Conserving White Rhinos

If you have a special interest in White Rhino conservation and are interested in doing conservation work on a Big Five Game Reserve, you can join our Conserving White Rhinos programme at Kariega Game Reserve. Make a real difference, grow your skills in conservation and have the experience of a lifetime!

Kariega is home to famous White Rhino and poaching survivor Thandi, who with the help of local conservationists and wildlife vet teams, survived being poached and has since had two calves of her own, Thembi and Colin. Conserving White Rhinos is an extraordinary and exciting conservation project, at the forefront of numerous species reintroductions and conservation drives. If you want more than just a safari … come and get your hands dirty and learn more about conservation management on a Big Five game reserve.

Project Details

Our Conserving White Rhinos project is designed to offer volunteers the opportunity to be involved in all conservation related projects on Kariega Game Reserve. You may start seeing yourself as “assistant conservation managers” as all of the work done by you will improve the quality of the reserve.

The data collected by you will be utilized by Kariega management in making important conservation decisions for the reserve. As a volunteer you therefore derive a good deal of satisfaction from your work, as your efforts directly contributes to improving the reserve.

Kariega is home to the famous White Rhino, Thandi who survived being poached. She survived thanks to the dedication and commitment of our Eastern Cape conservationists and vets who refused to give up on her, and Thandi has since then even had two babies!

You will be involved in the following:

Elephant Impact Monitoring: Volunteers will help monitor elephant movement patterns, range utilization and vegetation impact.  As part of this research project that volunteers are very involved with, is recording the unique ear markings of each elephant for management purposes. Elephant identification sheets are given to each volunteer, who in turn will assist the conservation department in this regard.

Movement sensor cameras monitoring: Leopards have been persecuted in the Eastern Cape for the last three hundred years, resulting in a decline in numbers and fragmentation of populations. We are currently trying to establish how many leopards occur on Kariega Game Reserve. We have movement sensor cameras in place on the reserve and it is one of the Volunteer Programme’s tasks to monitor these cameras, change memory cards and record all images taken. The cameras are moved around the property on a regular basis, to increase the chance of leopard sightings.
The cameras are also used to record sightings of other rarely seen species like brown hyena and to try and monitor their movement patterns.

Lion Prey selection Monitoring: One of the volunteer programme’s responsibilities is to record as many lion kills as possible. This data provides the conservation department at Kariega with valuable information regarding prey selection. Certain lions on the reserve are fitted with radio collars, so volunteers will learn how to use telemetry tracking whilst on night drives.

Rhino Monitoring: The estimated number of rhino poached during 2012 on South Africa is 633! This crisis is the most significant conservation issue that South Africa has faced. Kariega conservation volunteers help monitor and account for rhinos on the property on a regular basis. For safety reasons (poachers have their eyes and ears everywhere!) we cannot divulge more information about this monitoring project or our rhino numbers on the reserve.

Birds in Reserve Project (BIRP): This project involves preparing a catalogue of the birds, bird numbers and their breeding status in the reserve as part of a project headed by the University of Cape Town’s Avian Demography Unit.

Conservation Management: Conservation management activities form a large part of the volunteer programme. Some of these activities involve physical work and therefore a certain level of fitness and determination from the volunteer’s side is required. Keep in mind that the “reserve needs” are always taken into account and you will help to fulfil those needs as a volunteer. Daily activities are interesting and varied, and could include assistance with some of the following:
Game Counts
Sex and age ratios recordings of specific species like eland and giraffe
Alien Vegetation Control – Volunteers will assist in the eradication and control of alien (non-endemic) plant species. Bush encroachment control through selective clearing is also done in certain areas on the reserve.  This aspect involves physical hard work!
Soil Erosion Control – Previous land utilization practices like cattle ranching has caused erosion gulleys in certain areas on the reserve. These sites need to be rehabilitated.Reserve Clean-Up Operations – Volunteers assist in pulling out remaining old cattle fences and water pipes on the reserve.
Road maintenance and repairing of river crossings
Parasite control – This involves the making-up and administering of anti-parasite meds to specific species (when required by the reserve)
…And any other conservation management activity that might “pop-up” at the time and the reserve requires your assistance in

