Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Shamwari Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa

1 - 12 weeks from

minimum age

  • Become part of the team at Shamwari Game Reserve and work amongst Africa's Big Five.
  • Receive one to one training with a world renowned Wildlife Vet when you join our Vet or Pre-Vet programme
  • Track and monitor predators (Lions and Leopards) and large herbivores (Rhinos and Elephants)
  • Visit the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre as part of your programme

"Just to let you know that I had a wonderful time in Shamwari as expected!!!"

5 Star Icon

Just to let you know that I had a wonderful time in Shamwari as expected!!! Born Free had also organised for me to spend the day with King and Thea which was brilliant and we had a great time together. Lots of photos too. I’ve turned them into a photo book which I shall treasure forever. I’m also supporting Shamwari’s Brown Hyena!! Funding camera traps so they can monitor behaviour and family life!!! I am booking again to come back in August 2024 and Martin at Born Free North said there’s a job going with them – so tempted!!!!

"Jam-packed with activities and unexpected events"

5 Star Icon

Week 1 – Tuesday to Friday were jam-packed with activities and unexpected events – like the Game Capture on Tuesday, my first full day, and helping a poorly Buffalo on Friday.

I had seen a game capture on television but to be part of it was exhilarating. The capture with very tall nets in strategic places which were pulled together when required and the helicopter pushing the animals in our direction was brilliant but didn’t result in the number of animals required, so an alternative method of darting specific animals from the helicopter proved a better bet!! We then had to find the “dozey” animal and load it onto a truck for transposition once it had woken up. The animals were then housed by species in a truck with different sections in it and then released into a special area shortly afterwards. This activity went on for most of the day.

The poorly buffalo was a “teenager” who was probably “the runt of the litter” and was in poor health generally. We had to find and identify him – it had been noted that he was limping badly so this was not difficult once we had located the herd. The Vet darted him for a closer look when he was asleep and although he didn’t have a broken leg as first feared, he did have broken tendons and ligaments in his hind leg which were causing the limp. He also had lots of tics on him and the vet told us all about them and the effect it was having on the animal.

The vet’s assistant administered the anti-inflammatory drugs and the vet asked me to give him a vitamin injection, which after being shown how and where to do it, I was able to!!! What an opportunity, something I never expected to experience!!!

Week 2 – a mixture of torrential rain and very warm sunshine, plus a selection of tasks to do: chopping down fir trees, digging up prickly pears, rock placing and community assistance – rebuilding their climbing frame/ jungle gym!! Plus birding, tracks and signs and spotting a new baby elephant – she was undoubtedly the cherry on today, Friday’s, cake!!

A day at Born Free was planned for me on Wednesday which was fantastic and I finally got to meet King; he was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined him to be from photos I’d seen of him. He actually came right up to the fence to see me, as if he’d been expecting me!!! Thursday saw a brief return with the others in the group and this time Thea came to see me; she’s King’s soulmate and they make a lovely pair!!

"I had a truly amazing experience with the Shamwari project"

5 Star Icon

I had a truly amazing experience with the Shamwari project in South Africa. I had volunteered for just under 4 weeks , I stayed at 2 different lodges whilst out there which were very nice. I did couple of excursions on the weekends, I thoroughly enjoyed my time out there seeing the animals so close up and knowing that I was making a difference out there touched me deeply. I do plan to return one day as my time in South Africa was brilliant.

"I can’t recommend this experience any more highly"

5 Star Icon

I had the most amazing time at Shamwari and could not have asked for a better experience. The two weeks that I spent at Shamwari were some of the best in my life, and I will never forget them. I could not have asked for a better experience. The staff were all so patient and knowledgeable, our group was very close and we had so much fun together, and the hands-on activities we were able to participate in were absolutely incredible (I never imagined I could notch a rhino!). We all learnt a huge amount about the different animals and how they are treated for various conditions, as well as how they are darted, but we also were able to find out a lot about the plants and birds on the reserve too. I can’t recommend this experience any more highly, and I would love to return to Shamwari one day to learn even more.

