Wildlife volunteer – FAQ’s
Below is a database of questions frequently asked by people interested in volunteering with Wildlife ACT – mostly specific to our Zululand Projects. If your question is not answered here, please submit your query to email@example.com
Q: Why do I have to PAY to volunteer?
Numerous game reserves within South Africa cannot afford to fund a dedicated monitoring team within their boundaries due to budget limitations and cuts – especially within provincial reserves. Wildlife ACT has come to these reserves with the proposal to provide this essential priority species monitoring service free of charge, in order to ensure the safety of these endangered species – especially the Wild Dogs.
Our projects have been approved and contracted directly by the management authority of each reserve – to perform critical and essential conservation work for those reserves – at no cost to the reserve themselves. We are therefore 100% dependent on funding from paying eco-volunteers in order to perform the work that we are doing.
Q: Where does my money go?
Your money (which when you work it out at a daily rate), is used to pay for your accommodation, for all the time you spend on the reserve (we rent the research camp facilities from the reserves), your 3 meals a day while you are at the Wildlife ACT camps) ; as well as for Wildlife ACT’s project running costs, such as fuel for the vehicles (that track the animals – sometimes over very large distances each day to ensure the animals’ safety), as well as for vehicle maintenance (especially tyres, which suffer many punctures on rough terrain), the tracking equipment (like the radio collars and telemetry sets), as well as basic salaries for the dedicated and hardworking wildlife monitors that tirelessly track the animals every day.
We understand that not everyone is able to afford to contribute to our projects, but we are sincerely grateful to those that are able to come and join us, and in doing so, facilitate the essential conservation work being done by our teams.
We do however now have a solution / opportunity for those discouraged by a financial road block. We have teamed up with FundMyTravel, who provides us with an online platform where you can fund-raise for your meaningful travel experience. How does it work? You create a campaign page, complete a brief profile to build trust, add a video and tell your story!
FundMyTravel has a team of dedicated staff who want to help Wildlife ACT participants reach their fundraising goals. They can provide tips and insights on the best ways to spread your word and offer sharing tools to get your campaign greater exposure through social media and email. Click the button below to learn more and get started!
Q: What does the work involve?
We are not a rehabilitation facility / ‘sanctuary’, in which volunteers are able to ‘handle’ or touch any of the animals. Our daily work is the telemetry tracking of the various priority species (our volunteers do this while seated on the back of an open tracking vehicle, using the telemetry equipment, each day) in order for our teams to collect data about the animals’ location and behaviour, and to ensure their safety, in areas where poaching is a threat. We keep our contact with the animals limited when we do locate them, so that they do not get habituated to humans in any way.
For the most part, each day will be broken up by the midday rest period between the morning and afternoon monitoring sessions; however – if there is a specific need (for example if the wild dogs escape from the protected area and need to be followed), this will be an exception to the rule and the team will be expected to spend all day out in order to ensure the safety of the animals.
Once a week, there will be an admin afternoon, where the team will stay at the research camp in order to catch up on the administrative work.
Q: What does a typical day look like?
A “typical” day volunteering with us, would look roughly like this:
- Volunteers leave camp just before sunrise (seated on the back of the open 4×4 tracking vehicle) to locate the endangered species animals that the wildlife monitor has earmarked for the morning using radio telemetry equipment that receives radio signal from the collars which are fitted onto the priority species animals. Once you have successfully sighted the animals, you will observe them for as long as necessary, record the data and then move on the next animal/species on the daily monitoring schedule.
- You will usually be back at camp by late morning to prepare some food and have a little time to relax, read, have a nap or watch the abundant bird and animal life around the camp.
- You head out again on the vehicle between 2-3pm to follow up on those animals which were not located in the morning.
- You should be back in camp shortly after sunset, to start preparing supper and sit around the fire listening to the sounds of the bush and discussing the day’s events.
As I am sure you are aware, every day in the bush is different. Some days you could try very hard to find certain animals, and not see them – on other days, you could go looking for certain animals, and end up seeing all the species in one morning. There are no guarantees when it comes to sightings. Some days can be a stretch and even laborious at times, like when we track one animal for a whole day and cover large distances, without success. But it is absolutely important, and it is the reason we are here.
The work we do is not always pretty, or easy, but as a Wildlife ACT volunteer you will be contributing towards the conservation and preservation of these species for years to come.
Q: How much hands-on work will I experience with the animals?
We are not a “rehabilitation” facility, or sanctuary in which volunteers can ‘handle’ the animals. Our function is to monitor wild animals, within their natural environments, daily (while seated on an open monitoring vehicle), and we keep our contact with them limited so that they do not get habituated to humans in any way.
On occasion these animals might need to be tranquilised for treatment or collaring, which is undertaken by qualified and trained personnel. Volunteers on those occasions then assist these professionals in whatever way necessary.
It is very difficult to predict when we will need to tranquilise animals for treatment or medical procedures. These kinds of activities happen throughout the year, strictly as and when the need for it arises. While the project does plan and follow basic schedules, the nature of the work being done dictates that the animals and their environment are our number one priority, and therefore our schedules may at times have to be altered due to unforeseen circumstances or incidents within this wild and dynamic environment.
Q: Will there be a chance to participate in any tranquilization of animals while I am there?