Volunteers may also have the opportunity to experience the following additional conservation activities:

Capturing of Wild Animals: Our recent volunteers had the AMAZING once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist with the capture of the following species on the reserve: elephant, lion, rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and impala!!  Please remember that captures only occur when required by the reserve and not for the sake of the volunteers. *not guaranteed

Game Introduction: There is an on-going programme for the introduction of additional game, especially as the reserve has just acquired more land that will need to be stocked with various different African mammal species. *Not guaranteed

Fire Management: An important driving force in savanna ecosystems (depending on the time of year and fire regimes) *Not guaranteed

Education / Theory: Each volunteer will be given a field booklet, which can be taken home at the end of the placement. Before you start with each practical task, the relative theoretical background on the subject will be discussed in the form of informal lectures.  The theory provides insight into the value of the practical activities in which you may participate. Mammal, plant and bird checklists are included in the booklet and will help you to identify different species at Kariega. Volunteers will be required to help (on a rotational system) with the entering of data into our research computer at the volunteer house.

Practical education will be provided throughout your stay:
Bush Walks, Game Drives and night drives – identification and discussion of various mammals, plants and birds
Sleep Outs – Camping out in the bush around a campfire under the African sky (weather dependent)
Coastal outings (fabulous beach hikes)

Community development
Our volunteers spend one morning a week (generally Wednesday mornings) at an under-funded farm school, called Farmerfield, near the reserve.

The school is small, yet very under-staffed and local kids aged 4 to 15 years attend the school. Kariega volunteers visit the school one day a week (not during school holidays or rainy days (most of the children walk about 10 km to attend school so if it rains, no one goes to school!), and make valuable contributions to the children’s education. Our volunteers take many of the classes themselves and teach 6-12 year olds subjects like English, Maths and Science. You might also help with the maintenance of the school’s facilities or by giving sport lessons to the kids. A recent group of volunteers renovated a classroom (with a completely collapsed ceiling and floorboards!) for the pre-primary school kids. Your contribution here is real, and both the children and the headmistress are very appreciative. Guaranteed to leave you with a feeling of satisfaction!

Conserving White Rhinos is hosted at Kariega Game Reserve, situated in the malaria-free region Eastern Cape province in South Africa. The area is typically known as “Valley Thicket”… one of the most bio-diverse regions of the nine recognised biomes in South Africa! The closest town is Kenton-On-Sea, a beautiful small coastal town only 15 minutes drive from the reserve. The beaches are absolutely breath-taking and pristine.

Volunteers are accommodated in a renovated, fully furnished house on the reserve – comfortable but not luxurious. You will be sharing bedrooms (bedding provided for you) and there are communal bathrooms (2 bathrooms in the house). There is an entertainment / lecture room, a lounge with a T.V South African channels only), dining room and a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge, stove, microwave, cutlery, crockery and cooking utensils. There is a safe for cash and small valuables on site. Please bear in mind that the house is in the middle of a “Big 5” game reserve, so therefore one cannot walk outside the boundaries of the garden fence. A plunge pool is situated in the garden for volunteers to cool off in after a hard day’s work. There is also a “braai” (BBQ) area outside in the garden.

All the ingredients for three basic meals a day are provided. Volunteers are divided into cooking teams and all meals are made by the volunteers themselves at the house. Volunteers are also responsible for washing up and keeping the kitchen clean and tidy. The meals are basic, for example cereals, porridge and toast for breakfast; sandwiches for lunch and lasagne, veggies and salad for supper. If volunteers wish to add ingredients to meals that are not available to them at the volunteer house, they can buy it on town trip days at their own expense. Please note, we only cater for people with no dietary requirements as well as for vegetarians. If you have a gluten or dairy allergy for example, you will need to buy your own gluten-free bread or soy milk. These special products you will find readily available at our local supermarkets to buy on Saturday town-trips. Meals that volunteers choose to eat at restaurants on town-trip days, are also at own expense.

