Conservation Volunteer Programme
Come and join Kariega Game Reserve as a conservation volunteer. Make a real difference, grow your skills in conservation and have the experience of a lifetime!
Kariega is an extraordinary and exciting conservation project, at the forefront of numerous species reintroductions and conservation drives. 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.
Kariega’s Conservation Volunteer Programme is the ultimate Big 5 experience, where volunteers from across the world, get the opportunity to get hands-on involved in conservation management on the reserve. During your stay with us, you may see yourselves as “Assistant Conservation Managers”, as all the work done and data collected by you will be utilized by Kariega for conservation on the reserve. A dedicated coordinator will endeavour to ensure that you have a wonderful learning experience and leave with a stronger understanding of conservation issues feeling like you made an important contribution.
Our volunteers also get the opportunity to explore South Africa’s amazing coastline as Kariega is a mere 16 km from the sea... the beautiful Indian Ocean is literally on your doorstep! This coastline has particularly rich marine fauna and flora as well as endless sand dunes and beautiful beaches. To top it all off, we have a brilliant community outreach programme. Our volunteers assist at a local rural farm school by teaching children basic subjects like English. Come and make a real difference and have fun doing so!
Volunteers will be provided with stimulating practical experience in the following four areas: research, conservation management, education and community development.
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). A part of this research project that volunteers are very involved with, is 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.
Population status of leopards
Leopards have been persecuted in the Eastern Cape for the last three hundred years, resulting in a decline in numbers and fragmentation of populations, placing the local population at risk of extinction. Virtually the entire landscape was hostile to them, and few leopards survived in only the most isolated areas. Recently attitudes towards large predators have shifted, and leopards are now legally protected. There has also been a recent shift in land use, with an increasing number of private nature reserves that complement the state-owned reserves in supporting conservation of biodiversity.
Kariega Game Reserve is one of the oldest of these private nature reserves. These shifts suggest that the landscape is now more leopard-friendly, with decreased persecution and increased refuge areas. This project aims to assess the status of leopards in the Lower Albany area and investigate the role of the Kariega Game Reserve as a refugee habitat for leopards, which may move across the Lower Albany area. We are fortunate to have the support of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on this project.
We are currently trying to establish how many leopards occur on Kariega Game Reserve. We have movement sensor cameras in place on the reserve and it is one of the Volunteer Programme’s tasks to monitor these cameras, change memory cards and record all images taken. The cameras are moved around the property on a regular basis, to increase the chance of leopard sightings.
Lion prey selection monitoring
One of the volunteer programme’s responsibilities is to record as many lion kills as possible. This data provides the conservation department at Kariega 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 whilst out on night drives.
The estimated number of rhino poached during 2012 in South Africa is 633. This crisis is the most significant conservation issue that South Africa has faced. Kariega conservation volunteers help monitor and account for rhinos on the property on a regular basis.
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.
Conservation management activities form a large part of the volunteer programme. 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 fulfil those needs as a volunteer. 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 will 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 opportunity to experience the following 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 programme 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 in the form of 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 at Kariega.
Practical education will be provided throughout your stay:
- Bush Walks, Game Drives and night drives - 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)
- Coastal ecology outings
It is our responsibility to take pride in our heritage and accordingly make plans for a healthy, sustainable future founded on equality and fairness - help Kariega to achieve this vision by volunteering as part of our team!
We have identified an under-funded farm school near the reserve where our volunteer programme can make a real difference. The school is small, yet very under-staffed and local kids aged 4 to 15 years attend the school. Kariega 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, Maths and Science. 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. Guaranteed to leave you with a feeling of satisfaction!
Accommodation is in a fully furnished house on the reserve (shared bedrooms and bathrooms). Volunteers are divided into teams and are responsible for the preparation of meals on a rotational basis. There are plenty of opportunity for braai’s (BBQ’s) under the night skies and socializing around a fire. There is a lovely plunge-pool for volunteers to cool off in after a hard day’s work.
The working week at Kariega is from Monday to Friday. Working hours depend on the season and may vary from 7 – 9 hours per day. The evenings are at your leisure. Saturdays are reserved for a town trip (either to Kenton-On-Sea, Port Alfred or Grahamstown) where volunteers can do their shopping, eat out, visit all the sites of the local towns. Sundays are off time.
