SanWild Sanctuary & Reserve

Conserve the 'Big 5' in style! Immerse yourself in the perfect blend of luxury and meaningful conservation as you undertake wildlife rescue and rehabilitation operations in the ultimate safari destination.

A dream-like, wild adventure set within the South African bushvelds awaits you! The SanWild Sanctuary & Reserve is home to some of the world's most notable wildlife, including the iconic 'Big 5' - but SanWild is not just a luxury safari experience; it is a vital conservation effort and a rehabilitative shelter for the region's vulnerable, injured, and orphaned wildlife, many victims of the human-wildlife conflict that sweeps the country. 

The balancing act between the sanctuary and reserve has allowed the rescue, healing, and release of countless wild animals back into their natural habitat for over 20 years. On this project, you can help provide rehabilitated wildlife and their species a second chance in the world when they are set free on the expansive 3,000-hectare reserve, and for those unable to be released, a second chance at life in the refuge of the sanctuary, offering a replica of their native home. 

As a volunteer, you'll directly engage in hands-on activities, daily operations, and research initiatives that make a real difference to vulnerable and endangered wildlife that the world cannot afford to lose. From caring for rescued animals to participating in counter-poaching patrols and assisting with tracking and monitoring cheetahs, rhinos, and elephants out on the reserve- no two days will be the same. And when the day is done, you'll head back to the stunning lodge set to rival any 5* holiday hotel.

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Lauren Mackinnon

Activities

Rehabilitation & Rescue Centre
Rehabilitation & Rescue Centre The ultimate goal of the rehab centre is true rehabilitation, allowing rescued animals the chance to heal, thrive, and return home to the wilderness. Sadly, this is not always possible, and the sanctuary remains a forever home for many injured and humanised animals. From food preparation to feeding and cleaning enclosures, you'll play a vital role in helping these incredible animals get back on their feet or providing a home replicating life in the wild. And when rescues and vet procedures arise, you may just have the opportunity to assist the staff as they spring into action, positively changing the course of an animal's life forever!
Large Predator Care
Large Predator Care The sanctuary is home to majestic lions and spotted hyenas, saved from the grips of lion-hunting farms, failing zoos, and circuses worldwide. Despite their striking appearance, many rescued predators lack crucial survival skills and no longer fear humans, rendering them unsuitable for release. But thanks to their massive natural enclosures, they can roam with plenty of space to explore. As a volunteer, you'll ensure their well-being by keeping their habitats clean, diets nutritious, and even helping to provide medical care when necessary. Get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures while helping them recover from the harmful effects of their previous exploitation.
Cheetah Monitoring
Cheetah Monitoring More than just a national breeding program, the SanWild Cheetah Project is a mission to save wild cheetahs worldwide, as their rapidly declining numbers are causing great concern for their future survival. The project monitors and tracks the resident cheetahs in their natural habitat using radio collars to aid research and conservation efforts. You'll have the chance to join in and contribute to the cause, helping monitor the cheetahs, noting their preferred prey, hunting areas, and even new births! Collaborating with other sanctuaries and reserves to ensure that these big cats will continue to roam the African plains for generations to come, the project has already successfully reintroduced a number of cheetahs in other countries.
Elephant Herd Management
Elephant Herd Management A rescued elephant herd from a disbanded game reserve in the Eastern Cape found a forever home at the sanctuary in 2006. With a carrying capacity of 16, 13 elephants already roam across the reserve. Volunteers play a role in monitoring the herd and helping to proactively control overcrowding by assisting with the contraceptive injections to the females every few months. You'll also participate in habitat protection initiatives needed because of the elephants, like maintaining electric fences and wire mesh around specific trees. Plus, you'll get to help explore new innovative solutions to protect trees, like placing beehives or miniature granite pyramids nearby.
Rhino Protection
Rhino Protection Assisting the game rangers to monitor the rhinos on foot, patrolling the fences and watching over the reserve's security cameras, you'll have the opportunity to join the front lines and make a tangible impact in protecting rhinos from the devastating effects of poaching. If poachers are detected, volunteers are unable to accompany the rangers on physical pursuits for safety reasons but will have the opportunity to assist in the operations room! To reduce the financial incentive for poachers, the team made the difficult decision to dehorn the rhinos, which has already led to a steep decline in poaching incidents. Volunteers have previously been included in the dehorning process and might again, should the need arise.
Wildlife Gene Exchange
Wildlife Gene Exchange Free-roaming wilderness areas are becoming increasingly scarce in South Africa, so gene exchange programs have become essential to preserving the health of wildlife populations. As a volunteer, you could be part of an exciting and vital mission: assisting in the capture, translocation, and release of animals between game reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, game farms, or other nearby properties. This helps to ensure genetic diversity, which prevents in-breeding and helps to sustain the future of wildlife in South Africa. You'll be part of the power of conservation in action and may even witness an animals' first steps into their new homes!
Habitat Restoration
Habitat Restoration Transforming a former cattle ranch into a thriving wildlife sanctuary is no small feat, but the project is up for the challenge! Along with the staff, volunteers are working to return the once-overgrazed sanctuary land to its natural state. You'll lend a hand cutting back sickle bush, applying herbicide to the stumps, and planting grass and tree seedlings to create a biodiverse habitat for indigenous wildlife. With your help, endangered trees and plants will be reintroduced, and bare patches of soil will see new growth, creating a brighter future for South Africa's wildlife.
Counter-Poaching Patrols
Counter-Poaching Patrols Join the counter-poaching patrols, not only within the sanctuary grounds but also in neighbouring reserves. You'll lookout for any signs of human activity, which could indicate potential poaching. If any are detected, you'll trace the intruders' movements and remove any traps or snares found. And that's not all - volunteers can also attend the Down to the Wire workshop in Hoedspruit, where you'll learn to turn these snares into beautiful pieces of jewellery! You'll help protect the reserve's wildlife and perhaps get to take home a small souvenir which has been given a new purpose - one that doesn't harm animals.
Free Time
Free Time The sanctuary's location is the perfect starting point for exploring a vast range of exhilarating attractions during your free time. From hot air balloon rides and helicopter tours to hiking, biking and horseback riding trails - the possibilities are endless! While these excursions are not included in the volunteer program fees, the on-site team can help you arrange them. You can also choose to explore the Elephant Graveyard and hand-excavated gold mines dating over 130 years old, or relax and enjoy all the amenities of the luxury lodge without leaving the SanWild property!