Please remember that, for the most part, the daily work involves the telemetry tracking of these species, from the monitoring vehicles each day, since that is the essential conservation service we have been contracted to provide to these reserves. Any conservation activities that we perform above and beyond that, such as the tranquilizing of Wild Dog, Cheetah, Lion etc. for collaring, relocation or treatment, happens strictly when needed and is therefore simply impossible to accurately predict, since these activities rely on numerous influencing factors – including:
- Pack/pride dynamics and location within the protected areas
- The logistics of liaising with the busy schedules of the various Reserve Management Staff and Wildlife Veterinarians who collaborate with us, in these operations.
The only general guideline we can give in terms the “the time of year”, is that the immobilization of LARGER animals (like Rhino, Elephant, etc) are not usually performed during the hottest summer months (between November – February), since the days get too hot to be able to tranquilize large animals safely. Although you might be lucky enough to be a part of one of these activities during your time with us, we do caution our participants not to sign up with the expectation of being guaranteed to participate in these additional conservation activities.
Q: What happens to the data collected by the volunteers?
The data that is collected by our monitoring teams on a daily basis includes location data, feeding observations, condition assessments, and behavioral observations – depending very much on the species being monitored/observed. Critical information such as wounds, snares or the birth of new individuals is reported immediately to the Reserve’s Management staff. The other data is captured into our databases and transferred to the Reserve’s Management in the form of both raw data and a detailed Monthly Report. There are also Quarterly Reports produced every three months. Our volunteers are very active in cleaning, capturing and processing data.
The Protected Areas use the data that we collect to report to Species-specific Regional and National forums. In addition, it is a critical tool for Protected Area Management decision-making: for example, feeding data from predator observations will influence whether the Protected Area introduces prey species or removes prey species to sell; information about breeding rates of a pack of wild dogs will help determine how many wild dogs are available in the regional meta-population to capture and re-populate new areas and thus help grow the population of this endangered species; data about the interactions of predator species will help to determine protected area stocking rates; etc.
Should you choose to join Wildlife ACT as a volunteer, your monitor will happily involve you in the data collection and reporting processes; however please note that we are unable to distribute or share this data outside of our projects without a specific research agreement.
Q: Do I need any specific skills or qualifications to volunteer with Wildlife ACT?
For most of our projects you don’t need any specific skills or qualifications, but volunteers should have a love of nature, a sound level of fitness, and a positive attitude with an understanding and respect for other cultures, as well as a fair understanding of the English language.
Q: How long can I volunteer for?
You can volunteer as a part of the Wildlife ACT for any amount of time ranging from two weeks to six months. In South Africa our bookings run in multiples of 2 weeks, which means you can join us for 2, 4, 6, 8 weeks etc. In Malawi, Seychelles and Botswana our minimum period is 4 weeks followed by multiples of 2 weeks, which means you can join us for 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12. Our starting dates are every second Monday. We do this to curb our carbon footprint (driving out to do pick-ups and drop-offs at the airport as little as we can) and to minimize our time away from doing monitoring work.
Q: How many project locations can I expect to join?
The different project locations are situated several hours drive from one another (within a radius of approximately 250 kilometers/155 miles), within the Zululand area.(Click here to see a map of the reserves we work on).
- If you join for 2 weeks, you will spend the entire 2 weeks on one location.
- If you join for 4 weeks, you will be able to work on 2 locations (2 weeks on each project location).
- If you join for 6 weeks, you will be able to work on 3 locations (2 weeks on each project location).
- If you join for 8 weeks, you will be able to work on 4 locations (2 weeks on each project location).
- If you join for 10 weeks, you will be able to work on 5 locations (2 weeks on each project location).
- If you join for 12 weeks, you will be able to work on all 6 locations (2 weeks on each project location).
Q: Which project is the BEST one to join?
Each of our 6 projects within the Zululand area came about as a direct result of an important conservation need, highlighted by the reserve management of each game reserve, and as such each project team has been officially contracted by the Reserve Management to perform this work. All our projects are making a real difference to conservation here in Zululand. We do not condone creating volunteer projects where the work is fabricated to “give the volunteers something to do” – our teams work 365 days a year with very specific conservation goals, and our volunteers join to work alongside us, in these efforts.
In light of this I cannot single out any project in particular that is the one “making a difference” – the answer is that they all are.
Q: Can I choose which project I want to join?
Specific placement requests do depend on availability at the time at which you wish to join. Availability at each specific project is dependent on the existing male/female ratio of confirmed bookings, since the accommodation at all the research camps is in the form of 2-bed or 3-bed sharing rooms, that are allocated by gender.
We only accept a maximum of 5 participants on each monitoring team, at any given time. This means that the groups are small, and the participants will be living and working very closely together for the duration of their stay. For this reason we do take great care in creating the placement groups; to the best of our ability placing similarly-aged participants together wherever possible, as we do find that this best facilitates group cohesion.
You are welcome to indicate your preference if you have one, and we can do what we can to accommodate that (depending of course on availability at those specific projects). We can also advise you in terms of suggesting the projects I think will suit you best, and which allow a variety of different experiences, along with similarly-aged participants, where possible.
Please see our volunteer page for an overview of our current projects, including a description of each location and the slightly different species focus on each.
Q: Can I split my time between more than one project?
Yes you can. Wildlife ACT works on projects located across many different parks and conservancies. In Zululand alone we work across 7 different parks with varying vegetation types and different species of animals occurring on each Reserve. You can also move between countries if you like, just ask us and we’ll help make it happen. Take note, that the opportunity to work on multiple Parks depends on the length of your stay. If you stay for only 2 weeks, you will work on 1 Park / Reserve, but for every additional 2 weeks you stay, the better your chance of experiencing another Reserve.
