Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Kariega Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa

1 - 12 weeks from

minimum age

  • Volunteers in a Big Five Game Reserve in South Africa
  • Help to research and track elephants, rhinos and lions
  • Live and work in the middle of a stunning game reserve
  • Spend one day a week in the local township doing community work

"This was truly an experience of a lifetime."

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My time working as a volunteer at the Kariega Game Reserve was an amazing adventure. I tried starting my journey with as good as no expectations of what these 4 weeks would bring me, still I was a bit nervous after all. That feeling however was no longer existent as soon as I entered the reserve. I was welcomed by a lovely group of other volunteers, our amazing coordinator Jaco and the cutest Ntosh who made sure our house and clothes were always clean. The volunteering house is inside the reserve, so elephants might just be right outside the font gate; a wonderful and comfortable place to stay.

Driving around the reserve in Camila the cruiser was incredible. Wild animals that you’re only used to see on TV were standing right next to us. On the first drive I already saw 4 of the big 5; a big herd of rhinos was munching while the sun was setting; a breath-taking picture. Some of the volunteering work we did included putting bait in the leopard cage and creating a scent trail; doing elephant research with Antoinette, which included collecting data on elephant social behaviour and creating ID kits and helping to set up the Kariega conservation Centre, a new Kariega project. We also helped with alien plant removal and lastly, we even built a kitchen in one of the townships.

One of the things I loved the most was going to Gladys’ soup kitchen, playing with the children and serving food, the lovely Gladys had cooked for them. I had a long conversation with her and she, as well as her story, is truly inspiring and eye opening. A wonderful woman with a big heart. Furthermore, weekends at the programme were for leisure and a great opportunity for even more bonding time for the volunteers. From horseback riding, to chilled days on the beach, to wake boarding, to surfing and skydiving. We often went to this amazing pizza place called Pizzarella or to BBG’s to hop on the bar and dance until we couldn’t dance no more. On hot days we often went to paradise, and I’m sorry cannot tell you what paradise is unless you have been there.. And trust me, the name really describes this place best.

What I really like about the programme is that the interaction and contact between the animals and humans is reduced to a minimal; us humans are only visitors in this animal kingdom. All in all, an extraordinary adventure with not much room for improvement. A big thank you to Jaco. He truly is inspiring, knows an awful lot about the animals and wildlife and loves to share his immense knowledge with the volunteers. I have learned a lot about wildlife, the different animals in the reserve, conservation and spreading awareness about the beauty of mother earth and everything she has to offer.

I also wanted to say a big thank you to the team of WorkingAbroad Projects for being extremely helpful. Especially during these difficult times with a lot of uncertainty, I was in very good hands with any questions and demands that I had. The booking process was very easy. I can only recommend WorkingAbroad and their projects and probably have already convinced a few friends to take a look at the program.

This was truly an experience of a lifetime. Not a single day was boring. I have learned a lot about wildlife in general as well as some life lessons; In a confusing world, this experience has helped me realise what is important and what is not. So many amazing memories that no one can take away from me. I have made some friends for life for sure and am already saving money to return to South Africa – because I’ve fallen in love. Baaie Dankie!

"Simply I cannot recommend this project enough"

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My time volunteering at Kariega game reserve in South Africa was simply unforgettable. WorkingAbroad responded quickly to my initial enquiry and from there the booking process was simple. Even though I held some mild trepidation, having never volunteered overseas through an agency before, I needn’t had worried as the program was run by dedicated, passionate people and I am so glad I took my first step into conservation volunteering.

The project was an unbelievable insight into how Africa’s native wildlife is suffering due to humankind and the efforts required to conserve the biological diversity of flora and animals. Our volunteer coordinator on the reserve was a remarkable conservationist whose knowledge and enthusiasm was inspirational. Being involved with a plethora of activities including alien vegetation clearances, shrub harvesting, animal spatial movement monitoring and game drives, within a myriad of other projects, left no day unexciting.