Itinerary

Below is a sample two-week itinerary. While the longer durations offer a more comprehensive experience, a one-week itinerary is available and will still deliver a dynamic African adventure!

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins: Upon arrival at Hoedspruit Airport, a project representative will greet you and collect everyone in the group. From there, you'll travel to the project site, which should take approximately 40 minutes. At the sanctuary, you'll meet the team and get settled in before beginning your volunteering activities the following day.
Day 2 - 14 - Project Days: The volunteer program operates from Monday to Friday. You'll be up early, starting with breakfast and potentially a game drive before your first project of the day. The morning session runs until 1pm for your lunch hour, and the afternoon session will run until around 4-5pm. Afterwards, volunteers have time to unwind and freshen up before dinner at 7pm, with plenty of time to relax and socialise after. Weekends are free for volunteers to explore some of the best places South Africa has to offer, or simply relax at the luxury lodge, making full use of the pool!
Day 15 - Final Day: Today you will be transferred back to the airport to either return home or begin your next travel adventure. Although your stay at the sanctuary has ended, you will depart with a treasure trove of memories, new friends, and the satisfaction of knowing that you made a meaningful contribution towards the welfare of South African wildlife!

Start Dates & Prices

To secure a place on this project, a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking. The remaining balance is due 60 days before your start date.

Flexible Payment Options: If you select a start date more than 3 months in advance, we offer convenient payment plans, allowing you to pay off your balance in instalments.

Select a duration below to see the available start dates and book your place today!

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

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Payment breakdown


Accommodation

Volunteer Accommodation

At the luxurious safari-tented lodge, volunteers are accommodated in a stylish two-bedded tent with an ensuite bathroom and a daily cleaning service. The accommodation is provided on a twin-share, same-sex basis (except for couples who will be accommodated together), and you'll have full access to a breathtaking lounge, bar, dining room, lapa (fire-pit), pool, and a wooden deck that offers amazing views of a watering hole often frequented by wildlife! For those seeking more privacy, it is also possible to pay a single supplement of $744 per week to have your own room (depending on availability).

Accommodation Upgrade

If you'd like a touch of extravagance, there is an option to upgrade to a Deluxe safari tent with plush furnishings, a large open-plan bathroom with a tub and separate shower, a bar fridge, a coffee/ tea station, and covered outdoor seating. This project is the perfect opportunity to make a positive impact while indulging in some extra comforts!