"The experience I have taken back is like no other"

5 Star Icon

My trip to Shamwari was amazing and the experience I have taken back is like no other. They were so welcoming and allowed us the students to be so hands on and get the type of experience we would never get in the UK or other countries. They organised the course so well that even though there was a range of ages all the lectures were very informative and interesting for everyone not just to some. The food and accommodation was so lovely and we couldn’t have asked for better staff.

"Shamwari was an absolutely incredible experience that surpassed all our expectations"

5 Star Icon

For us, Shamwari was an absolutely incredible experience that surpassed all our expectations. We absolutely loved it. First, the accommodation is great, and the food you get is just amazing. There is a comfortable living room where the program participants can chill out in the evening, and a lovely outdoor area with a fireplace that allows you to sit back, relax and share your stories of the day.

The program itself is very diverse. About a third of our time we spent in the game park doing maintenance such as roadwork, or chopping down alien trees. This was great as you get out of the car and move around on foot in the middle of the reserve. We then spent about another third of our time in the park working with the wildlife. This included monitoring herds of Elephants, identifying lions or rhinos by characteristic marks, or participating in night patrols. We absolutely loved this part as you get close and personal with the animals.

The last third of our time we spent doing community work. This was the most rewarding part of the whole experience as you get to see how the people around the reserve live and what issues they face. For example, we helped a school class to build a garden, supported the teachers with IT classes or sports days, or helped running a swap shop. An another highlight has also been the Friday nights we spent in the local pub in the next village.

"They all treated me like one of the family and made me feel very special"

5 Star Icon

Shamwari is my third volunteer project and second in South Africa. From day one, Shamwari has been the most organized and professionally run. Even though I have been here for two months the weekly routine has varied enough to make each day a little different and interesting. Just changing the location for the eucalyptus removal made a difference because of the terrain.

It would be impossible to single out any one employee or department that does/did a better job than any other. Every employee has the same Five Star mentality – housekeeping, kitchen, gardening/maintenance and the house managers were all extremely welcoming, accommodating, friendly, cooperative, helpful etc. Everybody made me feel like I was a
shamwari (I was told shamwari means friend) and welcome starting with the wet towel and cold drink that Christinah gave me the day I arrived. They all treated me like one of the family and made me feel very special.

Each volunteer coordinator was friendly and knowledgeable, but at the same time always keeping the safety of the volunteers as their number one priority. The contracted VC, Luke, was especially knowledgeable about the animals, birds and plants and took every opportunity to point out something new or interesting when on monitoring drives and gave a detailed explanation of whatever it was. On the overnighter he gave an excellent talk on the stars.

You can read more here about Ben, who at the age 77 has now volunteered at three different volunteer projects with us.

"An unbelievable experience in the bush"

5 Star Icon

An unbelievable experience in the bush with great people from all over the world and such a warm welcome in the lodge that we will never forget our time at Shamwari!

"I can proudly say I have seen the Big 5 now after numerous trips to Africa"

5 Star Icon

I had done a voluntary project two years ago, and thought that nothing could compare. This was a totally different and just as amazing experience that I could have ever hoped for. I had booked a three week placement, and finding that during week two I wish I had booked longer, I don’t think three weeks was enough to appreciate the full extent of the work that goes on there.

I was privileged to be involved in a community day, weighing recycled plastic and converting the weight to points for the owner to spend in the shop. This was a very humbling moment being involved in such an important project for the community. The manual work was from taking a machete to indigenous plant life, digging metre holes for the anti-poaching unit, pulling up prickly pear cacti and brush-packing large acacia branches onto roads. I witnessed a 7 month old jackal being released back into the wild which was amazing to see. I can proudly say I have seen the Big 5 now after numerous trips to Africa.

Great accommodation, great friendly staff and great food. All in all, an amazing (too short) three weeks at the Shamwari Game Reserve project.

"Every day we had overwhelming moments"

5 Star Icon

We did have the most wonderful time at Shamwari! It was the best experience and the best decision to do this! Every day we had overwhelming moments, very often we were very touched because of  the animals. Also the work we had to do we really liked! Sometimes it was quite hard because of the very high temperature during the day– other times not too hard and lots of fun. Working in the communities always left a good feeling. We were just happy with everything – what we saw, what we did, what we got, etc. We feel like doing such a thing again!

