Shamwari Conservation Experience

Traveller rating:   (25 reviews)

Volunteer with the 'Big 5' and the Born Free Foundation in one of South Africa's finest game reserves

On the plains of the Eastern Cape and under the cascading African Sun, lies the world-renowned Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Home to vibrant landscapes and some of the world’s most iconic wildlife, the Shamwari Conservation Experience offers you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the true African wilderness and leave a legacy for generations to come.

For over 25 years, a dedicated team of conservationists and volunteers alike, have worked to return the land (23,000 hectares of once derelict farmland) back to its former glory, and have successfully reintroduced various plant and animal species, including the iconic ‘Big 5’.

This awe-inspiring project has incredible ecological diversity with a flourishing array of free-roaming wildlife that desperately need protection from the threats they so sadly face. With a dedicated wildlife department, Animal Rehabilitation Centre, Animal Hospital and Rhino Awareness Centre, you will gain first-hand experience of what it's like to live and work on an active game reserve, as well as a rare behind-the-scenes understanding of conservation management.

As part of the team, you’ll track and monitor rare and endangered species, lend a hand at the acclaimed Born Free Foundation Big Cat Sanctuary, assist local community initiatives and more, all of which will aid the protection and growth of South Africa’s most beloved wildlife.

On the plains of the Eastern Cape and under the cascading African Sun, lies the world-renowned Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Home to vibrant landscapes and some of the world’s most iconic wildlife, the Shamwari Conservation Experience offers you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the true African wilderness and leave a legacy for generations to come.

For over 25 years, a dedicated team of conservationists and volunteers alike, have worked to return the land (23,000 hectares of once derelict farmland) back to its former glory, and have successfully reintroduced various plant and animal species, including the iconic ‘Big 5’.

This awe-inspiring project has incredible ecological diversity with a flourishing array of free-roaming wildlife that desperately need protection from the threats they so sadly face. With a dedicated wildlife department, Animal Rehabilitation Centre, Animal Hospital and Rhino Awareness Centre, you will gain first-hand experience of what it's like to live and work on an active game reserve, as well as a rare behind-the-scenes understanding of conservation management.

As part of the team, you’ll track and monitor rare and endangered species, lend a hand at the acclaimed Born Free Foundation Big Cat Sanctuary, assist local community initiatives and more, all of which will aid the protection and growth of South Africa’s most beloved wildlife.

You can expect to take part in the following during your time on the Shamwari Conservation Experience.

Game Drive on the Shamwari Conservation Experience
Game Drives
As well as providing the opportunity for some incredible wildlife viewing, regular game drives enable the project to understand more about the animals on the reserve. You will aid the team in their efforts to compile information on the family structures of certain species, their feeding habits, and other important ecological information. The data gathered on each game drive will allow the project team to make important reserve management decisions, such as whether certain species should be moved on or off the reserve.
Camera Traps & Telemetry Tracking
Camera Traps & Telemetry Tracking
The use of camera traps allows the team to gather data on the reserve’s wildlife at all hours, including throughout the night, which gives the team more insight into the behaviour of nocturnal animals and those that are particularly elusive. For certain high-profile animals, such as cheetahs, telemetry tracking (or tracking using remote sources such as wire or radio) is used. This is particularly helpful in their efforts to mitigate human-animal conflict with neighbouring properties that house livestock which carnivores can pose a threat to.
Repairing a Fence at Shamwari
Restoration, Rehabilitation & Alien Plant Control
To continue the restoration of the reserve’s once pristine conditions, volunteers help to remove invasive plant species that were introduced by the farmers who previously owned the land. By working to restore the natural biodiversity, you will be actively helping to preserve the reserve’s herbivores native food sources, as well as protecting natural water sources and reducing fire risks. You will also help to remove old structures and fencing that may pose a risk to the resident wildlife.
Lion at the Born Free Foundation
The Born Free Foundation
The Born Free Foundation is renowned for its incredible efforts in combating and raising awareness of the horrific ways in which wildlife is exploited in captivity around the world. On the grounds of the Shamwari Game Reserve, the foundation’s sanctuary and education centre houses rescued lions and leopards that are unable to be reintroduced back into the wild and you’ll have the opportunity to experience a behind the scenes tour, with the possibility of helping to clean enclosures and even feed the sanctuary’s resident cats!
Caracal at the Shamwari Vet Clinic
The Animal Rehabilitation Centre
The Shamwari Animal Rehabilitation Centre was built to aid the rehabilitation of any injured animals found on the reserve or in the surrounding area. As a volunteer, you will receive a personalised tour of the centre where you’ll gain an insight into the rehabilitation process of injured animals, from rescue to release. You may also be invited to assist the veterinary nursing team, should the need arise, though this is not a guaranteed activity.
Sand pit with local children at Shamwari
Community Projects
As part of this project, you will also get the opportunity to visit local communities, and alongside the Shamwari team, help to educate them on the benefits of conserving biodiversity and the importance of preserving the natural habitats of Shamwari and the surrounding area. You might assist in a variety of projects from creating and maintaining vegetable gardens and working on new recycling initiatives, to painting classrooms and building jungle gyms for the children.
Setting Camera Traps and Conducting Research at Shamwari
Research Projects
These projects are often undertaken in conjunction with both local and foreign research and academic institutions. These fascinating projects can range from elephant fertility testing to capturing data on lesser-known species such as the brown hyena. The more the team understand about these species, the better equipped they will be to aid in their conservation.
Injured Zebra Capture
Additional Activities
There are a whole host of other activities which you may get to take part in during your time on the project, and the longer you visit the more you might do! These can include game capture, nature walks, sleep-outs on the reserve, assisting the anti-poaching team with patrols and even assisting with veterinary work. Whatever you are up to, you can expect to be busy at all times on this action-packed game reserve!

