The Kariega Big Five Game Reserve 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 lion prey selection monitoring, researching Cape Leopards, rhino surveys, elephant impact monitoring, conservation management and local community projects. The Reserve is located in a malaria-free environment. Wildlife Research Internship opportunities also available.
Volunteers can join year round from 2 to 12 weeks in duration. We have places in 2015 and 2016 available.
Individuals, groups and students doing research all welcome.
Cost includes comfortable accommodation on the reserve, food, training & supervision, use of BBQ, plunge pool, laundry; starts at £680.
Come and join Kariega Game Reserve as a wildlife conservation volunteer or wildlife research intern. Make a real difference, grow your skills in conservation and have the experience of a lifetime! Kariega is an extraordinary and exciting conservation project, at the forefront of numerous species reintroductions and conservation initiatives, including a Leopard monitoring programme in collaboration with a renowned academic institution.
Joining this programme offers the ultimate Big Five experience, where volunteers and interns from across the world, get the opportunity to get hands-on involved in conservation management on the reserve. During your stay with us, you may see yourselves as “Assistant Conservation Managers”, as all the work done and data collected by you will be utilized by Kariega for conservation on the reserve.
Wildlife conservation volunteers will be provided with stimulating practical experience in the following four areas: Research, Conservation Management, Education and Community Development.
Elephant Impact Monitoring
Conservation volunteers will help monitor elephant movement patterns, range utilization and vegetation impact with the aid of telemetry (certain individuals are fitted with radio collars). A part of this research project that volunteers are very involved with, is recording the unique ear markings of each elephant for management purposes. Elephant identification sheets are given to each volunteer, who in turn will assist the conservation department in this regard.
Population Status of Leopards
Leopards (Panthera pardus) have been persecuted in the Eastern Cape for the last three hundred years, resulting in a decline in numbers and fragmentation of populations, placing the local population at risk of extinction. Virtually the entire landscape was hostile to them, and few leopards survived in only the most isolated areas. Recently attitudes towards large predators have shifted, and leopards are now legally protected. There has also been a recent shift in land use, with an increasing number of private nature reserves that complement the state-owned reserves in supporting conservation of biodiversity.
Kariega Game Reserve is one of the oldest of these private nature reserves. These shifts suggest that the landscape is now more leopard-friendly, with decreased persecution and increased refuge areas. This project aims to assess the status of leopards in the Lower Albany area and investigate the role of the Kariega Game Reserve as a refugee habitat for leopards, which may move across the Lower Albany area. We are fortunate to have the support of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on this project.
We are currently trying to establish how many leopards occur on Kariega Game Reserve. We have movement sensor cameras in place on the reserve and it is one of the Wildlife Volunteer Programme’s tasks to monitor these cameras, change memory cards and record all images taken. The cameras are moved around the property on a regular basis, to increase the chance of leopard sightings.
Lion Prey Selection Monitoring
One of the conservation volunteer programme’s responsibilities is to record as many lion kills as possible. This data provides the conservation department at Kariega with valuable information regarding prey selection. Certain lions on the reserve are fitted with radio collars, so volunteers will learn how to use telemetry tracking whilst out on night drives.
The estimated number of rhino poached during 2012 in South Africa is 633. This crisis is the most significant conservation issue that South Africa has faced. Kariega conservation volunteers help monitor and account for rhinos on the property on a regular basis.
Birds in Reserve Project (BIRP)
This project involves preparing a catalogue of the birds, bird numbers and their breeding status in the reserve as part of a project headed by the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit.
Wildlife Conservation Internships
For any of the above programmes, you may also join as a Wildlife Conservation Intern or a Wildlife Research Intern as part of a University or dissertation topic of study. Please enquire for more details.
Conservation management activities form a large part of the wildlife volunteer programme. Some of these activities involve physical work and therefore a certain level of determination from the volunteer’s side is required. Keep in mind that the "reserve needs" are always taken into account and you will help to fulfil those needs as a volunteer. Daily activities are interesting and varied, and could include assistance with some of the following:
Conservation volunteers may also have the opportunity to experience the following additional conservation activities:
Capturing of Wild Animals
Our recent wildlife conservation volunteers had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist with the capture of the following species on the reserve: elephant, lion, rhino, hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and impala. Please remember that captures only occur when required by the reserve and not for the sake of the volunteers.
There is an ongoing programme for the introduction of additional game, especially as the reserve has acquired more land that will need to be stocked with various different African mammal species.
