Rhino Tracking & Observation
The project runs a successful breeding programme, which seeks to raise rhinos in as natural an environment as possible whilst providing them with ongoing protection on the reserve. It is hoped that the rhinos will someday be released into the wild, but in order to provide them with a sense of freedom, they are fitted with trackers to allow the project’s anti-poaching team to locate them whenever necessary. You will use telemetry to help locate and observe the rhinos, paying close attention to their behavioural and feeding patterns. The information you gather may contribute towards management decisions, such as whether to give the rhinos supplements to balance out their diets.
Elephant Observation & Care
Unlike the rhinos on this project, the elephants are sadly unsuitable for release and therefore will spend the rest of their days on the reserve. The project aims to provide them with as high a quality of life as possible, and this can be achieved through enrichment activities (such as elephant walks). You will study the elephants as they roam the reserve by your side, while an experienced guide will educate you on their behaviours and any indicators for their happiness. Additionally, you will help to monitor their feeding patterns to ensure that their diets remain balanced and that they aren’t undereating, either due to stress or a lack of appropriate food sources.
Maintain & Repair Enclosures
Another way to keep the elephants on the reserve as comfortable as possible is to ensure that their bomas remain clean and secure. From refreshing their hay bales to conducting checks and repairs on any fences, your assistance will help to ensure that their homes are a safe, cosy place to return to at the end of each day.
Anti-Poaching & Snare Patrols
Africa’s wildlife has suffered for many years as a result of the poaching crisis, so the project has employed its own anti-poaching team in order to keep their larger animals safe. You will help to support these anti-poaching efforts by conducting snare sweeps across the reserve, which in turn will minimise the risk of death for smaller animals and will also allow the anti-poaching team to focus more on priority species such as rhinos and elephants.
Herd Monitoring by Horseback
If you have experience with horse riding, you may be invited to assist with herd monitoring by horseback. This is an excellent way of monitoring the reserve’s animals, as they are less likely to retreat – the arrival of a vehicle may spook the herds, but the gentle manner in which you approach the reserve’s animals will allow you to get closer in order to accurately record the size and health of each herd. Please note that this is not a guaranteed part of your time on the project.
Breakfast With The Elephants
This activity often proves to be a favourite amongst volunteers, and understandably so, as it’s not every day that you can say you’ve eaten breakfast in the presence of elephants! You will head out onto the reserve in search of the elephants’ most recent location, settling in as a member of the project team prepares your breakfast on-location. It won’t be long before the elephants arrive, and you will be invited to learn more about these amazing animals from up-close.
Game drives frequently appear on the bucket-lists of wildlife enthusiasts, and during your time on the project you will have the opportunity to embark on some spectacular outings. You will head out onto the reserve in search of the project’s most enticing species, from the rhinos and elephants themselves to giraffes, zebras, and maybe even a lion! Be sure to bring your camera along for the ride, as this experience is certainly photo-worthy.
It’s time to get competitive! A member of the anti-poaching team will invite your group to take part in a mock anti-poaching drill; an educational experience which will illustrate the efforts made to keep the animals on the reserve safe. During the drill, you will each be given the opportunity to test your shooting accuracy with a paintball gun, and while this is an informative activity, it’s also a great way to challenge yourself and your fellow volunteers.
Among others, the reserve is home to two very hungry carnivores: a lion named Mambo, and a crocodile called Crispin! You will be invited to witness the animals’ most innate behaviours from up close whilst an experienced guide tells you about each individual. This is a fantastic opportunity to see some of Africa’s most revered predators and by helping to feed both Mambo and Crispin, you will be contributing to their ongoing care.
As an expansive home to a wealth of animals, life on the reserve can be quite demanding! There are a range of important activities which must be carried out each day, from the distribution of food and supplements right through to ‘cattle dipping’, which helps to control parasite populations between herds. You’re sure to be kept busy during your time on the project – all that we ask is that you’re willing to be flexible and to get involved!
