Award Winning Endangered Wildlife Volunteer Programs in South Africa - Wildlife ACT

Video and Photos

Photo of a huge elephant with broad tusks
Photo of a huge elephant with broad tusks
Small pride of 5 lions on a track
Small pride of 5 lions on a track
Giraffe mother with two yearlings
Giraffe mother with two yearlings
Young male lion in Tembe.
My Mkuze crew!

About

Get directly involved in some of the most exciting & important conservation work being done in Zululand, South Africa - an area which resounds with the heartbeat of Africa and which is one of the most diverse & productive wildlands on Earth. Join Wildlife ACT on the ground to save endangered & priority wildlife species: African Painted Wolves, Rhino, Cheetah, Elephants, Lions, Leopards, Vultures and more. It’s Real Africa, Real Conservation, and the experience of a lifetime. Ages 18 to 70+ If you want to visit the real African wilderness and be part of real wildlife volunteer work, Wildlife ACT is looking for you.

Our Fair Trade Tourism certified projects are conducted on national game reserves in South Africa. Wildlife ACT was recognized for their conservation work by being awarded Second Place for a World Responsible Tourism Award in the category “Best for Wildlife”
and Second Place for an African Responsible Tourism Award in the category “Best for Habitat & Species Conservation"

Highlights
  • Fair Trade Tourism Certified
  • World Responsible Tourism Awards winner 2018
  • African Responsible Tourism Awards winner 2017
  • Rhino Conservation Awards 2017 Winner
  • Partnered with WWF, Wildlands, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Wildlife Conservation Network, Panthera & others

Questions & Answers

Hi Sheillah, Thank you for your query. We get a lot of people asking about employment opportunities within Wildlife ACT. With the conservation environment being as dynamic as it is, and with our goal to expand our conservation efforts, we are always interested in keeping potential candidates on file for when the need arises. We do, however, mainly look for potential wildlife monitors who are...

Reviews

97%
based on 38 reviews
  • Impact 9.4
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.3
  • Value 9.1
  • Safety 9.2
Showing 1 - 15 of 38
Default avatar
Annika
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Most amazing time of my life

I have been twice to iMfolozi-Hwluluwe now with Wildlife ACT and both times I have had the time of my life!
To be in the bush for 2 weeks, to see the animals roaming free and wild and knowing you are supporting this, is truly the best feeling.
I have learned so much from the monitors and I felt I really contributed to the welfare of the animals living in the reserve. Every day was a new adventure and every day was different, and I will never forget the beautiful sunrises in the bush and the sounds of all animals in the evening and morning!
I will be back definitely!
I can highly recommend to join Wildlife ACT in one of their projects, because they work very hard to protect the precious wildlife and they are so motivated.
I will definitely go back in the future!

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Changing the collar of a cheetah will be something I will remember for the rest of my life!
Anton
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing experience with Wildlife ACT

My two weeks with Wildlife ACT surpassed any of my expectations of what I was heading in to. Getting involved in a research group and taking part of the daily monitoring of endangered species was so rewarding and fun as well. The opportunity to spend fourteen days in the bush with a mission to help researchers with conservation of wildlife, is an opportunity I would recommend everybody to take. A typical day is getting up early in the morning heading out with the jeep and target one of the focused groups, say a lion, with monitoring equipment. While this task is being performed the sun rises, the birds and insects start their day and the forest are buzzing with life. When the lion is found; time, place, behaviour and other data is collected and then the search for some other species is started. In that way it continues along with encounters of other animals that is also fantastic to see. It was truly an amazing experience for me and I will definitely go back when time is given in the future.

Bram
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Proffesional and educative wildlife conservation programm

I had an absolute amazing experience with Wildlife ACT.
The way the projects are organized is very personal and efficient. You get to visit several nature reserves in Kwazulu-Natal which is a stunning natural region.
The contribution you have with the small groups together with the professional and enthusiastic monitors feels very important.
You will help WACT with everything thats most urgent and they will learn you a lot about the nature and everything that matters for wildlife conservation.
This unique exhange of work and knowlegde is of great importance to gain attention on wildlife conservation.
Personally, the best thing of WACT is that the result of what they are doing is just for the african wildlife. Nothing more, nothing less.

Default avatar
Simone
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The volunteering, hands-on, impactful experience

If you are wondering about having a real, impactful, meaningful way to spend your vacation helping with conservation - this is a (if not the) great opportunity.

The teams are small, you get to interact a lot with your monitor and colleagues on the back of the car, you get to know how the conservation work with ecologists, rangers, reserve managers is run and monitoring animals and animal populations is just ... great and worth every minute spent outside, in the back of the car. The monitors are really skilled, both academically and in practice. there are lots of good stories, hands-on work collecting data about the animals in the reserves and great visuals - sunrise, sunset, etc.