An important driving force in savannah ecosystems (depending on the time of year and fire regimes)
Each volunteer will be given a field booklet, which can be taken home at the end of the placement. Before you start with each practical task, the relative theoretical background on the subject will be discussed in the form of informal lectures. The theory provides insight into the value of the practical activities in which you may participate. Mammal, plant and bird checklists are included in the booklet and will help you to identify different species at Kariega.
Practical education will be provided throughout your stay:
We have identified an under-funded farm school near the reserve where our volunteer programme can make a real difference. The school is small, yet very under-staffed and local kids aged 4 to 15 years attend the school. Volunteers visit the school one day a week (not during school holidays or rainy days (most of the children walk about 10 km to attend school so if it rains, no one goes to school!), and make valuable contributions to the children’s education. Our volunteers take many of the classes themselves and teach 6-12 year olds subjects like English, Maths and Science. You might also help with the maintenance of the school’s facilities or by giving sport lessons to the kids. A recent group of volunteers renovated a classroom (with a completely collapsed ceiling and floorboards!) for the pre-primary school kids. Your contribution here is real, and both the children and the headmistress are very appreciative.
Your dedicated volunteer coordinator will endeavour to ensure that you have a wonderful learning experience and leave with a stronger understanding of conservation issues feeling like you made an important contribution. Our volunteers also get the opportunity to explore South Africa’s amazing coastline as Kariega is a mere 16 km from the sea... the beautiful Indian Ocean is literally on your doorstep! This coastline has particularly rich marine fauna and flora as well as endless sand dunes and beautiful beaches.
1st to 15th June
15th to 22nd June - no places available
22nd June to 6th July
6th to 20th July - no places available
13th to 27th July - no places available
20th July to 3rd August - no places available
17th to 31st August - no places available
24th August to 7th September - no places available
31st August to 14th September - no places available
14th to 28th September
21st September to 5th October
19th October to 2nd November
2nd to 16th November
30th November to 14th December
7th December to 21st December
11th January to 25th January 2016
25th January to 8th February 2016
8th February to 22nd February 2016
22nd February to 7th March 2016
7th March to 21st March 2016
21st March to 4th April 2016
4th April to 18th April 2016
18th April to 2nd May 2016
All volunteers should start on a Monday and you can join for minimum 2 weeks up to 12 weeks in duration, though at least 4 weeks is ideal. If you want to start on a Monday that is not listed above, that will be fine, all Monday starts are accepted throughout the year - please just note this on your application form.
The project costs are as follows: 2 weeks is £680, 3 weeks is £930, 4 weeks is £1180, 6 weeks is £1680 and 8 weeks is £2180. This cost includes all food, accommodation within the Game Reserve (use of plunge pool, BBQ), linen (bedding), laundry and cleaning, all on-reserve conservation activities and training, 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.
You will be lodged in a fully furnished house on the reserve (shared bedrooms and bathrooms). Volunteers are divided into teams and are responsible for the preparation of meals on a rotational basis. There are plenty of opportunities for braai’s (BBQ’s) under the night skies and socializing around a fire. There is a lovely plunge-pool for volunteers to cool off in after a hard day’s work and a pool table in the house. Please bear in mind that the house is in the middle of a "Big Five" game reserve, so therefore one cannot walk outside the boundaries of the
Working Hours & Free Time
The working week at Kariega is from Monday to Friday. Working hours depend on the season and may vary from 7 – 9 hours per day. The evenings are at your leisure. Saturdays are reserved for a town trip (either to Kenton-On-Sea, Port Alfred or Grahamstown) where volunteers can do their shopping, eat out, visit all the sites of the local towns. Sundays are off time.
Kenton-On-Sea is a beautiful small coastal town only 15 minutes drive from the reserve. The beaches are absolutely breath taking and pristine. Your local "hang-out" is a pub / restaurant overlooking this stunning beach! After your Saturday morning shopping in Kenton (volunteers can stock up on everyday essentials), volunteers often laze around on the beach, swim in the waves or sit in the beach bar while sipping away on a cold drink and taking in the scenery. There are also additional activities that can be organised for you on a Saturday (at your own cost and on condition that a few others in the group also want to partake in the activity), including:
Horseback riding on the beach or in a game reserve
Sky diving – tandem (that means you are strapped to an instructor!)