Kenton-On-Sea is a beautiful small coastal town only 15 minutes drive from the reserve. The beaches are absolutely breath taking and pristine. Your local "hang-out" is a pub / restaurant overlooking this stunning beach! After their Saturday morning shopping in Kenton (volunteers can stock up on everyday essentials), volunteers often laze around on the beach, swim in the waves or sit in the beach bar while sipping away on a cold drink and taking in the scenery.
There are also additional activities that can be organised for you on a Saturday (at your own cost and on condition that a few others in the group also want to partake in the activity), including:
- Horseback riding on the beach or in a game reserve
- Sky diving – tandem (that means you are strapped to an instructor!)
- Deep sea fishing
- Two day canoe trail on the Kowie river (this is a hit with many of our volunteer groups)
- Quad bike riding
- Addo Elephant National Park field trip
- Paint ball
- Weekend trips away can include bungee jumping, canopy tours and shark cage diving
There are no set arrival/departure dates for this project, but please note all arrivals are scheduled on Mondays. Departure days can be Fridays, Saturdays or Mondays (please note: no Sundays). Volunteers are required to sign an indemnity form acknowledging and accepting the consequences of working in close contact with wild animals. Applicants must be 17 years of age or older. The minimum time period for a booking is a two week placement and the maximum period is 12 weeks.
Please note that our activities are based on a minimum stay of four weeks. Although many of the activities listed below may take place in two to three week placements, not all are guaranteed. So the longer your stay, the more in depth your experience.
Prices include accommodation for the duration of your placement, all work activities on the reserve and three meals per day. Please email us to enquire about our weekly rate. Not included are entertainment expenses over weekends and socializing costs (drinks and meals volunteers choose to have while out in town). Please note we can unfortunately not offer any free placements.
Arrangements will be made by Kariega staff to collect incoming volunteers from Port Elizabeth Airport. Kariega is approximately 140 kms (two hours drive) from Port Elizabeth. Volunteers are to pay for the transfer to and from the airport themselves.
For a personalised answer to all your questions or to enquire about our latest prices, please feel free to email our Volunteer Programme Manager, Helena Warren, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call directly on +27 76 100 6809.
For more volunteer testimonials please visit our Volunteer Testimonial blog page.
Well, what can I say!! I was meant to have been at Kariega for 2 weeks and stayed for 3! And if it wasn’t for the fact I couldn’t change my flights, I would have stayed longer. Although it’s been a great, fun, exciting 3 weeks, it was mared by the poaching of 3 white rhinos on the reserve. The two surviving to date is Thandi and Themba, of whom I have had the great honour to help assist with the veterinary treatment of them as well as the other volunteers staying here. I doubt there are many volunteer projects that would actually allow you to be part of these very tense moments! Thandi and Themba will always be close to my heart and I will continue fighting for them once home. Justine, you have been a brilliant volunteer coordinator – full of life, smiles, fun and energy. You work hard when with us, in fact you are such a tough little nut you put me to shame sometimes! The volunteer house is beautiful also – one of the best I recon! I look forward to seeing all those dying wattles and cleared paths on my return. And of course the rest of the gang and hopefully two special rhinos. All the best for the future Kariega Volunteer Programme! Angie Goddy, Isle of Man, 5-26 March 2012.
I had a great three weeks as a volunteer on Kariega Game Reserve. Justine, the volunteer coordinator, made this placement so great. Thanks for all your interesting stories! It was a good mix of work and fun and I loved the accommodation. Ruth Thompson, USA, 6-27 February 2012.
