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Wildlife Research with Lions and Rhinos in South Africa


Price above is guide only. Choose start date for your price.



Are you a big cat person?

Set in over 30,000 hectares of African wilderness this project in particular will delight wildlife lovers with rhinos, elephants and leopards all wandering by (but hopefully not too close!). Lions will be your primary focus though, and you’ll have the opportunity to actively monitor a lion pride and get up close to these amazing animals. Recently the research has expanded to include Rhinos and Elephants and these studies are combined with the focus on the Lions in the reserve making for an even richer experience. Your help is vital for the immediate and long term success of the project, so your contribution, like your memories, will last long after you return home.

Trip Highlights:

  • Tracking the lions every day - probably the most exclusive safari in the world!
  • Experiencing a genuine African 'bush experience
  • Getting up close to amazing wildlife

Fast facts

Project duration: 
Min 2 weeks - Max 6 weeks
Location of project: 
Reserve based between Gravelotte and Mica in the Limpopo Province, around 6 hours from Johannesburg
Arrival airport: 
Johannesburg (airport code JNB) arrive by 4.15pm at the latest
Tracking and monitoring animals, recording data, general reserve tasks
Working hours: 
Flexible; 8-9 hours a day 5-7 days per week, all other time is free
Getting to the project: 
On site
Minimum age 18

What's included

Shared dormitory room in volunteer house on reserve
Self-catering – food provided
Airport pickup: 
Included on arrival date - ask us for details if you're arriving early
In-country orientation
Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team and 24hr emergency support

What's not included

Flights, Insurance, Visas, Return Airport transfer


Day 1 – Arrive into Johannesburg Airport (airport code JNB)

You will be met at the airport and taken to Pretoria Backpacker’s hostel in Pretoria. You’ll need to arrive in before 4.15pm so that you’re all ready for the orientation which kicks off at 5pm. The journey from the airport to Pretoria should take around 45 minutes. The orientation is a crucial part of settling in to life in South Africa and will take you through what it’s going to be like at your project, do’s and don’ts, how to stay safe and it’s your prime opportunity to ask any burning questions that you haven’t yet had answered. After the orientation you’ll have some time to relax and prepare before your first day at the project tomorrow.

If you aren’t able to arrange a flight to get you into Johannesburg before 4.15pm then we’d recommend you fly in a day early. We can arrange an early airport pick-up for you including one night’s accommodation, please give us a call for more information.

Day 2 - Transfer to the reserve

Today you’ll jump on an early morning bus from Pretoria to Phalaborwa. At the end of your 7 hour journey the team will meet you and take you to the project. You’ll have the rest of the day to settle in. Take your time, because this is your home for the next few weeks!

The first day will be all about settling in and getting to know how things work. The team at the project will be on hand for you to ask any questions and to get to know them.

Following Days - Getting stuck in at this amazing project!

Daily life starts with getting up at the laid back hour of either 4 or 5 am (ouch!). Everything is done with the animals in mind, so the time you wake up depends on where the lions are! Lions are the priority of the research and it’s important that they are tracked and located every day as part of ongoing monitoring of their introduction into the reserve. You’ll leave camp in your 4X4 car armed with the telemetry kit, data recording set, spotlight for catching the glint of an eye in the early morning night and the most important item; a box with hot coffee and snacks for the mid morning pit stop.

But it isn’t just about the lions. The elephants, rhinos, zebras, leopards, wildebeest, eagles, vultures, elands, kudus and many more amazing animals will all play a significant part in your daily life. You will spend hours every day getting the chance to see and be part of these animals environment and you realise how amazingly formed they are for the land that they live in. The sun gets too hot to be out in at midday so you’ll head back to the lodge during this time.