It is well invested money, it is worth spent the time. I came back with a completely different picture of conservation work, and why I would go back to Africa or other continent to watch nature. Every hand was helpful there, and I came back thinking about my return.

What would you improve about this program?
Volunteers come to help and, of couse, see the animals. If it happens that one reserve has a certain condition that we don't get to see anything, it would be good to have a discussion after some days, if the volunteers could not be rotated to other reserve.
Default avatar
Tina
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Life Changing Experience!

My experiences with Wildlife Act have been absolutely amazing and unforgettable; an experience like this is something that will stay with you forever, and I guarantee you’ll leave a piece (or two) of your heart in South Africa. With these projects, you get to be part of real conservation, learning from amazingly dedicated and knowledge wildlife monitors, being part of a small team of international volunteers, and of course seeing the wildlife in their natural setting. There is nothing like having an African elephant walk past you, seeing a lion out roaming around, or spotting the African wild dog pack; an experience most people will never have. Most days you will be up before the sun and out on the truck all bundled up in the dark, which means you’ll be taking in the stunning sunrises; the morning tea/coffee break will become a favourite time of the day. You will use telemetry equipment, a GPS device, and learn about triangulation (it’s not scary) to help in finding your priority and endangered animals, making notes on tracks (spoor) you come across on your journey if the monitor deems it important. Though sometimes you may not find the animals you are looking for, or you may spend a couple of hours waiting for a lion to wake-up from their afternoon nap, there is no shortage of things to see; there is ample bird life, plants and trees, as well as other animals all around the reserves. While you might be out searching for the wild dogs/lions/cheetah or other animals, you just might run into a curious spotted hyena, or see a vulture having a meal, or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a hippo or leopard cross your path. Generally you go out twice a day, and the only thing that beats that stunning sunrise, is the sunset (just something about them in South Africa) followed by the giant open sky filled with stars. You spend your spare time in the afternoons and evenings back at camp with your team, often relaxing or chatting and cooking/braaing. Each time you go out, you know that the information you are gathering and the sightings you are part of, is actually used towards real African conservation; you being there is making a difference, plus it’s really cool and fun.

Read my full story
Default avatar
Anne
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Will definitely be back

I spend two weeks with Wildlife Act and it was an incredible experience.

Seeing the animals in the natural habitat was a treat in itself, but obviously something that can be done in many ways - but for me, Wildlife Act was the perfect way to enjoy the wildlife while doing something worthwhile.

We stayed at the research facility, so we got to see the data we collected actually being put into use. It was also great to have the extra people around. Sitting around the bry at night, eating kudo, drinking beer and chatting to the researchers was a lot of fun.

We had two monitors. They were incredibly different, but both of them really brought something unique to the experience. Marumo and Mike are passionate and knowledgeable and truly taught me a lot. They're also good company - we definitely had fun while working.

And hey, coming home you even start to miss having a toad or a lizard in the shower with you.

I'm definitely an experience richer!

What would you improve about this program?
We could have had a bit more work to do. I did like being able to chill and just sit in the moment, but I wouldn't have minded a few extra tasks. Even data-entry or stuff like that - just something more to keep us busy and make us earn our sundowner.
Default avatar
FLORENCE
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

An experience that makes you better

I participated to monitoring animals as a volunteer at Tembe and Imfolozi.
These experiences have been very meaningful to me and I hope I made a contribution. All I want is to come back to improve and help more.
Some volunteers are amazing and become real experts with telemetry. As for me, I realized that I could spend hours waiting under the sun, to see through binoculars if a cheetah had stopped napping and had decided to make a move. You learn patience. You learn to put yourself aside for the mission. You feel so small compared to the beauty, frailty and greatness and truth of the wildlife. You feel it in your guts and marrow and heart. And in helping, you become greater than what you are. As a volunteer, you share the monitors workload. Monitors who are so young, multitasks, responsible. It is a privilege to be with such beautiful people, in such beautiful places. For me, it would have been a mistake not to be in the field with WildlifeAct.

Default avatar
Sandy
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Real Conservation Work

If you are looking for a wildlife conservation volunteer program in which you will be participating in the active conservation of threatened and/or endangered species for a decent price and not simply going on a safari, I would HIGHLY recommend Wildlife ACT. This organization works primarily in five different parks (Tembe, Hluhluwe, iMfolozi, uMkhuze, Manyoni) in Zululand, a region located in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I am currently a student majoring in Wildlife Conservation and Management, and thus naturally wanted to do something related to the animals with which I will likely be working one day. It was also my first time in Africa overall, and I can only say this is easily one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far in my undergraduate career as it’s opened numerous other doors and given me contacts for potential future internships or research. The primary reasons I chose this program over others I looked at are as follows:

1) the description of the work they do appealed to me (see below)
2) the program is dedicated to avoiding any physical contact with wildlife; hence be assured you won’t be lured into one of those volunteer programs that mask as conservation but are actually associated with bad industries such as that of canned lion hunting or cub petting
3) the affiliates are well known (ex. such as Panthera; it’s my dream to work with big
cats one day so that was a big plus)
4) positive reviews online
5) it was one of the cheaper options

Also, if you want to see my list of pros and cons as opposed to reading through this whole review, scroll down.