What's not to love about this special, unique volunteer vacation? I was lucky to have perfect sunny days for most of my brief stay, which were made even more so by game drives, game counts, lessons in local ecology, open air rides, and sights, sounds and smells to feast on for days!! Justine, Kariega's volunteer coordinator is simply fantastic. A great combination of patient, friendly, encouraging, and steely-cool confident as guide, driver and host. I called her "G.I. Justine", after watching her navigate endless rocky steep trails, swatting spider webs while shifting and forging new paths way way way off the beaten track! I felt totally safe and relaxed with her at the wheel. Loved and appreciated the dinner at the lodge and lunch with Helena and Andrew - so kind. And was thrilled to see lions not once, but 3 times! I learned how lame I am with a saw, and rusty climbing trees ... but just trying to help felt good. My highlights also included releasing a baby rhino onto the reserve, watching monkeys in the tree house and studying the elephant ear markings. Kariega Game Reserve is a special place and the volunteer program gives the best of both worlds: hard earned adventure with a taste of luxury and lots of fun. My last day horseback riding on the beach with a (discounted!) massage at Kariega's spa was pure magic I won't forget. Can't wait to see how the program evolves in the coming years ... and seeing the camera trap capture clear shots of the elusive leopards. I hope to be back with friends in the future, but will share this secret with only special souls who will treasure it as much as I have. Good people, good fun, good cause. Thank you Helena, Justine and Kariega! Kim McCabe, Washington DC, USA, 17 December 2011.
I was a volunteer on Kariega Game Reserve last year (2010) and just had to return. I have to say I had a great 4 weeks again. It was so nice to be back at Kariega. My time went by too quickly though. We had plenty to keep us busy – checking on leopard camera traps, eradicating black wattle and pine, game counts etc. I also enjoyed my time at Farmerfield school and hope the flower bed flourishes after it was planted (pity I can’t be there for the graduation ceremony). My highlight this time was seeing the lion cubs, black rhino and buffalo. But best of all was the canoe trip on the Kariega river with Justine (especially since I have never been in a canoe before). We also went on a great hike. I have to mention our Wednesday pizza night at Homewoods also, good fun and great pizzas. I really hope to be back again! Alan Harvey, 24 October – 21 November 2011
I’ve had such a brilliant time at Kariega Game Reserve, loved every minute of it and will never forget it. Here are some of my highlights: Teaching at the primary school was amazing. Hopefully all the students will now read their poems with a Donegal accent!; Walking with cheetachs – I will never forget it; Any excuse to roll up my trousers and get my feet wet and muddy – canoeing down the Kariega river and wading through the river; Standing in the Indian Ocean during a lunar eclipse; Sand boarding in Port Alfred; Seeing the Black Rhino so close and in the open; Cutting down wattles with the giraffes standing besides us; Seeing a 3 day old baby elephant; Spending my last night watching the elephants in frot of the sunset was amazing. All I want to say is that I had a fantastic time. This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done and I won’t forget it. Thanks Kariega! - James Brolly, 6 June – 4 July 2011
My time as a volunteer on Kariega Game Reserve has been truly amazing and 4 weeks just wasn’t enough! I really fell in love with it here and have had some incredible experiences.To witness the lions hunt and kill was phenomenal - as was being surrounded by the elephant herd. Justine has been a brilliant volunteer coordinator and really made me feel welcome and involved in all the activities from the moment I arrived. Not only will I be taking home some amazing memories (and hundreds of photos!) but I’ve learnt loads of facts about conservation ecology and African wildlife here from Justine. I’ve also made some wonderful friends and feel like this experience has helped me mature as a person. Thank you Justine for making my stay such a pleasure. - Eleri Pritchard, 12 July – 8 August 2010
James wrote: “We came here not knowing what to expect and not knowing who we were going to be sharing a house with. On both accounts the experience was LOVELY! Each day has brought a new adventure and our volunteer coordinator’s skills and knowledge has opened up a whole new world for us. I cannot begin to say which day was a highlight as all of them are so different and life changing. Working at the school was very moving and helps you appreciate how lucky we all are. Seeing the different trees, plants and environment creates new thoughts about the world we live in. The wildlife on Kariega is just breathtaking. I don’t even know where to start. My personal favourites are the warthogs and especially the one that got away from the lions. Thank you to our wonderful fellow housemates and to everyone who made this a life changing experience.” Debra wrote: “I will ditto everything James has said. I have loved every single moment here and feel like I’m leaving friends today. My dream when I came here was to just see the elephants – to sit amongst the herd has been a dream come true for me. This wonderful reserve will be in my memory forever.” - James Murphy & Debra Hulme, 12 April – 26 April 2010
