Join the field guides and research team on safari drives through South African game reserves to monitor and study the African ‘Big 5’ - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. The data you collect on these wild, but vulnerable and at-risk animals, will help local wildlife foundations in protecting and conserving them. While living at a lodge in this wildlife haven, you’ll not only practically contribute to conservation, but learn more from our team of experts about the issues facing African animals.
This project is based in the stunning Greater Kruger Area of South Africa – famous for its breath-taking scenery and sightings of the ‘Big 5’ (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo). The ‘Big 5’, while now thought of as the top animals to see on safari, originally referred to the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. The area is world-renowned for its protection efforts to save these species’ and preserve their natural habitats. As a research volunteer, you’ll be part of the action; helping to monitor the region’s wild ‘Big 5’ animals and assisting in vital conservation efforts that support the long-term objectives of internationally-recognized wildlife trusts and foundations.
If you dream of combining stunning nature & wildlife, a learning experience and ongoing adventures, then this is the project for you!
Activities available at additional costs:
The Rhino Project
In the face of the current rhino-poaching crisis, there has never been a bigger need for the monitoring of this majestic species. Over 1000 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, so your participation is key as you actively search for individual rhinos on daily research drives. By tracking and identifying individuals, and then documenting your observations, you’ll provide the necessary information required for their protection and for the deterrence of poachers in the area.
The Lion Project
Africa’s iconic species are continuing to disappear at an alarming rate. With over a 40% drop in the lion population in the past 20 years and a total eradication of lions in 14 African countries, hands are needed on the ground to save these amazing animals. You will be instrumental in collecting data on specific lion prides during your daily research drives. This contributes to detailed statistics on their pride dynamics, social structures and the effect of human conflict, which are all invaluable in the protection of lions.
The Leopard Project
The leopard population in South Africa is declining quickly due to persecution by humans. Decisions on their protection are misinformed because of outdated population numbers, with hunting permits still being issued. On daily research drives, you will be collecting vital information on this species and creating ID kits on each individual, helping authorities better protect them in the future. You will also be detecting snares and removing them – playing a direct role in saving this iconic species.
The Elephant Project
Elephants are greatly misunderstood and sometimes seen as a nuisance due to a lack of information on their numbers and migratory patterns. These beautiful creatures are being culled unnecessarily often due to this lack of insight. You will play a critical role in their protection, by providing our partner organizations with data collected on elephant population estimates and movements in the area
The Buffalo Project
The stability of the buffalo herds (also called obstinacies) is key information for management of conservation in the area. They are often misunderstood but are fundamental to reserve management and predator and prey relationship. We can guarantee that through game counts and daily research drives, you will see why they need respect and hold the deserved place in the ‘Big 5’.
By conducting research on how ecosystems work together, we can be better informed as we work to conserve and protect our valuable endangered and threatened species in Africa. This ranges from the effect of the changing climate with drought and flash floods often destroying huge land areas. The disappearance of insect life, reptiles and birdlife all absolutely needed for a healthy and balanced protected wildlife.
Situated in the heart of South Africa’s most famous ‘Big 5’ area, you will be surrounded by beautiful game reserves including the world-renowned Kruger National Park, which is a 45-minute drive from the lodge. The nearest town is Hoedspruit, which is a 30-minute drive from the lodge and a great place to spend some relaxing downtime. There is an optional weekly town trip on Fridays to visit supermarkets and souvenir shops or you can simply relax whilst drinking coffee or eating ice-cream.
During your volunteering placement, you will stay at the project’s lodge – Olifants River Camp, within the Greater Kruger Area. The spacious lodge has a swimming pool, several spacious areas to lounge around and socialise in, a large boma for braais (BBQ) as well as a sunny courtyard. There is also have a small shop where you can buy basic toiletries, yummy snacks, local crafts and a small bar. The lodge all situated on 18 hectares of land. This beautiful landscape serves as home to impala, warthog, bush pig, nyala and a great diversity of birdlife. Here, you’ll dine, relax and socialise. There is not a better place to sit than around a campfire and admire the stars!
The accommodation is bunk beds and 4-8 people share each room. It is possible to upgrade to a private room with private toilet facilities at the costs of 25 USD/person/day.
Laundry services are available for R60 per load.
In-house chefs will cook three fresh meals for you each day. The project can cater to most types of dietary needs, but please make sure to inform us of any special requirements when you make your reservation. Drinking water and tea or coffee will also be available throughout your stay. Cold drinks can be purchased at the bar. The lodge also provides a volunteer fridge for your own shopping if you fancy extra snacks or drinks.