I ended up working as an intern for four weeks in June, and participated in two of their projects. The first was the Endangered Species Conservation Project, and the second was the Leopard Conservation Census. The Endangered Species Conservation Project works on the five reserves previously stated; each reserve accepts a maximum of five volunteers at a given time, and groups rotate every two weeks between parks (thus you will also likely have a new group every two weeks). The Leopard Conservation Census works on said reserves in addition to the Eastern Shores section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park and several other areas. Nonetheless, they only perform their camera trap surveys at one location at a time, and then rotate every two months.

For my first two weeks with the Endangered Species Conservation Project, I was placed at Tembe Elephant Park. The landscape is mostly bush with some open savannah-type plains. The actual work itself consists of monitoring in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings that includes telemetry equipment (i.e. radio collars), camera traps, tracking/recording of data, and data entry and sorting once back at camp. Morning excursions typically last from ~5 am to about 10 or 12 in the afternoon; evening sessions are shorter and more varied in terms of time (I’d say the average was 2-3 hours). As for afternoons, we would also go on elephant monitoring sessions, though these excursions were more intended as a “break” for the volunteers since the park employee who took us on those did most of the work. After each long day, we were all typically in bed between 8 and 9 after finishing dinner. Overall, though, it depends on the day and the respective projects that monitors are working on when you’re there. If you’re fortunate enough like I was, you will also have the opportunity to participate in translocating an animal, radio collaring, or other activities that arise when needed. Keep in mind also that this is not intended to be a safari like what tourists experience, so getting up early (between ~4 and 5 every morning) will be the norm in addition to potentially having to leave camp unexpectedly at a moment’s notice. As an example, Tembe has two camps, one in the northern part of the park and one in the south. The southern camp is the main one, though at one point we had to leave for the northern camp for the weekend as the lions we were monitoring resided there. The day after we returned south, we awoke to a note from our monitor at 5:00 in the morning telling us to be ready within an hour to head back up north again. Not only did this require packing our bags the day after we had come back, but it also required packing up all the remaining food we had left. Though such situations can be slightly stressful, it is all highly worth it. As for accommodation, included are a full kitchen/dining area, living room area, cozy wooden cabins with comfortable and clean beds, showers with hot water, flushing toilets, and a “braai” (barbecue) area outside. There was also a local Zulu woman who did our laundry for a small price (merely 20 Rand, the equivalent of $1.50). Signal is amazing too, it’s a low-risk malaria area, and water is safe to drink from the tap. There were even fewer bugs and mosquitoes than I had thought would be present. Overall everything was much, much better than what I had expected. As for food, volunteers cook their own meals; quite a bit of creativity comes in with people from all over the world! Any dietary requirements you have will be taken into account as well. As for grocery shopping, monitors head to the closest town once a week every Monday to buy food and typically take one or two volunteers with them. They operate on a strict budget, so not included are “luxury” items like chocolate and candy; you’ll have to pay for these yourself (everything’s pretty cheap though). Moreover, we always had instant coffee, tea, and rusks (a traditional South African biscuit) during our breaks on morning monitoring sessions. Finally, be aware also that some work can be unpleasant (such as tying raw carcasses next to camera traps to lure animals in, or feeding animals in bomas), though if it makes you uncomfortable you won't be pressured into doing it.

During my second two weeks I worked on the Leopard Conservation Census sponsored by Panthera at Eastern Shores, iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The diversity of ecosystems here is incredible and far richer than at Tembe, ranging from savannah and Bornean-type forest, to marshland and the beach. This one was strictly focused on camera trapping. A typical day consisted of leaving camp at 7:00 am to check camera traps/collect the data and returning at around 11 or 12 in the afternoon. The rest of the day was then dedicated to sorting thousands of photos and identifying individual leopards. Approximately two days of the week were also dedicated to only working on data as opposed to heading out into the field. The food situation and accommodation were equally as nice as Tembe with the exception that we lived in one large house as opposed to a camp with separate cabins. There was also hardly any signal, laundry was done in town (St. Lucia) at a laundromat, and water from the tap wasn’t safe to drink; we had to buy it. Overall this project had far more free time and less diversity of activities; thus I enjoyed my time at Tembe more. Free time typically consisted of heading to the beach (5 minute drive away), and my volunteer group also spent a 3 day “mini vacation” in St. Lucia our second week. Thus, I would say that if you are interested in going into a career in wildlife conservation like I am, it might not be a bad idea to participate in both projects described above (again, especially considering the affiliates). However, if you simply want to volunteer because you’re passionate about conservation, I would only participate in the Endangered Species Conservation Project and not the Leopard Conservation Census simply given the larger diversity of experiences and less free-time in the former. Don’t be scared off too quickly from participating in the leopard census, though: this is, after all, the largest leopard camera trap survey in the world!