Q: How do I get from one project location to the next?
With regards to transferring between projects every 2 weeks: on transfer days (every second Monday), the vehicle travels down (southwards) from Tembe which is the project situated furthest north from Richards Bay. The vehicle leaves Tembe at 08:30 am, goes past all the collection points (Mkhuze, Hluhluwe and Mtubatuba), and carries on to Richards Bay, to drop off all departing volunteers and collect all new arrivals.
The vehicle generally gets to Richards Bay to drop off departing volunteers at about 12:00 pm, and it then leaves Richards Bay with all new arrivals, and comes back up (northwards), stopping at each collection point along the way as indicated. Participants transferring from one project to another will simply get off at the appropriate meeting point along the way. There will be a Wildlife ACT representative on the vehicle, who will assist you with where to get off.
The cost of these transfers between the reserves is covered by your “airport transfer fee”, but on these “Transfer days”, you will spend some time in the closest town/village, waiting for the transport service to collect you. NOTE! This time of waiting can occur over the lunchtime period. We therefore suggest bringing some spending money in case you get the opportunity to buy yourself some lunch on these days.
Q: What does the sign say on it that the transport service have for meeting volunteers?
There will be a sign that says “WELCOME, Wildlife ACT Volunteers.”
A Wildlife ACT staff member also accompanies the transport vehicle to Richards Bay, to supervise the collection and drop off, of all the participants – he/she will have a copy of the transport schedule including all arrivals’ photographs, and so will the driver. They will find all arriving participants in the (VERY) small Airport, using the photographs provided.
Q: Can I join the project over Christmas?
We only accept longer-term bookings(6 weeks or longer), in Zululand for the 2 weeks that fall over Christmas : (17 Dec 2018 – 03 January 2019). Only two of our monitoring projects within Zululand remain open to these long-term volunteers over Christmas; all the other projects will be closed to volunteer participation. This means that there are limited spaces (only 10) potentially available over those 2 weeks.
On those other projects in Zululand which close to volunteer participation, the monitoring of animals will be performed by ‘relief staff’ without volunteers during that time, to allow our hardworking monitors some well-deserved time off with their families over Christmas.)
We do not therefore accept 2 week or 4 week bookings for the Zululand projects over the Christmas period, since the longer-term volunteers (who book for 6 weeks or more), get priority for those 10 potential spaces available.
Q: Do I need a VISA?
There is NO “volunteering visa” or “working visa” required to join our project. You do not have to mention the word “volunteering” or “working holiday”, since you are effectively paying the team for your stay. Volunteers who join us from countries that do require a Tourist Visa to enter South Africa, enter on a 90-day “tourism visa”.
According to our governmental website, citizens of the listed countries do not require a Tourist Visa to enter South Africa for 90 days or less.
Q: Do I need Travel Insurance?
As with any international travel, you are responsible to ensure that you have personal insurance to cover your time in Africa including illness, injury and loss. We suggest that you make use of existing personal insurance policies you may have, which can often be extended to include foreign travel. If not, please check with your local travel company and purchase appropriate personal travel insurance.
It is essential that you have adequate personal medical travel insurance in place, in the event of a medical emergency. In the unlikely event of a serious accident, the project is insured by “SATIB”, leaders in tourism insurance and risk management services with over 20 years of dedicated service to the tourism, hospitality and wildlife industries in Africa. SATIB are underwritten by Lloyds of London. The best emergency response is therefore at our disposal if and when we need it. The nearest hospital / doctor is about 30-40 minutes’ drive away from each reserve.
There is mobile phone coverage within the reserves, and internet access (although somewhat slow) is functional at the research camps. I trust that will help to alleviate some of your concerns.
Q: What do I need to pack for my time with Wildlife ACT?
- Comfortable ‘bush clothing’ (dull colours, e.g. olive green/grey/brown/khaki/beige/navy blue/black – NOT white, or bright colours).
- If you are joining us in Winter, please bring warm sleeping attire and/or a hot-waterbottle, as there is no central heating, and nights can be cold if you are accustomed to climate-controlled rooms. (You could also take the hot-water-bottle with you on the vehicle in the mornings).
- If you are joining us in Summer, you can bring shorts/cropped pants and t-shirts since it will be hot at midday. Be aware you will need to cover up or use plenty of sunscreen and a hat, as you will be on the back of an open vehicle.
- In all seasons, please bring a thick jacket with a hood, gloves, and a scarf or a woollen hat to cover your face while on the back of the open vehicle in the mornings. (The morning wind can be cold at times.) A bandanna or cotton scarf is surprisingly versatile!
- Hat/peak cap (dull colour).
- Lightweight waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers (dull colour).
- Lightweight long-sleeved cotton tops and long trousers (to keep mosquitoes off).
- Walking/hiking shoes (comfortable, water proof if possible). Don’t forget your socks!
- Sandals or flip-flops for relaxing in camp.
- Sunscreen lotion (factor 40 or higher) and a lip balm with SPF.
- Sunglasses with UVA protection.
- A large (2 litre or more capacity) water bottle to take with you during the day – it is your responsibility to fill it and keep yourself well hydrated.
- A small rucksack to take with you on the vehicle to hold your sunscreen, snacks, water bottle, hand-sanitiser, camera, etc.
- Camera and lots of film or a large memory card – there are plenty of photo opportunities!