On arrival at Johannesburg O.R Tambo Airport or Cape Town International Airport (these are your first points of entry into South Africa) you will have to clear Immigration and collect your baggage, once you have cleared customs formalities proceed to the domestic terminal for your onward domestic flight, the domestic terminal is clearly marked and within walking distance. We recommend a minimum of 90 minutes connecting time from your international flight. On arrival at Port Elizabeth Airport, having collected your baggage please proceed to the information desk in arrivals, a Lets Go Tours Representative will be awaiting your arrival with your name on a signboard for your 1pm pick up, they will then transfer you to Kariega Game Reserve’s main reception, you will then be taken across to the Volunteer House – your new home over the coming weeks.

The South African weather varies from one area to another. The Eastern Cape province has winter and summer rainfall, with evenings being cooler than daytime throughout the year.

Summer months in South Africa: November – April

Winter months: May – October (morning and evenings are cold).

Wi-Fi is available at the volunteer house so volunteers bringing their own phones, laptops or I-pads/tablets along will be able to gain internet access. Please note that browsing only is allowed with the available limited data in the house – no downloading, no video Skype calls and no watching/streaming videos. Volunteers are able to communicate through emails, Facebook, blogging etc.

There are no telephone facilities at the volunteer house for volunteers to use. Volunteers can make use of pay phones on town-trip days (once a week – normally Saturdays). There is also a payphone at Kariega’s reception – it is advisable to stock up on “World-Call” phone cards (cheaper than using coins to call abroad) from any post office on town trip days. Volunteers can use the coin pay phone at reception to call home upon arrival and let their parents/loved ones know that they have arrived safely. Most volunteers, however, bring their own mobiles with them so that they are able to send text messages home – this, however, is not a necessity.

Saturdays are generally reserved for town trips to allow volunteers to stock up on everyday essentials and to make use of phone facilities. Sundays are off time for both the volunteers and the volunteer coordinator and volunteers are to entertain themselves.

Additional activities that can be organized for you on a Saturday and are at own cost, and on condition that a few others in the group also want to partake in the activity.

Below is a list of activities, which have proved popular with past volunteers.

1 Horse riding on the beach
2 Sky-diving (tandem) – this means you are strapped to an instructor!
3. Overnight canoe trail on the Bushman’s river
4 Deep-Sea Fishing
5 Quad Bike Rides
6 Field trip to Addo Elephant National Park
7. Freewalker adventures offer great group trips to surrounding areas, including the Garden Route, Karoo, Hogsback, Coffee bay (the Transkei) etc. Weekend bungee jumping trips or shark cage diving trips can most definitely be arranged. These weekend trips are lots of fun and a great way to see a bit more of the Eastern Cape as well as the Garden Route whilst you are with us.

  • Accommodation
  • Meals
  • All fieldwork, lectures and community visits
  • 24-hour support
  • Wi-fi

The working week at Kariega generally speaking is from Monday to Friday 7:30am – 17:00 with and hour or two for lunch. Working hours depend on the weather and nature of activity.

Saturdays are generally reserved for town trips to allow volunteers to stock up on everyday essentials and to make use of internet and phone facilities. Sundays are off time for both the volunteers and the volunteer coordinator and volunteers are to entertain themselves.

Volunteers are also welcome to go away for the weekend to explore the area and perhaps book into a B & B, hotel or a backpackers. Weekend trips away from the reserve are done on your own accord. There is plenty to do and plenty to see in the area and most of our volunteers make full use of all of this and have a fantastic time.

*Please note that the schedule is subject to change


Quick Overview

Country & Area  : South Africa, Eastern Cape Area

Nearest Airport  : Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ)

Transfer Time     : ± 90 min

Duration              : 2 – 12 weeks

Minimum Age     : 18

Join the ethical conservation revolution and help us make a real impact!