Volunteer with the Big Five in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Eastern Cape, South Africa Wildlife & Environmental Conservation



Big Five Safari Reserve, founded in 1999, is a unique conservation initiative allowing animals to be re-introduced to an area where they once roamed free. Initially starting as a joint conservation venture, there are six independently owned lodges in the reserve that are all accredited safari lodges. Lodges are managed by descendants of the original families who arrived in South Africa with British settlers in 1820.

Due to interest indicated by tourists to do more than just go on safari drives, this project really came to life, offering volunteer services since 2006. Originally used to ranch sheep and cattle, Big Five Safari Reserve aims to return this land to nature, reclaiming original flora and fauna species to this area. With your help, such initiatives are achievable.

Volunteers work closely with game rangers; ‘game’ meaning wild animals, not a game that you play. You will assist with a variety of tasks and activities to help run this reserve successfully, maintaining infrastructure, making sure animals are well-kept plus any other necessary initiatives. You will be supervised at all times by the game ranger, who takes charge of all activities, including the volunteer house and will assign you each task as required. With his vast experience and knowledge, you are in safe hands here. Any questions you may have should be directed to him, as he will teach you about Big Five’s bigger and smaller species while detailing how to care for each species.

Most volunteers hail from Western Europe, USA, and the UK, but people from all over are welcome to join this venture. For you to gain a more personal, unique experience from this reserve, you will be working with a small group. Anywhere from one to 10 people as volunteers come and go numbers can differ. This means more learning and more adventure. And who doesn’t like a good adventure every now and again?


As you can see by Big Five Safari Reserve’s varied tasks and fun activities, you will feel like you’re working and enjoying perks of paradise. Help preserve South African wildlife while gaining valuable experience that will sharpen up and even add to your skill set. While there’s so much you could potentially do, don’t come to this project with huge expectations. Go with the flow and enjoy each task as it comes while learning about how to run a safari reserve and animals that it houses. Plus, should you be so fortunate and like delving into your wilder side, you could help catch bigger game such as lions and elephants. There’s so much fun to be had and so many nice people to meet. Get started today and immerse yourself as much as possible in this wonderful opportunity.

Field conditions

Each working week at Big Five Safari Reserve comprises of a five-day week, Monday to Friday, working eight hours each day. But as you’ll find out right away, this isn’t your ordinary nine-to-five job, plus it’s more fun too. Activities can be seen in three ways: A long-term project, general duties, and short-term projects. The activities during your stay will vary. You are not guaranteed to do everything during your stay, but given the various tasks available, your days will never be boring, that’s for sure!

Long-term projects include:

--Animal Counts

--Animal Tracking using telemetry

--Territorial ranges and feeding range monitoring

--Lion health and breeding monitoring

--Giraffe movement and breeding monitoring

--Local community sustainability projects

--Assisting vulnerable children and aiding orphans

--Birds in Reserves Project

General duties include:

--Erosion control

--Patrolling and maintaining the fence

--Herbarium development

--Alien plant control

--Cleaning and clearing brush

--Road maintenance

--Boma maintenance

Short-term projects include:

--Game capture, counts, and monitoring

--Medicinal use of plants and vegetation biomes

--Tracking trails and taking guided walks throughout the reserve

--Nocturnal predator monitoring Future Projects

--Providing basic pre-school education at the Isipho Centre

--Getting more involved in active sports and games at Isipho, to aid children’s health and fitness

--Long-term relocation and renovation of the Isipho vegetable plot

--Bi-annual neutering of stray dogs and cats around the area

Fun Activities:

--Bush camping

--Navigation and Compass Orientation

--Xhosa Bush Tour

--Target shooting

--Updating Project Information on the Computer




--5-Star Lodge Experience


--Darting and relocations

--Game drives

--Volunteer diary for our website

Arrival and orientation

When you arrive at Port Elizabeth Airport, you can choose to make your own way via Avis Rental Car or bus. You can also allow a representative to pick you up and transport you to the volunteer house in Paterson. Should you request a pickup, extra fees will apply. A volunteer coordinator will greet you at the volunteer house. Here, you will get an orientation, including an overview of house rules, a general program, and tour of the facilities. You will then be introduced your room and fellow volunteers who you will share this accommodation with. Additionally, you will receive a small booklet which provides you with more useful information for your stay.

Your stay


  • HousingVolunteer house

  • Provided mealsBreakfast, dinner

Accommodation description

All volunteers are accommodated in a one-story, seven-bedroom house, which overlooks a large garden. Most rooms are doubles, where you’ll share a bathroom with two other volunteers, while two share a second bathroom and two rooms are en-suite. Each bathroom has a hot water shower, though you’ll only really need it for the winter months as it gets chilly between June and August.

Shops and a local bar are within walking distance. Your game ranger will transport you to and from your project in his car daily.

A communal dining and sitting room with digital satellite TV lies centrally in the house. There’s also a well-equipped kitchen, an adjoining office space and a sunroom where you can use phone and Internet services. You will be charged R10 per 30-minute interval for internet usage, while calls can be made using a World Call Card. Electrical sockets in the volunteer house require international adapters, which should be purchased before arrival.

Fruits, vegetables, and meat are all provided throughout the day. You will be responsible for cooking meals each evening in the communal kitchen and showcasing your cooking skills. Should cooking not be your forte, feel free to grab a snack in any nearby shop in Paterson, which you will pass daily when heading to Big Five Safari Reserve. Breakfasts and lunch are prepared individually, so grab whatever you like for those meals. Should you have dietary requirements you need to meet; please make mention before your arrival in Port Elizabeth.


Volunteers will be staying in a volunteer house.


from $695 USDper week

from $695 USDper week


What’s included

  • Cleaning lady/once a week laundry

  • Breakfast, lunch, volunteers cook the evening meal in communal kitchen (all meat, fruit, vegetables are included)

  • Accommodation

What’s not included

  • Personal expenses

  • Visa

  • Vaccinations

  • Transfer from and to port elizabeth

  • Airfare

Start dates

Monday on a weekly basis for a minimum stay of 1 week, maximum stay 12 weeks.

Established in 2005, Khaya Volunteer Projects offers unique and affordable volunteer and gap year projects in South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zanzibar. Khaya projects run the gamut of volunteer interests with project areas including Children; Communities; Sports Development; Healthcare; Wildlife and Conservation; and Education projects. A common thread running through all Khaya projects is a commitment to ethical volunteering. They work to ensure that your volunteering efforts and your financial contributions are used in the best way possible. In alignment with that goal, Khaya, with its base and several offices in Africa, can and does assist its local partners and projects in Southern and Eastern Africa with keeping the focus on responsible and ethical volunteering.

Their mission is simple but resonant:

“...we provide volunteering opportunities for international travellers that are both unique and as affordable as possible with high standards of service and facilities. Needless to say, we also prioritise our selected volunteer projects’ needs in ways that benefit both project and you, the volunteer.”

Honest pricing, crystal clear information, timely communication, and great service are all hallmarks of how they run a successful organization. True to the meaning of “Khaya” in several African languages, Khaya Volunteers makes sure its volunteers feel secure, well informed, and that they belong to the project to which they commit. Khaya believes that if you join on of their volunteering projects, you’ll have an African experience you’ll never forget.

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