- Binoculars if you own any (perhaps borrow some if you don’t?)
- A torch/flashlight/headlamp is ESSENTIAL and COMPULSORY.
- Spare batteries (for your torch/camera etc.) We encourage the use of rechargeable batteries, as opposed to disposable batteries which are not environmentally friendly.
- Cellphone if you have one (don’t forget your cellphone’s charger!).
- Plug adaptors/converters for South Africa. (Electricity here is generally 220/230 volts, 15 amps, and is supplied through either 15-amp three-prong, or 5-amp two-prong plugs, in both cases with round pins).
- Mosquito and tick repellent.
- Lotion to soothe mosquito and insect bites (e.g. Anthisan or any mepyramine cream).
- A basic personal supply of first aid items (such as plasters for blisters, painkillers, eye drops, cold capsules, allergy meds, diarrhoea/nausea tablets, etc).
- Your personal toiletries (shampoo/conditioner/soap/toothpaste etc). Don’t forget to pack a little scrubbing brush to clean under your fingernails, as many volunteers say it was the most important thing they brought with them! Ladies, a can of ‘dry shampoo’, and some ‘facial cleansing wipes’ are also useful!
- Any chronic / long-term medications you may require (enough to last you while you are with us).
- If you wear glasses or contact lenses, it is advisable to bring spare/back-up options.
- If you are a light sleeper, it may be advisable to bring some earplugs to ensure that you are able to rest without disturbance from other volunteers.
- Swimwear (there are swimming pools at the main Tourist camps in some of the Reserves – but only when water is available).
- A good book or two, or something to keep you occupied during your midday relaxing time.
- A travel journal, should you wish to record your experience.
- Spending money.
- There are no mosquito nets provided in the accommodation. If you have space, you are welcome to bring one with you.
- All bed linens are provided in the accommodation, but we ask that you bring your own towels.
Q: Do I need to bring a mosquito net? What are the malaria risks?
In Zululand the risk of Malaria increases from LOW, to MEDIUM, the further north you travel. Tembe is the furthest north of all our projects and is the only area that could be classified as “medium-risk”. You can view the latest “malaria risk-areas” according to the South African Governmental Health Department, here.
Some participants bring a net to help with other insects as well, if they are not accustomed to or comfortable with moths or little flying insects etc. It really is up to you and how you feel. It is not a compulsory requirement, but many participants do bring nets with them.
Q: I am scared of losing my luggage. What is the best way to do it?
It is advised not to label your luggage directly to Richards Bay, but only to Johannesburg, South Africa, provided you have enough time to collect it between your flight connections. Collect your luggage there and check it in again for your flight to Richards Bay. However, this procedure also has a disadvantage: you will have to pay for extra airport tax. It will be safer though for you not to lose your luggage. It is advisable to travel with toiletries and a change of clothes in your hand luggage.
Q: Do the camps have a safety box or something similar for storing valuables?
There are no lockable safety boxes, but volunteers may choose to bring a padlock to safely store things in their luggage if they wish. Please bear in mind that while with our teams, participants will be living within a restricted area of the reserves, where not even tourists are allowed entry; and therefore the risk of opportunistic crime is extremely low.
Q: Is it fine to bring a suitcase, or must it be a backpack?
It is fine to bring a suitcase for your main luggage. It is advisable to bring a smaller rucksack/backpack as your hand luggage, that you can take with you on the vehicle each day.
Q: Can I bring my camera?
We do encourage our participants to bring their cameras. There are plenty of photo opportunities! If you do have a camera with a good zoom lens, this will be extremely helpful, in order to get good photos of the animals, for creating and updating the species Identikits.
Q: Do I need a plug adapter and if so, what kind?
There are indeed electrical outlets in the rooms. Electricity here is 220/230 volts, 15 amps, and is supplied through either large three-prong, or smaller two-prong plugs, in both cases with round pins.
Q: What Medicine will I need?
As we are not qualified to give medical advice, we recommend you discuss any concerns with your GP or MASTA (Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad). It is advisable to confirm with your GP whether you will require Malaria medication or vaccination. A small number of volunteers have contracted African tick bite fever in the past. African tick bite fever is usually mild – serious complications are very uncommon. Symptoms can include fever, headache, malaise, and skin rash. There is no inoculation or vaccination you can take to prevent it, so you just need to make sure you use repellent every day and check for ticks regularly. (Note: In South Africa the antibiotic Doxycycline is the preferred agent for treating Tick-bite Fever. Doxycycline is also an anti-malarial drug, so while chatting to your doctor about precautionary medication, ask about Doxycycline, and you may find that you can “kill 2 birds with 1 stone.”)
Q: What and where are the nearest good Medical Facilities?
The closest doctor is within a 30 minute drive from each reserve. The closest hospitals are located in Pongola, or Richards Bay. We are insured with a medical emergency company who are able to rapidly respond and transfer anyone to the nearest hospital (via helicopter if necessary).
In addition to this, all the monitors have First Aid qualifications and fully stocked First Aid kits. This makes them equipped to deal with a wide range of medical emergencies in the field. Our monitors and volunteers have full access to 2-way radio communication with the rest of the reserve staff and management, should assistance be required.
Each project also has an emergency mobile phone that is programmed with necessary contact numbers, should the need arise. A simulation of emergency procedures occurs weekly throughout the duration of their stay.
Q: What vaccinations do I need?
