taken to preserve South Africa's most iconic animal species! It was even more fantastic to get hands-on experience at the reserve, participating in erosion control, invasive species removal, and habitat restoration through planting of native species. I definitely recommend the Shamwari Conservation Experience!

Family volunteering on our Shamwari project in South AfricaFamily Itier - Severine, Eric, and their 2 children 13 and 11 yrs old from France joined the Shamwari programme in August.  Here is their feedback:

We are all very pleased with the experience. Very rewarding on many levels.

Perfect. The directions to the reserve, the availability of all the people we met and the information was very detailed.

Lodging (BUDDY'S):
Better than the hotel. Very spacious rooms (for 2 people) but perfectly acceptable for 3 or 4 (in the case of a family like us). The cleanliness of the whole, common areas and rooms is very good. The various activities, table tennis, billiards, TV, internet access and books means you can be entertained and interact with the other volunteers.

The variety of meals, preparation and consideration of the culinary requirements of each (allergies, vegetarian ...) was really good - we were pleasantly surprised. The meals were very good and properly dosed. Access to the dining room is great for evenings.

We dispel all your fears about the physical activities we have done. They are easily accessible to children, with Emmy 11 years. It did not hurt and our son Thomas was delighted by the activities in the community. The monitoring was our favourite. In addition, comments, notes and information by rangers are perfect. They are also extremely professional and very adaptable to each person.

A big thank you to all your staff, cooks, laundresses, cleaners, rangers responsible. All were very friendly and helpful.

I would advise this to all those who want to discover wildlife and enjoy being close to nature.

The SHAMWARI spirit is really very important in this modern society that loses its bearings.

An unforgettable experience... especially for families with children!

We would gladly have stayed longer smile

Kaye from London writes about her experience at Shamwari

Buffalo Bull

"So amazing that it is difficult to put into words really, if you have been on a safari holiday in Africa and feel you want to give something back to the amazing wildlife of this great place then volunteering is a must. Working hands-on alongside with all the rangers and vets without any formal qualifications is a real privilege and an experience I shall never forget, after all how many people can say they have shared the same air as a wild lion? After my first circuit tour safari, I left my heart out in Africa and knew I just had to return however, I was very apprehensive about volunteering at my age – my fears were ill founded, as the team never force you to engage in something that is out of your comfort zone. The experience surpassed all my expectations and I can’t wait to return – actually I would happily give up my day job and be part of the Shamwari team at the drop of a hat! The expanse of Africa’s wild is difficult to describe and Shamwari more than delivers on that account, so the accommodation area is ideally situated as it allows you to become part of the flora and fauna in the heart of the reserve without sacrificing your day to day luxuries as the rooms are clean, bug free with hot running water and showers are ensuite which beats running across the normal camp site facilities to a communal wash area and sleeping in a tent as experienced on most circuit tour safaris which are actually more expensive. I celebrate the dedication and commitment of all staff at this true conservation facility, as without such places Africa’s true beauty – it’s amazing wildlife will be silenced and that is a very depressing thought. I cannot thank everyone at Shamwari and Born Free enough as I thought I would get Africa out of my system this visit. Alas, not only have I left my heart there this time but my whole body and soul and the blame lies entirely with you!!!!"

John Yates writes about his time:

"A big congratulations to the Shamwari volunteer programme and the staff that run this outstanding facility. There is not a moment left to chance, not a moment that won't be remembered, while delivering an experience of a life time to all those who pass through the program. From the minute you arrive to the minute you leave there is an action packed program to fit all needs. Well done to a thoroughly professional team and a reserve teeming with African wildlife."

Jo Pickering from the UK writes:

"Being able to be close to so many wild animals and knowing their life at Shamwari is the best, the big 5 especially!" and "the base was more comfortable than I expected so I couldn't wait to get started"

Peter Haygarth, also from the UK, writes:

"The staff helped in making this a very enjoyable and memorable experience. I was very impressed with accommodation and the camp."

Sandra Noethiger from Switzerland tells us about what she saw as the highlights of her trip:

"Releasing caracals, darting buffalos, the evenings around the fire, the night drives and outdoor sleeping in the middle of nowhere, with friendly and welcome staff!"

Male cheetahHow to Join

If you are interested in joining this project, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including two references and your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we would reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, 50% of the full amount needs to be paid within 14 days of your place being confirmed with the balance two and a half months before departure. Once your place is confirmed, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on your project and the conservation work you will be doing, the region, suggested items to bring etc. You will also be required to sign an indemnity/waiver form before joining the programme.

Apply Now

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