Volunteer at an Ethical Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa

Volunteer at an ethical big cat Sanctuary in South Africa. Contribute towards animal welfare whilst learning about the conditions big cats face in captivity and helping to raise awareness of wildlife conservation in South Africa.

You can join for 2 weeks up to 3 months all year round.

Individuals, groups and students all welcome.

Cost for food, lodging in a shared volunteer house, airport transfers, programme materials and support; from £1040.

One of the caracals at the sanctuaryLion enrichment programTwo of the lions at the sanctuaryVolunteers enjoying some time offTiger at the sanctuaryCloseup of a male lionCommunity outreach programmeClose up of white lionessVolunteers having funView of the volunteer accommodationLions restingVolunteers building enrichment toysVolunteers quad bikingVolunteers working at the sanctuary

About the Project

Lions in South Africa

This big cat volunteer project in South Africa is based at an environmentally friendly sanctuary for captive bred big cats and other animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, jackals, caracals, cats and dogs, where they will be protected and prosper for the rest of their lives. One of the santuary's main purposes is to be an educational platform where we create awareness about the conditions big cats face in captivity, and how animal welfare and enrichment play a vital role in giving them the best captive life possible. We are a true sanctuary where no cub petting, breeding or trading takes place. We aim to be a blueprint of how a non-profit sanctuary, focusing on animal welfare, can become self-sufficient, and we aim to one day change all breeding facilities into sustainable ethical projects.

This project also believes in the connection between both environmental and wildlife conservation, and aims to become the first "green" big cat sanctuary in South Africa, run solely on solar energy. The sanctuary has found its 40 hectare paradise with a beautiful home for the animals, the owners and the many volunteers visiting us. The land is filled with lots of large trees, a natural spring and a 360 degree mountain view.

Lion drinking water at the sanctuaryAbout the Volunteer Programme in South Africa

At the sanctuary we believe in the equal importance of both humans and animals, and we do our absolute best to give you a great experience. We know from personal experience that this includes both quality time with animals, as well as with staff and the other volunteers. In addition to the bonds you will form with the animals, friendships will be formed and together at the end of the day we all can share stories, hopes and dreams around the bonfire with a cold drink watching the famous African sunset.


Volunteers building a road in South AfricaThis Big Cat Sanctuary volunteer project in South Africa will offer you the opportunity to get involved behind the scenes at the sanctuary. Typical tasks will include:

  • Caring for the big cats
  • Enrichment programme
  • Preparation of food and feeding
  • Cleaning and maintaining enclosures
  • General farm work
  • Educating visitors

Leopard in South Africa

Dates & Costs

You can join this big cat conservation project in South Africa as a volunteer for 2 weeks up to 12 weeks, all year round. Start dates are on Saturdays and departure dates are on a following Saturday – this enables us to plan better for you and your fellow volunteers, and we will always pick you up from the airport on arrival. Should you wish to make alternative arrangements with us, we will always try and accommodate you. We can usually arrange pick-up on another day of the week other than Saturday, at an additional cost, please ask for details.

The dates below are provided as a guideline, but you can join this big cat volunteer project in South Africa starting on any Saturday throughout the year for 2 weeks up to 3 months. Please email aaron@workingabroad.com if you have specific questions about dates or travel.

19th January to 2nd February 2019
2nd to 16th February 2019
16th February to 2nd March 2019
2nd to 16th March 2019
16th to 30th March 2019
30th March to 13th April 2019
13th to 27th April 2019
27th April to 11th May 2019
11th to 25th May 2019
25th May to 8th June 2019
8th to 22nd June 2018
22nd June to 6th July 2019
6th to 20th July 2019

20th July to 3rd August 2019
3rd to 17th August 2019
17th to 31st August 2019
31st August to 14th September 2019
14th to 28th September 2019
28th September to 12th October 2019
12th to 26th October 2019
26th October to 9th November 2019
9th to 23rd November 2019
23rd November to 7th December 2019
7th to 21st December 2019

Project Costs

Volunteer with lions in South Africa

The project costs are as follows; 2 weeks is £1040, 3 weeks is £1350, 4 weeks is £1660, 6 weeks is £2100, and every extra week past 6 weeks costs £300.

Please email aaron@workingabroad.com if you have any questions on the costs. This cost includes accommodation within the volunteer house (and use of the pool, BBQ etc.), breakfast & lunch each day, weekly transport to grocery shops, transfers to and from Cape Town airport for arrival and departure, all on-site volunteer activities and supervision, WorkingAbroad backup and support. What is not included is your flights and travel to and from South Africa, dinnertime meals, visa costs, lodging in Cape Town on arrival and departure if required, personal expenses, and your own health and travel insurance.

