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Wilderness Conservation & Wildlife Research in South Africa

Wildlife Volunteers South Africa South Africa


Enjoy world class wildlife viewing, complete reserve management projects, monitoring and research on a benchmark wilderness reserve in South Africa.

Make a genuine and valuable contribution to the conservation of Africa's wildlife and ecosystems by joining this programme. Whether you are from an environmental background or simply want to make a difference, this programme offers the opportunity to experience the trip of a lifetime. Enjoy watching Africa's large mammals in their natural habitats but also learn about all aspects of the bush. Gain knowledge and experience in different field and research techniques while contributing to the conservation of the ecosystem as a whole.


Here, you are not just a volunteer; you immediately become an active member of the reserve management team. The programme takes on many essential roles, making days as a volunteer interesting, varied and full of opportunities to learn new skills and field techniques. Environmental students can use their time volunteering at Askari to gain course credits but it is not essential to have this background. All volunteers can make a valuable, hands-on contribution to the programme's work and enjoy learning about the different species to be seen around the reserve and the role each of them fulfils in this intricate ecosystem. Volunteers are involved with all projects, monitoring and research throughout their stay. The volunteer house is set in the heart of the reserve from where you can hear the deep roar of a territorial lion, the whooping of a spotted hyaena or trumpeting and grumble of a nearby elephant herd.

Volunteers joining the programme for 4 weeks or longer will begin with an orientation week. While introducing the principles, ethics and work on the reserve, volunteers also get the chance to try 4x4 driving, rifle shooting and learn the many research techniques that they will be using in the field. After training, days continue to be filled with an average of 3 activities starting early in the morning and running all the way through to the evening. Activities rotate between reserve management tasks, wildlife monitoring and specific research projects. Volunteers must be flexible as the team is on call 24/7 to deal with any emergencies that may arise. Some activities may also take place at night such as hyaena call up surveys, sleep outs on the reserve and nocturnal mammal monitoring drives. Projects vary seasonally and may include

Reserve management work

  • Anti-poaching patrols
  • Veterinary dartings
  • Game capture and release
  • Sleep outs in remote areas of the reserve
  • Prescribed management burns
  • Alien plant eradication
  • Rehabilitation of eroded areas
  • Removal of bush encroachment
  • Improvement of habitats
  • Building & restoration projects
  • Reserve clean up efforts – removing old fencing etc
  • Tree protection against elephant damage
  • Road & fence maintenance

Wildlife monitoring & conservation

  • Herbivore age & sex ratio analysis
  • Predator demography
  • Elephant and Rhino monitoring
  • Tracking and monitoring of reintroduced cheetah
  • Reserve record keeping
  • Ground hornbill conservation
  • Bird of prey and migratory bird surveys
  • Predator/prey dynamic monitoring
  • Rare antelope breeding programme
  • Nocturnal species monitoring
  • Reptile surveys and identification


Key Info

Minimum age 18




Volunteers stay in a beautiful house set in the heart of the reserve. The large garden contains ample space for walking and games, houses a splash pool and is surrounded by an electric fence. This keeps the team safe from regular visitors to the fence which include elephant, lion, giraffe, impala herds and baboon troops to name a few. Your bedroom and en-suite bathroom is shared with a maximum of 3 other volunteers and includes a large, personal wardrobe for all your bush gear.

A private double room and bathroom is also available for couples upon prior arrangement. Each bed has its own mosquito net and bathrooms and showers have both hot and cold running water. All water at the house is safe to drink. There is a large kitchen, lounge and dining room where the team joins together at lunch and in the evening to share meals.

In the office you can make your contribution to the data collection and entry and also find the planned schedule of activities and list of shared duties. There are plenty of outside areas as well where you can write your diary, take an afternoon siesta or watch the wild animals stroll by.

The team join together at the 'Braai' on occasion to enjoy a traditional South African barbeque, cooking our food on the coals. Volunteers take it in turns to complete cooking and other various duties around the house. All ingredients are provided for cooking along with easy to follow recipes so don't worry if you're not a master chef!