To conclude, it’s definitely worth giving a huge shout-out to the phenomenal monitors and staff of Wildlife ACT. There are only a total of 12 monitors, two per project (stationed at the five reserves of the Endangered Species Conservation Project in addition to the two working with the leopard census). Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon for one of the two monitors to be on leave, so you might have only one most of the time you’re there. Moreover, because of the small group sizes, you will get more individual attention from your supervisor(s). As an intern, for example, my monitors took the extra time to teach me and answer any additional questions I had since I want to go into wildlife conservation as a career. Overall, the entire experience was very well organized and stress-free from booking at the start to the final day when we were dropped back off at the airport. It also felt safe and secure; the monitors are well-trained on how to handle potentially dangerous situations in the bush, camps are fenced, and volunteers are trained on what to do in case of an emergency. Staff will additionally ensure you are moved safely from one project to another on transport days at the end of every two weeks, and also when you are in town to go grocery shopping. You will see some of the most beautiful landscapes, have some crazy stories to tell from your encounters with animals in the bush, help protect among the most majestic wildlife in the world, and work with some of the most amazing people. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!

Pros:
- PHENOMENAL monitors that are well-trained, and amazing people you get to work with! Awesome getting to know individuals from so many different cultures
- Small group sizes mean you get more individual attention if you have a personal goal related to conservation work
- Gain valuable experience into what it looks like working in conservation. Along those lines, collect data and contribute to actual conservation, distinguishing you from a tourist
- For the Endangered Species Conservation Project, learn a variety of techniques used in conservation and experience a variety of reserves (depending on how long you stay)
- Amazing accommodations
- Well-known affiliates (WWF, Panthera, Project Rhino KZN, etc.)
- Well-organized and safe/secure, volunteers are taught what to do in an emergency
- Decent price for the experience you get ($1,417 for the first 2 weeks, an additional $1,012 for every 2 weeks thereafter. Note that’s excluding flights, though)

Cons:
- Internships are not research-oriented, their primary purpose is to provide insight into what a day in the life of a conservationist might look like. The only thing distinguishing you from the other volunteers is that you need to write a 2-3 page report on any conservation topic of your choice
- Occasionally a little too much free-time I thought; this was primarily the Leopard Conservation Census though. While some was definitely nice, it might have been good to incorporate some afternoon sessions on ecology, animal behavior, etc.
- Less diversity of experiences on the Leopard Conservation Census

What would you improve about this program?
See review above
Default avatar
Daniel
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

An amazing two weeks!

I spent two weeks with Wildlife ACT at Tembe Elephant Park, and loved every minute of it! Despite only being there for a really short time, I saw a huge range of wildlife, including the resident wild dog pack (so beautiful!) and lots of lions.

It was great to be able to contribute to the research and conservation effort too, rather than being just a tourist. Volunteers help in all sorts of ways, providing vital funding through the donation; helping create ID kits; locating collared animals using radio telemetry; setting up camera traps and much more. If you're really lucky as I was, you might get to participate in call-ups or relocations of key species, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

They have a fantastic research team in Hayden and Dani (supported by Leo), as well as great working relationships with other park and support staff. There's also excellent support before you get there from Bronwen and co in the office, who will answer any question you have, but honestly almost everything is provided up front in the volunteer information.

As a frequent traveller and former volunteer coordinator for another organisation, I was really impressed by Wildlife ACT. Lots of information offered up front and they really care about the cause. It's genuinely rare to find an organisation which ticks all these boxes, and still have a lot of fun while you're out there! Accommodation and facilities were also way better than expected.

I have already recommended Wildlife ACT to friends and I’d love to go back one day again!

What would you improve about this program?
One minor criticism I had of the facilities was that there was no recycling on site, and the electricity was entirely from the grid (rather than any use of solar). While it was a remote location and so recycling would be difficult, it's not impossible. I personally would have paid a bit more if it had gone towards making the camp more environmentally sustainable long term.
Default avatar
Tami
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Unforgettable

If you had told me two months ago I would PAY to get up before dawn, ride on bumpy roads in the back of an open truck in 50 degree weather, struggle through a water shortage, marinate in bug spray to avoid mozzi bites, drag dead aromatic carcasses around (all in the name of conservation), and live without TV, music, and a lot of times Internet, I would have called you crazy!
If you asked me if I was ready to go back today - I would ask how soon can I leave?!