Food, Lodging, Travel

Volunteer accommodation in South Africa

During your stay with us as a volunteer in South Africa you will become a part of our family and enjoy our modern yet cozy home. The volunteer house is situated in the middle of the property, so you will be surrounded by mountain views and feel at peace with nature whilst listening to the lions roar. The house consists of 5 bedrooms with 4 bathrooms, a spacious and fully equipped kitchen, a big living and dining room area and outdoor braai with a nice swimming pool to cool down during hot summer days.

Volunteers cooking a mealYou will be sharing a room with a maximum of 2 other volunteers. Volunteers coming as a couple can request to stay together in our couples room (please ask for availability). For the nature lovers and brave-hearted, you also have the choice to spend a night or two in hammocks under the African stars. All rooms contain a safe for your belongings. There is WIFI in the house, however being situated on the farm the connection is sometimes very slow. But you can easily keep contact with friends and family via email, facebook or Skype (without video communication).

We will provide you with breakfast and lunch, while you cater for your own dinner. You have the choice of cooking a nice homemade meal with your fellow volunteers, and once a week enjoy one of the many restaurants close by. You will be taken on a weekly shopping trip, where you can buy groceries and other items from the many shops available. Do not be too surprised if you find us outside some of the evenings having a good South African braai, where we will accommodate any food you would like to put on the grill! We can also cater for vegan & gluten-free diets, at an extra cost of £12 per week.

Volunteer Requirements

Black leopard in trees

Volunteers in South Africa should be aged 18+ and speak English. All nationalities are welcome. Volunteers do not need any specific skills or qualifications related to working outdoors or with animals, though any skills you do have will of course be useful for the project. Volunteers should also be self-motivated, flexible, calm and independent, and be willing to help out with a range of activities when required.

Travel in South Africa

You will need to fly into Cape Town International Airport in South Africa (airport code CPT), arriving on a Saturday between 10AM and 2PM. You will be picked up from the airport when you arrive and then travel to the Sanctuary, which is around a 1.5-hour drive from Cape Town. You will also be dropped off back to the airport on the last day of your project (a Saturday) in time for your flight home.

A valid passport with at least 2 blank pages 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 as a tourist.

Background Information

Western Cape, South Africa

About the region

The weather in the Western Cape varies from warm summers (October to March), chilly and rainy autumn and winter (April to July), and fresh spring days (August and September), so make sure to pack for the right months. It is always wise to look at the weather forecasts as the seasons do vary a lot.

The big cat sanctuary is also situated close to many of South Africa's top tourist attractions - Cape Town with its Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Point to mention a few. Hermanus with its whale watching cove and wine tasting. Gansbaai with its white shark diving, and some of the world's most amazing beaches on your doorstep.

Ethical issues surrounding Wildlife projects in South Africa

This project aims to secure a prosperous future for lions and other big cats, and give them the opportunity to live the life they are meant for. It aims to try to tackle some of the problems surrounding the wildlife trade in South Africa, which we feel all volunteers should be made aware of, and are outlined below in more detail for your information;

Campaign against canned huntingCanned hunting:
This project aims to work against and raise awareness of the Canned Hunting Industry. Canned hunting is where a target animal is unfairly prevented from escaping a hunter, either by physical constraints (fencing) or by mental constraints (tame, habituated to humans) - Read more at: Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)

Tiger and lion bone trade:
The tiger and lion bone trade is the illegal poaching and/or legal breeding of these species to be killed for body parts which are used in Asian traditional medicine. The multibillion-dollar business of buying and selling articles such as fur and bones of protected wildlife, is one of the largest sources of criminal earnings, second to arms smuggling and drug trafficking.

Cub Petting:
One of the Sanctuary's main purposes is to raise awareness around the canned hunting industry, and be part of the solution to the thousands of captive lions being exploited at the many cub-petting, breeding and hunting farms all around South Africa. In most cub petting locations, the cubs are taken away from the mother so she is left to breed again, whilst the cubs are hand reared for the tourism and hunting industry. The cubs are used as a marketing tool all over the world to attract thousands of tourists and volunteers to interact with them, in order to make them tame to be easily hunted as an adult - either for a trophy or for its body parts. The price to shoot a tame lion and claim its head as a trophy is up to R350.000, which is paid by the many hunting tourists visiting South Africa.