Below is an example of a 2-week itinerary, though you can take part for up to 12 weeks.

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Upon arrival at Port Elizabeth Airport, you will be transferred to the project site where your exciting conservation adventure begins! Once you have arrived, you will have an informative welcome orientation and briefing. The rest of the day will be free for you to settle in and get to know your fellow volunteers and some of the Shamwari team!
Day 2-14 - Project Days:
Each day, you will rise early for breakfast at 7:30am before meeting your volunteer coordinator at 8am to begin your morning activity. Lunch is then served from 12-1pm each day, after which you will head back out to take part in the afternoon's activity until 5pm. Evenings and weekends are typically free time for you to spend as you wish.
Day 15 - Final Day:
Sadly, today is your final day, and after saying a fond farewell to your fellow volunteers and the team, you will be transferred back to the airport for your return flight home or to continue with your independent travel plans. Wherever you're headed, you can be sure to be walking away with some unforgettable memories in tow!

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 the available start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project!

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Accommodation

Volunteers are accommodated in the guest centre which has 10 twin-share rooms with en-suite bathrooms. Rooms are allocated on a same-sex basis, except for couples who are accommodated together. There are excellent communal facilities including a swimming pool, lounge and entertainment area, and a boma area with a fire pit. A laundry service is also available and there is access to Wi-Fi for an additional cost.

Meals & Beverages

Three meals per day will be provided for you, along with a big cooked breakfast served once a week. Water, juice, tea and coffee are freely available, and soft drinks are available to purchase on-site or from local shops. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be catered for but please contact us if you have any other dietary requirements.

When is the best time to volunteer?

Nearly all the activities take place year-round except for the community-based projects, as schools are closed in South Africa between mid-December and early January. Therefore, if you are keen to get involved with the community projects, you should avoid volunteering during this time. The only other factor that 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 with 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).

Average Monthly Weather at the Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa

Getting There

You will need to fly into Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ) on your project start date and then transfer to the Shamwari Private Game Reserve. The transfer from the airport to the project site takes approximately 1.5 hours and while it is not included, it can be provided for an additional cost. If you would like to take the transfer on your start date, please ensure your flight arrives by 12:50pm at the latest as it departs at 1:30pm. Similarly, there is a return airport transfer available on your final day which arrives at Port Elizabeth Airport at midday. If you would like to take this transfer, please ensure your flight departs no earlier than 2pm. The cost of these airport transfers is $54 each way.

If you cannot find flights that arrive/depart in time for these transfers, we may be able to arrange a private transfer for you at a cost of $108 each way, but this is dependent on the availability of vehicles.

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.

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.

Vaccinations

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.

3 Young Rhinos Released onto the Reserve

After 3 white rhinos came to the rehabilitation centre, 1 year later, it was finally time for them to be released back into the wild on the Shamwari game reserve!

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What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Three meals per day
  • Fruit juice, tea and coffee
  • A laundry service
  • A donation to the project

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Airport transfers to and from the project site (available at an additional cost)
Where you can go
Contact Info
UK Office
The Great Traveller Ltd,
3 Dairy Yard
Star Street
Ware, Hertfordshire
SG12 7DX
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
   Mon-Fri 8:30am–5:30pm
   Sat 10am-4pm

T: +44(0) 208 885 4987