Deep sea fishing
Two day canoe trail on the Kowie river (this is a hit with many of our volunteer groups)
Addo Elephant National Park field trip
Weekend trips away can include bungee jumping, canopy tours and shark cage diving
Conservation volunteer requirements:
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 two hours drive from Port Elizabeth (140 kms) and you can get collected and dropped off at the Reserve at an extra cost.
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.
A video showcasing the work of volunteers on the project
Kariega Game Reserve is situated in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, only two hours 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 area like many in South Africa is steeped in cultural diversity and history. The first inhabitants of the area were hunter gatherers, the Khoi Khoi and San people (commonly known as Bushmen or Strandlopers (beach walkers). The Khoi Khoi and San people mixed over time and eventually became the Khoisan. Unfortunately all that remains of the true Khoisan people in the area, is their rock art and remnants of there bloodline in the Afrikaans speaking Cape coloured people.
Kariega Game Reserve takes its name from the river forming its eastern boundary, the Kariega River, which is the Khoisan word for Steenbuck (a small antelope). The reserves western boundary is formed by the aptly named Bushmans river.
A short documentary on the project
A longer documentary on the project, featuring interviews with park rangers and past volunteers
David Booth from the UK joined the project in March 2015:
This is my 4th volunteering project and it fully met my expectations. The volunteers from all over the world were great company, Frances our guide is exceptional, the location is fabulous and the accommodation the best of all 4 projects. Activities were varied and good fun. The game drives offered some wonderful moments; a lioness attempting to catch an impala, a lion pride over a kill, elephants wallowing in the mud etc. Top of the list – the interaction between Thandi and her calf in a mid wallow. Thanks to all the staff at Kariega who were wonderful and great fun to work with and thanks to all the other volunteers and new friendships.
Some brilliant feedback from Roland Pitts, one of our volunteers from our Kariega Big Five Game Reserve Programme in South Africa - and a great read for anyone considering joining:
"I had a fantastic time at Kariega. I was very lucky to be able to take part in the darting of a young female rhino from a helicopter. No, boo, hiss, they didn't let me fly the helicopter or even go up in it or use the dart gun, but we watched as the vet went up in it and then after he had darted the rhino we helped get her into a trailer and then to release her in a different part of the reserve. Also with the release of a young male from a different reserve to keep her company.
On another occasion a large lorry with about 10 new elephants arrived and we watched as they were released.
The best though was when we spent 2 days capturing female nyala (a medium-sized antelope). The vet was in a land cruiser darting them and we took it in turns to be in the land cruiser with him watching, or following around in a second land cruiser. When he had darted one we followed it into the bushes, located it (the darts had tracking devices) and then blindfolded them, stretchered them out and into pick-up trucks and back to the holding trailer. It was hard and sometimes bruising work but good fun!
Most days we did a combination of work and game drives, and we had fantastic and up-close sightings of all the game. It was good to see all the various antelopes, zebra and giraffe but we were always particularly excited when we came across elephants, rhinos and especially the lions.
One day, just as we had got out of the land cruiser to plant Spekboom, Frances, our coordinator, held up the telemetry to check for the lions. There was immediately a loud beeping and Frances said "They seem to be quite close, ..., very close, ...GET BACK IN THE CAR!". We had hardly got into the car when a small face appeared around the corner of the road in front, then another and another and soon we had all 5 lions in front of and around the car. After sitting on the grass near to us they walked slowly by (no volunteers were eaten...) and away.
We also had some of the largest elephants walk past so close that you could have reached out and touched them.
We saw the white rhinos quite often (although the ones on the dangerous side of the reserve kept a low profile after the young female had been darted and moved) but I only saw the black rhinos once, they spend most of their time in the bushes.
Our accommodation was on the 'dangerous' side of the reserve where the lion, elephant and black rhinos lived so we were not allowed out of the compound alone. On several occasions we had elephant and lions right outside the compound. Big Bull, the largest male elephant, visited a few times and ripped huge branches from the tree outside. The same tree where we had a tree house and where I often sat at weekends bird-watching!
The staff from Kariega were all helpful and friendly, but the Jewel in the Kariega Crown was Frances. She is a lovely young woman, extremely focused on her job, well-organised and I really cannot imagine anyone doing her job better. She has a very positive attitude to life and her work, she is only a slip of a lass but strong and fit! I mentioned that we removed some old fencing posts. I remember one young fit farmer volunteer who had unsuccessfully tried to remove a stubborn fence post. Frances grabbed it, shook it like a dog with a rat and loosened it up!
