Conservation Volunteer Programme
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.
Your Conservation Experience
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, leave with a stronger understanding of conservation issues and the knowledge that 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 help monitor elephant movement patterns, range utilization and vegetation impact. 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.
Movement sensor camera monitoring
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. We are trying to establish how many leopards occur on Kariega Game Reserve. We have various 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.
The cameras are also used to record sightings of other rarely seen species, such as brown hyena, and to try and monitor their movement patterns.
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.
This rhino poaching crisis is the most significant conservation issue that South Africa is facing. Kariega conservation volunteers help monitor and account for rhinos on the property on a regular basis. For safety reasons we do not divulge more information about this monitoring project or our rhino numbers on the reserve.
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 fitness and 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. 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 and habitat management - 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 so be prepared to get your hands dirty!
- 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
- Indigenous plant nursery work including landscaping around the lodges
- Assistance to the rhino anti-poaching unit - Volunteers may be required to assist this team on the reserve from time to time
- Parasite control – This involves the making-up and administering of anti-parasite meds to specific species (when required by the reserve)
- Any other conservation management activity that might pop-up at the time.
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 is 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. Volunteers are required to help (on a rotational system) with the entering of data into our research computer at the volunteer house.
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
Kariega conservation volunteers spend one morning a week at the under-funded nearby farm school called Farmerfield.
The school educates approximately 95 local children between the ages of four and 15. It is very under-staffed and volunteers assist by taking some of the classes themselves. They teach 6-12 year olds subjects like English, Maths and Science. You might also help with the maintenance of the school’s facilities. A recent group of volunteers renovated a pre-primary classroom to replace the completely collapsed ceiling and floorboards. Your contribution here is real and both the children and the headmistress are very appreciative.
Please note that visits to the school do not take place during South African school holidays or on rainy days (most of the children walk about 10 km to attend school so if it rains, no one goes to school).
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 to the nearby beachside village of Kenton-On-Sea where volunteers can shop, eat out and spend some time on the beach. Sundays are off time.
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
- Sky diving – tandem (that means you are strapped to an instructor!)
- Deep sea fishing
- Two day overnight canoe trail on the Bushman's 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
When you send an email to us to enquire about joining this volunteer programme we will reply with a detailed information pack. This includes further information about living conditions, off time over weekends, transfers between the airport and the reserve etc.
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 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, socializing costs (drinks and meals volunteers choose to have while out in town) and transfers between the airport and the reserve. Please note we can unfortunately not offer any free placements in return for work.
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.
“You would say that 7 weeks volunteering on Kariega is enough, but I could easily add another 7 weeks! I had such an amazing time on Kariega Game Reserve. It has been a life changing experience. The highlights of my time on Kariega include: witnessing lions eating a wildebeest, seeing lions hunt impalas, 25 elephants taking a bath, a baby warthog as a lions snack, camping in the bush, being up close and personal with a rhino during game capture, seeing so many rhinos and rhino babies together and the interaction between them, amazing dinners at Main Lodge, braais (bbq’s) in the bush, pizza and burger evenings in Kenton, beach days on Saturdays, monkeys playing on the roof at 5am … there is so much. Thanks to Kariega, Frances (the volunteer coordinator), all the other volunteers and Kariega rangers. I had a blast!” Timi Schlatmann, The Netherlands, 2 March – 17 April 2015.
“When choosing where to come and volunteer in South Africa it took us a while to find Kariega, but I am so thankful we did. The game reserve itself is stunning, with views which were literally breathtaking and cannot be captured in a picture. The experiences I have been fortunate enough to have with the animals are some which will most definitely stay with me forever. There are so many, waking up to lions near the garden, being surrounded by an elephant herd, watching an exciting game capture and even touching a rhino while helping it after it had been darted. Frances is literally amazing, she knows everything! The other volunteers during my stay were also awesome and made my trip even better. Thank you for all the experiences and memories I have made here.” Stephanie Coates, Scotland, 01/06/2014 – 01/07/2014
“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
For more volunteer testimonials please visit our Volunteer Testimonial blog page.
Volunteer Blog Page
Check out the Kariega Volunteers blog page to see what they've been up to!
Read what past volunteers have to say about their experience as a Kariega Conservation Volunteer.