The programme is based on the breathtaking 'Pidwa Wilderness Reserve', a 14, 000 ha private reserve in the Limpopo province of South Africa. The reserve forms part of the 'Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region' which is one of the world's largest UNESCO designated biosphere reserves. Located in the heart of the Lowveld, Pidwa boasts magnificent views of the Drakensberg mountains and many different habitats, from the lush green banks of the Selati river to the Mopane belts, acacia thickets and mixed bushveld that characterise the reserve.

These varied habitats means the reserve supports more than 200 bird species, over 200 species of tree and more than 50 different mammal species including 4 of the 'Big 5' (lion, leopard, elephant & rhino) as well as cheetah, hyaena and all species of general game. The reserve is a one hour drive from the 3 nearest towns of Hoedspruit, Tzaneen and Phalaborwa, the latter of which has an entrance gate to the world famous Kruger National Park.

What's included?

  • Local airport/town pick up and drop off
  • Accommodation
  • Food – 3 meals per day (Breakfast, home cooked Lunch & Dinner)
  • All management, monitoring and research activities
  • Training in the use of all equipment including GPS consoles, Telemetry, Range finders etc
  • Orientation week activities for those staying 4 weeks or longer
  • Laundry service twice per week
  • Bedding
  • Programme logo t-shirt, Baseball cap and Day backpack
  • Tour at local Reptile park (4 weeks or longer)
  • Transport to local town for shopping once a week
  • Certificate of programme completion

What's not included?

  • International & domestic flights
  • Internal bus transfers from Johannesburg to our local town
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Sleeping bag needed for sleep out
  • Internet usage (available for a small fee at the house)
  • Private excursions/tours booked on weekends
  • Food while on excursions or during town trip

How do I reach the programme?

Volunteers must first fly into Johannesburg's OR Tambo international airport then take either a domestic flight or road transfer to our local town in the Limpopo province, HOEDSPRUIT. The programme staff will collect you here and drop you off again for your return transport. SA airlink provide domestic flights or a 6 hour journey by road can be made with a company called Ashtons Tours. More detailed information on travel to the programme will be provided upon booking.

Do I need a visa?

Most nationalities are granted a free 90 day tourist visa on arrival in Johannesburg. Please make sure you check the current requirements for the passport you hold with South African Home Affairs

What money do I need?

The currency of South Africa is the Rand (ZAR). A combination of cash in local rand, a debit card and/or credit card should cover all your needs. Travellers cheques can be changed in town but it can be a lengthy process. There is a tuck shop at the volunteer house and you will have the opportunity to join town trip once a week. We also make a social outing to a local bush pub or restaurant every one or two weeks. You may also like to budget for local sightseeing or tours during your time off.

What is the time zone at the programme?

South Africa is 2 hours ahead of GMT

What should I bring?

Your laundry will be done for you twice a week. If possible bring clothes that you don't mind getting dirty; a lot of trees have thorns which can rip clothing and work may involve painting etc so don't bring your best gear!

Recommended items

  • Tank tops & T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Long trousers
  • Fleece/Jumper
  • Casual clothes for town trip, weekend, pub/restaurant
  • Hat, gloves, scarf for winter
  • Waterproofs – Jacket & trousers
  • Good walking boots or strong outdoor trainers
  • Sock protectors/ankle gaiters
  • Sandals/flip flops/comfortable shoes for use around house and on outings etc
  • Sun hat (wide brimmed or baseball cap)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun cream (high factor recommended)
  • Towel & toiletries
  • Sleeping bag (for use on sleep out)
  • Water bottle
  • First aid kit
  • Insect repellent
  • Plug adaptor for South African 3 pin system
  • Torch
  • Camera
  • Swim wear
  • Binoculars
  • Watch/alarm clock
  • Stationary/notebooks
  • IPod/music player
  • Books

You will be given a complimentary t-shirt, day pack and baseball cap on arrival. Fleeces with the programme logo are available to buy.

What will the weather be like?

The seasons in South Africa are opposite to those of the northern hemisphere. Summer is from October to April with temperatures peaking in December, January and February. But summer is also our rainy season and we get some BIG rains so remember your waterproofs. Winter is from May to September and is generally the dry season. We still recommend you to bring your waterproofs as it can rain occasionally in winter as well; the bush can be unpredictable. Do not underestimate how cold Africa can be! Mornings and evenings can be extremely cold (as low as 2°c) and remember you will be on an open game viewer. For winter please bring a coat and plenty of warm layers, hat, gloves and scarf. Daytime winter temperatures are still extremely warm so t shirts, shorts and sun protection are still required.

Can I use a phone or the internet?

Unfortunately cell phone signal is poor but there are some spots where you can send and receive an SMS or attempt to make a call. There is good coverage in town when you visit during town trip. A new law has made it difficult for non South Africans to obtain a local sim card. You can still get one at Johannesburg airport but you pay over the odds. Alternatively use a tri-band phone with an international roaming sim to stay in touch. Internet access is available at the house and can be used for a small fee; Skype facilities are available too. Please bear in mind that summer storms can damage our tower which may put it out of action for a number of days. High speed internet cafes are also available in town.

Do I get time off?

On a Saturday afternoon and Sunday, volunteers have time off. There are no specific activities organised and you can use this time to relax, play sports, use the pool etc; all meals are still provided. Many volunteers join together for local tours or hire a car to do some sightseeing. For car hire you must be over 21 with a valid licence and credit card in your name. Costs for weekend trips must be covered by you; some options for activities include:

  • A trip to the world famous 'Kruger National Park'
  • The Blyde river canyon; waterfalls & boat trips
  • Horseback safaris in the bush
  • Microlight flights over game reserves
  • White water rafting & tubing
  • Animal rehabilitation centres and tours
  • Cultural tours

What animals will I see?

At the programme we pride ourselves on not just chasing the 'Big 5' but enjoying every aspect of what the African bush has to offer. While we hope to show you lions and elephants there is so much more to enjoy as well; so prepare to be introduced to a whole new world as we discover the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects that call Pidwa home. We boast 50 species on our mammal list including the weird and wonderful nocturnal species and more than 200 species of bird.


Volunteers are welcome to join the programme for a minimum period of 2 weeks up to a maximum of 6 months. Those staying for 4 weeks or longer receive an orientation week which includes shooting and 4x4 activities and these volunteers must please choose a '4 week start date' to arrive at the programme. Costs are stated in GBP sterling but an invoice can be created in any currency which will use the exchange rates on www.xe.com on the day of invoice issuing. 

Rates are inclusive of accommodation, food (breakfast, home cooked lunch & dinner), training week, equipment, activities, laundry service and local airport pick up/drop off. Please note that international and domestic flights, travel & medical insurance and personal equipment must be covered by the volunteer.

Costs 2017

2 weeks – GBP £700
4 weeks – GBP £1250
6 weeks – GBP £1720
8 weeks – GBP £2185
12 weeks – GBP £3075

Costs 2018

2 weeks – GBP £740
4 weeks – GBP £1325
6 weeks – GBP £1820
8 weeks – GBP £2315
12 weeks – GBP £3260

15% discount for returning volunteers.

Discount available for group bookings of more than 6.

Dates 2017

4 weeks

2 weeks

9th January–6th February

23rd January–6th February

8th February–6th March

20th February–6th March

6th March–3rd April

20th March–3rd April

10th April–8th May

24th April–8th May

8th May–5th June

22nd May–5th June

5th June–3rd July

19th June–3rd July

3rd July–31st July

17th July–31st July

21st August–18th September

4th–18th September

18th September–16th October

2nd–16th October

16th October–13th November

30th October–13th November

13th November–11th December

27th November–11th December

Dates 2018

4 weeks

2 weeks

8th January–5th February

22nd January–5th February

5th February–5th March

19th February–5th March

5th March–2nd April

19th March–2nd April

9th April–7th May

23th April–7th May

7th May–2nd June

18th May–2nd June

4th June–2nd July

18th June–2nd July

2nd July–30st July

16th July–30st July

20st August–17th September

3th–17th September

17th September–15th October

1st–15th October

15th October–12th November

29th October–12th November

12th November–10th December

26th November–10th December

Contact Project: Wilderness Conservation & Wildlife Research in South Africa

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