Make yourself at home in the South African savannah, while getting on the ground experience learning skills in big cat conservation, wildlife research, animal tracking and telemetry AND get career training from Conservation Careers!
Based just one hour from the Kruger National Park, you will find our base in the private Karongwe nature reserve. Here you will join our international team to gain experience in big cat research, while working with leading local and international conservation organisations, like Panthera, the South African National Parks authorities, Elephants Alive, and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
You learn how to identify mammals and reptiles on the reserve, while conducting biological surveys and tracking the local wildlife, specifically the big cats. In the process, you will gain many skills relating to wildlife conservation, as well as a qualification in leadership with an ILM Endorsed Leadership Certificate. This will allow you to expand your conservation knowledge, gain new skills, and kickstart your career in wildlife conservation, while making a substantial contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #15, Life on Land.
- Taking your first steps towards your career in conservation and making a lasting contribution to the preservation of African big cats, seeing them in their natural habitat.
- Learn to identify predators, like lions, cheetahs, and leopards, as well as megaherbivores like elephants and rhinos.
- Master radio telemetry techniques and learning how to track and record animal movements.
- Earn your Foundations in Sustainable Development program certificate, endorsed by the University of Richmond.
- Go on a wildlife safari adventure in a private South African nature reserve.
- 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.
- Sleep under the star-filled Southern night sky, its beauty enhanced by the lack of light pollution, and wake to a golden African dawn.
Our Award-winning Partner
Conservation Careers has teamed up a family-run organisation with an amazing culture and an awesome team of people across the world who are passionate experts in their chosen field and will make your experience a truly unforgettable one (in a good way).
Their award-winning projects receive over 2000 participants every year, and we’re proud to say that the vast majority of them describe their experience with them as ‘life changing’. Their approval rate from over 20 000 participants since 1997 is over 95%.
A key component of the success of their community development and conservation projects is the participants who join their programs. Opportunities include high impact volunteering from one week and up, internships for those looking for career development opportunities, Challenges that allow a one week adventure all for a good cause and a range of programs for school groups and younger volunteers.
If you register your interest below, you’ll put you in touch with our partner to take the booking and to plan your trip!
Location and life on base
Lodgings are large dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms. The base is solar-powered to ensure less impact on the natural environment.
Most breakfasts feature cereal, oats, and fresh fruit, and or lunch, it’s usually sandwiches and salads. Dinner might be anything from a traditional South African ‘potjie’ stew to pastas and stir frys.
Our base has a good connection to local cell towers, and participants with unlocked mobile devices can purchase local SIM cards during a weekly town trip. There is wifi available but bandwidth is limited. For wifi use on personal devices, participants can purchase wifi vouchers from staff on base.
Transport to conduct field research is provided by our vehicles and drivers.
Limpopo is well-known for its warm climate. Sunny days and low rainfall are the norm on most days throughout the year. Summer, starting in October and ending in March, coincides with the rainy season. Temperatures during this season can reach a sweltering 35°C . During this time the heat is often interrupted by a short thunderstorm which is usually a welcome respite. The start of the rainy season, in October, is also the perfect season to spot many baby animals as many animals give birth during spring.
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)
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
LEADERSHIP COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
CAREERS COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
In order to obtain a certificate for the Wildlife Conservation, Leadership and Careers courses which are 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.
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.
Karongwe Nature and Wildlife Reserve
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. Our partner was 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 at risk species like the baobab tree. This might involved monitoring sensitive areas of the reserve and the movements of elephant groups, developing elephant identification kits, and analysing the effectivity 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:
1. To provide long-term and consistent data for Karongwe Reserve Management to assist with Reserve Management decisions based on scientific data.
2. Increase local awareness of the organisation’s purpose and impact on Karongwe PGR.
3. Increase scientific output.
4. Contribute to three large scale reserve management projects alongside the Warden in accordance with the Reserve’s Management Plan.
5. 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.
Kinyonga Reptile Park
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! Kick-starter online training for Early Career Conservationists (worth £295)
Feeling lost in your conservation job hunt? Want to work in conservation, but don’t know where to start? Get your career on track with the Kick-starter online training for Early Career Conservationists designed to help you understand the job market, to navigate your career options, and to get hired more quickly.
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.
This unique online course has been designed to increase your chances of success, and is being specially organised and run by Conservation Careers.
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 our course when you get back from your placement.
Included in the course is a year’s full-access membership of the Conservation Careers Academy, which includes access to over 8,000 jobs, 1,500 training courses, live training events and many more career-boosting options.
Duration, dates and cost
- 4 weeks – £3,445
- 6 weeks – £4,145
- 8 weeks – £4,795
- 10 weeks – £5,495
- 12 weeks – £6,195
- 14 weeks – £6,695
- 16 weeks – £7,395
- 18 weeks – £7,695
- 20 weeks – £8,345
- 22 weeks – £8,995
- 24 weeks – £9,645
Start dates are as follows:
- 2022: 22 Jan; 05 Feb; 19 Feb; 05 Mar; 19 Mar; 02 Apr; 16 Apr; 30 Apr; 14 May; 28 May; 11 Jun; 25 Jun; 09 Jul; 23 Jul; 06 Aug; 20 Aug; 03 Sep; 17 Sep; 01 Oct; 15 Oct; 29 Oct; 12 Nov; 26 Nov; 10 Dec; 24 Dec