There are NO compulsory vaccinations to visit South Africa, unless you are travelling from a yellow-fever endemic area (the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America), in which case you will need certification to prove your yellow-fever inoculation status when you arrive in South Africa. There are various “recommended” vaccinations (e.g. Typhoid and Hepatitus A), for travel to Africa and to South Africa, but these are not compulsory.
Q: Do I require a rabies injection?
In theory, you should not need to get rabies vaccinations, as you should – theoretically – not be coming close to any of the animals. (For the most part, we view and monitor these animals from the safety of tracking vehicles). However, on occasion, these animals might need to be tranquilized for treatment or collaring, (which is undertaken by qualified and trained personnel). Volunteers on those occasions then do assist these professionals in whatever way necessary, which does mean getting close enough to the animal to touch it – although this is while the animal is under sedation.
There have also been some news reports last year of an increase in reported rabies cases among domestic dogs in KwaZulu-Natal. Having said all that, the bottom line is that we are not qualified to give medical advice, so it remains entirely your decision whether you get the vaccination. No harm in getting it if you are happy to do so! The closest doctor or hospital is 30 – 40 minutes drive from each reserve.
Q: How much will it Cost?
Please visit each of our project pages which lists the relevant costs in the ‘Dates and Costs’ tab.
Q: How is Payment made?
Full payment is only required 4 weeks before you depart, however, a 30% deposit is necessary in order to confirm your placement. In the event of a volunteer failing to join a program or leaving prior to completion, no refunds or liability will be accepted by Wildlife ACT.
The email will come from our invoicing system, called Freshbooks. The address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please add this as a contact into your email Address Book, to ensure delivery of the email. However please note that you cannot reply directly to that email – Lesley, our Accounts Manager, is available on email@example.com if you wish to contact her directly, with any specific payment-related questions. She will also contact you regarding your remaining payment.
Q: Do I need to be a student in order to volunteer?
Although our projects do attract a lot of students, it is not necessary to be a student in order to volunteer with Wildlife ACT in Zululand. However, we only accept registered students in Botswana.
Q: Can my friend/partner join the project with me?
Of course! It is no problem to place the two of you together on the same project. We do frequently have couples / friends / family members joining us together. The accommodation at all the research camps is in the form of 2-bed sharing rooms, (not in “dormitory” situations), so the two of you would be able to share a room, (with two single beds), for the duration of your stay. If you are a group of four, you will qualify for big discounts. If you are volunteering on your own, you can be assured that you will meet some great people.
Q: What is the age range for Wildlife ACT volunteers?
Although we work with many young people / students from all over the world, we rarely allow volunteers under the age of 18 years to join our team. We do have a wide variety of volunteers from all over the world, ranging in age from 18 years old all the way to 60+ years of age. The maximum age is really dependent on the participant’s health and ability.
Q: Can my children join the project with me?
Unfortunately we are unable to accept children younger than 16 years of age, even with a guardian, given the safety risks in the work we do as well as the legal agreements we have signed with the management of the reserves on which we operate. We would however love to have you join us on your own (or with a partner/friend), if this does not affect your willingness or ability to join us.
Q: I am 17 years old – can I still join the project?
As a rule, we generally don’t accept participants younger than 18 to join us, due to the nature of the work being done, and the safety risks involved. We do occasionally make an exception to accept 17 year old participants who are 6 months or less, short of their 18th birthday; but only if we are assured of their maturity, and their ability to fit in and work productively and respectfully alongside other mature (adult) participants who have given of their time and resources to join this project. In this case, we do ask for a character reference from parents/guardians, as well as a signed parental consent form.
Q: How many other volunteers will there be?
We only accept a maximum of five volunteers at a time on our South African and Seychelles game Parks or Reserves. We find this keeps the team small and efficient, as well as allowing each volunteer one-on-one time with the wildlife monitor. In Malawi we only except one volunteer at a time.
Q: What level of English is required?
For safety reasons, it is an essential requirement that you have a good ability to speak, and to understand, spoken English. Your level of English must be adequate to understand the oral information and safety presentation, as well as to communicate with and fully comprehend the instructions / information provided by our wildlife monitors, while out on the vehicle tracking the animals.
This is to ensure your safety while working in these wild and unpredictable locations, as well as the safety of the participants who will be joining you – and also to ensure that all the members of the group have a satisfying and meaningful experience, (that is not hindered by significant language barriers that make communication impossible).
Q: Will I be able to contact my friends and family back home?
You should be able to access the internet once a week in the office. That having been said, please be aware that our internet service out here is very slow compared to international standards, and is often unreliable. Although we will do our best to provide you with the opportunity to use it when it is available, you may not always get through. We suggest that you bring your personal cellphone with you, as it is the easiest way to keep in contact with friends and family back home.
Q: How safe is the environment we will be working in?
Regarding safety in South Africa, there is crime here as with any country. Regarding your time with us you shouldn’t have any problems – we arrange your transport from the Airport directly to the reserve you will be working on (which is a fenced, protected area with controlled access.) While with our teams, you will be living and working within a restricted area where not even tourists are allowed entry, and your interactions with locals (if any) will be minimal. Our wildlife monitors are professional and well trained to lead you in the work.
Unlike sanctuaries or rehabilitation centers, our participants do not handle the animals; for the most part, we view and monitor the animals from the safety of tracking vehicles (not touching/handling the animals or approaching them on foot). Appropriate supervision and instruction will be provided for all elements of your practical experience; we do consider safety in the bush to be of primary concern. A full safety briefing is given upon arrival at the research camp.