“We can’t believe our time here is over, it only feels like 2-3 weeks and not a single day repeated! Here are some of our highlights:Slowly learning all the different types of animals and how they and the environment interact and depend on each other. Learning to appreciate birds more, Jacques taught us that safari is about the experience and not just about finding the Big 5; First sighting of the elephants … fantastic; Playing chicken with the Cape buffalo!; Lions killing baby warthog; Lions roaring at night – very intimidating!; Harvestvale – what a fantastic place; Night camping and star watching; Beach Trek; The partial eclipse; Our vehicle breaking down on a night drive with the lions on the hunt not more than about 500 meters away (Jacques got us out and pushing!); The beauty of watching our biggest enemy, the alien Black Wattle, fall after you hit it about 1000 times with a slab of metal. Words can’t say how much this unique experience is due to our volunteer coordinator. Both Sarah and I want to say thank you so much for all the effort you went to on our behalf. We wish you all the best. - Mark Wiggins & Sarah Gainford, 20 January – 17 February 2009
“My name is Adam Howson and I joined Kariega Game Reserve’s volunteer programme for a month during 2007. I left the UK and headed to South Africa not knowing what the road ahead had in store. However, I can honestly say that it was the experience of a lifetime. My reason for joining Kariega’s volunteer programme was to collect data and information for my third year university project. On my arrival, the Kariega team provided me with a wealth of information, time and support in helping me complete my tasks. The team here are so talented and working in the field with such people was awe inspiring! I was really shocked at how much I was involved in during my short stay. I remember thinking back in the UK – “come on, as if I’ll get to do that”. The next thing you know I’m in the back of a truck with a sedated zebra! I was actually involved in all the research and conservation projects the web site advertised – no joke. However, they always made time for my individual needs – sorry for all the questions guys! The team have great personalities too and play just as hard as they work! They allowed me to explore local towns, visit the beach, party (oh!) and skydive from a plane at 10 000 feet. Yes people, I have video evidence – what a day that was! This has been so much more than a uni trip for me. The memories I brought back to the UK, I will keep with me for the rest of my life.” – Adam Howson, UK
“Some places come into our hearts and quickly go, but Kariega stayed leaving footprints in my heart. Being a volunteer on Kariega Game Reserve was an experience that I will never forget. I learned so much in my six weeks out there. My personal favourite work activity was tracking and studying the elephants. The work we did was satisfying and rewarding and I really felt that my contribution helped improved the reserve. This is definitely an experience that I would recommend to anyone.”- Jane Scott, Scotland
“I cannot say thank you enough to the volunteer programme team at Kariega Game Reserve. I left the UK not sure what to expect on the other side … well, was I in for the surprise of my life! I can truly say that this was an experience of a lifetime. My memories at Kariega will stay with me for the rest of my life. I did things that I have never done in my life before (and probably never will, unless I return to Africa one day!), and learnt about things that I never even knew existed. I enjoyed every single work activity (even the hard, physical ones!), and the sense of satisfaction that we got as a group watching the African sunsets after an exciting day in the bush … well, that is something that I can’t explain. All that I can say is that I will talk about Kariega for the rest of my life and I encourage everyone to go there and to experience it for yourself. I can assure you, it is certainly worth it!” – Fiona Roberts, UK
Conservation Volunteer Game Capture
Conservation Volunteer Research
Conservation Volunteer Bush Skills
Conservation Volunteer Habitat Management
Conservation Volunteer Wildlife Sightings
Pack for a Purpose
We are proud members of Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travelers like you to make a lasting impact in the community at your travel destination. If you save just a few kilos of space in your suitcase and bring supplies for area schools or medical clinics in need, you’ll make a priceless impact in the lives of our local children and families. Please click here to see what supplies are needed for Kariega projects.
Conservation Volunteer Community Projects
Conservation Volunteer Relaxation
Conservation Volunteer Accommodation
For a personalised answer to all your questions or to enquire about our latest prices, please feel free to contact our Volunteer Programme Manager, Helena Warren:
t: +27 76 100 6809.