Kariega 'Big 5' Conservation Project

Aid South Africa’s conservation efforts by volunteering with the iconic ‘Big 5’ on one of the country’s most diverse wildlife reserves.

From $973.00

  • Up to 10 Persons
  • All Meals Included
  • 7 - 84 Nights
  • Elephants, Rhinos, Big Cats
  • Every Monday
  • Minimum Age 17

Project Details


Elephant Impact Monitoring at the Kariega Conservation Project Elephant Impact Monitoring
The ivory trade has posed a significant threat to elephant populations for many years; similarly, the persisting conflict between farmers and wild animals has seen certain African species driven to the brink of extinction. Kariega introduced elephants onto the reserve in 2004 and have since seen their populations increase; that said, constant monitoring of the animals remains vital. You will support the conservation management team in monitoring the elephants’ range utilisation, vegetation impact and populations, identifying the animals by their unique ear markings and recording them as you go.
Rhino Monitoring at the Kariega Conservation Project Rhino Monitoring
A number of white and black rhinos call this reserve home and volunteers play a key role in helping to monitor and account for the reserve’s rhinos whilst on the project. You will note their movement patterns, behaviour and most importantly any changes that could indicate a change to their well-being. As rhino poaching is such a huge problem in South Africa, you may also get the opportunity to assist the anti-poaching team and learn all about their anti-poaching methods and the hard work that goes into protecting this critically endangered species.
Lion Prey Monitoring at the Kariega Conservation Project Lion Prey Monitoring
The balance between predator and prey is an important element of life on the reserve, and you will join the conservation management team in monitoring the kills made by Kariega’s lions. The data you gather will provide valuable insight into the lions’ preferred prey source, as well as give an indication of how well the pride are doing. On such a vast reserve this task would be almost impossible without the manpower volunteers provide, so your work here is hugely important!
Camera Trap Analysis Camera Trap Analysis
Over the past three centuries, South Africa’s leopards have been considered ‘problem animals’ due to their tendency to attack livestock. The human-animal conflict (in this case between farmers and big cats) has led to a sharp decline in leopard populations, and the team at Kariega are eager to reintroduce the animals onto the reserve. Leopards are currently monitored via the use of camera traps, and as a volunteer, you will support this important activity by helping to gather and curate the cameras' memory cards, the images from which can then be provided to the conservation management team.
Buffalo Spotted on Game Drive at the Kariega Conservation Project Game Drives
As an enjoyable aspect of any African adventure, game drives also provide an excellent opportunity to observe and monitor the reserve’s animals. You will head out in a safari vehicle in search of giraffes, buffalo and more, recording data on the species’ populations, sex ratios and other information as you go. Some volunteers have been lucky enough to witness predators in pursuit of their prey whilst taking part in game drives, so be sure to bring your camera along for this activity!
Cutting Down a tree at Kariega Reserve Management
As well as working directly with the wildlife on the reserve, you will also take part in a variety of reserve management activities, as you learn what it takes to successfully manage a game reserve and protect all of its 'wild' inhabitants. Activities may include the removal of alien plant species to allow native plants to flourish (which many herbivorous animals rely on for food), road maintenance, to allow the team to move throughout the reserve and more.
Birds In Reserve Project Birds In Reserve Project
This activity, which is done in collaboration with the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit, involves being part of a team that are cataloguing the different bird species on the reserve, as well as their breeding status and population numbers. Birds are an excellent indicator species and this work can help highlight any problems that may occur in the ecosystem.
Buffalo Capture at the Kariega Conservation Project Animal Capture
Volunteers may occasionally have the chance to assist with the capture and relocation of wild animals. Please note that this activity will only occur when necessary and that it is not a guaranteed part of the volunteer programme. When it is required, you will play a hands-on role, assisting with every part of the procedure from sedating the animal right through to lifting them onto vehicles for transportation.
Volunteer with Local Children at the Kariega Conservation Project Community Development Programmes
A crucial part of any good volunteering project is its involvement in the local community, and Kariega is no different. There are a number of community initiatives you may be involved in here, including assisting in English, maths and science classes at a local school. It may not be possible for some of these lessons to go ahead if it were not for the support of volunteers, and the joy on the children’s faces when they are able to continue with their education is something you’ll never forget. Please note, that this activity is dependent on the availability of vehicles and is not a guaranteed part of the programme.
River Cruise at the Kariega Conservation Project River Cruise
Weather and water levels permitting, you and your group may have the chance to embark on a cruise along one of the local rivers. Sit back and relax with a beer in hand as you watch the world go by, taking in the sights of the reserve from an entirely different perspective.
Night Sky in South Africa Night Drives
Join your fellow volunteers on a game drive beneath the clear African night sky as you set off in search of the reserve’s nocturnal animals! As well as keeping your eyes peeled for an array of exciting wildlife species, you will listen to your knowledgeable coordinator as he talks to you about the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere, making this an informative and engaging activity which will not be forgotten in a hurry!
Camp Fire Camp-Outs
If the weather permits, you may get the opportunity to exchange a night in the volunteer house for one out on the reserve by taking part in a camp-out. This is a great way to enjoy Africa at its wildest, as you sit around a campfire and listen to the sounds of the reserve's nocturnal animals throughout the night!