Visiting A Local School
The project has partnered with a nearby school to form a ‘conservation club’, where the children are encouraged to learn about their local environment. You will visit the school twice per week (on average) in order to educate the children on topics such as plant or animals, though you may also assist in literacy or sports lessons too! This is a rewarding part of the project, as the school children have shown an increased interest in the conservation of their natural resources and wildlife over time. While this cannot always be a guaranteed activity, those who do take part will surely find it to be a meaningful and significant element of their time in Zimbabwe.
Every so often, the project team will hold a ‘cultural evening’ at the volunteer house. You will be joined by members of the local community, each of them eager to tell you all about the traditions and cultures of the Shona tribe. It’s not uncommon for the youngest members of the community to want to showcase one of their favourite pastimes for you, so get involved as they encourage you to sing and dance the night away!
Please note, itineraries are subject to change so what follows is simply a rough guideline.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
You will arrive into Harare International Airport, where you will be met by a member of the project team before taking a private transfer to the project site. Upon arrival, you will have the opportunity to meet your fellow volunteers and some of the team before settling in for the evening.
Day 2-14 - Project Days:
These are your project days, during which you will take part in a wide range of activities. Most days run from 6am-5pm, though on occasion you may be invited to take part in later activities, such as a ‘cultural evening’ or a game drive at night! Every Sunday is a free day, and you can relax at the volunteer house or take part in some extra activities for an additional cost. In this case, the project team will be happy to suggest options once you arrive!
Day 15 - Return Home:
Today is your final day, so after saying goodbye to your fellow volunteers and the project team, you will be transferred back to the airport to catch your return flight home or to continue with your independent travel plans.
Dates, Availability & Price
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.
Please be advised, although we are able to offer a 7-night option, a minimum duration of 14 nights is recommended for a more in-depth experience. If taking part for only 7 nights there is no guarantee that you will be involved in all the activities listed.
Updates & Outcomes
From humble beginnings as a cattle, maize and tobacco farm in the 1950s, the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project has since grown into the impressive conservation project it is today. Providing a safe haven for many different animal species, this project is known around the world for its rhino breeding and release programme. In 1985, the project was given seven orphaned baby black rhinos to care for, and this is where the breeding and release programme began. Over the next 20 years, 15 rhinos were born and 11 were able to be released back into the Matusadona National Park, where they were carefully monitored to ensure that they would thrive in the wild.
Since the 2000s, the project has faced some difficulties, beginning with the halt of its release programme due to a lack of funding. In 2007, the project suffered again as a result of a poaching tragedy, which saw three rhinos shot and killed along with an almost full-term, unborn calf. This left one of the rhino’s calves, Tatenda, a confused and scared orphan who would need permanent care if he was to survive. Tatenda was taken into care until he sadly died of an illness at the age of just 9 years old.
By 2014, things had begun to look up for the project as they received some fantastic news: one of the remaining female rhinos on the reserve had given birth to a calf called Tafika, and this meant that the breeding and release programme could begin once again! A number of both black and white rhinos have since lived on the reserve, and the efforts of the breeding programme will hopefully continue to have a positive impact on rhino conservation throughout Zimbabwe.
In addition to providing a home to rhinos, giraffes and a range of other wildlife species, the project is also a safe haven for four elephants. These elephants were orphaned at a very young age, which sadly means they are unsuitable for release. That said, they have each been provided with a fantastic quality of life on reserve and are well-loved by the project team and volunteers alike. One of the elephants, Nzou, has become a firm favourite amongst previous volunteers for an unusual reason: she seems to believe that she is a buffalo, and loves nothing more than spending time with the members of this surprising species! During your time on the project, you will learn more about Nzou and the rest of the elephants on the reserve and will contribute to their ongoing enrichment.
The Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project, in partnership with The Aspinall Foundation and Parc Safari, have successfully rewilded two captive-bred cheetahs from Canada, in the very first rewilding project of its kind for Zimbabwe!
With all the uncertainty that 2020 has brought, we relish in the moments that offer a beacon of hope. That is why we’re delighted to share with you some incredible news from the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project. The beloved white rhino Ntombi has given birth to a baby girl!