So definitely a fun and worthwhile experience... I hope I will be able to go back!"
Yipei Ye, a 20 yr old volunteer from China & his friend Chengyan Tang, were lucky enough to be present for a lion darting/capture. Read their feedback below:
“Kariega is a fantastic experience. It is like one big family here – everyone helping each other and having fun. I’m so sad having to leave now – Kariega has truly been one of the most exciting places that I have been to. I really hope to come here again. Thanks everyone for my amazing experience.” Yipei Ye
“Kariega feels like home to me now. I met loads of nice people, saw so many different animals and had many amazing days and nights – it felt like paradise. I can still remember how exciting I was when I took the first glance at a rhino, how breathtaking the moment was touching lions (we were involved in a lion capture). Sometimes something only happens once in a life time. Well that ‘something’, happens here. Kariega is where the amazing happens!” Chengyan Tang
"Kariega in three words . fun, beautiful and personal. This is the perfect way of traveling - you will see and learn a lot. I really enjoyed my time here. One of my highlights was seeing Thandi - I so hope she gets her happy ending. Many thanks to Frances and the great volunteers." - Marja Malvila, Sweden, 07/04/2014 - 21/04/2014
“What a magnificent experience! I have enjoyed absolutely every moment of my time here! Every time we pulled up to the elephants, or they “pulled up” to us, my heart skipped beats and I instantly remembered how good my life is and how lucky I am to be right here, right now with these majestic creatures. A big thank you to Frances for her infinite patience and friendly demeanor! Thanks to the other volunteers from whom I have learned so much about how to move forward with my life. And thank you to the extraordinary animals and plants of Kariega for sharing with me your healing energy and for guiding me back to light.” - Katie Burke, volunteered from 17/02/2014 – 10/03/2014
“My name is Adam Howson and I joined Kariega Game Reserve’s volunteer programme for a month. I left the UK and headed to South Africa not knowing what the road ahead had in store. However, I can honestly say that it was the experience of a lifetime. My reason for joining Kariega’s volunteer programme was to collect data and information for my third year university project. On my arrival, the Kariega team provided me with a wealth of information, time and support in helping me complete my tasks. The team here are so talented and working in the field with such people was awe inspiring!
I was really shocked at how much I was involved in during my short stay. I remember thinking back in the UK – “come on, as if I’ll get to do that” The next thing you know I’m in the back of a truck with a sedated zebra! I was actually involved in all the research and conservation projects the web site advertised – no joke. However, they always made time for my individual needs – sorry for all the questions guys! The team have great personalities too and play just as hard as they work! They allowed me to explore local towns, visit the beach, party (oh!) and skydive from a plane at 10 000 feet. Yes people, I have video evidence – what a day that was! This has been so much more than a uni trip for me. The memories I brought back to the UK, I will keep with me for the rest of my life.” – Adam Howson, UK
“Some places come into our hearts and quickly go, but Kariega stayed leaving footprints in my heart. Being a volunteer on Kariega Game Reserve was an experience that I will never forget. I learned so much in my six weeks out there. My personal favourite work activity was tracking and studying the elephants. The work we did was satisfying and rewarding and I really felt that my contribution helped improved the reserve. This is definitely an experience that I would recommend to anyone.” - Jane Scott, Scotland
“I had a blast on Kariega Game Reserve! Honestly, there are so many of these programs to choose from on the internet and I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have found myself here. All the staff on Kariega is so passionate and I was blessed to have experienced working and living with great people in the volunteer house. My Kariega Game Reserve experience will be unforgettable!” - Maeve O’Sullivan.
“Like a couple of the other who came here with me, I had visited South Africa before on a similar conservation placement at a different reserve in the Eastern Cape, so of course I thought I knew what to expect. How wrong was I?! Kariega has surpassed ALL of my expectations and I can honestly say that these two weeks have been the best two weeks of my life! Why? Simply for three main reasons:
1.Kariega’s awesome wildlife
2.The people that I have lived and worked with
3.Our coordinator, Azel
My top memories of my trip are:
•Being surrounded by the entire elephant herd and coming within an inch (literally) of two young bulls
•Seeing not one, but THREE hippos out of the water during the day on different game drives
•Canoeing the Kariega river and having an awesome sighting of elephants (surreal but incredible!)
•An amazing night drive on which we saw caracal, jackal and then followed the lion pride hunting for a number of hours
•Seeing Black Rhino on our last game drive before camping in style on Harvestvale at Flycamp.
•Diving with Great White Sharks at Mossel Bay.
•Ziplining over the Tsitsikamma waterfalls
•Bungee jumping off the Bloukrans bridge
•Skydiving in Grahamstown
I would implore each and every person visiting Kariega to make the effort the experience some of the country’s incredible cultures and scenery. This trip has sealed in my mind my decision to come back and train for my field guide qualification and follow my childhood dream of working in wildlife conservation in Africa. Your experience here at Kariega will be what you make it – work hard and play hard and you will be rewarded with lifelong memories. Thank you to all whom I met and worked and lived with for these past two weeks. Goodbye Kariega … you will be sorely missed and fondly remembered forever!”
- Jake Dove, UK, August 2013
“Having stayed at Kariega Game Reserve for 6 weeks, I now consider this place my home. I take away with me a deeper knowledge of conservation issues as well as environmental adaptations relating to animals and plants. Every moment I will cherish; capturing lion, having elephant walk around the garden fence (and within touching distance past the Cruiser!) and crazy pizza nights with the rest of the gang. Everybody I have met in SA has been so friendly, helpful and open. Having been a part of Thandi’s operations (skin graft), and also the de-horning procedure of another white rhino was amazing. I am going to put together a presentation for my college class to highlight the issues surrounding rhino poaching. Thanks to everyone at Kariega … you certainly won’t be forgotten!”
- Phoebe Cole, Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK, August 2013
“While I had high expectations coming to Kariega Game Reserve, the experience that I shared here really exceeded them in every way. The coordinator does a tremendous job balancing work, naturalism and fun – it really is a great and well run program in an ideal setting. I am so thankful for what I have learned and experienced with the other volunteers on Kariega Game Reserve.” - John Ingraham.
“Words are not able to describe just how incredible Kariega Game Reserve is! Since I was tiny I have wanted to go to Africa and work with animals and now that I’ve been here I want to live here! These past 3 weeks on Kariega have been beyond amazing and have confirmed that I want to work with animals and be involved in conservation for the rest of my life. Everything about this place makes you want to smile, the wildlife and the people. I have not met a single person on the reserve or in the local town who has not smiled and waved at me – there is a huge community and family spirit that I have not seen in any other country I have visited. No two days are the same here. The elephants are brilliant and I feel like I’ve got to know them and their personalities in my time here. Love the little one who came up and kicked the front of our vehicle! Seeing the rhinos just takes your breath away and the close encounter with the black rhino was amazing. I owe a big thank you to Justine who found so many giraffe for me, you have fulfilled my childhood dream of seeing them in the wild. Justine is the greatest volunteer leader and will make even the rainiest day a memorable one. Thank you to everyone here in South African and on Kariega Game Reserve – you have given me memories I will cherish forever. I will definitely be back … very very soon.” - Sally Milner, July 2012, UK
“Where do I start … I can definitely say I have had the best four weeks ever! I wish I could stay for longer. Kariega Game Reserve is a beautiful place and I am so glad I chose this for my first voluntary programme. I have met some amazing people and hopefully I’ll be friends with them for a long time. I came to Kariega shy and unconfident but by the second week my shyness had gone away and my confidence was growing. I never thought I could do half the things I could before coming here. So thank you to everyone who has had part in that. My visits to the local school, Farmerfield, were definitely an experience! The children there made me smile because you can see how much they enjoy meeting you, taking part in your lessons, but also they were just happy to be there even though they don’t actually have a lot. I want to say a HUGE thank you to the Kariega volunteer coordinator, Justine. She has been brilliant! Thank you again for the best experience yet!” Lindsay Bainbridge, July 2012, UK
“Kariega Game Reserve is a brilliant place and being here has been the best experience in my life. I saw so many great sightings and found every plant beautiful and every road a new world to discover. It was amazing seeing the elephants getting so near our vehicle, hearing the lions roar, seeing monkeys climb trees around our house, buffalos staring at us, etc. etc! Apart from the wildlife, the other volunteers were fantastic. They made me feel so at home and we could laugh everyday until we went to bed at night. I loved working outside, chopping wattles was great fun and I loved the game counts. Justine, the coordinator, really helps the volunteers the take advantage of everything here. She arranged fantastic weekends in Kenton and Grahamstown for us. I hope that future volunteers enjoy Kariega Game Reserve as much as I did and I hope to be back at Kariega soon!” - Gonzalo Remacha (Madrid, Spain), August 2012