Wildlife Conservation Volunteering with African Impact

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About

Southern Africa is known for its spectacular wildlife, and the reality certainly lives up to the dream. Yet much of this wildlife is under threat from poaching, damaging agricultural practices, and climate change. If you want to contribute to a more sustainable future and play a key role in improving the precarious conditions of endangered animals, apply for one of our conservation initiatives.

Your daily tasks can include a wide variety of activities; you can go on research game drives or boat trips to collect data, take photos of the animals in their natural habitat, observe and document animal behavior and ultimately, learn all about what it takes to protect these iconic animals.

African Impact's Top Wildlife Conservation Volunteer Programs

Questions & Answers

Reviews

92%
based on 16 reviews
  • Impact 9
  • Support 8.9
  • Fun 9.4
  • Value 9.3
  • Safety 9.4
Showing 1 - 15 of 16
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Peter
10/10

Peter Carellini - South African Experience

I'll say this right off the bat - what you will see and experience in South Africa will be unlike anything you've ever seen. The cost for this program, just to witness the incredible majesty and life of the bush, is worth it alone. If you're looking for adventure, if you're looking for true exploration that goes past trite tourism and surface level traveling, you've found your place. Contributing to research was such a simple addition to the trip, yet made all the difference - never once did I doubt that I was genuinely helping a cause. We did a spot of anti-poaching that further cemented that belief, and at that moment I knew the volunteering was concrete. I can't say any more than the staff of African Impact - guides, house staff, project managers - being absolutely perfect and hugely a reason why I look back on the adventure so fondly. It's hard not to love South Africa. It's a country of the world, offering so much; the Rainbow Nation is too apt of a name. Bring a camera.

How can this program be improved?
I would like to see more community outreach. I'd be more than okay exchanging a few game drives for opportunities to engage in the community. I know it's a bush oriented experience, but we're so close to the community that it felt slightly disappointing. I'd also encourage sending photography volunteers out with research volunteers - it would be much more helpful to the research, and help consolidate the database for wildlife pics. That pairing would also tie both sectors of work together greatly, and allow for even greater contributions to research.
Response from African Impact

Hey Peter,

Thank you for such a glowing review. We're so glad you enjoyed your trip. The photos we've been seeing on social media that you took on project are beautiful! Welcome to the alumni squad!

The African Impact Team

Yes, I recommend this program
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Hannah
9/10

Epic Photography Adventure with African Impact

I was pretty hesitant at first to volunteer in South Africa again, my first time with another company wasn't the best experience. However, volunteering with African Impact was one of the best decisions I have made.

I have been wanting to take the next step with my photography for a long time now, and finally biting the bullet and taking the African Impact Photography course was an awesome idea!

We got to do so many amazing things, and learnt so much about conservation photography.

I was stoked with the amount of opportunity we had to be out in the field and practising our skills. It really felt like we were true wildlife photographers and my photography developed so quickly over the 4 weeks, I was veeeeeeeery impressed!

My favourite thing was heading out for the over night camping trips to Klaserie and spending 24 hours in the bush looking at incredible animals - everything from elephant to leopards to wild dogs. We were very lucky to see the big 5, wild dogs, and a hyena kill all in the one day!

I also really love just chilling out at Dumela Lodge and kicking back with the other volunteers by the pool or to watch a movie together - Something that you really look forward to after the action packed weeks!

It was a very sad moment when my 4 weeks was up and I had to fly back home to Australia. I would have loved to have stayed to do it all again, but I have promised myself I will come back in the future!

How can this program be improved?
An advanced photography course would be awesome - If they had something that we could come back and do to further improve and develop our skills I would totally get around that!
Response from African Impact

Hey Hannah,

Thank you for this awesome review! We are so impressed with the photos and videos you took on project, as well as your blog! We can't wait to have you back with us in the near future.

The African Impact Team

Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Katie
2/10

Not for Young Professional Couples

We chose to join the Big 5 research project in South Africa as a couple because we wanted to spend our money consciously on our vacation, hoping to be immersed in the region much more than we would as regular tourists. Our compassion for animals extends into our everyday life, so we also wanted to visit the game reserves with conservation in mind, learning as much as we could about different species, endangered or otherwise. What the project turned out to be was much more of a glorified summer camp that approaches research and conservation in an uneven and juvenile fashion. And if you choose to stay for the shortest minimum placement of two-weeks, you'll find yourself at a significant disadvantage.