Wi-Fi vouchers are available for purchase at your accommodation. The vouchers cost approximately R600 for four weeks.
Cell phone reception is available. Check with your service provider for costs or purchase a local SIM card at the airport.
The South African currency is the rand. Cash can be withdrawn at the airport. There are also ATMs available in the nearest town, Hoedspruit (Please note: There may be a fee to withdraw from ATMs in Hoedspruit). Most shops and restaurants accept both debit and credit card payments.
When you arrive at the project, we will open a tab for you. All fees for trips and items that you buy from our shop will be added to your tab and you’ll be expected to pay-in-full during check out. You can pay using cash or a credit card (Please note: Credit card payments can be made for trips with an additional 6 per cent fee).
If you plan on using your bank cards overseas, don’t forget to tell your bank that you will be in South Africa. Otherwise, your bank may freeze your cards.
The nearest town, Hoedspruit, is a 30-minute drive from the lodge. It’s a great place where you can take some relaxing downtime. The project runs an optional weekly trip to town each Friday to give people the chance to visit supermarkets, browse souvenir shops or just relax with a coffee or ice cream.
This page will guide you on how to book your flights, how transportation to and from the project works and which vaccinations are required for your trip.
Arrival and departure are on Sundays. It is recommended that you arrive at Hoedspruit airport (HDS) as it is only around 30 min. drive away from the project. The alternative, Nelspruit airport is located roughly 2-3 hours away from the project and to join the transfer from Nelspruit your flight will need to land before 1 PM. When going home (Nelspruit) you need to book your flights with departure after 1 PM. There are no time restrictions when going/departing from Hoedspruit on the specified arrival/departure day.
You will be picked up from and dropped off at the airport by a representative from the project. The cost of transportation to and from the airport is included in your project fee when arriving/departing on Sundays (on the specified dates). Off-schedule transfers are possible at additional costs.
We recommend you consult with your doctor to ensure you have the appropriate vaccinations before your trip. Below is an overview of vaccinations that are likely to be recommended:
Hepatitis A&B: Recommended
Malaria: Kruger is in a malaria risk area, so you should bring anti-malarial tablets and mosquito repellent with you.
People from most countries will automatically get tourist visas valid for up to 90 days upon arrival in South Africa. If you are unsure about whether this applies to your country, please see the government’s list of exempt countries: http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/countries-exempt-from-sa-visas
It is mandatory that you have valid travel insurance for your entire trip. The insurance will cover all costs involved with any kind of an emergency or incident, i.e. an air rescue, hospital or medical costs and flights. Please contact your local travel insurance agent, otherwise, we can recommend the travel insurer World Nomads: https://www.worldnomads.com/
Yes. You can request a private room with a private toiletfacilities at the cost of around 25 USD/person. Please ask for exact prices.
Cash can be withdrawn at the airport. There are also ATMs available in the nearest town, Hoedspruit (Please note: There may be a fee to withdraw from ATMs in Hoedspruit). We strongly advise against bringing travellers’ cheques.
Yes. The cost of daily transfers between projects sites is included in your project fee.
We recommend you consult with your doctor to ensure you have the appropriate vaccinations before you trip. Below is an overview of vaccinations that are likely to be recommended:Tetanus: Recommended
Yes! People from most countries will automatically get tourist visas valid for up to 90 days upon arrival in South Africa. If you are unsure about whether this applies to your country, please see the government’s list of exempt countries: http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/countries-exempt-from-sa-visas
"AMAZING EXPERIENCE - I had the most amazing experience volunteering with The Big 5 & Wildlife Research. I have been to South Africa twice but never volunteered here so going into this program I didn't know what to expect and didn't really know what it would be like. I don't think I could ever imagine it being this amazing though. Dumela Lodge is amazing as is the staff and the people. We did a variety of things every day and no two days were the same. Everything we did had an impact and made me feel like I was making a difference. I like how the project wasn't just focused on research but on other things that impact conservation such as invasive plant removal, community work, and snare sweeps. I can't wait to share this experience with other people and to come back again!" - Jordyn Bauer, United States (2019)
"WHY AFRICA? BECAUSE YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE - My time here was amazing. The country is the most beautiful country out of all I have been to. The Animals, the landscape and the people are so fascinating and once you have been to Africa you will never feel the same as before. The project taught me a lot about sustainability and the importance of conserving nature. I also learned a lot about photography and African culture. The staff is just so good at spreading their passion for every volunteer involved in the project." - Felixx Schroeder, Germany (2019)
"A HOME AWAY FROM HOME - From my three-month stay on the project at Dumela lodge. I never expected to form so many long term friendships with like-minded people from all over the world with the same passion for wildlife conservation. I never expected that the friendships I made in my time spent on the project would become like family to me.
