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Hands On Big 5

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If you want more than just a safari… Come and get your hands dirty and learn more about conservation management on a Big 5 game reserve. Be part of the most incredible experience in the African bush and get hands on with the African wildlife!

At Hands on Big 5 Volunteers will learn about conservation and implement it as they assist the conservation team with day to day activities. Delve into leopard research, habitat rehabilitation, elephant impact monitoring, game counts, telemetry tracking of lions and much, much more. Make a real difference, grow your skills in conservation and have the experience of a lifetime!

Our Conservation Project is the ultimate Big 6 'Bush and Beach' experience, where you get the opportunity to get hands-on involved in conservation management as well as exploring South Africa's amazing coastline. This Big 5 reserve is an extraordinary and exciting conservation area, at the forefront of numerous species reintroductions and conservation drives. While getting involved in every aspect of conservation management on the reserve, you will grow your skills in conservation and have the experience of a life time. A dedicated coordinator will endeavour to ensure that you have a wonderful learning experience and that on completion you may leave knowing more of what conservation is really about. So if you have always wondered what conservation management on a reserve in Africa entails read on:
  • Project Highlights

    The Hands On Big 5 project has several focus areas, and as a volunteer you get to participate in different aspects of animal conservation.

    Leopards Population Status:
    One of our main research focus areas on the reserve is our new and exciting leopard (Panthera pardus) project. The project is being undertaken in collaboration with the Centre for African Conservation Ecology of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

    Elephant Impact Monitoring:
    Volunteers will help monitor elephant movement patterns, range utilization and vegetation impact with the aid of telemetry (certain individuals are fitted with radio collars). Volunteers are involved with recording the unique ear markings of each elephant for management purposes. Elephant identification sheets are given to each volunteer, who in turn will assist the conservation department in this regard.

    Lion Prey Selection Monitoring:
    One of the program’s responsibilities is to record as many lion kills as possible. This data provides the conservation department on the reserve with valuable information regarding prey selection. Certain lions on the reserve are fitted with radio collars, so volunteers will learn how to use telemetry tracking.

    Birds in Reserve Project (BIRP):
    This project involves preparing a catalogue of the birds, bird numbers and their breeding status in the reserve as part of a project headed by the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit.

    Hyena Tracking & Monitoring:
    Movement patterns and breeding rates of these interesting predators are monitored. None of the hyenas are fitted with radio collars, so it can be quite a challenge finding them on the reserve. Our recent volunteers found quite a sight though… one of our females giving birth!

    Conservation Management:
    Conservation management activities form a large part of the volunteer program. Some of these activities involve physical work and therefore a certain level of determination from the volunteer’s side is required. Keep in mind that the `reserve needs` are always taken into account and you will help to fulfill those needs as a volunteer.

    Community Development:
    We have identified an under-funded farm school near the reserve where our volunteer program can make a real difference. The school is small, yet very under-staffed and local kids aged 4 to 15 years attend the school. Hands on Big 5 volunteers visit the school one day a week (not during school holidays or rainy days (most of the children walk about 10 km to attend school so if it rains, no one goes to school!), and make valuable contributions to the children’s education. Our volunteers take many of the classes themselves and teach 6-12 year olds subjects like English and maths. You might also help with the maintenance of the school’s facilities or by giving sport lessons to the kids. A recent group of volunteers renovated a classroom (with a completely collapsed ceiling and floorboards!) for the pre-primary school kids. Your contribution here is real, and both the children and the headmistress are very appreciative.

  • Weekly Schedule & Activities

    While working as a volunteer you may see yourself as an 'Assistant Conservation Manager'. All the work done and data collected by you will be utilized by the reserve's Conservation Department. As a volunteer you therefore derive a good deal of satisfaction from your work, as your efforts directly contribute to improving the reserve.