From day one, within the communal space there was an atmosphere of exclusion from the younger solo travelers as well as little direction from staff when it came to building a community at the lodge. The same can be said about project work. The activities that were assigned on our second day of arrival should have been managed by those that were long-term interns, but the groups we worked with wanted nothing to do with any task they knew was difficult. If you can believe it, there were times when those long-term interns "called front row" of the safari vehicles when we went on game drives. It's crazy for an organization like this one where you are grounded in one place for an extended period of time to casually operate in a way that never addressed the clear segregation of people staying on property. To that point, and even worse, is that we had a mid-stay feedback session after our first week where the business manager heard our concerns, said they would do something to improve our second week, and then disappeared from view. We weren't even introduced to them until that session; though he had been on leave the first week, it was still many days after he returned before we knew who they were. My husband commented in the first few days that we literally didn't know who was in charge.

It wasn't just the business manager that was an issue, other staff and guides came and went, because this time of year is apparently when everyone goes back home on leave for various reasons. Holidays are necessary and good, but when a volunteer is only here for two weeks and you never have the same manager or coordinator, and eventually are left with two assistants who are piecing together what they can as they go along, it leaves the short time we are here devoid of any connection or lasting impact, specifically for how we feel we helped with African Impact's conservation work.

Truthfully, when booking this trip, we thought it would be an eclectic group from all around the world, some younger, some older, but all ultimately interested in the same goals and interested in getting to know one another. This was so the opposite of what we experienced that I just don't know what we missed in our preliminary research of African Impact. There's really nothing wrong if parents want to send their kids here for gap years, or internship work, but when that group of travelers turns the lodge into a toxic environment of people constantly talking negatively about other volunteers or about how much they hate a guide or other staff member at African Impact, it corrodes the mission of the organization from the inside. We eventually stopped joining the group whenever we could because we just couldn't listen to the negative conversations anymore.

Even funnier and more poignant about the non-inclusive environment is that they had an event called Sundowner towards the end of our trip which we knew nothing about beforehand. Once we showed up, they asked each of us to pay 50 Rand to be in pictures shot by the photography volunteers, which you can then buy for more Rand afterward. To simply join the group or have some laughs in a photo, they wanted you to donate 50 Rand to a project called Farmers of the Future which we also knew nothing about and felt uncomfortable donating to. At this point we were so done with African Impact and the way the volunteers interacted with each other that we opted out. That left us by ourselves hanging out, while everyone else went out in a field to take photos. It was like we weren't even a part of the team.

Lastly, there are only two weekends to explore other parts of the country when you stay for the short placement time. I had asked many months in advance of our arrival if I should book tours on my own and was told that everything would be sorted on-site. What we discovered is that there have to be a certain number of people interested in a tour for it to run, the weather has to be perfect, and their tour operator has to be in town. As it turned out, literally 3 days before our scheduled tour the first weekend, the lodge manager performed so poorly at his job booking tours for us that he told us what we wanted to do was unavailable and that we had to go it alone and figure out tours for ourselves. The second week, another tour was cancelled less than 24 hours beforehand and many people had nothing to do on their last Saturday here. No other options are provided if your selected tour is cancelled.

Ultimately, the real winner here is South Africa because simply by the country being the country that it is, we were able to see the entire Big 5 and other stunning animals. I have to give major kudos to some guides from Africa on Foot in Klaserie for their passion and dedication; they allowed us to experience each animal and see their natural behaviors. I just wish there were more consistently good experiences during our time with African Impact and that the business manager had taken our feedback to heart with obvious action.

We loved South Africa and all of our experiences with the animals; it's a place not to be missed. But I would highly recommend that any young professional couples stay far away from African Impact and definitely this program in particular. Book a lodge in Kruger, rent a car for yourself, drive around the dirt roads to spend time with animals, or join one of Kruger National Park's many activities. You'll fly home with cherished memories minus the drama.

Response from African Impact

Hello Katie,

We are so sorry to hear that your stay on our Big 5 project in South Africa was disappointing and thank you for your honest feedback on this platform. We did get in touch with the project team there to follow up on what went wrong and apologize profusely that your two-week stay was not what you expected. While we cannot guarantee the ages or backgrounds of our volunteers throughout the year (volunteering is open to everyone), we understand that our Business Managers were on leave during the first week of your placement and believe this had a big impact on your experience.. Our teams work round-the-clock all year and rarely get time to take leave, but we felt confident in the remaining staff members to hold the fort and ensure the smooth running of the project. This did not happen, and the staff members in question have since been spoken to regarding their conduct and professionalism. We feel confident that this situation has been dealt with on-the-ground, but apologize once more that it affected your experience in South Africa. We would be happy to chat further regarding your stay and value any feedback you have to offer. Thank you,

The African Impact Team

No, I don't recommend this program
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Célia
10/10