"An incredible opportunity and one that I have learnt so much from"

5 Star Icon

I was part of the veterinary and conservation experience at Shamwari Game Reserve. Being able to spend one-on-one time with Johan and Megan (Shamwari’s vet and vet nurse) was an incredible opportunity and one that I have learnt so much from. All the staff at Shamwari (wildlife team, rangers etc) were all so friendly and great to work alongside.

During the time I was at Shamwari I was able to help in the capture of animals for relocation purposes. Animals that were required to be relocated included Springbok, Gemsbok, Eland, Buffalo, Hippo and Lion. Each of these species were caught using different capture techniques to minimise injury and risk to the animals and people involved. The techniques used included chemical (darting), mass capture and passive capture. It was great to see how much everyone cared for the animals and to be part of it all.

I was also able to be involved in treating a lion at the Born-Free Foundation, which was an amazing experience to get up close and understand more about potential health problems in these incredible animals.

As a veterinary nurse in the UK it was an eye-opening experience to take part in a community day for dog owners in one of the local towns. It was able to help Megan vaccinate 150 dogs against Rabies, provide worming treatment and good quality food to the dogs. Dealing with frightened and some aggressive dogs has further improved my handling skills of these types of dogs and given me more confidence. This community day also showed me common health problems that dogs in these areas often have and made me think about things that could be done to prevent these problems, like owner education and having the resources available.

I would certainly recommend a trip to Shamwari and I would love to go back.

"The staff and rangers are great to work with"

5 Star Icon

Fantastic project and you can see they are really making a difference, very well structured and the staff and rangers are great to work with. It was a fantastic experience and I’d happily go back!

"The environments were amazing, the Rangers are very kind and their knowledge unsurpassed"

5 Star Icon

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.

"If you are interested in doing your bit for conservation, animals, vet work, don’t hesitate"

5 Star Icon

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.

"It was even more fantastic to get hands-on experience at the reserve"

4 Star Icon

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 Game Reserve project!

"An unforgettable experience… especially for families with children!"

5 Star Icon

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

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

Lodging was better than a 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!

"So amazing that it is difficult to put into words"

5 Star Icon

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!!!!

Shamwari Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa

You may also be interested in these projects

  • Desert Elephants Volunteer Project, Namibia

    • Duration 2 - 12 weeks
    • Prices from £945

    Track desert elephants and take part in community building volunteer work in the beautiful Damaraland region of the Namib Desert.

  • Wildlife Conservation & San Bushmen Community Project, Namibia

    • Duration 10 days to 12 weeks
    • Prices from £1025

    Join this project as a wildlife conservation, carnivore conservation or medical volunteer and help conserve wildlife or provide medical care to the San Bushmen community. Specialist Wildlife Rehabilitation courses also available. Rhino Rangers anti-poaching programme also available.

  • Ocean Research Conservation Project, South Africa

    • Duration 1 week - 10 months
    • Prices from £635

    Volunteer with dolphin, seal and whale research in South Africa. Take part in marine conservation, penguin rescue and educational projects along the South African coast.

  • Kariega Big Five Game Reserve Volunteer Programme, South Africa

    • Duration 1 - 12 weeks
    • Prices from £675

    Become a Wildlife Conservation Volunteer in a Big Five Game Reserve in South Africa, and get involved in elephant, rhino and lion monitoring programmes.

  • Big Cat Sanctuary Volunteer Project, South Africa

    • Duration 1-12 Weeks
    • Prices from £655

    Volunteer at an ethical big cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Contribute towards animal welfare whilst learning about the conditions big cats face in captivity.

  • Looking for a Volunteer Project Abroad?
    Try our Project Finder

    WorkingAbroad is the Go-To Website for Ethical & Responsible Volunteer & Internship Opportunities Abroad

    We run volunteer programmes in over 30 countries across the world focusing on wildlife conservation and community development projects and every project we offer adheres to our ethical standards.