    Daily activities are interesting and varied, and could include assistance with some of the following:
    - Game counts
    - Sex and age ratios recordings of specific species like eland and giraffe
    - Alien vegetation control: Volunteers assist in the eradication and control of alien (non-endemic) plant species. Bush encroachment control through selective clearing is also done in certain areas on the reserve. This aspect involves physical hard work!
    - Soil erosion control: Previous land utilization practices like cattle ranching has caused erosion gulleys in certain areas on the reserve. These sites need to be rehabilitated.
    - Reserve clean-up operations: Volunteers assist in pulling out remaining old cattle fences and water pipes on the reserve.
    - Road maintenance and repairing of river crossings
    - Parasite control: This involves the making-up and administering of anti-parasite meds to specific species (when required by the reserve)
    - And any other conservation management activity that might "pop-up" at the time and the reserve requires your assistance in

    Volunteers may also have the chance to experience these additional conservation activities:
    - Capturing of wild animals: Our recent volunteers had the AMAZING once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist with the capture of the following species on the reserve: elephant, lion, rhino, hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and impala! Please remember that captures only occur when required by the reserve and not for the sake of the volunteers.
    - Game introduction: There is an ongoing program for the introduction of additional game, especially as the reserve has acquired more land that will need to be stocked with various different African mammal species.
    - Fire management: An important driving force in savanna ecosystems (depending on the time of year and fire regimes)

    Each volunteer will be given a field booklet, which can be taken home at the end of the placement. Before you start with each practical task, the relative theoretical background on the subject will be discussed on informal lectures. The theory provides insight into the value of the practical activities in which you may participate. Mammal, plant and bird checklists are included in the booklet and will help you to identify different species on the reserve.

    Practical Education:
    Practical education will be provided throughout your stay.
    - Bush walks, game drives and night drives including identification and discussion of various mammals, plants and birds
    - Sleep outs: Camping out in the bush around a campfire under the African sky (weather dependent)
    - Field skills camp: Learn to look after yourself in the wild!

  • Inclusions

    - Airport transfers
    - Work experience 5 days a week, helping the Conservation Department with management work on the reserve
    - 3 basic meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
    - Accommodation (shared bedrooms and shared bathrooms)
    - Laundry (done by a domestic helper)
    - Town-trips once a week

  • Mandatory Volunteer Requirements

    - Minimum age of 18
    - Fluency in English

  • Special Skills Required

    Some of the activities may be hard physical work, and a certain level of determination from your side will be required. All we expect is that you help with the tasks to the best of your abilities and to do everything with a lot of enthusiasm. As long as you try your best, it is good enough for us!

    Se fullständig resplan


You will be accommodated in a renovated, fully furnished house on the reserve.

Here is some additional info about your accommodation:
- Comfortable but not luxurious
- You will be sharing bedrooms and there are communal bathrooms.
- There is a lecture room, a lounge with a TV & entertainment room with pool table.
- There is a dining room and a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge, stove, microwave, cutlery, crockery and cooking utensils.
- Lovely plunge pool to cool off in after a hard day`s work
- If a safe for cash and valuables is required, volunteers can use the communal safe at the reception.
- Please bear in mind that the house is in the middle of a `Big 5` game reserve, so therefore one cannot walk outside the boundaries of the garden fence.
- There are no internet or telephone facilities at the volunteer house for volunteers to use.


Your airport transfers are included in the price.
Arrive any Monday of the month.
You must arrive before 13:00 for the included transfer, if you arrive later than 13:00, the transfer cost of a one-way transfer is ZAR 1500
Depart transfer around 10:00, so flights should not be booked before 12:00 midday.
Arrival and departure transfers from/to Port Elizabeth Airport outside these hours cost 1500 ZAR each way.

Other Transport Information:
- Volunteers live on the reserve.
- Their transport on the reserve will be on an open game viewing vehicle.
- Volunteers may get transported on an open pick-up truck to Kenton-On-Sea on a Saturday when going for a "town day".


- All the ingredients for three basic meals a day are provided.
- Volunteers are divided into cooking teams and all meals are made by the volunteers themselves at the house.
- Volunteers are also responsible for washing up and keeping the kitchen clean and tidy.
- The meals are basic but wholesome, for example cereals, porridge and toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and lasagne, salad and vegtables for supper.
- If volunteers wish to add ingredients to meals that are not available at the volunteer house, you can buy them on town-trip days at your own expense.
- Meals that you choose to eat at restaurants on town-trip days, are also at your own expense.