All the monitors have First Aid qualifications. This makes them equipped to deal with a wide range medical emergencies you could encounter in the bush. Each monitor has a fully stocked First Aid kit within reach at all times. Our monitors and volunteers have full access to 2-way radio communication with the rest of the reserve staff and management, should assistance be required.
As a back-up, each group of volunteers has a dedicated cellular phone programmed with necessary emergency numbers, should the need arise. A simulation of emergency procedures occurs weekly throughout the duration of your stay, and is performed by the volunteers themselves to familiarize them with the standard emergency procedures.
Q: What is the accommodation like?
The accommodation is basic but comfortable. Most volunteers will share a twin room, with separate shared ablutions and a living/eating area. We have electricity, running warm water and flushing toilets. A bed, mattress, pillows and bed linens are provided. You will be responsible for helping to keep the camp clean and tidy. There is always an outside seating area where you can sit by the fire under the stars. Because we live on the reserves (and often don’t have fencing around the camps), you can expect visits from antelope, monkeys and baboons during the day, and hyena and bush-babies at night.
Please see our photo galleries page for photos of the various Research camps in which our volunteers stay on the different game reserves, within the Zululand area. The Research camp facilities in which our teams reside certainly do not in any way resemble safari or tourist accommodation facilities – however, although the camps may be somewhat ‘low on glamour’, your experiences here will be unmatched in terms of your involvement with conservation work.
Q: Are eco-friendly products used at the camps?
Wildlife ACT is committed to sustainable living and has sourced environmentally-friendly products to be used at the volunteer camps. These all use South African strains of microbes only, which means we support the microbes already hard at work in our homes and our rivers, while introducing nothing exotic. All of these products are non-toxic and degrade within 28 days. Even the colourant and fragrance are hypo-allergenic and natural so that you can rest assured you are doing no harm, neither to yourself, nor to the environment.
Q: What is the food like?
How good is your cooking? At every camp we have a communal kitchen where volunteers prepare their own meals. You’ll have an oven, stove-top, microwave, solar cooker and of course a fire to cook on. Most of the time volunteers take turns preparing meals, or one person becomes the “chef” and the others help with chopping, pealing and cleaning. Sometimes volunteers have different tastes and cook separately, which is also fine. We take volunteers into town to shop for groceries every week or two weeks. We then stock up on everything you will need. As far as possible we try to be environmentally friendly e.g. we don’t buy tinned tuna and we use as much game venison as possible.
Q: Can the projects cater for vegetarians and vegans?
Yes. Basic food items are provided for within our food budget, enough for 3 healthy meals a day, including fruit. Meals typically consist of a starch (rice/potatoes/pasta), cooked vegetables and/or salad, and a meat (or vegetarian/vegan protein substitute if required/available).
If you have specific dietary requirements, as far as possible we will try to accommodate this (bearing in mind that the grocery shopping is done at RURAL supermarkets, with a somewhat limited availability of products)!We can cater for vegetarians and vegans. There will be beans/lentils/chickpeas/ oatmeal/spinach/eggs available for purchase as part of a group grocery shop, however nuts are very costly in Zululand and will be considered a luxury snack (therefore not provided in the general provisions); although peanut butter will be provided.
The “Fry’s” range of vegetarian and vegan substitute products is available at most of the supermarkets here in Zululand. Tofu is not available in Zululand. Soy milk is not always available at all supermarkets within Zululand.
We do recommend to participants with specific dietary requirements, to bring some snacks and supplements along with them, if they are concerned. Vegetarians/vegans can bring some nuts/snacks and supplements or protein shakes with them.Those who require a gluten-free or lactose-free diet may also consider bringing some supplementary food items from home, to ensure they have enough options.
Q: How much spending money do I need to bring?
We cover all your accommodation, training, food and travel costs while you are a Wildlife ACT member so you don’t have to bring spending money except for your leisure time. Spending money can also be used for purchasing gifts and curios, alcoholic beverages, bottled water (should you prefer to drink it), cellphone “airtime” vouchers or calling cards, snacks such as chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks etc. and any additional grocery items they may want that are not provided by us. On the day of arrival, you should get a chance to run in to the supermarket quickly before the team leaves the meeting point, to get some water and snacks.
Thereafter, within each 2-week cycle there will be one trip to the local village to stock up on groceries. Volunteers may send cash money and a small list with the monitor, to stock up on any personal essentials.) The amount for a participant to bring really is subjective, but ZAR 200 should suffice. The basic rural towns do have ATM’s and basic supermarkets (albeit with a more limited range of supplies than international visitors may be accustomed to)! It is possible to withdraw cash at ATMs in most towns in South Africa, using either a VISA or MasterCard, so you don’t need to carry too much cash with you.
The distance between the reserves and any town/city is substantial, and fuel costs are high, so any driving to town for supplies is limited. When you arrive, your wildlife monitor will have done grocery shopping to provide the basic foods for the camp. You may have one trip to town during your time with us (on the Monday one week after your arrival), if your camp is running short of anything.
Your spending money will be for:
- Any leisure activities
- Purchasing gifts and curios
- Alcoholic beverages (wine, beer etc.)
- Bottled water, should you choose to drink it
- Cellphone “airtime” vouchers or calling cards
- Snacks such as chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks etc.