Lion closeupBreeding Farms in South Africa:
There are around 174 breeding farms in South Africa, housing around 8000 captive born lions. They argue that they are conserving the wild lion population by letting hunters shoot a captive-bred lion rather than exploiting the endangered wild populations. But the numbers speak for themselves as the wild lion population has decreased by over 80% over the last 20 years, leaving less than 20000 lions in the wild today.

Petitions for the protection of wildlife:
With petitions being handed to governments all around the world to establish stricter laws and regulations for animal welfare, there will hopefully come an end to these unethical actions in the near future.

A good book on these subjects is 'Cuddle Me Kill Me' by Richard Peirce which is an in-depth look at the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa. You can find out more at: http://www.peirceshark.com/cuddle-me-kill-me/

Volunteer Testimonials

Matt Hogan, Volunteered at the Sanctuary in South Africa for 6 weeks:

Caracals playing

During my stay I was mostly involved in the physical aspect of food collection, waste disposal, structure maintenance and sone small construction projects. As a group we would routinely feed the animals and give them enrichment - objects, attention and playtime. We were also allowed to use the cars to go out for leisure in the afternoons and during days off.

It was very well organised for a small project. The layout is very professional, I think the enclosures exceed international standards by far. Every morning we would have meetings to discuss the daily tasks. There was always something to do, but if you weren't feeling well or otherwise couldn't engage there was never any pressure to do something you didn't want to.

The site was previously a farm/homestead which sits in the middle of the property. It is easy to access and the accommodation is fantastic. Everyone gets a bed and there's enough to do on site and in the house to keep you entertained both during the day and at night. It's a bit of a drive from Cape Town but there will be a staff member there to collect you if needed, or you can find your own way there. The house has everything you need and is self contained. The owners give you a tour and orientation pack to get you used to the operations of the project.

Jackal in South AfricaIt was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The staff are very friendly and sympathetic to any personal issues you might be experiencing. They are always up for a good time and are willing to share what they have. There's a few restraints nearby and other activities you can do in nearby towns during down time. It's a safe area (despite being surrounded by big cats) and very cheap to buy your weekly groceries.

I would 100% recommend the project, not just because of the care that they show for the animals but also what they show for the volunteers. It was a great experience.


Celine Collier, Volunteered at the Big Cat Sanctuary for 4 weeks:

Volunteers with lions

I worked directly with the staff and was welcomed into their daily work routines. There were several volunteer projects for both the big cats such as enrichment, where we create natural "toys" for the cats to explore in order to stimulate natural wild activities. As well as creative projects where each volunteer was able to "leave their mark" at the sanctuary by creating a painted tree stump to dedicate to the place. The activities ranged from water bowls, cleaning, feeding, enrichment, fence checks, animal time and general labor such as elimination of alien plants and planting of trees and shrubs for the cats.

The programme was very well organized. There were two volunteer co-coordinators and daily morning meetings to ensure everyone is kept in the loop and up to date. Support was given whenever needed, and much time was spent with staff. The project site was about 1.5 hours away from Cape Town, but pick up and drop off directly from the airport arrivals was provided both ways. Orientation began with a tour of the entire sanctuary, with the background stories of all the cats. Then all tasks were gone over and we began the next morning.

Volunteers in Western Cape, South Africa

I could go on and on about the wonderful things about the Big Cat Programme. The owners are the most caring and genuine people I have met in my whole life. They bring you into their paradise and allow you to feel like you are part of their family, and actively making a change and creating a beautiful and peaceful life for their cats. You can genuinely see the happiness radiating from the animals there, and the treatment of the animals is unlike anything I've ever seen. Animal time, where you can sit with the lions, tigers, caracals, jackals or leopard is given whenever the volunteer wants. There is a ton of choice in the activities and work the volunteer would like to do and the accommodation is wonderful. The animals there change every volunteers life and soul. Every person I have come across that has worked there has been a changed person, and finds their true passion to make change when they leave. 

The accommodation was beautiful and comfortable. The rooms were large, clean and well kept. Each had a private washroom, a walk out double door to a patio as well as a pool. The food was some of the best that I have had home cooked, everything made was also whole and good for you. All amenities were included and the place was very very comfortable. I would recommend the program to anyone who was looking to make a change, that loves animals or anyone who needs to find themselves. I have never done anything better in my life.

How to Join the Project

Tiger in South Africa

If you are interested in joining this Big Cat Sanctuary volunteer project in South Africa, 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 your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, the remaining amount needs to be paid at least two months before departure. Once your place is confirmed, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on your project and the volunteer work you will be doing, the region, suggested items to bring etc.

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