Having been raised on a farm in Australia, I grew to appreciate the serenity of the bush and being surrounded by wildlife, which was not lost being one the Big 5 project at Dumela lodge. the lodge was located on a small property surrounded by private game reserve, three of which we had access to.
Being able to go on game drives with experienced guides was also an incredible experience, where behind every corner you had a chance to encounter a vast number of species of African wildlife such as a pride of lion bathing in the sunlight or a dazzle of zebra galloping across an open grassland or maybe under the cover of darkness being under the gaze of lone female leopard.
I highly recommend this experience to anyone with a passion for wildlife conservation." - Mark Hutchinson, Australia (2019)
"THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL - where to start! This is entirely different from any sort of travelling I've done before and I couldn't recommend enough. I have been thrilled to be a part of the research and conservation project and see the amazing work they do. You end up making a little family at Dumela, the staff and the other volunteers help to make what it is. It's impossible not to have an amazing time out here in the African bush, with the awesome African wildlife and the beautiful people you meet along the way. Its the best feeling knowing you've helped make a difference. I've made memories that will last a lifetime." - Clarissa, United Kingdom (2019)
"GREAT WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA - It is such a good feeling to be part of something that makes an impact. It's nice that there is a lot of variation in the schedule, I learned so much. The staff is like a family away from home and the stay in the lodge is good." - Jacobine, Netherlands (2019)
”One of the best time of my life. People are amazing. All of the staff are so so so friendly that makes you feel absolutely welcome from the first minute you enter SA. All the volunteers are great and friendly. Couldn't ask for a better first experience in here.”
– Leonard, Australia
“I have had an amazing experience. I have learned so much more than anticipated outside of wildlife photography. My workflow and editing skills have increased as well as learning macro and portrait photography. This is an experience I will never forget.”
– Stacey, USA
”This is nothing like paying a lot of money and doing a week-long African Safari where you are essentially a tourist looking in from the outside and taking photographs. Here we are involved, we are part of it; with the guides, getting to know them, tracking, learning, sitting around the campfire, listening to stories and of course taking photographs.
It’s not a holiday because we work long hours, some of it quite tiring work, and we have deadlines to meet. It’s certainly not work either. It’s a lifetime experience where you become involved, contribute, hopefully, do some good, end up with thousands of amazing pictures and memories that will last forever.”
– Kevin, UK
“I was preparing to have an amazing time. However, it didn't prepare me for how truly inspiring and incredible it was going to be. No day is the same, in fact wildly different, one day you are focusing on a tiny insect, the next a huge elephant. I have learnt so much about photography in general that I can use in all kinds of situations from Tim and Sam. I have also gained so much knowledge about the wildlife in Africa from all the guides, the amount of information they hold in their brains really is mind-boggling.
– Harriet Scragg, UK
”The whole experience has been way more than I expected. The areas we've explored have been beautiful, the wildlife we have seen have been breath-taking and the people working to give us this opportunity have been fantastic.”
– Megan, UK
”Travelling to Africa alone and spending a month working as a volunteer is definitely a daunting prospect, but I was amazed at how quickly I felt at home here. Every single member of staff was incredibly nice, outgoing and passionate about what they're doing, the lodge is situated in a perfect location and is far and away more luxurious than other volunteer projects I've been to and the organisation of every week is fantastic."
– Samuel, UK
Start dates: Every second Sunday. Please contact us for specific start dates and availability.
Number of participants: Max 20 for this programme (max 50 in total at the lodge)
Prices (2023) (per person sharing):
2 weeks - 2,395 EUR
3 weeks - 2,745 EUR
4 weeks - 3,095 EUR
5+ weeks - Contact us
You will get an amazing experience around the beautiful and world-renowned Greater Kruger next to Kruger National Park
You will get to join exciting wildlife research projects and experience the Big Five
The project has great facilities and the helpful staff will take great care of you
Once a week you will get the opportunity of a real African experience - sleep-out in the bush at the research camp
There are lots of extra activities (outside the programme) such as horse-riding or hiking
You will get the opportunity to increase your knowledge about conservation and wildlife research
You will enjoy this experience with like-minded people from all over the world!
We work with volunteer projects that offer meaningful learning experiences and the space to experience the remarkable wildlife you’ll be supporting. Most projects only take between 10 and 20 volunteers, so the earlier we start planning your trip, the better. The best time to start making arrangements is six to eight months before your planned departure date – especially if you want to volunteer during peak seasons, including around school holidays.