You must be prepared to get stuck in, the more you throw yourself into every activity the more it progresses the reserve towards their conservation goals. A couple days we were even treated to a lake swim or canoeing as reward for our efforts. The other volunteers were extremely friendly and the group house, situated in magnificent surroundings, was a pleasant and comfortable place to stay. The local towns on the coast were full of activities and left no weekend empty, going out in groups with like-minded people was hugely enjoyable. Even in a short amount of time the conservation work puts you in a proactive state of mind and so leisurely coastal hikes can quickly turn into beach clean-ups.

It was difficult when the time came to leave such a breath-taking place and remarkable people. Four weeks seemed like a long time when booking, but it flew past and I truly enjoyed every minute. Through undertaking the project work and getting to know the coordinator, I have been inspired to eventually move into conservation work.

It is difficult to communicate everything I want to in a fairly short review, but simply I cannot recommend this project enough. Thank you to WorkingAbroad and thank you to everyone at Kariega.

"Everyday was filled with doing, learning or seeing something new"

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I had the most exciting, wonderful and life changing experience at Kariega and I can not recommend it highly enough. It was my first time in South Africa and my first time doing something like this. As soon as I arrived I felt right at home and welcomed.

The next 4 weeks flew by and I never wanted them to end. Our little group of always 10 was lead and guided by the exceptionally knowledgable, kind and patient Jarrett. He made everything we did more fun (even prickly pears) and really was South Africa’s answer to David Attenborough. Everyday was filled with doing, learning or seeing something new.

Kariega also offered the wonderful opportunity of meeting new people from all over the world and from all different walks of life. The house was amazing, sat quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Look outside your bedroom window and you’re likely to spot an adorable yet evil vervet monkey or perhaps even a peckish elephant coming to feast from Jarrett’s wild fig tree. You’re pushed outside your comfort zone but it’s enlivening.

I can’t name a favourite day or memory because my whole time there sort of rolls into one. I would 100% come back and do another stay in the future and can safely say I will be back to SA. Thank you again to all the staff, Jarrett and Working Abroad team who helped me to organise my adventure and getting me down there. I had such an amazing time and will never forget this experience.

"We saw all the big species close up – lions, elephants, giraffe, rhino and much more"

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I spent 3 weeks on the Kariega Volunteers project and had the most amazing time. The volunteer house was big, clean and well kept. Much nicer than I expected. Jarrett the project coordinator was welcoming,  knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We learnt lots about the different species on the reserve. Every day we were out in the truck around the reserve – sometimes tracking animal movements, but even the days where we were working on for example, removing alien plant species we often had great animal encounters. We saw all the big species close up – lions, elephants, giraffe, rhino and much more. This was peppered with other fun activities night drives, canoeing down Kariega river, a visit to the main hotel lodge for dinner…

I picked this project in particular as Wednesdays involved volunteering away from the reserve in the local township and local schools. These were great days where we got to experience the local communities and are very rewarding.

I also chose Kariega as it was close to the coast and it sounded like there would be a range of fun activities to do at the weekends. I managed to go horse riding on the beach, paint balling and skydiving during my time and there was more I could have done, Transport at weekends was limited as we lived inside the reserve so only certain companies could pick us up. One firm in particular were basically at our beck and call every weekend – this was slightly more expensive but having them at our disposal they could be flexible on times so I did not mind this at all. It was also amazing to be living within the reserve seeing elephants outside the window in the morning through the fence and knowing how close we were to them. We regularly got woken my vervet monkeys dive bombing onto the roof.  The local town was a 20 minute taxi ride away but we could buy our own supplies at the weekend and on Wednesdays too. The house had food supplies dropped in every Monday – although described as basic I was happy with the range of food supplied and we ate well.

There were not too many volunteers – I think the house and truck held 10 maximum – and it was nice to mix with volunteers from France, Germany,  Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, the USA and more.  I was the oldest – only just on one week and by a long shot on another – but I expected to be. This was not a problem though and everyone slotted in. In the evenings we had a tv, films, pool table, table football and card games to amuse us, a fair amount of alcohol and beer games were played and a huge roaring log fire to keep us warm. The weather was a mixed bad as it is winter – but it was really nice most of the time – if a little chilly on the truck in the wind and VERY cold when it was cloudy. But other days you could spend a few hours in your bikini on the beach. I had a fantastic time! It was an experience of a lifetime – so far, and I will definitely look into doing something similar again. The animal encounters I have never been on a safari holiday but I feel like we had more animal encounters because we were out and about on thee ground around the reserve.