On a typical day you will attend two research drives per day (morning and evening), with additional research being conducted during the day as and where necessary. There wont be a drive on Sunday mornings and the drive on Sunday afternoon is voluntary. When you’re not out on drives or inputting data on the computer, there’ll be plenty of other tasks that need attention such as basic maintenance of the accommodation and surrounding areas. Past volunteers have built a new wall around the shower block, ripped up old carpets and cleared areas to make way for new exciting areas for the accommodation. This is totally optional but will be great for team building and tanning those arms and legs!

Your last day

Say your goodbyes as the project team drop you back at Phalaborwa to catch your return bus to Pretoria. Your return bus ticket to Pretoria is included in your project fee.

Because the journey back takes 7 hours, we recommend you book your flights home to depart no earlier than 8pm on the last day of your trip to make sure you have enough time to get to the airport. If you arrange flights for the day after and need an overnight stay in Pretoria, our team can help you to arrange this.

Return transfer from Pretoria to the airport is not included but our team will be able to advise you of the best route depending on your onward travel after the project, the costs will be around US$20.


What our projects say:

  • Without volunteers we would not have the finance or manpower to operate at all!
  • The financial support we get from the volunteers basically runs the programme, from staff wages, equipment, fuel etc. so without them we could not do anything. So they make more than just a difference they make the programme so all our achievements big and small are thanks to the volunteers

What does the project do?

This research programme was developed in 2004 with the aim of monitoring behaviour patterns, movement and the impact on prey and predator species that reintroduced lions have on the reserve.

The overall aim of the Lion monitoring expeditions is to learn more about their behaviour and produce a detailed annual report that will enable the reserve owners and managers to determine the carrying capacity and sustainability of large predators on the reserve. If there are too many lions and not enough animals lower down in the food chain, the reserve cannot operate in a natural way. Therefore occasionally we have to manage the animals in the reserve. They do this by careful live capture and transfer of animals or using trained hunters to lower the numbers of specific animals.

Recently the research has been expanded to include Rhino and Elephant studies within the reserve creating a more detailed and fascinating picture of the interaction between the different species.

What’s the project like?

Our stunning reserve is a 30,000 hectare habitat boasting high concentrations of wildlife. The park has around 90 elephants, numerous rhinos, leopards and plentiful game species. A pride of lions was introduced to the reserve in 2004 and a specific programme is needed to monitor all aspects of their behaviour and habits to allow reserve managers to assess their impact on the reserve. The aim of the research is to produce detailed reports on the feeding ecology of large predators and to determine the capacity of the reserve to sustain large animals.

This is a unique opportunity to get involved with a pioneering research programme and gain knowledge from highly trained staff. This is a chance for you to learn skills such as tracking collared lions using radio telemetry, navigation techniques, using a GPS, animal identification and gain an awareness of the fauna and flora in the area.

Why does the project need volunteers?

Once trained, you will generally be out in the game drive vehicle twice a day, tracking, spotting and then observing and recording the lions' behaviour. The hours vary depending on lion movement and activity so you could be out late into the night. During the heat of the day, you will find yourself entering the data you have collected from the field, becoming involved in reserve or house maintenance or getting involved with the other research programmes conducted on the reserve.

Project resources and advice

Please note that if you’re going on any of the projects based in large reserves all clothes worn in the reserve should be in neutral colours that will blend easily into the background. For these projects binoculars will also be a good addition to your kit list. Past volunteers have found taking a pocket knife/pen knife also quite useful.

Please note that the weather can become quite cold during the months of May to September, please remember to bring some warm clothes with you.


Tell me more?

You will stay in a basic but comfortable farmhouse lodge on the reserve and sleep in shared dormitory style bedrooms. The lodge is communal with backpacker-style bedrooms and a communal lapa (thatched roof) and braai area - two words you will become extremely familiar with! The volunteer house gets frequent visits from elephants and nocturnal wildlife, amazing!

Food is provided and you will take turns to prepare food for the group and complete house duties on a daily basis. At weekends in your free time you might want to hire a car, the project staff will be able to assist you.