- Any additional grocery items you may want that are not provided by us
- Meals eaten in restaurants / takeaways etc. on “time off” (this is only included in case the opportunity presents itself)
Depending on where you are buying them from, average prices here are as follows: Takeaway hamburgers are about ZAR45, a coca-cola is about ZAR15, a beer will cost around ZAR15, drinking water is about ZAR20 for 5 litres, and a chocolate bar is about ZAR10.
Q: What do you mean by “Priority Species”?
A priority species is any animal species which is of a management concern on a reserve we are working on, for any number of reasons. For example the African Wild Dog is of concern because it is an Endangered Species and their conservation status is critical, while on the other hand Lion and Hyena are of a concern because they impact heavily on Wild Dog numbers. By understanding the Lion and Hyena demographics and feeding ecology and by managing their populations properly we will be better able to conserve the Wild Dog. The ecological impact that a species has can also be of concern, for example high densities of African Elephant, especially on small Reserves, can have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. We therefore need to monitor this priority species to establish the population’s demographics and feeding ecology too.
Q: Are all the Priority Species in all the parks?
Wildlife ACT’s main focus in the Hluhluwe Section of HiP includes the monitoring of the African Wild Dogs, Lion, Elephant and Rhino populations. During these monitoring sessions, any potential incidental sightings of other priority species including Cheetah, Vultures and Leopard, wouldalso be recorded.
Wildlife ACT’s main focus in the iMfolozi Section of HiP includes the monitoring of the African Wild Dogs, as well as Lion, Elephant and Cheetah. During these monitoring sessions, any potential incidental sightings of other priority species including Rhino, Vultures and Leopard, would also be recorded.
Wildlife ACT’s main focus on Manyoni Game Reserve is the monitoring of the African Wild Dogs, Cheetah, Elephant and Lion. During these monitoring sessions, any potential incidental sightings of other priority species including Rhino, Vultures and Leopard, would also be recorded. Our team also occasionally assists with game counts or vegetation assessments on Manyoni.
Wildlife ACT’s main focus in uMkhuze Game Reserve includes the monitoring of African Wild Dogs, Cheetah, Lion and Elephant. During these monitoring sessions any potential incidental sightings of other priority species including Vultures and Leopard would also be recorded.
Wildlife ACT’s main focus on Tembe Elephant Park is the monitoring of the Lion populations, as well as incidental monitoring of the rare Suni. There are two monitoring sessions per day. In addition to this, there will be ten sessions of Elephant monitoring during a 2-week cycle (mostly likely five Elephant monitoring session per week). During these monitoring sessions, any potential incidental sightings of other priority species including Rhino, Leopard and Vultures would also be recorded.
At certain times of the year, Somkhanda Game Reserve Management occasionally request a team of Wildlife ACT volunteers to supplement the existing on-going monitoring efforts on the reserve. Over these specific times we will place participants onto Somkhanda Game Reserve. The Wildlife ACT team’s focus on Somkhanda includes the monitoring of African Wild Dogs, Lion and Elephant.In addition to this, the team will assist with Rhino & Buffalo monitoring, as well as conducting camera trapping surveys across the reserve. During these monitoring sessions any potential incidental sightings of other priority species including Vultures and Leopard would also be recorded.
NOTE: A significant and very valuable component of all wildlife monitoring is the use of camera traps since they provide extra “eyes” for us in the field – especially at night. On all our projects the regular checking and rotation of camera sites (and downloading & sorting of camera trap images) forms an integral part of the monitoring work.
Q: How close do we normally get to the animals? Can you give an estimation of what camera lenses to bring?
Naturally we cannot say how close you will come to whatever animals you will see while you are here, since each sighting is different, and this is a wild and unpredictable environment. We would recommend at least a 300mm lens.
Q: Is a volunteer allowed to go on hikes around the park during downtime?
No one is allowed to walk around within the reserves unless accompanied by a ranger who is qualified to deal with dangerous game on foot. This applies to the volunteer accommodation as well, as some camps are partly fenced but most are not. For this reason please remember it is very important to never leave the immediate camp area on foot, especially when it is dark, and to always use torches when moving around the accommodation at night!
Q: Will I be making a Real Difference?
All conservation efforts in Africa face tremendous challenges, including:
- Rapid encroachment and fragmentation of natural habitat
- Insufficient research and inadequate funding for monitoring and research
- as well as the problem of the existence of many endangered species…
Wildlife monitoring is essential for keeping track of animal movement patterns, habitat utilization, population demographics, snaring and poaching incidents and breakouts. The valuable information that Wildlife ACT volunteers gather, has numerous management applications, including the planning of successful introduction and removal strategies of endangered wildlife species as well as supplying information to the local conservation authorities.
Q: What is the weather like?
The summer season covers October to the end of April when the sun is particularly intense, and the air hot and humid, especially December through February when the average daily maximum temperature is around 35°C, with temperatures peaking at around 40°C. A warm dry winter begins in May and ends in September. Although the days are generally sunny, the nights and early mornings can be cooler so long-sleeved tops will come in handy then. The average daily maximum temperature is 25°C. There can be quite heavy dew-fall some mornings, so bring waterproof shoes if possible for walking through wet grass!
Q: What is the best time of year to volunteer?
Zululand has a sub-tropical climate. Zululand experiences dry, mild winters between May and September, and enjoys hot, humid, rainy summers between October and April. We can of course experience milder weather from time to time, and there is also a wind-chill factor on the back of the open vehicle, especially in the early mornings, so it is advisable to bring a warm jacket and long trousers in all seasons (including summer) – JUST in case.
