Witness African bush elephants in the wild while working with an international team on ongoing wildlife conservation efforts AND get career training from Conservation Careers!
Travel to a private South African wildlife reserve, an hour from the Kruger National Park, to track majestic herds of African elephant through the wide expanses of the savannah landscape alongside an international team of staff and volunteers conducting a range of wildlife conservation research projects.
For many, witnessing a herd of elephants in the heart of the Southern African landscape for the first time is a life-altering experience. However, unlike a conventional safari tourism trip, this program allows you to contribute directly to ongoing elephant research and conservation, in partnership with Elephant’s Alive, an organisation that has been actively involved in elephant conservation for over two decades. In addition you will live and work with participants and field staff from all over the world on a wide range of other long-term conservation initiatives.
Elephants are incredibly important to the health of the ecosystem, ensuring the distribution of plants throughout a habitat and uncovering water sources in dry times that other animals can use later. However, they can also be destructive to a habitat if their populations are not well managed, due to their habit of pulling up roots of plants to eat them.
You will work with a trained researcher, to track elephants through the bush on safari vehicles, noting the number of individuals, their age and sex, as well as their behaviour and any identifying factors. In addition, you might also contribute to an ongoing project by Elephants Alive focused on mitigating the impact of elephants on unique native plant species at risk like the famous baobab, marula, and star chestnut trees.
Please note you can spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data which can be tiring, in the heat of the African sun.
- Spot African elephants in the wild while volunteering to assist with wildlife conservation efforts.
- Go on a wildlife safari adventure in a private South African nature reserve.
- Develop an in-depth understanding of complex South African ecosystems
- In your free time, visit the famous Kruger National Park, only an hour away from where we are based or visit the nearby Drakensberg Mountains where awe-inspiring vistas are afforded over the Blyde River Canyon
- Live and work alongside Field Guide Association of South Africa, FGASA, qualified guides, growing personally and professionally by learning from their experiences.
- Sleep under the star-filled Southern night sky, its beauty enhanced by the lack of light pollution, and wake to a golden African dawn.
Further programme details
You will also have the opportunity to collect data on a variety of animals, including elephant, lions, leopards and cheetah. This information is used by reserve authorities to build up an accurate picture of the impact of predators on prey populations, determine the movement of animals, their health and social structures. The collated data helps them then maintain a healthy balance of these natural resources within the reserve, assisting with the conservation of some of Africa’s most important ecosystems. Other research project you might get involved in involve studying cheetah feeding behaviour, eradicating invasive vegetation in the area, and conducting environmental education presentations. Throughout your time on this project you will develop an in-depth understanding of complex South African ecosystems as well as current, local conservation issues and strategies.
No special skills or qualifications are required to join this program as all training will be provided by our trained and experienced field teams. Before being fully immersed in the inner workings of local research, you will undergo training that will cover how to carry out extensive radio tracking skills to locate our focus animals, all while learning a variety of new skills, including mammal and bird identification. This training will allow you to effectively contribute to the overall program, as you familiarise yourself with the wildlife on the reserve and the techniques used to conduct research key to ensuring their longevity.
Our Award-winning Partner
Conservation Careers has teamed up with an award-winning, mission-driven organisation with a team of passionate experts across the globe who will make your experience a truly unforgettable one.
Founded in 1998, they run programs in 21 locations, in 13 countries around the world, each aligned to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as the objectives of local partners. They welcome participants from all around the world and help facilitate their development into global citizens. This is how they achieve their mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Their commitment to running high-quality sustainable development and experiential education programs has earned them recognition from numerous organizations such as Panthera, the Seychelles Parks & Gardens Authority, as well as Stanford, NYU, Duke, and Ohio State.
If you register your interest below, you’ll put you in touch with our partner to take the booking and to plan your trip!
To see all our Conservation Careers Internship opportunities, please click here.
Location and life on base
Live in the heart of the South African savannah sharing a renovated farmhouse with Field Guides Association of Southern Africa qualified guides, other staff, and participants hailing from all four corners of the globe. Rise each morning to the sounds of an authentically African birdsong at dawn, and head out in open-topped safari vehicles to conduct research vital for the conservation of key predators species, like cheetahs and lions. Head back to camp, when the sun is at its height, input data, study, assist with cooking or tidying, or relax with other participants in our shared outdoor social space. When the African sun starts to set over the Drakensberg mountains at dusk, head out again to conduct further research. Return when the stars in the Southern night sky are at their brightest and share a meal and the day’s stories with fellow participants. In your free time, explore Kruger National Park, a 45-minute drive from your accommodation, or the Panorama Route, including the magnificent Blyde River Canyon.
