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 encounter some of South Africa’s Big 5: rhinoceroses, lions, cape buffalo, 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 encounter some of South Africa’s Big 5: rhinoceroses, lions, cape buffalo, leopards and African elephants.

The program’s core focus is wildlife engagement, management, conservation and education. 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.

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: Fixed program dates each year – see the Program Fee and Dates tab (below) or contact CISaustralia for upcoming availability
  • Project Duration: 2+ weeks
  • Working Hours: Monday–Friday from 7:30am to 4pm. Hours may vary based in the weather and time of year.
  • Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa
  • Excursions: Weekend transportation and accommodation to nearby towns or cities is included. There are many additional excursions that volunteers can look to engage with over and above what’s included in the standard program.
  • Support: 24-hour on-site support from Site Coordinator and Project Leaders
  • A valid Police Check or Working With Children Check is required
  • Minimum Age: 18+
  • Language: English


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 reserve is a great place to relax, take a step back from your busy life and observe nature (and the local wildlife) up close. This education-focused program allows you to observe the local wildlife and learn from experienced Game Reserve Rangers who can give you great insight into South African wildlife, as well as the complex nature of humans existing alongside wild animals.

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.

Sample Itinerary

You will start work at approximately 10am and finish at approximately 4:30pm Monday to Friday. Your day is broken up into three parts which are as follows (please note that the morning times do change depending on Summer/Winter):

  • 7:30am-9am: Your coordinators start work at around 7:30am. They may be feeding the horses, busy in the touch farm or at the workshop. You are free to join them during this period if you would like. These times are subject to change depending on the activities for the day.
  • 10am-1pm: Project Activities
  • 2pm-4:30pm: Project Activities

All your day-to-day project activities are shown on the itinerary which is always displayed on the notice board and can also be requested from the indoor coordinator. The itinerary will show you what activity your group will be doing and at what time. If you have any suggestions, you are also free to discuss with on-site staff.

Please also take note that this is merely an outline. We ask you to understand that we are operating in a very dynamic environment and as a result the itinerary can be changed at any time. If there are any changes, volunteer coordinators on-site will let you know should this be the case.

COVID Safe Travel

The health and safety of our students is our highest priority. We take our duty of care for our students, their families and our Australian University partners seriously. For all of our program locations, we have developed a site-specific COVID-19 risk matrix and risk management and emergency response plans so that health and safety response protocols are monitored, managed and communicated.

In preparation for your overseas program, it’s important that you carefully read and understand information related to COVID-19 Travel Safety and Insurance Requirements.

CISaustralia monitors Smartraveller and reliable news feeds to keep up to date with the latest COVID information and any associated travel restrictions and entry requirements for all destinations where we have programs. Due to the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation, Government travel advice can change quickly. For the most up to date information on South Africa, visit the Smartraveller website.

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 *
  • Track and road re-building
  • Fence patrol

* Please note the school feeding does not operate during the local school holidays, and normally a week or two before and after.


On weekends you may join an excursion from Saturday to Sunday (usually leaving the Reserve at 9am Saturday and returning 4pm Sunday). Excursions will either be to Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth or other nearby destinations. On these excursions you will be provided with accommodation and transport to and from your destination. Accommodation will be in dorms, however you can upgrade yourself at your own cost.

The accommodation in Port Elizabeth 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.

Weekend excursions are a time for you to spend as you wish; however, you need to be aware of your own safety as you will not be accompanied by the on-site team. Volunteers who stay on the reserve during weekends enjoy additional day and night time game drives and stargazing.

There are many other cultural activities that volunteers can look to engage with over and above what’s included in the standard program. You can 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.

Many students look to participate in the Garden Route tour at the end of their stay (at own expense) – this is an independently booked excursion. The Garden Route tour is usually 4 to 6 days. Many tours start on a Monday out of Port Elizabeth so you can time your trip and start at the end of your program (likely overnighting in Port Elizabeth the night or two before). You may look to make a booking from Australia or you can do this when in South Africa – the on-site team can recommend a travel agent to book with. The tour is a very popular tourist activity and there are many different tourism providers that operate out of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. You will need to ensure your departing flight is adjusted if necessary, and that you allow enough time to travel back to your departing airport after the tour.


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.

Why Volunteer with CISaustralia

CISaustralia believes strongly in supporting volunteer initiatives across the world that promote sustainable and long-term societal, environmental and economic change to benefit and empower local communities.

While the term volunteering is widely known and accepted, we prefer to use the term Experiential Service Learning. This better relates to our philosophy surrounding close community engagement as well as a focus on projects that have a long-term approach and a range of positive impacts for both communities and our students. Over 98% of CISaustralia participants receive academic credit for their program abroad, which fosters a more culturally immersive and deeper reflective experience.

CISaustralia volunteering programs contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. While not every program will achieve all seventeen of the UN goals, your role as a volunteer will have a positive impact by doing work that really matters. We partner with organisations that have in-depth, first-hand knowledge and close relationships with local communities. Prior to your departure, our team in Australia will prepare you with extensive resources so you feel supported every step of the way. You will also be supported throughout your entire overseas program by our fantastic and experienced in-country staff. 

Volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience, enabling you to learn and grow on many personal and professional levels, to broaden your perspective on the world and to become a global citizen. CISaustralia prides itself in having the strongest global partners who are socially responsible and equally committed to their local communities and ethical practices. We love what we do at CISaustralia and are here to provide you with the support you need to successfully volunteer abroad – so that you can contribute to positively changing the lives of others, and yourself, along the way. Get ready for an exciting once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

Read more: Why Volunteer Abroad with CISaustralia?

Program Fee & Dates

2-4 Weeks (SET DATES ONLY)
This program is available on fixed program dates (only). Programs start on a Monday and end on a Saturday. Application deadline is 90 days prior to commencement. Please see specific start dates below or enquire for upcoming availability. Longer placements may be available on a case-by-case basis.
Application FeeA$ 95
Program Fee A$ 2,999 - 4,999
OS-HELP A$ 7,921
November-December 2024 (2 weeks)
Limited Places Available - contact CISaustralia to reserve your spot
Application Deadline26 August 2024
Arrival Date25 November 2024
Departure Date07 December 2024
Application FeeA$ 95
Program Fee A$ 2,999
OS-HELP A$ 7,921


Program fees include the following:
  • Volunteer placement and supervision
  • CISaustralia support services 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 excursions – transportation and accommodation only included, optional
  • Program risk matrix and COVID-19 risk assessment
  • Risk Management and Emergency Response Plan
  • 24/7 on-site support – Site Coordinator, Project Leaders
  • CISaustralia Certificate of Participation (available on request)

What is not included:

  • Program application fee
  • International Student Identity Card
  • Flights (CISaustralia will however provide travel guidance and support via our formal travel partner)
  • Medical insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa fees
  • Police or Working With Children Check
  • Vaccinations (if required)
  • Meals (unless mentioned above)
  • Extra travel/excursions (other than those mentioned above)

Please do not book flights until you have received the dates in your acceptance paperwork and you are confirmed on the program.

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

Adventure Awaits

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