Wonderful

I think this adventure is the greatest experience I’ve never had.
I met amazing people (staff, volunteers,..)
The staff helps you to feel good.
That project is very enriching.
Zambia is a very beautiful country with its landscapes and animals.
There are a lot of activities like safari’s, zipline, bundy jump, microlight, helicopter, walk with lions.
I went to the church and I liked it so much, I met local people, they sing and dance. I really can recommand you to try the church,

I’ll be back for sure

Response from African Impact

Hey there Célia,
We're so happy to hear you had a great experience and really embraced the African culture. We hope to see you back with us soon. In the meantime, keep in touch and welcome to our Alumni squad.
The African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
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Christopher
10/10

Amazing time with Photography Project

I had an amazing 4 weeks at the beautiful Dumela Lodge and was able to improve my (wildlife) photography, had superb animal sightings and loads of fun with the other volunteers and staff members (e.g. on one of the many provided weekend activities).
The schedule is well balanced and interesting throughout the weeks.
Local staff is very professional (as is the whole organization African Impact) and helpful.
The lodge we stayed in is great and very luxurious, especially for a volunteering location (pool, fireplace, little garden, lounge with projector...).

Overall from my experiences I can definitely recommend this program and would also recommend other projects that are run by African Impact without having experienced them myself.
Especially if you are a wildlife and photography enthusiast, this is the best pick for you!

Response from African Impact

Hey Chris,
We're so happy to hear that you loved spending time at Dumela. Keep in touch and welcome to the Alumni squad!
The African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
Max
10/10

Some of the best four weeks of my life

I can only recommend the Photography Project in the Greater Kruger Area, it was perfect for me in every way. It was amazing to spend so much time on Game drives either in the near Buffaloland or in Klaserie, where you will actually spend the night camping in tents after a tasty dinner and campfire talks. At both day- and nighttime we have gotten many chances to put the things we learned in the classes to practical use. For me, especially the Macro Photography Bushwalks in the early mornings let me have a look into a world I have never really looked into before. Thanks to the honest, constructive and frequent critique sessions we had many chances to improve our photos.
It was so nice meeting so many different people from all over the world, volunteers and staff, which made my stay in the Dumela Lodge unforgettable. We spent so much time together, both on the project as well as in weekend activities. During the week, asides from the Game Drives, Bushwalks, classes, critiques, and presentations, we gave one to one English classes in a school nearby, played with the kids, removed invasive plants in the bush and worked in a garden designed to teach young African's how to grow and harvest plants. On the weekends, there are many options you can choose from, as long as enough other volunteers want to go as well. Going on hikes, taking a trip to Swaziland, more Game Drives in the Kruger Park, taking a microlight flight and a town trip to Hoedspruit are some of the numerous options.
I can't wait to go back to South Africa and hope to see you there :)

Response from African Impact

Hey Max,

We're so glad to hear you had a wonderful time. Keep in touch and we hope to see you again on project in the future!

The African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
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Marvin
9/10

The best way to travel

I decided join the Dumela family at Kruger for my sabbatical and had several goals in mind:
- do somethng comletely different than what I do professionally
- work on a sustainable / environmental issue
- find like minded people
-discover the beauty and culture of the country
-don't get stressed
-enhance my skills as photographer
The Photography Programm from African Impact at Dumela turned out to be the perfect choice to achieve all that. From day one you felt like home, still in an professional environment where volunteering doesn't mean partying but real work; 8 hours a day, five days a week. At the weekends they offer a great variety of trips and tours where you can discover the surrounding area and get to know your volunteer friends in a more relaxed atmosphere. What I liked most about the whole program is that by all the explanations the staff gives you, you can enlarge your knowledge, get aware of the real environmental challenges the country faces, you find loads of spectacular facts and "wonders" of nature and at the same time understand that your daily work adds up to a massive impact. As they have research, community and photography projects in one place you'll also learn a lot about the other's work and the schedule offers plenty of opportunities to collaborate and at the same time document their doing by taking pictures.
It's in every regard a very special time you'll definitely enjoy!!!

Response from African Impact

Hey Marvin,

Thank you for this wonderful feedback and the awesome photographs attached! Keep in touch and we hope to see you again.

The African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Sophie
10/10

An unforgettable experience on the photography project

The month I spent on the photography project in summer 2017 was truly fantastic. It is a totally different experience volunteering compared with your standard safari style holiday. Not only do you encounter amazing animals, you learn the importance of conserving their environments and the research being done to aid this in addition to how your images can also benefit this. Without a doubt you will be taking better shots with more confidence by the end of your stay. The project had a great variety of activities, challenging your photography skills using a range of repertoires and settings, giving a well rounded experience. I loved the opportunities to do community work and bush clearing in addition to the drives at the reserves.

It was great to meet such a variety of people from all over the world. The lodge and all of the staff were fantastic with all the staff really passionate about the work they are doing which is essential for a project like this.

I came away from this project with a completely different understanding of how I can use photography and enhanced my passion for the subject, so much so it has completely changed my plans for the future. I cannot wait to get back there!

How can this program be improved?
Just continue what you are already doing with the passion you already have.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Anna
10/10

African Impact - Photography Course

I had an amazing time on the photography course African Impact offer in summer 2017. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime - we saw so many amazing animals, were given the best advice for getting the best photos possible, and all around had an amazing month in South Africa. The extra trips offered on weekends were great too, as there was a big variety of things to do. I'd love to go back, and hopefully will do soon!

How can this program be improved?
Continue to offer everything I was offered; maintaining the level of care I got will ensure that all new volunteers feel as comfortable as possible.
Response from African Impact

Hi Anna,

Thank you for this feedback and for this heartwarming suggestion. Hopefully you still look back at your photos and remember your time with us. We hope to see you soon!

The African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
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Lorena
10/10

Wonderfull experience

To go to africa and to african impact was one of the best choices i made in my life. The photography project helped me a lot to understand my camera and to get used to lightroom. To work in such an amazing place for one month, with the animals and the beautiful landscape gave me a lot of awesome memories. The staff and the people I met during this time were just great. To volunteer with african impact means to work hand in hand with people, nature and animals. And I had the possibility to do what I love, beeing able to spend hours and hours in the nature with wild animals and my camera and just live in the moment.
I am thankfull for every minute I passed at this beautiful place.

Response from African Impact

Hey Lorena,

Your photographs attached are beautiful! Thank you for spending time with us and for making your impact in wildlife conservation. We hope to have you back with us in the near future. Keep in touch!

The African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
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Samuel
10/10

The Best Way to Experience Africa

Previous to me volunteering at African Impact, my experiences with Africa where purely based around safari holidays and photographic expeditions. What I didn't realize was just how these trips had blinkered me from a much wider and more encompassing experience.

The photography project was perfectly in line with my own personal opinions and viewpoints of photography and ethical approaches to wildlife, and it was nice to be taken back to basics and to rebuild my skills and creative techniques with more focus. Getting to know more about the research being done and, in particular, the community was fantastic and knowing how photography aided these projects was great. The fact that our photographs weren't just for our own use but making an 'impact' too, it reaffirmed my love and passion for photography and opened my eyes up to just how important this artistic medium can be if correctly tapped into.

The lodge was beautiful, all staff were enthusiastic, passionate and kind, the food was plentiful and tasty. The worst thing was having to say goodbye to people who had become more like family by the end of a short four week stay.

How can this program be improved?
Keep doing what everyone's doing. Don't settle or tread water, keep pushing and looking for new innovative ways and avenues to carry on making an impact.
Response from African Impact

Hey Sam,

Thank you for such an awesome review. We're so happy that you've joined the African Impact family!

Your African Impact team

Yes, I recommend this program
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Pablo
10/10

Experience of a Lifetime

Volunteering with African Impact in their Big 5 Wildlife Research and Conservation program is the best thing I've done! I had always dreamed of experiencing Africa's wild in person, so my expectations for this program were very high. To my delight, African Impact surpassed these expectations. There were all sorts of magical experiences in the bush: encountering a leopardess and her cub, eating and talking around a bonfire while an elephant ate just a few yards away, and sleeping in tents to the sounds of lions, elephants and hyenas. African Impact is very professional and I felt safe at all times. Dumela Lodge is a great place to stay and the food is really nice. I highly recommend this program.

How can this program be improved?
The only negative experience I had was the day I arrived when we were picked up in Johannesburg airport by an African Impact third party. They were not very organized nor hospitality, so our arrival to Africa for the first time was a discouraging and a little bit distressing. Nonetheless, I understand that this has been changed and volunteers now arrive to Nelspruit airport, so I hope this situation is better now.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Kath
9/10

Photography project of a lifetime!