Below is an example of a 2-week itinerary. While we are able to offer a 1-week itinerary, this option is subject to availability and is only available on select dates throughout the year. A minimum duration of 2 weeks is recommended for a more in-depth experience, and to allow you to take part in as many of the activities as possible.

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
After transferring from the airport to the project site, you will be given time to settle into the volunteer accommodation before being shown around the house, familiarising yourself with the project facilities. Depending on your arrival time, you may also head out onto the reserve for your first glimpse of Kariega’s incredible wildlife!
Day 2 - 14 Project Days:
You will begin each day with breakfast before heading out on your morning activity. You will then return to the volunteer house at 1pm for lunch, before going back out onto the reserve to take part in your afternoon activity. The activities often vary day-by-day, so be prepared to get involved and be flexible. At 5pm you will return to the house where you can take a dip in the onsite pool, enjoy dinner with your group, or simply take this time to unwind in any way you see fit!
Day 15 - Return Home:
Unfortunately, today is your last day, so say goodbye to your fellow volunteers and the project team before making your way back to the airport in time for your flight or to commence your independent travel plans.

Dates, Availability & Price

You are able to join this project on any Monday throughout the year, except over the Christmas period when the project is closed. To secure a place on this project, a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.

Select a duration below to see all available start dates. Please note that the maximum age for joining this project is 60 years old.

Duration Price
Please choose a trip using the select menus to the left.

Updates & Outcomes

The Kariega ‘Big 5’ Conservation Project has a fascinating history; one which spans back decades. From the purchase of a single piece of land in 1989 to the eventual takeover of a 10,000-hectare reserve, the project has grown quite literally over the past three decades. But while time has seen the project expand (introducing both wildlife and paying guests onto the reserve), the team here have also played witness to some major changes throughout the region.

Historically, the land in the Eastern Cape was used for stock farming. Settlers became nervous of the African wildlife and the ‘threat’ they might pose to their families and livestock, and throughout the 19th and 20th century, hundreds of native animals were killed. A number of indigenous species became endangered – some even came close to extinction – and for a while, the Eastern Cape was stripped almost bare of its wildlife.

Radical change has taken place over the past few decades as the value of wildlife conservation became apparent. The project team have played an active role in this change by reintroducing a range of indigenous species onto the reserve: in 2004, the ‘Big 5’ was officially introduced, including a pride of lions, a number of buffalo, and a herd of elephants too.

Kariega has not been without its own tragedy: in 2012, a brutal poaching took place when criminals gained access to the reserve, darted three rhinos, and hacked off their horns. One rhino died that night; another succumbed to its injuries in the following months. However, one rhino – Thandi – survived the attack, and today she stands as an ambassador against wildlife crime. Understandably, the team at Kariega are guarded about the animals on the reserve, but Thandi has become something of a celebrity! Amazingly, this brave rhino has been able to raise a family of her own and during your time on the project, you may even have the opportunity to spot them on the reserve.

Indeed, the Kariega ‘Big 5’ Conservation Project has had many successes, as well as its struggles, but you will offer the support needed for the team to continue their efforts!

Thandi and Family – New Baby Rhino at Kariega!

Thandi and Family – New Baby Rhino at Kariega!

Famous Thandi overcame a horrific ordeal and her strength and resilience remain an inspiration to all, 9 years after a devastating poaching attack Thandi has given another reason to smile for all those who care deeply for rhino conservation. Thandi has not only expanded her 'family' once again but the rhino population as a whole!