"I sincerely hope I can return there one day"

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My time at Kariega was wonderful. The lodge where we stayed was much better than I expected, with twin rooms, most with en suites. There was a spacious lounge, dining area and kitchen, with plenty of things to occupy us. The garden area had a small pool for cooling off and a BBQ / Braai area, which we used each Friday evening.

The work programme itself was varied and enjoyable. Some physical work involving chopping down bushes, trees etc and planting, but mainly it was data monitoring of animals and their behaviour. In my time there, I learned so much about each animal type and their behaviour. This was very enriching. The reserve itself is beautiful with many rolling hills, valleys, rivers, bush thicket and plains. Seeing all types of animal including 4 of the big 5 (no leopard unfortunately) in a natural environment with different behaviour patterns each day was an awesome experience.

Finally a word for Jarrett, our coordinator, who was with us each week day and organised all activities. His enthusiasm for the area, the wildlife and conservation activities certainly rubbed off on us all. His knowledge of the animals and environment was brilliant and so helpful and educational for me. It made the whole experience unforgettable and I sincerely hope I can return there one day for another voluntary programme.

"I had a wonderful time from start to finish"

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I had a wonderful time from start to finish. From Working Abroad side, the process was simple and easy to follow and the paperwork provided was helpful.

Whilst at Kariega I was always made to feel safe and welcome the two guides I had were amazing and made sure you understood all aspects of the reserve. The volunteer house had recently been renovated to a high standard. The only downside was that the cooked door did not shut properly, so when cooking for 10, it took a lot longer than normal.

We visited a local lodge called Intaka lodge one night for homemade pizza I would highly recommend they make this a weekly thing as it was a good insight into the local people and a great chilled out atmosphere. The programme was very well thought off and each day was enjoyable. I can honestly say there was not one day that I did not enjoy.

"One day we had lunch watching hippos sleeping on a beach"

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I had a great time, we spent so much time watching the animals. It was a truly amazing experience, which you can’t put into words. One day we had lunch watching hippos sleeping on a beach. Jarrett was great and his knowledge immense.

"We had an amazing experience!"

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I just wanted to write to say a massive thank you from Michael and I for all your help, advice and giving us this amazing opportunity to join the Kariega program. We had an amazing experience! Jarrett is an amazing person to learn from, we were very blessed.

I am looking forward to doing another volunteer project in the future

"The game drives offered some wonderful moments"

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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.

"I had a fantastic time at Kariega"

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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!

So definitely a fun and worthwhile experience… I hope I will be able to go back!

"A once in a life time experience"

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The six weeks I spent at Kariega was without a doubt, the best six weeks of my life. It is an incredible, life changing experience, one which I would repeat over and over again if I could. Each day, the programme brings new surprises, and each day is as unforgettable as the last. Nothing will ever compare to sitting in the cruiser watching a beautiful South African sunset surrounded by friends, and nothing will ever compare to the elephants including us in their dust bath, or to turning a corner to see the entire pride of lions just watching us.

At Kariega, you will work hard and play hard – the manual work is SO rewarding (I for one never thought I would be able to chop down a pine tree armed only with a machete), the sights you see are incredible, and the other volunteers (who will become some of the best friends you’ve ever had) make all of these experiences that much more exciting. You will share amazing moments and outstanding memories with these people, memories which will never leave you. You will spend each day smiling, laughing and forming many happy memories of Kariega and it’s beautiful wildlife, and will return a different person… a better person.

There are not enough words to express how grateful I am to everyone who helped make this experience as amazing and unforgettable as it was – each and every person I met played a role in shaping my time at Kariega, a time that I would not change for the world. It is an amazing experience, one which I would repeat over and over and over given the chance. Partaking in the volunteer programme is a once in a life time experience, and one not to be missed. If you have the opportunity to come and do something as incredible as this, do not let it pass you by, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. I can’t recommend the programme highly enough, but experience it for yourselves and book now!! (before I decide I want to come back and take all of the places!!)

"I can still remember how exciting it was when I took the first glance at a rhino"

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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 it 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 Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa

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