As a conservation volunteer, you will be waking up early throughout the year, to leave camp before the sun rises. The sun comes up at around 04:00 AM in Summer, as opposed to it rising at about 06:00 AM in Winter.
ZULULAND WINTER (June – July) :
Winters in the bush are generally mild and dry – there is less rain and the vegetation is less dense, making general animal sightings more frequent. Temperatures very rarely drop below 10-15 degrees Celsius overnight. However, the wind will be very cold on the back of the open vehicle as you drive through the bush before sunrise, tracking the priority species animals. We suggest that you bring a thick, warm jacket with a hood, as well as clothes to layer under if you need to, as well as gloves, a woolly hat, and something like a scarf to cover your face while sitting on the back of the open vehicle in the early mornings, as the wind in your face can be cold! By midday, however, the days are generally warm and sunny (20-25 degrees) with, theoretically, no rain. If you are joining us in winter, please bring warm sleeping attire (including comfy warm socks) and/or a hot water bottle, as there is no central heating in the accommodation here in Zululand, and nights can be surprisingly cold if you are accustomed to climate-controlled rooms. (Tip: You could also take the hot water bottle with you on the vehicle in the mornings).
ZULULAND SPRING (August – September) :
During Springtime in the bush, the temperatures are around 20-25 degree Celsius at midday, and around 15-20 degrees Celsius overnight. Cold spells do occur from time to time, so bring clothes that you can layer up if you need to keep warm, as it will heat up again by midday and layers are the most practical. August is our very windy month, as Winter takes its leave and the mornings begin to warm up, and by September we are back up to temperatures of 30+ degrees Celsius at midday, although the nights do cool down pleasantly.
ZULULAND SUMMER (October – March) :
The Zululand Summer is very hot and humid, with midday temperatures in mid-summer averaging 30 degrees Celsius but at times peaking around 35-40 degrees Celsius. For this reason, we advise that you pack plenty of sunscreen (factor 50 or higher), and a hat or peak cap, as well as a large water bottle to keep yourself hydrated during the day. Overnight temperatures remain at around 25 degrees Celsius.
Summer is our rainy season, and afternoon/evening thunderstorms occur, which is something incredible to experience in Africa – please bring a rainproof jacket (with a hood) and rainproof trousers, as you will be seated on the back of an open vehicle and you may find yourself caught in a summer rain shower! After the first rains (which usually start around November), the wild flowers then begin to bloom and the new grass emerges in a brilliant display of green. There are usually also plenty of young animals (impala lambs, warthog piglets, wildebeest calves, etc) around during these months. Although rain is sometimes challenging in terms of getting the work done, please remember how absolutely VITAL the rainfall is for the reserves on which we work!
ZULULAND AUTUMN (April – May)
During the Zululand Autumn (also known as “Fall” to some of you), the temperatures are usually around 20-25 degrees Celsius at midday, and around 15-20 degrees Celsius overnight. Cold spells do occur from time to time, so bring clothes that you can layer up if you need to keep warm, as it will heat up again by midday and layers are the most practical.
The only time that the Wild Dogs are seen less frequently, is when they settle into den sites to have their pups. They USUALLY start denning around May, and the pups will generally emerge from the dens about 4-6 weeks later. NOTE – These dates are APPROXIMATE INDICATIONS, and exact denning times will always vary.
“This is Zululand, not Disneyland”
Occasionally our volunteers may experience a few difficulties in adjusting to life in the bush. To that end, we have included a few guidelines of things that may disrupt your sense of comfort, but that are simply part of life in Africa and unfortunately not things we can easily change. We ask that you bear with us and understand that we face these difficulties with you while you stay, and continue to face them after you are gone!
- Water may at times run out. Zululand, and Africa as a whole, struggles with water supplies, especially in rural areas. Although it may be difficult to adjust to this if it happens, please bear with us as this is a problem we all share from time to time.
- Electricity can at times be shut off for no reason. This is a government-provided service, over which we have no control.
- Our internet service is slow and unreliable. Although we will do our best to provide you with the opportunity to use it when it is available, you may not always get through.
- The cellphone signal comes and goes.
- There will always be insects, snakes and spiders! They have just as much right, or more, to live here and we do not kill them. They are part of life in the bush.
- The distance between the reserves and any town/city is quite substantial, and fuel costs are high, so any driving to town is limited to the 2-week arrival/departure cycle.
- We understand your frustration at not being able to walk freely around the reserves during your free time. This is for your safety, so please understand the reasons behind this rule.
- Although rain is sometimes challenging in terms of getting the work done, please remember how absolutely VITAL the rainfall is for the reserves on which we work – many of these areas are drought areas and are utterly dependant on the wonderful gift of rain.
- We understand completely that you would like as much hands-on involvement as you can while you are here, since you are passionate about conservation! Activities such as collaring, relocation/reintroduction, snare removal, tranquilisation for treatment, identity marking, tagging or notching, etc happen strictly as and when the need arises, and are incredibly difficult to predict in terms of timing. When these activities do occur, the conservation work itself (tranquilising, tagging, snare removal etc) is performed by registered and qualified professionals, but we will do our utmost to ensure you get as much involvement as possible in terms of assisting these staff members in any way necessary. Being present at these activities and to be close enough to touch the animals is an unbelievable, sometimes life-changing privilege.
- Wildlife ACT Photo Galleries
- Wildlife ACT Video Galleries
- Wildlife ACT Volunteer Diaries
- Wildlife ACT Volunteer Testimonials
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