- posted on 18/03/2019
- by Leanne Sturrock
Read on to learn about the latest goings-on at the Rhino and Elephant Conservation Project, from a fun new competition to a visit from a very famous face...
Is this trip for you?
During your time on this project, you will be living in one of three beautiful thatched houses located within the conservancy. These houses can host up to 12 volunteers, with rooms being shared and single beds provided along with all bedding (duvets, pillows and extra blankets for winter). Shower and toilet facilities are also shared, and hot water is available. Please note, Wi-Fi is not available at the project site and whilst not all bedrooms have power sockets available, they are available in the communal areas.
Three meals a day are provided for you on this project. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in a buffet-style, and you are free to select what you want to eat. Water, juice, tea and coffee are also available throughout the day. On Sundays, the chefs have a day off, but you are free to use the food provided in the kitchen to prepare your own meals. Vegetarian and limited vegan options are available upon request.
If you have a specialist diet (such as gluten or wheat intolerance), you will need to bring appropriate food with you; however, the chef will be happy to prepare your food for you. There is also a small onsite bar at the volunteer house which offers a variety of snacks, as well as both alcoholic and soft drinks.
Each day on the project can be rather busy and may involve a range of physical activities, therefore, we recommend that you have a moderate level of fitness if you wish to take part. No specific skills are needed for this project – all we ask is that you arrive with a willingness to get involved with all activities, and that you are dedicated to the project’s ethos. Most importantly, we ask that you have respect for your environment, your fellow volunteers, and Zimbabwe’s incredible wildlife!
The vaccinations required will depend on the individual medical history of each volunteer. We recommend that you consult with your GP regarding your own immunisation needs, as this will ensure you are protected and prepared to travel. In conjunction with this, we would recommend that you check Fit for Travel’s website for more helpful information on what you need to do before your departure.
When is the best time to volunteer?
Most of the activities on this project run year-round, with the exception being any work with the school children (which may be impacted by the school holidays). Since this is an active reserve, you will see wildlife no matter when you choose to volunteer, although the weather may impact which time of year you choose to visit the project.
Summer (November-March) – Also thought of as the ‘wet season’, this is the rainiest part of the year. Torrential downpours may fall throughout the afternoon and can even continue for a matter of days, however, more rain does often equate to more activity on the reserve. Vegetation springs into life which, in turn, means there are improved food sources for the animals, and you may have a greater chance of spotting them grazing. Temperatures throughout the summer can still be rather warm, reaching around 32°C/90°F at their peak, so be sure to pack lighter clothing as well as a waterproof jacket, sunglasses and adequate sun protection.
Winter (April-October) – This is the dry season, during which there is minimal rainfall. The reserve’s animals may congregate around waterholes and rivers when the other water sources dry up – in fact, it’s not uncommon to catch sight of one elephant, Mac, as he searches for water near the volunteer house! Temperatures are quite cool throughout the season, not often exceeding 10°C/50°F in the mornings and 28°C/82°F in the afternoons. Night times are even colder, so we advise that you pack a fleece and some gloves in the event of an evening game drive!
This project begins on a Thursday; therefore, you will need to book flights which arrive into Harare International Airport on this day. Please be sure to choose a flight which lands before 3pm, as the private transfer from the airport to the reserve departs at 4pm. Additionally, your return flight must depart Harare after 11:30am in order to provide enough time for your transfer back to the airport.
The easiest way to reach Harare is via a connecting flight from Johannesburg.
Citizens of most countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and most of those within the EU will be granted a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival into Zimbabwe. Please be aware, however, there is a charge for this of approximately USD $55. We advise checking this charge before travelling as it can change and it is your responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the correct rates and have the cash with you to pay this.
If you are unsure of your individual visa requirements, we recommend speaking to your local Zimbabwean embassy at least 2 months prior to travel.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Airport transfers
- Three meals per day
- Tea, coffee, water and juice
- English-speaking project facilitators
- Laundry service
- A donation to the project
What's not included?
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic beverages, snacks or items of a personal nature (such as specialist dietary items)