Big Five Wildlife Management and Conservation in South Africa

If you love nature, the environment and big friendly giants, then volunteering in Port Elizabeth is for you. This incredibly rewarding ecotourism project involves working at a game reserve where you’ll have the opportunity to work with South Africa’s Big 5: rhinoceroses, lions, cape buffalos, leopards and African elephants.

Program Overview

If you love nature, the environment and big friendly giants, then volunteering in Port Elizabeth is for you. This incredibly rewarding ecotourism project involves working at a game reserve where you’ll have the opportunity to work with South Africa’s Big 5: the rhino, lion, cape buffalo, leopard and African elephant.

The game reserve is impressive to say the very least. It covers more than 6,000 hectares and is situated in the Eastern Cape which lies on the southeastern coast of South Africa. The region boasts inspiring natural beauty, rugged cliffs and dense green bushland. It is also known as the Wild Coast – which is fitting considering that you’ll be working with some of the wildest creatures on the planet.

The program’s core focus is wildlife engagement, management, conservation and education. The reserve is a great place to relax, take a step back from your busy life and observe nature (and the local wildlife) up close. The fitness requirements are medium to low – expect a slower pace of life! The reserve has a predator educational and rehabilitation centre, which houses endangered and orphaned predators such as the rare Bengal tigers, wild dogs, white lions and many, many more. The predator educational and rehabilitation centre is a great way to observe and learn more about the local wildlife – mating practices, breeding challenges, space limitations, capture and release challenges, government policy, reserve management practices and much more.

Interesting and exciting things are common place at a game reserve and this is your chance to experience all the excitement whilst contributing to the reserve and getting back to nature. The Game Reserve Rangers are very experienced (up to 20+ years working across this reserve and several others) – so this is your chance to ask questions about a multitude of areas within wildlife management, reserve management, related government policy, breeding, wildlife protection, poaching and of course to learn as much as you can about the individual animals.

Game drives are common place on the weekly schedule. These game drives are a real educational opportunity – they are very tranquil and allow you to feel at one with nature and the local wildlife. You will get up close with most, if not all the Big 5. The Game Rangers are very experienced and will manage your safety and also teach you about the animals, their environment, challenges in managing the reserve, the animals’ engagement with humans, conservation practices, breeding, health of the animals, how much area or space each animal requires, feeding / hunting requirements of each animal, management of tourism and visitors to the reserve – and much more. This is really an education-focused program with experienced rangers who can give you great insight into South African wildlife, as well as the complex nature of humans existing alongside wild animals.

Project Details:

  • Project Activities: Caring for animals, track building, building / maintaining animal enclosures, re-building roads and small bridges, game drives – observing and learning from the Game Rangers, animal education, conservation education, wildlife and game management education, vegetation rehabilitation, planting, management of invasive plant species, fencing and monitoring animals. Game drives and observing the local wildlife and drawing on the many years of experience the local Game Rangers can offer is one of the focus areas.
  • Project Availability: All year around. Placements start on a Monday.
  • Project Duration: 2+ weeks
  • Working Hours: 7:30am to 4pm
  • Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa
  • Excursions: There are many excursions that students can look to engage with over and above what’s included in the standard program. Students arrange for all additional excursions (at own expense) direct with local travel providers. The Reserve will be able to offer some advice but does not offer a travel / tourism booking service. Get up close and personal with the Big 5 on safari, float over ancient mountains in a hot-air balloon, surf down the face of massive sand dunes in the desert, canoe through impressive gorges and valleys, dive with sharks off the coast, or take time to wine, dine, shop and relax – you can do it all in South Africa.
  • Support: 24-hour on-site support from Site Coordinator, Project Leaders and Continent Site Director (in Cape Town)
  • Police check is required
  • Minimum Age: 18+
  • Language: English

Note: This project fills up quickly between June – July each year. If you are considering this time period, please submit your application well in advance!

The Volunteer's Role

Volunteering on this program will give you an amazing insight into wildlife and the operations of a game reserve in South Africa. Students will get to see wildlife up close and personal, how a game reserve is managed and draw on the experience of many local Game Rangers. Interesting and exciting things are common place. The reserve staff have a conservation focus and will be keen to answer your questions and help you understand your observations. The Game Rangers will be interested to hear about conservation from an Australian (or different) perspective. Both parties have a lot to learn.

Remember, this is Africa. Things are different, rules are different, laws are different, the history is different – not to mention the culture. People will approach things from a different perspective and in a different way. There is no wrong or right – keep an open mind. This is your chance to listen, watch and learn. Take your observations from this experience and reflect on what you would do if you managed the reserve or even the country – and could have a direct impact on management, rules and regulations, laws and people’s views. Consider your experience against the Australian context. In future employment you can use your experience in South Africa to compare and relate. This will assist you to develop best practice techniques in wildlife management and conservation.

All of the work you do will help towards improving the quality of the reserve. For example the data collected by you on game drives (tracking and monitoring) will be used to make important decisions for the reserve.

This project is about learning, education, observation and assisting in a rage of hands-on jobs that will assist the management and day-to-day running of the reserve. You will be asked to roll up your sleeves and work on projects as part of a team. There is always plenty to do on the reserve and you’ll be providing an extra pair of hands.