Wildlife Act is simply phenomenal. From emailing before my departure, to organizing every transport Monday, answering all my questions and providing a truly ethical conservation experience - they by far exceeded all my expectations.

Mkuze, PJ, and Cole are amazing. PJ is a passionate monitor who is simply fun to be around. Long mornings, short mid-day breaks, and long evenings were never boring and worth every moment. At times it was heart-breaking, Seeing snared animals, watching animals struggle through the drought) other times amusing, (dealing with marauding vervet monkeys, watching the wild dogs play before a hunt) but at all times an experience I will never regret or forget.

Tembe's uniqueness is breath-taking. Hayden, Dani, and Leo were all a joy to be around. The elephants are beautiful and plentiful and monitoring sessions with Leo never disappoint; the sand lions simply gorgeous. The lion call up was awe-inspiring, and the wild dogs have my heart.
The accommodations are simple and adequate. Trust me, exhausting days make the beds FEEL like heaven! Both camp sites were kept as clean as possible - and yes - you are expected to pitch in and clean up after yourself as well. The food is more than enough, and I lost 5 lbs I believe because of the very lean venison we ate daily! Volunteers cook for themselves (and the monitor) and that experience is a true treat. The coming together of different nationalities introduced me to some wonderful culinary experiences.

The training is hands on and all the monitors are patient and helpful. The days are long, BUT I can honestly say my four weeks was not long enough. The feeling you get when you successfully use the telemetry equipment and track down collared animals to the point you get a visual is sheer triumph. I even miss the data entry - an important part of Wildlife Act's mission to protect and strengthen endangered species.

If a safari is on your bucket list, and you don't need 5 star accommodations, take your experience further by being apart of a global concern - endangered species conservation. Join Wildlife Act for an adventure of a lifetime!

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

Make an impact with a dedicated group of conservationists

The impact that Wildlife ACT is making can be felt from day 1, run by experienced staff who truly love working to conserve endangered species. They don't spend money on fancy accommodations or padding the wallets of their owners. The founders of this group still work in the field, doing the dirty, dangerous work on the front lines, with scant resources, fueled by volunteers and dedication. A favorite experience, among so many, was feeding the cheetah in the boma, who was awaiting his release into the reserve. Or sitting for 30 minutes at camp, midday, within 10 feet of a young nyala buck, just spending quiet time and getting some incredible photos. Night drives are an exciting part, and the lookout tower offers amazing vistas. The primary goal each day is to find and monitor critically endangered animals on the reserve, and this paid off as we found that one of the female wild dogs had a wire snare around her neck. We tranquilized her and removed the deadly snare, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can't recommend this hard-working group enough, if you want to really make a difference and learn a lot as you do.

What would you improve about this program?
the camp at uMkhuze is pretty rustic and it could use better kitchen, bathroom and bunk facilities, but it kind of adds to the african bush experience, so I don't know if I'd change it too much.
Default avatar
Jennifer
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A legitimate conservation organization doing good work

This review is about the volunteer program with Wildlife ACT, a wildlife conservation organization in South Africa. When I was doing research looking for information about volunteer programs, I found there were not a lot of detailed reviews, so I hope this will help others because it is a big decision when you're thinking about spending 2 - 12 weeks or more living and working with an organization in another country. I spent 6 weeks with them, 2 weeks at each of 3 game reserves, in Nov 2014-Jan 2015. This review is long but believe me I could have written a lot more!

The Organization: The most important thing for me was to find a legitimate organization that did real conservation work that actually helped the animals. In my searches online I found a lot of organizations that called themselves "volunteer" organizations, that claimed to do great work, but most of them sounded to me like they were really just trying to make profits off of tourists by inventing "conservation projects" and convincing people they were doing something helpful. Many of these fake volunteer organizations put their "volunteers" up in luxury safari lodges and serve them gourmet food and that kind of thing. Some let the volunteers play with baby animals like lion cubs and claim it is getting them ready to be introduced back into the wild. After seeing the documentary "Blood Lions" which exposes these fraudulent organizations, I'm so glad I listened to my instincts about those. Anyway, I picked the right place. Wildlife ACT is a legitimate organization that exists for the right reasons and does good work protecting endangered species. It existed before it had a volunteer program, but they had a hard time finding funding to pay for their work. They provide their services free to many of the public and private game reserves in KwaZulu Natal, and the game reserves all want them there and are thrilled to have their services, but do not have the ability to pay for the services. So Wildlife ACT came up with a way to get funds and get some help at the same time by starting their volunteer program. They will honestly admit that the main purpose of volunteers is to fund their work, and I'm fine with that. It is not expensive and it is an experience of a lifetime that is more than worth the roughly $200 a week I paid to participate. Wildlife ACT is very well organized. Bronwen was the point person for the reservation process and she was very helpful and answered all of my questions. The actual program is also very well run. Their every-other Mondays are quite the organizational feat, picking up volunteers, taking others back to the airport, and the mass transfer of numerous volunteers to the different camps makes for quite a day. They have some last minute changes in assignments at times, but they seem to always make it work out in the end. They try to honor any requests, as many volunteers are "regulars" and have their favorite reserves. And they put a lot of thought and effort into trying to make groups that will be happy together- like they would try not to put a 50 year old with four 20 year olds, or one woman with 4 men. They would make sure everyone had something in common with someone else. The monitors were all fantastic. Very dedicated people who do the work for the love of it (obviously not for the money, as they make very little). They have to actually live at the camp 24 hours a day with us, which must not be easy and they have almost no private time to themselves and generally got very little sleep. Most were quite young, since you have to have a lot of energy to do that job. They were all extremely knowledgeable and I learned a ton from all of them.