What a fantastic way to learn and practise wildlife photography! The best experience out of my many best experiences here in Vic Falls was staying out in Zambezi National Park Cottages, with wildlife wandering past. The first day I couldn't get enough of photographing the baboons climbing on the roof and peering through the (barred!) windows, but I have to say it was the elephants that stole my heart. Sitting at the table on the porch and watching a herd of elephants wander past between us and the Zambezi river around 60m away was amazing. Even more amazing was peering cautiously around the edge of the house at a massive elephant feeding on ivory nuts by head-butting an ilala tree RIGHT next to the cottage! And I learnt so much about photography - there was a professional photographer who basically custom-designed a programme for me. We went and took photos of the vulture-feeding at Safari Lodge, hung out at the Vic Falls Golf Course to practise on birds and antelope, did Victoria Falls at dawn, and then I got some great editing tuition on Lightroom. Oh - and I haven't mentioned walking with lions, visiting the local orphanage, giving a lesson on lion conservation at the local primary school (outside under a tree), and going for game counts in Zambezi National Park. Oops... running out of room, but programme is flexible, and staff are extremely helpful, friendly, and safety-conscious. What do I remember most? Sitting at the table on the porch after dinner and seeing hyaena and genet wander around the corner of the cottage. Actually, so many memories (all recorded on my camera). It's made my photography leap ahead, actually - but I spent hours and hours on the photos after the trip, doing a photobook, and choosing a few photos to print. Great experience!

How can this program be improved?
It would have been great if there were a few more photography volunteers to share photos and tips with.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Stephen
9/10

Miss the lion cubs

How hard are you prepared to work on your holiday? I ask because you're only going to get as much out of volunteering as you put in - and Lion Encounter provides you with many, many opportunities to help the lions as well as the local communities and schools - if you're ready!

I have always had a passion for big cats, especially lions and tigers - but have only ever been able to see them at the zoo or in pictures. I wanted hands on experience with lions, but not at a tourist zoo, I wanted a project that was making at difference to save wild lions - and Lion Encounters 4 Stage release program matched my wishes.

Spending time with the lion cubs each day was a dream come true, but this would not be possible without the amazing staff they have onsite - from the co-ordinators, lion handlers to the kitchen staff - all very friendly, happy and willing to assist with your stay in any way possible!

I'm not a morning person, but getting up for 5:30am to feed the cubs their morning milk was not a chore - seeing the cubs lap up their milk as the sun started to rise was an amazing experience.

The day is divided into three blocks - morning, mid-morning and afternoon. Each day was different with a variety of activities, from lion walks to meat prep, school visits to cook stove making, enclosure cleaning to visiting the pride of lions at Stage 2, and more.

Time off can also be arranged - I went White Water Rafting with some of the other volunteers - something I never thought I would do! I was nervous at first, but after making the first rapid successfully, it was so much fun!

I could go on, but best to go and experience the project for yourself - who knows, maybe I'll see you there - I'm sure I'll go back again!

How can this program be improved?
The accommodation is very modest - some days water didn't work in the morning (fixed when maintenance arrived) or the wifi stopped working (boo hoo, not a big deal).

Any of the small inconveniences were easily forgotten after a rewarding day of activities and visiting the lions.

I usually stay at 5 star resorts - but was happier than I've ever been out in the middle of the national park with just the basics!
Yes, I recommend this program
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Sarah
10/10

Rhino and Elephant Research- Amazing Experience

It is really difficult to put into words how fantastic this entire experience was. I recently returned from three weeks and Thanda and found it exceeded my expectations.

I was very very nervous, having never traveled much before, and certainly never having traveled alone. But from the minute I landed in Durban and was greeted by African Impacted staff, I felt completely at ease. Everything was explained right away, I was never guessing where I needed to be or what I needed to be doing. The staff there is incredible. Everyone from the guides to the business managers to the cooks was incredibly friendly and helpful and cheerful. The happiness and joy is contagious, even when you are in a new environment and very jet-lagged!

The first day included a lot of orientation. All of the information we needed was presented to us, which was a LOT of information, but necessary to have. The project aims orientation was very intense as well; there is a lot to learn and remember! I would definitely recommend reading through the information they give you via email ahead of time!

I felt like I really knew the importance of the data we were collected, and exactly how it was being used. It was great that members of the wildlife management team, the ecologist, APU, etc, were often stopping by for dinner or joining us on projects. It allowed us to really understand everything that goes into maintaining a healthy reserve and how the work we were doing helped this.

I feel like I accomplished quite a bit in three weeks, and I left feeling like I had really done my part towards a cause I care greatly about! On top of that, I had so much fun! Great friends, great times. All together, a life changing experience.

How can this program be improved?
Honestly, nothing comes to mind! Accommodations are great, food is great. No complaints!
Yes, I recommend this program

About African Impact

African Impact pioneered responsible volunteer travel in Africa back in 2004 and have since grown into the largest provider of volunteer projects on the continent. Proudly African, they work hand-in-hand with local communities to establish, develop...