On a day-to-day basis you’ll work in groups with an assigned leader. Some of the activities that you’ll have the chance to get involved with include:

  • Game drives, counts and captures
  • Time to observe wildlife and ask the Game Rangers questions
  • Removing of noxious weeds and vegetation in and around the reserve
  • Lion tracking and monitoring
  • Buffalo research and monitoring
  • Tree planting and landscaping
  • Fauna and flora work in the nursery
  • Wilderness trail walks and patrols
  • School feeding schemes
  • Predator interaction and caring
  • Track and road re-building
  • Fence patrol

While this project means taking a step back from your busy city lives, don’t expect to get bored. The itinerary for this project changes and alters daily. All the activities are dependent on the weather conditions and other factors. There will be something new, exciting and interesting to do each day.

The locals do truly take the approach of ‘Hakuna matata’ to life – loosely translated to ‘no worries’ or ‘don’t worry, be happy’. The pace of life will be slower and if you practice Hakuna matata, you will fit in very well.


Every country in the world boasts exciting opportunities and impressive diversity, but South Africa is one of the toughest to beat. Get up close and personal with the Big 5 during your placement, float over ancient mountains in a hot-air balloon, surf down the face of massive sand dunes in the desert, canoe through impressive gorges and valleys, dive with sharks off the coast, or take time to wine, dine, shop and relax – you can do it all in South Africa.

Port Elizabeth has a rich cultural heritage and offers a unique insight into the Eastern Cape’s remarkable past. It is located on the southern tip of South Africa – 800km east of Cape Town. The lodge that you will be staying at during your volunteer stint at the Game Reserve is 85km away from Port Elizabeth.

The game reserve offers a mix of accommodation to cater for a range of guests (high end tourism, to volunteers / backpackers). Students will stay in dormitory-style accommodation. The game reserve serves traditional halal African cuisine with a touch of spice. The food is absolutely divine, so you won’t be complaining of hunger that’s for sure.

There is a fabulous balaii (barbeque area) where you can spend the evenings with your fellow volunteers and get to know one another. Kick back, relax and reflect on the amazing day you had while enjoying the wonderful view over the dam.

During your time off we recommend you take a trip to Port Elizabeth. It’s also known as the “15 Minute City” – pretty much anything that you want to do, see or experience is located within 15 minutes of the airport. It is also host to many annual festivals and events so check out what’s on while you’re there and immerse yourself in a colourful community celebration.


Accommodation on the reserve is same gender, dormitory-style. There is a bed and storage space for each student. Beds are usually double bunk. The accommodation is basic but very safe and clean. There is a lounge room, fireplace and entertainment facilities. The dormitories are cleaned weekly, but students are asked to be kind and courteous and help clean up after themselves. Basic linen, pillow and blankets are provided, but a sleeping bag is a good idea. Students should bring their own towel and toiletries.

There is a small general store on site with basic foods / sweets available. There is also a common room with TV, DVD, library, tea and coffee station, and different games and activities are available. It’s a great environment to sit and make new friends, enjoy time with existing friends and reflect on the day (and the overall experience). Volunteers will hear lions roar in the background and it’s a nice place to relax. There is a pool, tennis court and large oval for personal fitness – playing sports, running, yoga or exercising.

Program Fee & Dates

2+ Weeks - Year Round
Application deadline is 60 days prior to commencement. Placements start on a Monday. If you would like to join a 3-week group program, see below for dates.
Program Fee A$ 2,579
OS-HELP A$ 6,791
November 2019 - 3 week group program
Application deadline is 60 days prior to commencement. Places are limited. Please enquire for availability.
Arrival Date11 November 2019
Departure Date30 November 2019
Program Fee A$ 3,291
OS-HELP A$ 6,791
January 2020 - 3 week group program
Application deadline is 60 days prior to commencement. Places are limited. Please enquire for availability.
Arrival Date06 January 2020
Departure Date25 January 2020
Program Fee A$ 3,291
OS-HELP A$ 6,791


Program fees include the following:
  • CISaustralia support before, during and after the program
  • Academic advising
  • Financial advice
  • Assistance with travel arrangements
  • Pre-departure guide and session
  • On-site orientation and project induction
  • Accommodation – Quality single-sex dorms with shared dining area, lounge area and kitchen area
  • Meals – Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided while you’re on the reserve
  • Cap and t-shirt
  • Weekly laundry service – R60 per kilo
  • Weekend excursion – A bus leaves every Saturday morning for those interested to spend the Saturday / Sunday in Port Elizabeth. The is no cost for transport or accommodation in PE. The bus returns to the reserve Sunday afternoon. The accommodation in PE is basic backpacker-style, near the university and not far from the beach / shorefront where you will find restaurants, eateries and places to relax and enjoy life at a different pace. Students who stay on the reserve during weekends enjoy additional day and night time game drives and star gazing.
  • 24/7 on-site support – Site Coordinator, Project Leaders and Continent Site Director
  • CISaustralia Certificate of Completion

What is not included:

  • Flights
  • Health insurance
  • Visa fees
  • Police check
  • Vaccinations (if required)
  • Activities on excursions and trips other than those mentioned above
  • Food during weekend excursions

CISaustralia reserves the right to alter fees at any time due to currency fluctuations and/or fee changes made by our partners.

Dates are for reference only and are subject to change. Please do not book flights until you have received the confirmed dates in your acceptance paperwork.

Adventure Awaits

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