The work you do: This is the main reason I deducted one star from an otherwise stellar program. I wish I could have felt like I was contributing more. There are normally 5 volunteers and one monitor at each game reserve. We mostly drove around looking for animals and took some notes about where they were, what they were doing, etc. We had to get up EXTREMELY early in the morning- I’m talking about getting up at 3 am and on the truck and leaving camp by 3:30 (this was in our winter/their summer, late Nov - Jan and the days were long) as we needed to find certain animals before sunrise between 4 and 4:30, because after the sun comes up, they're on the move and very difficult to find and follow after that. We would come back to camp anywhere between about 9 - 11 am, and have until about 4pm free, then go out again from about 4 - 8ish or so in the evening. I am a person who needs my regular sleep and usually can't nap during the day, and was pretty worried about this schedule, but it didn't take long to get used to sleeping in two shifts- one from about 10pm to 3am and another nap in the middle of the day. While out, the monitor drove and one volunteer would usually sit up front with him/her in the cab and the other 4 would sit in the back on what were essentially benches across the bed of the pick up. We drove around, periodically stopping to use the radio telemetry system to see if we could get a signal from one of the animals that had a radio collar on. Then keep driving toward that direction. Which animals were our priority depended on which game reserve I was working on (more on that later). Most of the sites focused on the African Wild Dogs. Wild dogs are very endangered and are still being killed by poachers, farmers, snares, etc. Wildlife ACT introduces packs of wild dogs and goes through the appropriate process of introducing the dogs to each other and then monitoring them every day to make sure they are safe as well as studying their behavior and effect on other species. We would find them in the morning at sunrise, watch them hunt as long as we could keep up with them, try to find out where they settled down in mid day to rest, and then return in the late afternoon to watch them get up and hunt again, and hopefully see where they settle down for the night, and do it all over again the next day. Sometimes it was a crazy wild goose chase trying to find or keep up with them. Some days we never found them. Other days we watched them for hours and saw amazing things like when the pack made a kill, which I got to witness twice from close range ( gruesome but that's nature and it was something few people ever get to see). So, much of our day was spent just driving around and looking for animals, which didn't feel much like volunteer work. One person would be assigned to be the note keeper for the day and record information. Another would be the one using the telemetry system that day. The others would mostly just be taking photos with their own cameras (and sometimes would give copies of their pictures to the monitor for identification logs etc). Sometimes we would sit for long periods waiting for the dogs to come out of the woods, and it would be frustrating because we would rather be looking for rhinos or something else. Sometimes we would set up camera traps, or go around collecting the memory cards out of the cameras and putting in new ones. During the time off in the middle of the day, we would sleep, cook, eat, shower, and if there was time maybe do some work helping the monitor with a project like transferring data into the computer or labeling pictures from the camera traps. But it wasn't a lot of work. I was unlucky in that during my stay I never got to see any animals darted or moved or have any hands-on interaction. I did see a lot of natural behavior though. And thousands of animals.