Read More

Is this trip for you?

Accommodation at the Kariega Conservation Project


During your time on the project, you will be staying in the volunteer house which is situated right in the middle of the reserve and has views of the Indian Ocean. The house consists of five spacious twin-share rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom. Elsewhere you will find a fully-equipped kitchen with a washing machine, a comfortable living area, and a dining area in which to enjoy your evening meals. Outside of the house, you will find a plunge pool (a welcome relief after a hot day working under the African sun!) and a braai area, which is the perfect place to relax, unwind and enjoy a sky full of stars at the end of a busy day!

Meals & Beverages

Meals & Beverages

Whilst food is provided for you on this project, volunteers need to prepare their own meals, which you can do either for yourself or as a group. Depending on the weather, you may occasionally get the chance to enjoy a braai, something which is often a highlight of the volunteer experience. Nights spent around the fire having a braai (BBQ) are a big part of South African culture, and should you have the opportunity to indulge in this enjoyable pastime, you will find that it offers a great chance to relax whilst getting to know your fellow volunteers and the team.

Fitness & Skills

Fitness & Skills

We recommend all volunteers have a moderate level of fitness, as the days are busy and you will be involved in a variety of activities! Whilst no specific skills are required, we ask that everyone arrives with a willingness to get involved and a respect for the wildlife and the committed project staff with whom you will be working.



The vaccinations required will depend on the individual medical history of each volunteer. We recommend that you consult with your doctor/GP regarding your own vaccination needs as this will ensure you are protected and prepared to travel. In conjunction with this, we also recommend that you take a look at the Fit for Travel website for more helpful information on how best to prepare for your experience.

Project Details

When is the best time to volunteer?

Almost all the project’s activities take place year-round, except for certain community activities, specifically relating to working with local schools. Schools are closed from mid-December to 7th January. Therefore, if you are keen to get involved with the community projects you should avoid volunteering during this time. The only other factor which may impact your preference of when to volunteer is the weather.

Due to its position on the Eastern Cape, the reserve typically enjoys mild, pleasant weather throughout the year and occasional rain (but no distinct wet season). There are 2 seasons which are explained below:

Summer (November - April): During these months, daytime temperatures average 25–30°C (77-86°F), but can occasionally go up to 35°C (95°F) with January and February being the hottest months of the year. At night, it stays relatively warm, averaging 15°C (59°F).

Winter (May – October): This time of year is still very pleasant during the day with temperatures between 20–25°C (68-77°F), however, it can get very cold at night with temperatures falling to 5-10°C (41-50°F).

Getting There

You will need to fly into Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ) on your project start date, and there are several daily flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town. The project site is located approximately 2 hours from Port Elizabeth Airport by car, and airport transfers can be arranged, but please note that this will come at an additional cost.

If you do require a transfer, please ensure that you arrive into Port Elizabeth by 1pm, to ensure you have time to collect your luggage and pass through airport security before your transfer leaves at 2pm. A one-way transfer costs R900 (approximately $70) for one person, or R450 (approximately $35) per person for two or more people sharing a vehicle.

Transfers back to Port Elizabeth Airport on your final day arrive at 11am so you must book a flight that departs after 12:30pm.

Visa Requirements

Citizens of most countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and most of those within the EU, do not need to obtain a visa to enter South Africa and are granted entry for up to 90 days upon arrival. You will, however, need at least 2 blank pages in your passport for the immigration officials to use and your passport must be valid for a period of at least 6 months from your date of entry.

If you are unsure of your individual visa requirements, we recommend speaking to your local South African embassy at least 2 months prior to travel.

What's included in the price of the project?
  • Accommodation
  • Three meals per day
  • Juice, tea and coffee
  • English-speaking project coordinator
  • A laundry service
  • Wi-Fi at the project site
  • A conservation donation to the project
What's not included?
  • Travel insurance
  • Flights
  • Airport transfers to and from the project site (available at an additional cost)
  • Weekend excursions
  • Alcoholic beverages, personal snacks etc.

Covid-19 Travel Requirements

Use our ‘Covid-19 Travel Requirements’ tool to see if there are any travel restrictions or requirements currently in place for entering South Africa or for your return journey home.

The information provided relates to the current travel requirements and can change at any time.

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United Kingdom

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