The Hands On Big 5 project has several focus areas, and as a volunteer you get to participate in different aspects of animal conservation.
Leopards Population Status:
One of our main research focus areas on the reserve is our new and exciting leopard (Panthera pardus) project. The project is being undertaken in collaboration with the Centre for African Conservation Ecology of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Elephant Impact Monitoring:
Volunteers will help monitor elephant movement patterns, range utilization and vegetation impact with the aid of telemetry (certain individuals are fitted with radio collars). Volunteers are involved with recording the unique ear markings of each elephant for management purposes. Elephant identification sheets are given to each volunteer, who in turn will assist the conservation department in this regard.
Lion Prey Selection Monitoring:
One of the program’s responsibilities is to record as many lion kills as possible. This data provides the conservation department on the reserve with valuable information regarding prey selection. Certain lions on the reserve are fitted with radio collars, so volunteers will learn how to use telemetry tracking.
Birds in Reserve Project (BIRP):
This project involves preparing a catalogue of the birds, bird numbers and their breeding status in the reserve as part of a project headed by the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit.
Hyena Tracking & Monitoring:
Movement patterns and breeding rates of these interesting predators are monitored. None of the hyenas are fitted with radio collars, so it can be quite a challenge finding them on the reserve. Our recent volunteers found quite a sight though… one of our females giving birth!
Conservation management activities form a large part of the volunteer program. Some of these activities involve physical work and therefore a certain level of determination from the volunteer’s side is required. Keep in mind that the `reserve needs` are always taken into account and you will help to fulfill those needs as a volunteer.
We have identified an under-funded farm school near the reserve where our volunteer program can make a real difference. The school is small, yet very under-staffed and local kids aged 4 to 15 years attend the school. Hands on Big 5 volunteers visit the school one day a week (not during school holidays or rainy days (most of the children walk about 10 km to attend school so if it rains, no one goes to school!), and make valuable contributions to the children’s education. Our volunteers take many of the classes themselves and teach 6-12 year olds subjects like English and maths. You might also help with the maintenance of the school’s facilities or by giving sport lessons to the kids. A recent group of volunteers renovated a classroom (with a completely collapsed ceiling and floorboards!) for the pre-primary school kids. Your contribution here is real, and both the children and the headmistress are very appreciative.
While working as a volunteer you may see yourself as an 'Assistant Conservation Manager'. All the work done and data collected by you will be utilized by the reserve's Conservation Department. As a volunteer you therefore derive a good deal of satisfaction from your work, as your efforts directly contribute to improving the reserve.
Daily activities are interesting and varied, and could include assistance with some of the following:
- Game counts
- Sex and age ratios recordings of specific species like eland and giraffe
- Alien vegetation control: Volunteers assist in the eradication and control of alien (non-endemic) plant species. Bush encroachment control through selective clearing is also done in certain areas on the reserve. This aspect involves physical hard work!
- Soil erosion control: Previous land utilization practices like cattle ranching has caused erosion gulleys in certain areas on the reserve. These sites need to be rehabilitated.
- Reserve clean-up operations: Volunteers assist in pulling out remaining old cattle fences and water pipes on the reserve.
- Road maintenance and repairing of river crossings
- Parasite control: This involves the making-up and administering of anti-parasite meds to specific species (when required by the reserve)
- And any other conservation management activity that might "pop-up" at the time and the reserve requires your assistance in
Volunteers may also have the chance to experience these additional conservation activities:
- Capturing of wild animals: Our recent volunteers had the AMAZING once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist with the capture of the following species on the reserve: elephant, lion, rhino, hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and impala! Please remember that captures only occur when required by the reserve and not for the sake of the volunteers.
- Game introduction: There is an ongoing program for the introduction of additional game, especially as the reserve has acquired more land that will need to be stocked with various different African mammal species.
- Fire management: An important driving force in savanna ecosystems (depending on the time of year and fire regimes)
Each volunteer will be given a field booklet, which can be taken home at the end of the placement. Before you start with each practical task, the relative theoretical background on the subject will be discussed on informal lectures. The theory provides insight into the value of the practical activities in which you may participate. Mammal, plant and bird checklists are included in the booklet and will help you to identify different species on the reserve.
Practical education will be provided throughout your stay.
- Bush walks, game drives and night drives including identification and discussion of various mammals, plants and birds
- Sleep outs: Camping out in the bush around a campfire under the African sky (weather dependent)
- Field skills camp: Learn to look after yourself in the wild!
- Airport transfers
- Work experience 5 days a week, helping the Conservation Department with management work on the reserve
- 3 basic meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- Accommodation (shared bedrooms and shared bathrooms)
- Laundry (done by a domestic helper)
- Town-trips once a week
- Minimum age of 18
- Fluency in English
- Volunteer application form with your reason for choosing this project
Some of the activities may be hard physical work, and a certain level of determination from your side will be required. All we expect is that you help with the tasks to the best of your abilities and to do everything with a lot of enthusiasm. As long as you try your best, it is good enough for us!
Medium to hard physical work
Yes, there can be. Any work done in any 'Big 5' Game Reserve in Africa can be potentially dangerous. Wild animals remain unpredictable and therefore when we enter their domain we should do so with care and apply the necessary precautions. There may, however, be certain dangerous elements that the volunteer co-ordinator cannot control, like snakes, scorpions etc. Generally, HIV/AIDS is extremely prevalent in South Africa so it is your personal responsibility to take care with regards to health and safety, as well as sexual relationships.
Volunteers need to be flexible and keep an open mind concerning their placements as situations can arise beyond our control which could require you to be placed at a different project than the one you have initially chosen. We will of course always do our utmost to fulfill your initial wishes but do remember that where you are going is quite different from where you are coming and as such one should be prepared for things not always going according to plan.
Volunteering and intercultural travel share a common trait: the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. This program is designed for proactive individuals and groups that are prepared to adapt to the local environment and its current needs. Naturally, the scheduling and activities of our program are subject to change. Alterations in activities are mainly due to changes in local conditions, which we believe is part of what makes overseas programs the interesting adventure and incredible learning experience that they are.
Our projects range from 1 week up to approx. 30 weeks. Projects have a specified minimum stay, then it’s up to you how long you can commit. In our experience the longer you stay the more you will gain, as your understanding of the project broadens and you take on more responsibilities. Every volunteer will be given a certificate of appreciation at the end of their stay as a symbol of volunteering stay.