The accommodations: Wildlife ACT does not have a lot of money. They are non-profit and have to function on very little. That is apparent when you see the accommodations. You will be semi-roughing it, and living with nature, some places more than others. Every camp is different. I started at Tembe, which was my favorite in terms of the camp. It had little cabins in the woods that had 2 single beds, a few shelves, electricity, and even a/c units (which we never used in November). Then there was a separate concrete building that had the kitchen, living area, shower, and toilet. The kitchen was pretty basic. It had a refrigerator, stove (Tembe actually had two- an electric stove and a gas stove, which was nice the night that the electricity went out ) a tea kettle, and Tembe was considered the "luxury" camp partly because it had a microwave, ac in the rooms, and a washing machine. (washing machine was in another building). Most camps didn't have any of those things. There was another building with more toilets and another with an "office". The shower looked disgusting, but I scrubbed it and found it was actually pretty clean, just stained black so it looked moldy when it wasn't. And the shower curtain was stained and falling apart. The main toilet leaked, so the floor was often wet, but didn't smell terrible so I'm not sure it was sewage leaking. We had to walk outside to get from our rooms to the bathroom which was a little creepy at night. The camp was *sort of* fenced off to keep large animals out --but the gate was usually left open. We had monkeys climbing all over the roof all the time, which was awesome and cute at first but got old when they kept us awake when we needed to sleep during the day. There was a picnic table and fire pit out front of the kitchen where we gathered. My second camp was Somkhanda. It was actually across the street from the reserve rather than inside it. It consisted of several small brick buildings, and the volunteer's quarters were in a house,so the bathroom was just down the hall. Again, the kitchen was very basic (no microwave). My bed was falling apart and pretty lumpy and pathetic. The frame had collapsed the prior week and my monitor attempted to prop it back up with some boards but it was pretty bad. There were panes of glass missing from windows and no screens, so we taped pieces of cardboard over them to try to keep the bugs out and I slept with a mosquito net even though I was inside a house. My room was off the kitchen, so I never would have survived without ear plugs. The toilet didn't flush right. They just didn't have the money to fix a lot of things, but the important things were there. We could walk and go for little hikes at Somkhanda, because there were no lions or elephants in the camp area. So that was the only camp where I could get any exercise. My third camp was Imfolozi. This had bedrooms, kitchen, and bathrooms in separate bulidings clustered close together, around a deck area with tables and chairs. The showers were essentially outdoor, with aluminum walls. The water came from the river, so it was sometimes very brown. We had bottled water to drink. There was a little trail from camp to a spectacular overlook with fantastic views of the park. Sometimes we could see rhinos or other animals down below (far away). There were no screens on the windows and way too hot and muggy to close the windows, so a mosquito net was a must. In my various rooms I saw mice, scorpions, and lots of spiders as well as various other bugs and beetles. If that kind of thing freaks you out, this may not be a good fit for you. I did not see any snakes but one of my roommates did. (outside). We had to keep suitcases zipped to keep mice out of them. I expected very basic accommodations, and for the most part they were adequate. There are a few cheap things they could provide that would have made it much more comfortable though- screens (so we could sleep with windows open without being mobbed by bugs), top sheets on the beds for a light cover (all they supplied were comforters with duvets which were hot- I always took the duvet off the comforter), and a few more shelves and hooks for storage would have made a big difference.

The Volunteers: Ages ranged from about 17 to at least 60's, but most were probably in their 20s. I am in my 40s and was never the oldest or the youngest in my group. There are more women than men. Most volunteers are European- many German, Dutch, French, and British and some Scandenavian. A few Americans, Canadians and Australians too. Many were there for the second, third, or 4th time- the return rate says a lot about the organization and that people like it. One of my biggest worries about doing this was having a roommate. Being in my 40s and single, I have lived alone a long time, so I thought sharing a room with a stranger was going to challenge myself. It ended up being fine, as we were generally only in the room to sleep and were so tired that that usually wasn't that hard to do. Although I did have one roommate who fumigated the room with bug spray every night, which I didn't like too much. It was actually more difficult for me to share the kitchen. I have some dietary restrictions and didn't have enough to eat if I just had what the monitors bought; therefore always went to the store with the monitor and bought a lot of my own food and cooked for myself, when the rest of the volunteers often cooked together. Sharing the small kitchen space, shelves and refrigerator space, dishes and cooking utensils etc was sometimes a challenge. I'm vegetarian and someone dripped raw chicken juice all over my lettuce and fresh vegetables in the refrigerator. I found other people often barely rinsed the dishes, or washed them with soap and didn't rinse at all, and so I always ended up washing all the dishes again, and things like that. And I'm not a neat freak or a germaphobe. The floors were always dirty and sticky and ants and mice were a common occurrance. I also had problems at one camp because almost every one else there smoked and they were not very considerate about giving me distance, so I ended up just leaving and going to my room alone while they all hung out and smoked and talked. But for the most part I enjoyed all of the other volunteers, except for the smoking part. It was fun getting to know people from all over the world and I made some friends I still keep in touch with.

The reserves: In addition to the camps all being different, the reserves are all different. Tembe had lions, dogs, elephants, rhinos, tons of various antelope, and leopards (we never saw one). It had very few zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, or baboons and no cheetah. It was sandy and had thick forests and relatively little wide open spaces. It was pretty flat. Somkhanda had dogs, rhino, lots of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and warthogs and antelope. They did not have lions or cheetah or elephants. Again, leopards supposedly existed but we never saw any (we did see tracks). Somkhanda was very hilly with rough terrain (very bumpy to drive over and we sometimes took quite a beating bouncing around in the back of the truck on drives, even causing back pain for one volunteer) and had some spectacular viewpoints. I got the most amazing sunrise and sunset photos there. Imfolozi had pretty much all the animals, but it also had tourists. Tembe and Somkhanda had very few tourists and we usually had the place to ourselves and it felt more wild. Imfolozi has much more tourist traffic, and they sometimes scared away animals we were trying to study. The tourists still weren't that numerous compared to a lot of places I've been though. Imfolozi was also fairly hilly.

