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

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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

Related Programs

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

9.66 Rating
based on 38 reviews
  • Impact 9.4
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.3
  • Value 9.1
  • Safety 9.2
Showing 1 - 8 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