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Many of Africa’s wildlife species are under threat. Private reserves, like Karongwe, where we run our conservation project, are a haven for species at risk. Karongwe is located within the UNESCO protected Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve. This biosphere represents only 1.4% of South Africa’s land, but contains 55% of the total natural life found here.
During your program, you’ll also have the opportunity to experience tailor-made adventure and wellness activities. These have been specially designed to further immerse you in the diversity and richness of the habitats and cultures around you.
Exclusive local experiences
- Learn to make a potjiekos
- Develop your wildlife photography skills
- Discover the medicinal uses of indigenous plants
- Master basic bush survival skills
- Watch a magical sunset at a watering hole
- Enjoy a night sky safari
Karongwe Nature and Wildlife Reserve was once made up of individual farms. In 1998 the landowners banded together to create a 8,000 hectare wildlife reserve. We were brought onto Karongwe in 2001 to monitor the large predators and herbivores on the reserve. This helps reserve management to understand the impact of predators on prey and maintain a healthy ecosystem by ensuring a balance of natural resources. Predators are often tracked using telemetry, or monitored using camera trapping, to learn how they use the space within the park, what their feeding behaviour is like, how they interact with one another and other predators. Herbivores might be counted, their numbers, age, and sex listed, and their impact on vegetation noted. This data is presented to Karongwe management and landowners on a weekly, quarterly and annual basis. We also assist with anti-poaching efforts by compiling ID kits of any rhinos we come across and maintaining the park’s fences and roads. We also assist with removing old farm infrastructure and invasive alien plant species as well as working on soil rehabilitation to help with habitat recovery.
Cheetah Research and Conservation
Our cheetah research is conducted in conjunction with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a conservation organisation who currently manage SA’s cheetah metapopulation. Cheetahs are a species listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species. They are a rather fragile species as they naturally have a low genetic diversity and are not able to compete well with other larger, stronger predators like lions and hyenas. Our study mainly focuses on how cheetahs make use of their kill by setting up camera traps near their fresh kill to see how much time the cheetahs spend on their kill and what potentially encourages them to leave. This helps to know how they are dealing with competition with other predators. We also collect data on breeding success.
Elephant Vegetation Impact Mitigation
In partnerships with Elephants Alive, who have been actively involved in elephant conservation for the past 20 years, we also conduct surveys of the impact elephants have on the local vegetation. Due to their habit of pulling up trees to eat the top leaves and roots, a large population of elephants can have a negative impact on a small environment, especially for species like the marula tree. This might involve monitoring sensitive areas of the reserve and the movements of elephant groups, developing elephant identification kits, and analysing the effectiveness of elephant vegetation destruction methods.
Bird Research and Conservation
We also contribute to the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2), the most important bird monitoring project in Southern Africa, and its largest citizen science database. Birds are appropriate indicators of ecosystem health because they are popular and well studied. The availability of significant, long-term datasets in South Africa makes birds a good choice for early-warning system for climate change impacts and other systematic, ecosystem-wide threats to broader biodiversity. The number of critically endangered birds in South Africa has increased from 5 in 2000 to 13 in 2017. One group in particular features particularly dramatic statistics, 22 of the 79 raptors occurring in the North-Eastern region of the country are now considered threatened. Of concern are the low numbers of scavenging raptors. Most of South Africa’s vulture species, as well as the Tawny Eagle and the Bateleur, two obligate scavengers, are listed as endangered or critically endangered. In December 2016, SABAP2 featured nine million records across 17339 pentads, five minutes of latitude by five minutes of longitude, squares with sides of roughly 9 km, in South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Selection of sites and habitats critical to bird conservation rely on this data. All other conservation initiatives depend on the results of the bird atlas, to a greater or lesser extent. On cannot determine the conservation status of a species unless you know its range and how this is changing.
We also conduct environmental education programs at several schools in the area.
As the requirements of our partners change over time so do the details of our projects. We make ourselves available for conservation-focused mini-projects. This might include documenting bird of prey nesting sites or the creating a list of micro fauna species in the park. In the past we have partnered with a range of conservation organisations like Panthera and academic institutions like the University of Cape Town, Pretoria University, and Bournemouth University. Exact project details are also always subject to change due to weather conditions, time of year and animal movements.
As such, the specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal we work on in Limpopo is #15, Life On Land.
Karongwe’s Long-term Objectives:
- To provide long-term and consistent data for Karongwe Reserve Management to assist with Reserve Management decisions based on scientific data.
- Increase local awareness of our purpose and impact on Karongwe PGR.
- Increase scientific output.
- Contribute to three large scale reserve management projects alongside the Warden in accordance with the Reserve’s Management Plan.
- Increase our in-country capacity by providing environmental and conservation education and training and through community upliftment projects.
