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.
“I have had the most fantastic time here at Kariega Game Reserve. It has been an experience I shall remember for the rest of my life. Highlights include seeing the Big Bull elephant who came to give us a good sniff on our first day here, witnessing the darting of Thandi the rhino to check on her wound, the lion roadblock on our way back from the school and finally finding Thandi again in the middle of the road last night.
Massive thanks to Frances who has worked tirelessly to teach us and show us so very much. Nomelia, you are an absolute star. The children at Farmerfield school, you’ve got spirit! Rudi, your bush walks have been fantastic and Murray thank you for a terrific weekend in Plettenberg Bay. I’m so sad to be leaving South Africa!” - Laura Williams, UK, 13/01/2014 – 17/02/2014
“Amazing experience!! The Kariega volunteer programme is the perfect mix of work and play. It was great to work hard and contribute, but also have time to relax, have fun and enjoy the beautiful surroundings and incredible wildlife. Azel is a great ranger and group leader and her enthusiasm is contagious. Her knowledge and love of Africa is apparent and I learnt a lot while I was at Kariega (I did come in 2nd in our Kariega wildlife quiz .. haha!) My advice to future volunteers … enjoy your time here, push yourself to experience everything and appreciate all the great moments that happen here!! Have fun!” - Pam Powell, USA, 01/04/2013 – 15/04/2013
“I never stayed long enough! I have loved every single experience here – I just wish I could have stayed longer. It has been immense. I’m so tempted to write my entire journal in here, but I know it will take up the entire book so I won’t. I’m going to be clinging to Azel’s ankles tomorrow when I have to leave; “Don’t make me go!” and crying my eyes out. She has made this trip for me. I’ve never met a more lovely person. My fellow volunteers were also great. The best way to describe us is one free family. I wish I could spend longer with them and I will definitely be keeping in touch with those that I bonded with most. As for the experience .. WOW is all I can say. The work wasn’t “work” and plans were never set in stone – like following the lions for an entire morning instead of going on a game count, or finding a black rhino when we were expecting to plant Spekboom! It was all so much fun. Enjoy your time at Kariega!! You will remember this for the rest of your life. I’m definitely coming back.” - Ross Mercer, Ecclesmachan, Scotland, 01/04/2013 – 15/04/2013
“What a place to live for two weeks! I was promised on my first day of arriving on Kariega Game Reserve that my short time here would be stuffed, and it really has been. Lots of lion sightings, elephants, rhinos etc. Two super Friday’s – one with the elephant herd (including close up of Big Bull) and one with close up of both black rhinos, roaring lions, grumpy elephants and hippos! Impossible to put it all down to a piece of paper in a few minutes. Thanks to Azel for spending so much time and energy on us – taking us to town, the beach, pizza nights, horseback riding, camping, etc. etc. – and always with incredible enthusiasm … Amazing! My advice …Two weeks at Kariega is way too short. I hope to be back sometime and see you all again.” - Agseir Damaas Pedersen, Harstad, Norway, 18/02/2013 – 04/03/2013
“I sit here as the sun rises, listening to the sounds of Africa, wondering how I am meant to summarise the last 4 weeks. The accommodation is amazing – with the visits from the lions and elephants. I have been to Africa before but I can honestly say this experience surpassed all expectations. Azel is a star, her enthusiasm and passion is amazing. The extra hours Azel puts in to make this a truly remarkable experience … and “Fantastic Fridays” rounds off this experience with a bang. To see the hippos displaying aggression, a black rhino on the plains (!!), lions roaring and an elephant trying to stop the truck - so many memories. A big thank you to Kariega for cementing Africa in my heart forever.” - Martha Spikes, Somerset, UK, 04/02/2013 – 04/03/2013
“Words are not able to describe just how incredible Kariega Game Reserve is! Since I was tiny I have wanted to go to Africa and work with animals and now that I’ve been here I want to live here! These past 3 weeks on Kariega have been beyond amazing and have confirmed that I want to work with animals and be involved in conservation for the rest of my life. Everything about this place makes you want to smile, the wildlife and the people. I have not met a single person on the reserve or in the local town who has not smiled and waved at me – there is a huge community and family spirit that I have not seen in any other country I have visited. No two days are the same here. The elephants are brilliant and I feel like I’ve got to know them and their personalities in my time here. Love the little one who came up and kicked the front of our vehicle! Seeing the rhinos just takes your breath away and the close encounter with the black rhino was amazing. I owe a big thank you to Justine who found so many giraffe for me, you have fulfilled my childhood dream of seeing them in the wild. Justine is the greatest volunteer leader and will make even the rainiest day a memorable one. Thank you to everyone here in South African and on Kariega Game Reserve – you have given me memories I will cherish forever. I will definitely be back … very very soon.” - Sally Milner, UK, 22/07/2012 – 13/08/2012
“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. It has truly been a great, fun, exciting 3 weeks. Unfortunately during my time here 3 white rhinos were attacked in a poaching incident 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.” - Angie Goody, Isle of Man, 05/03/2012 – 26/03/2012
For more volunteer testimonials please visit our Volunteer Testimonial blog page.
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.