Meals & Beverages

During the project, the lodge staff will provide three appetising meals a day and the opportunity to relish in Bush braais (barbecues) and wilderness or fireside gatherings, savouring local delicacies like potjiekos. The dining hall and deck overlooking the watering hole offer a stunning backdrop making mealtimes even more magical. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not included but are available to purchase from the bar. Additionally, you can choose to budget for a treat or two and explore some nearby restaurants, such as the Leydsdorp Hotel, Kalima Game Reserve, and Meranti Restaurant.

(Vegetarians, vegans and other dietary requirements can be catered for, but please be aware that gluten-free and vegan alternatives can be very difficult to source locally and therefore, you may find that your meal options are somewhat limited.)


Project Details

When is the best time to volunteer?

As this project is based at a wildlife sanctuary, there are animals here year-round. The weather may play a part in choosing when you decide to volunteer, as you can see there are pros and cons to each season:

In Early September to November, also known as 'baby season,' the region can experience heavy rainfall but also welcomes new life. Sadly, this is also when animals are orphaned or abandoned and may arrive at the sanctuary. Vegetation is denser during this time, making wildlife harder to spot.

From Early December to Late February, the region experiences the hottest period of the year, with average temperatures reaching highs of around 33°C (91°F) and lows of roughly 19°C (66°F). This is also the wettest time of year, although mostly with quick thunderstorms. 

Early March to Late May is perhaps the most comfortable time of year to volunteer, with daytime temperatures averaging around 29°C (84°F) before dropping to roughly 13°C (55°F) in the evening. There is minimal rain during this period.

From Early June to Late August, winter usually sees daytime temperatures ranging between 26-28°C (78-82°F) and lows of around 11°C (52°F). This is the driest time of year to volunteer, it's great for wildlife viewing and heading out on additional excursions!

Average Monthly Weather in Hoedspruit, South Africa

Getting There

You will need to arrive at Hoedspruit on your project start date in the afternoon, where you will be met by a member of the team and transferred to the project site. The easiest way to reach Hoedspruit is by air, and there are daily flights via Johannesburg or Cape Town to Hoedspruit Airport (HDS). The transfer from the airport to the project site takes approximately 40 minutes. Complimentary pick-up and drop-off services are available exclusively on Mondays. Any other day of the week will require special arrangements and incur an additional fee.

Alternatively, you can choose to arrange your own transport to SanWild, such as self-driving, at your own expense. Johannesburg International Airport (OR Thambo) is approximately 400 km (248 mi) and takes roughly 5 hours to reach by car.

Visa Requirements

Most countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and the majority of EU nations, do not require a visa to enter South Africa and are granted entry for up to 90 days upon arrival. To be allowed entry, you must have a passport with at least 2 blank pages for the immigration officials to use, and it must be valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry into the country.

If you're unsure about your specific visa requirements, we recommend contacting the South African embassy in your home country at least 2 months before your trip. It's important to note that obtaining a visa is your own responsibility.

Fitness & Skills

While no prior experience is necessary, there is regular walking and possibly some construction or maintenance work involved, so a moderate level of fitness is recommended for participating in the project activities. This is to ensure that all volunteers can comfortably contribute to the ongoing conservation efforts. The most important thing is that you arrive with a positive attitude and a passion for the project's values.

Vaccinations

To ensure that you are fully protected and prepared for travel, we advise you to consult with your GP/Doctor about your personal vaccination requirements as they will vary depending on your medical history. We would also recommend that you check Fit for Travel's website for helpful information regarding suggested vaccinations for South Africa.


Videos

SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve - Project Video 2023
Discover the SanWild Sanctuary & Reserve

Take an active role in South African wildlife conservation by volunteering at the SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve. This unique and exclusive experience offers a real insight into game reserve management, where you can discover life in the bush by joining anti-poaching efforts, conduct research through animal tracking and camera traps, and help provide care for the rescued lions and spotted hyenas that call SanWild home.

SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve - Review Video 2023
Volunteer Experiences at SanWild

Volunteers Elisa, Leni, Sylva and Michael explore their time at the SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve. See what they got up to during their visit and how you can contribute to the conservation of South African wildlife.

SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve - Rhino and Elephant Conservation 2023
Protecting Africa's Giants: Rhino and Elephant Conservation

Join Eco Ranger Junel in the vital conservation effort to protect Africa's rhinos and elephants. Watch volunteers get involved in the darting and collaring of a male white rhino and a male elephant to aid experts in the fight against poaching.

SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve - The Story of SanWild
The Story of SanWild

Chairman and Managing Director Didi Schoeman upholds the legacy of SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve, preserving wildlife in honor of founder Louise Joubert and introducing the volunteer program. Learn about SanWild's history, values, and mission in wildlife conservation.

SanWild Sanctuary and Reserve - Weekend Activities
Weekend Activities in Hoedspruit

With weekends free for you to spend as you wish, discover just some of the incredible activities you could get up to. From ziplining through the Letaba River Gorge to experiencing a game drive in the world-famous Kruger National Park, Hoedspruit has something for everyone.



Reviews

Fiona Goodman, 2024
         

I don't know where to start. From beginning to end this was a truly magical trip. From being greeted by the resident mongoose on my arrival to the final evening's farewell appearance of the bull rhino at the lodge there was an abundance of animals to see every day. I was also fortunate to be present when they fitted trackers to two of the rhinos and the bull elephant. This involved getting the vet up in the helicopter to dart them and we followed in the car to watch the whole process. I had a mixed bag of jobs, from helping to clear an enclosure of all the bushes and long grass, feeding the carnivores who had to stay in enclosures due to the nature of their background, cleaning out the hyenas' watering hole, monitoring the cameras for poachers, to tracking rhino. We got up close to so many amazing animals both in enclosures and all the rest in the wild and learned such an awful lot about the flora and fauna. Every member of staff made us feel very welcome and one of the family and it was very sad to leave. I shall be returning for sure.


Gunilla Floden Matthews, 2024
         

What a blast! SanWild is a truly unique place in beautiful South Africa. So liberatingly free, educational, adventurous and just fabulous – all at the same time. I spent two weeks at SanWild and every single day had some new activities to offer. Apart from clearing enclosures for the arrival of new cheetahs, feeding the lions and the hyenas, adjusting and monitoring cameras throughout the reserve, I was also lucky to take part in the darting (by a vet from a helicopter) and collaring of two rhinos and one bull elephant. A very exciting and humbling experience. To top it all off we also did several bushwalks which I absolutely loved – both in daylight and at night. Some of my favourite moments were the close encounters with rhinos on foot, and sitting quietly in the grass (in the bush) at night watching a herd of elephants drink water just nearby. All in all, amazing animals and fantastic people!


Joshua Welensky, 2024
         

We travelled as a family of four to Sanwild - including two little animals aged 6 and 7 years old. It was like jumping into a different life, and far exceeded our expectations as a 'holiday'. Junel, the volunteer coordinator, was superb throughout and was with our kids during the day to ensure they were getting involved in a safe way. Every morning we woke up from our luxury tent (half villa, half tent), with a stunning view of the watering hole and background of a beautiful African sunrise. Elephants, warthogs, wilder beast and impala were often just a few metres away. I enjoyed being part of a working farm/Sanctuary for two weeks - the work was always optional, but I loved getting stuck in with bush clearing, chopping down trees, feeding the cheetahs and lions and monitoring the movement of the animals. Our stay also coincided with the helicopter darting of an elephant to fit a tracker which was a really unique experience. Overall it was the lifestyle I enjoyed the most - Eco Rangers such as Gustav took us on wildlife treks into the bush, including scaling a mountain on the property. Every day was different, and we... We travelled as a family of four to Sanwild - including two little animals aged 6 and 7 years old. It was like jumping into a different life, and far exceeded our expectations as a 'holiday'. Junel, the volunteer coordinator, was superb throughout and was with our kids during the day to ensure they were getting involved in a safe way. Every morning we woke up from our luxury tent (half villa, half tent), with a stunning view of the watering hole and background of a beautiful African sunrise. Elephants, warthogs, wilder beast and impala were often just a few metres away. I enjoyed being part of a working farm/Sanctuary for two weeks - the work was always optional, but I loved getting stuck in with bush clearing, chopping down trees, feeding the cheetahs and lions and monitoring the movement of the animals. Our stay also coincided with the helicopter darting of an elephant to fit a tracker which was a really unique experience. Overall it was the lifestyle I enjoyed the most - Eco Rangers such as Gustav took us on wildlife treks into the bush, including scaling a mountain on the property. Every day was different, and we were helping in a small way to a working farm whilst being truly part of a different way of life, a simpler way of life, framed by the African countryside. (Show More)



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What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Three meals per day
  • Airport transfers
  • Orientation and training
  • Water, tea and coffee
  • Laundry and housekeeping
  • Wi-Fi
  • A donation to the project

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Visas
  • Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages