Volunteer with the Big 5

Country: South Africa
Outdoor activities: eco-volunteering
Sustainable tourism rating :écotourisme-4-SOL

Have you ever dreamed to live in a place surrounded by elephants, giraffes and other African wildlife?



If your answer is yes, here is an oportunity to make your dream come true: an eco-volunteering program in Africa.


What is a volunteering program in a reserve? Is a way of helping an organization by offering your time, energy (and often money) to help with the wildlife and flora conservation?

Most of the time, the accommodation and the meals are covered. So you’ll be spending your day surrounded by wild animals and you’ll make every day amazing encounters.



We chose to volunteer for Umkhondo Big 5, situated in a reserve in South Africa, just few kilometers from Mossel Bay and three hours from Cape Town. In addition the region has the advantage of being a free malaria zone.


One day with Umkhondo

After breakfast, we leave the house around 7.15 with the jeep to search the two cheetahs(male and female) in the reserve. They are equipped with a transmitter that allows you to locate them.



Unfortunately, it is not always easy since they sometimes hide in the bushes. But during your stay you will definitely see them and with a little luck you can even see them hunt.Once you’ve found them, you must check if they are in good shape and if they had eaten.



Then, still on your 4WD, the next task is to count and identify the zebras in the reserve (counting the males and the females). First you learn how to differentiate them and then the fun begins.


During this activity, you might come nose to nose with a rhinoceros or an ostrich that blocks the road.



Every day, you will identify one or more new species and this will allow you to learn a lot about the wildlife.


After a short break for tea in the middle of the reserve, the next mission is certainly less fun because every day, we must do physical work (weed control, erosion control …). However, this is one of the few times when you are allowed to get off the 4WD and sometimes some animals come to check if you are doing a good job 🙂


The lunch is served at the reserve’s restaurant and the first mission of the afternoon is whether the fence checking or another similar mission. (set up cameras to film the nocturnal wildlife)


The last mission of the afternoon will be to feed the cheetahs. Indeed, some are locked up because they lived with humans and have not learned to hunt by themselves others because they are old.


On other evenings we feed the elephants or you learn to approach wild animals on foot.



The day ends around 5pm. The evening is spent with the other volunteers around the diner, a good movie or at the pool table.

The pros:
You see many animals and get close to them.


We learned a lot about all the animals and the work on a private reserve.
It’s great adventure of living in the middle of the reserve and every trip turns into a safari.


The cons:
We must spend time (sometimes more than 7 hours per day) in a 4WD on very rough road.

The reserve on which we worked did not need a lot of conservation so we did not feel still very useful.


We were not allowed to go into the lions’ enclosure.

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