I definitely would recommend trying to go for at least 4-6 weeks if at all possible, because if you only see one reserve/camp, you don't really get a good feel for the variety. And I would definitely consider some of the reserves better than others, because like I said, some didn't have any of the "best" animals. And some camps felt like they were really camps- quaint cabins out in nature- whereas others seemed more like crappy little houses.

Overall it was a fantastic experience that I may try to do again if I can ever take enough time off work. I got to see a fair bit of South African culture in addition to the wildlife part as well. Trips to the grocery store were almost a cultural event, and watching the anti-poaching guys skinning and gutting a wildebeest that they were going to divvy up and take the meat home to their families was quite a sight. We got to have a Christmas party for local school children and watch them sing and dance their traditional Zulu dance for us, which was magical. Lots of little experiences like that that I cherish. And I have great respect and admiration for Wildlife ACT, as it is a very dedicated and hard working group of people really trying to make a difference for the endangered animals of South Africa.

Jen
Denver, CO

What would you improve about this program?
1. Find a way to let the volunteers have a little more responsibility and maybe a little more independence.
2. Spend a few dollars on screens for the windows, hooks and shelves and sheets for the beds. It would add a lot of comfort without a lot of cost. I would have happily paid more for these things and even offered to buy some supplies.
Default avatar
Seleme
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

wildlife conservation involvement at its best

Over the past 3 years I have spent 9 months in total in South Africa involved in various volunteer programs for wildlife conservation. Without a doubt Wildlife ACT is the group who I would totally recommend to anyone wanting to participate in real conservation work.Wildlife ACT are a group of passionate and determined people with total integrity and focus on wildlife conservation. They have my admiration and thanks for all the hard work they do particularly with endangered species.

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

Totally Inspired!

If you have been exposed to nature as a child, the awe and wonder of it can be readily reawakened within you as an adult. This is exactly what happened to me when I joined up with Wildlife ACT.

The WACT staff are some of the most dedicated and inspirational people I have ever met. The first DAY involved seeing rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo and much more, just meters away from the vehicle. But animal sightings aside, the whole experience was a lot more than that. Being among nature conservationists who speak with such passion, and witnessing how hard they work towards a common cause, fueled me with inspiration and vigour. They are working tirelessly to save our endangered species and natural habitats and deserve all the applause and support they can get.

What would you improve about this program?
It could be a little bit cheaper for South Africans, but I have since seen that they do offer discounts to locals.
Default avatar
Sheran
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

AMAZING TIME!

I had the most amazing timevolunteering with Wildlife ACT. I spent 8 weeks working in 3 different Game Reserves, each very different in habitat. I found the accommodation comfortable and plenty of hot water for showers! The monitors were so enthusiastic and friendly and keen to share their knowledge to make my stay invaluable and to feel that I could definately make a difference whilst I was there. Maximum of 5 volunteers on each project meant that you could be involved with what was happening and sharing stories and tales over dinner in the evening was very enjoyable. Being out in the bush everyday monitoring the wildlife is fantastic, following the Wild dogs, cheetahs, lions and elephants was magical. If I had to the chance to return I would go back without hesitation and have already been recommending Wildlife ACT to everyone I meet! Can't rate the project, people and the passion they have highly enough! If you're reading this pack your bags you'll have an experience of a lifetime working with incredible wildlife, saving a species, making a difference and of course lots of fun!

Location

Location:
South Africa
Currency:
South African Rand
Weather:
Jan-Mar
81 F / 57 F
Apr-Jun
68 F / 46 F
Jul-Sep
66 F / 45 F
Oct-Dec
77 F / 52 F
Airports:
O. R. Tambo International Airport
( JNB )
Cape Town International Airport
( CPT )
King Shaka International Airport
( DUR )

South Africa is often thought of as resoundingly unstable and poor; however, this is far from the case. The duality in South Africa encompasses big cities with a well-developed infrastructure, as well as rural areas that are under developed and impoverished. South Africa is well known for having 11 recognized languages, beautiful landscapes, and abundance of animals

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About Wildlife ACT

Wildlife ACT actively advances wildlife conservation by conducting ongoing & essential monitoring projects on reserves in South Africa. Wildlife ACT performs these conservation services free-of-charge and completely relies on volunteer support to...