The house is equipped with solar electricity and paraffin lights are available when necessary. There are facilities to charge batteries and cell phones. You’ll be expected to complete house duties on a daily basis.  We recommend you’re back at your accommodation in the evenings before dark, due to the active wildlife at night.

Please ensure that you bring your own sleeping bag. A mosquito net isn’t necessary unless you plan to travel through the Kruger area as this is a Malaria zone.

What you get

Next steps

Flights & insurance

Country information

I've done this trip. Write review >
Leila Yahyaoui gives this project
Here is what Leila had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Being charged by a huge herd of elephants, seeing the lions a few meters away from the car, seeing a LEOPARD, the sleepout we had in the bush, and just how awesome the rest of the volunteers and staff were.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Bring WARM clothes! Even though its boiling hot during the day - you'll be out on drives really early in the morning and late at night and it gets VERY cold. Also, go for as long as you possibly can. It really does go rediculously fast. And beware of Ticks!! I got Tick Bite Fever and believe me - it is NOT fun.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
The most amazing 3 weeks of my life!
Michelle Allen gives this project
Here is what Michelle had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
The experience as a whole on he expedition.. The team there was great and everything we did there was great.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Bring warm, camoflage coloured clothes.. you dont need walking boots specifically!! Camofolage clothes!!
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
It was great...
Michelle Reeves gives this project
Here is what Michelle had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Getting to see the animals up so close was amazing. We had a leopard walk out right in front of us one evening which i got on viedo that was brilliant. Doing a sleep out in the middle of the bush was another brill experience. Going out on my day off to walk with lion clubs was brilliant getting to stand next to them and touch them was just amazing.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Dont go for less than 3weeks cus its just not long enough. Make sure you take a sleeping bag. Get involved with everything
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
Best 2 weeks of my life trully amazing
Michela Franconi gives this project
Here is what Michela had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
almost everything, the lions, leopard...the shower outside, the sunset, sunrise....
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
I went on winter so take with you a warm jacket suncream and sunglasses
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
my best holiday ever!
Andrew Hudson gives this project
Here is what Andrew had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Klimbing Kopje's The bus journey North
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Don't get worried about pick up arrangements Don't go with pre-concieved views about what to expect Expect the unexpected
Lucy Gibbon gives this project
Here is what Lucy had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Highlights included watching an elephant being collared, watching the lions hunting and killing warthogs, and finding Cleo the leapard which hadn't been spotted before!
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
If going in the winter make sure you bring lots of warm clothes including hats, scarves and gloves! Bring a good head torch rather than hand held. The more you put into it the more you'll get out of it.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A unique and amazing opportunity to encounter wildlife on a daily basis
Jenny Dixon gives this project
Here is what Jenny had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Seeing all the different animals on the game drives Being present while wild lions were being darted and collared Watching the lions preparing and going off to hunt
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A very enjoyable safari experience !
Christoph Tönnige gives this project
Here is what Christoph had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Seeing lions, elephants and other wild animals up close and understanding their role in the eco-system
Ina Kukuk gives this project
Here is what Ina had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Learning about the animal's behaviour in wildlife, tracking
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
- Game drives take approx. 12 hours a day, because the reserve is bigger now. Don't miss one! - You will need a good sleeping bag and warm cloth in winter. - Ask for more information about the animals - the staf is very well trained and will be happy to tell you more.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
Animals in wildlife - every day!
Rachael Megee gives this project
Here is what Rachael had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Seeing the animals so close and so often and in the wild. Making friends with the staff and other volunteers
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Expect long hours and not much spare time Don't rely on there always being hot water or electricity Take earplugs if you're a light sleeper
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
The best thing I've ever done

We work in partnership with hundreds of established projects that are run by local communities. The information on our website comes directly from the projects and we work with them to ensure this information is as accurate as possible. However, due to the very nature of the projects themselves the exact details of what happens on a daily basis can change with little or no notice. If you have travelled with us and have any updates to this information, please let us know.