Joining a program not only allows participants to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer.
Long term field staff are a great source of advice, and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. Many decide to travel before or after their experience (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program. Please note that the below suggestions are not included in the program fee, and are for the individual to organise at their own expense.
South Africa might not come to mind as a top skiing destination, but at Tiffendale in the Drakensberg mountains you can rent skis or a snowboard and practice gliding down slopes.
Bungee Jumping and Ziplining
Awe-inspiring canyons dot the Drakensberg range, and many use the opportunity to experience the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping for the first time. If you aren’t ready to dive headfirst into the canyons you can glide overhead, using the many zipline tours available in the area. This is an excellent way to see the spectacular landscape from a bird’s eye perspective.
Hoedspruit Reptile Center
Learn more about Southern African reptiles by visiting the nearby ‘Kinyonga’ park, a name that means ‘little lion’ in Swahili in reference to the chameleon.
Kruger National Park
The famous Kruger National Park is a massive wildlife reserve where you can spot Africa’s big five, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and, of course, the African bush elephant.
The rusty sanded expanse of the Kalahari stretches from South Africa, to Namibia and Botswana. Home to dunes reaching the heights of several buildings and a diverse range of wildlife, including the majestic oryx gazella, a visit to the desert is not to be missed.
Watch the African sun set over the top of Table Mountain, discover the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas.
Further North, you’ll find the historic Zululand, as well as the grave and memorial of the famous leader, King Shaka.
Experience the unique cultural milieu of the coastal town of Durban on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Its warm waters make the city a haven for surfers.
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches not only global awareness but adaptability and critical thinking, skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many activities you can get involved with in your free time, or before and after your program. On our community programs the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore diverse and eclectic topics like Theravada Buddhism in Laos or how plastic pollution and climate change affects Indian Ocean coral.
Karongwe Private Nature and Wildlife Reserve
Boasting more than 20 thousand acres of open savannah, Karongwe features some of the best wildlife viewing of any private South African wildlife reserve. It features the entire big five, including the elusive leopard.
The Northernmost region of South Africa, the Limpopo province features some of the best opportunities for wildlife in Southern Africa. It is sparsely populated and borders Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Possessing one of the highest biodiversities in the world and the home to many of the most threatened African wildlife, South Africa is a nature, wildlife, and adventure lover’s paradise, featuring species like lions, cheetah, rhinos, and many other unique species.
BONUS! Conservation Career Kick-Starter online training programme (worth £295)
Do you want to spend your career helping wildlife to flourish, but are feeling a little lost, confused or disillusioned?
Start your career in wildlife conservation with a unique programme of training, support community & jobs from Conservation Careers!
The Conservation Career Kick-Starter is a proven step-by-step system to get clear, get ready, and get hired as a professional conservationist.
Whether you’re at university and planning your next steps, a graduate in the job hunt or working in an unrelated job but interested to switch into conservation, this course is designed to help you.
After going through the course, you’ll have created a personal career plan which will give you confidence in your job hunt and will make everything quicker, simpler and more fun!
All you need to do is register your interest in the project below, and if you choose to make a booking we’ll save a place for you on the Kick-Starter when you get back from your placement.
Included with the Kick-Starter is a year’s full-access to the world’s biggest conservation job board with over 15,000 jobs, plus access to our private online support community, CC Pro.
Duration, dates and cost
- 1 week – £2,445
- 2 weeks – £2,795
- 4 weeks – £3,545
- 6 weeks – £4,295
- 8 weeks – £4,995
- 10 weeks – £5,745
- 12 weeks – £6,495
Start dates are as follows:
- 2022: 12 Nov; 26 Nov; 10 Dec; 24 Dec
Increasing Employability: Pre Departure Program Training:
Our programs are not only life-changing experiences but are also designed to help participants increase their employability. We have developed a curriculum to be completed prior to arrival in the country in order to ensure that more time is dedicated to program work once you commence your volunteer program.
Eight weeks prior to your start date, you will complete the following online courses in preparation for your in-country program:
PRE-DEPARTURE ORIENTATION (1 hour)
PROGRAM SPECIFIC TRAINING (1 – 5 hours)
OPTIONAL: WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
In order to obtain a certificate for the Wildlife Conservation course which is endorsed by the University of Richmond and UNC Charlotte, you will need to complete quizzes & assignments and will be given 4 weeks post program to submit your work.
If you are looking to travel in less than 8 weeks from now, you will still complete the course however this will be done in country and all content will need to be downloaded before arrival.
Health & Hygiene:
The work we contribute to across the globe remains important and new measures allow our participants to continue to join our programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. Changes to our existing protocols have been made by our health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities. Please inquire for more information on the protocols.