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8 Wildlife Conservation Projects in Africa You Won't Believe

8 Wildlife Conservation Projects in Southern Africa You Won't Believe

From South Africa to Tanzania, Senegal to Zimbabwe, the African continent has so much to explore when it comes to wildlife -- but most travelers will only experience it passively on a safari. For those who really want to learn about African wildlife and conservation, though, there are dozens of unbelievable wildlife conservation projects in Africa that rival even the best safari experiences.

Imagine spending two weeks taking care of elephants in the savannah or a whole month tracking lion behaviors near one of the world's biggest wildlife reserves. Imagine your free time spent on white-sanded beaches, cracking jokes with local guides, or hiking to the thundering Victoria Falls. If this sounds too good to be true, don't worry; it's not.

Imagine spending two weeks taking care of elephants in the savannah or a whole month tracking lion behaviors near one of the world's biggest wildlife reserves.

For teens to adults and singles to groups, there's an itinerary -- and need -- out there for everyone. Go Overseas has partnered up with GoEco to show you 8 incredible wildlife conservation projects in Africa that you won't believe exist!

Wildlife Conservation Programs for Teens and Adults

Volunteer with lions in Zimbabwe (ad)

1. Take Care of Lions by Victoria Falls

  • Who's it for? Anyone from ages 17-80 (groups, families, and couples welcome)
  • Where is it? Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
  • What will you do? Take part in lion rehabilitation while on lion walks, help with park maintenance, and teach conservation at the local school.
  • Learn more about the project and read reviews.

Lion conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa is far more complex than Westerners may know. In addition to preserving their national habitats and rehabilitating lion cubs for life in the wild, conservationists also need to educate local communities on why lion conservation is so important.

GoEco's Zimbabwe Lion Conservation project does exactly this. Volunteers on the project will split their time between taking care of lion cubs, conducting research on lion behaviors, assisting with repairs within the national park, and getting involved with conservation education and community development. Also noteworthy is that the Zimbabwe Lion Conservation Sanctuary is one of the few that releases lions back into the wild. They have made a tremendous impact on increasing local lion populations.

"Dealing for the first time with wild animals was a real joy -- hard work, but so gratifying," says GoEco volunteer, Carol.

Oh, and did we mention the location? The park is just a short drive away from the beautiful Victoria Falls.

Help the Wildlife and Local Youth in Hartebeespoort (ad)

2. Help the Wildlife and Local Youth in Hartebeespoort

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-80 and teens with written consent from a parent or guardian
  • Where is it? Hartebeespoort, South Africa
  • What will you do? Wildlife care / research, park maintenance, and youth / community outreach
  • Learn more about the project and read reviews.

Rarely do volunteers on conservation projects get to be involved with wildlife care and community development initiatives. On GoEco's South Africa Wildlife and Social Volunteering Program, volunteers will participate in both.

The dual nature of this project is precisely what makes it unique. On the conservation side, it supports wildlife preservation by giving rescued animals high-quality living conditions and rehabilitating them for re-entry into the wild. These animals, which were rescued from zoos and poaching, or orphaned in the wild, include elephants, monkeys, and vultures.

Unlike other conservation projects, volunteers will also spend their time supporting local community development initiatives. They'll mentor at-risk youth in a local safe house and provide emotional and developmental assistance to survivors of abuse.

As such, a typical day as a volunteer might start off with volunteers feeding monkeys and brushing the full-time resident elephant, Amarula. Then, volunteers will move on to helping children with homework and organizing games in the afternoon.

By supporting wildlife preservation and youth mentorship, the project provides a holistic and sustainable approach to development. It exemplifies GoEco's dedication to making sure their projects are beneficial to both volunteers and the communities in which they work.

Big cat conservation (ad)

3. Research Big Cats in the Greater Kruger Area

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-70, teens 16 and up with written consent from a parent or guardian
  • Where is it? The Greater Kruger Area, South Africa
  • What will you do? Collect data on lions and leopards and restore natural habitats.
  • Learn more about and read reviews.

Kruger National Park is not just one of the largest national parks in Africa -- it's one of the largest in the world. Most travelers will simply pass through on safari while visiting South Africa. However, GoEco has teamed up with conservationists to give volunteers the chance to learn about and contribute to the preservation of this incredible natural reserve. Rather than passively viewing wildlife, travelers can get their hands dirty and support the conservation of endangered lion and leopard populations through GoEco's Big Cats Research and Conservation program.

Sadly, both lions and leopards in the great Kruger area are endangered species. Their populations have been seriously reduced due to hunting, poaching, and destruction of their habitats. In order to reverse this issue, conservationists need to better understand their behavior and habits.

To support this initiative, volunteers will spend their time collecting data, monitoring lion/leopard behavior, and regenerating their natural habitats. Little by little, these acts will help bring lion and leopard populations out of endangerment and prevent further harm to their habitats.

Not too far away from Kruger, on the southeastern coast of South Africa, GoEco runs a similar program. On their , volunteers will care for lions and leopards through veterinary work. Big cat conservation near a beach? I bet you didn't know that was a thing.

Study the big 5 in Kruger (ad)

4. Study the Big 5 in the Most Diverse Area of Africa

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-70; teens 16 and up with written consent from a parent or guardian
  • Where is it? The Greater Kruger Area, South Africa
  • What will you do? Collect data for wildlife research, work with conservation and regeneration projects on the reserve
  • Learn more about and read reviews.

If you're not already familiar with the Big 5, you will be after this project. In the Big 5 Wildlife Reserve project, which is also located in the diverse reserves in the Greater Kruger Area, participants will have the chance to work on conservation projects for lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo.

Volunteers will be focusing primarily on monitoring the behavior of black rhinos, elephants, and lions. Black rhinos are especially threatened by the impact of poaching, and you'll be part of one of the many efforts to conserve their species. From observing the territorial behavior of a pride of lions to noting down the feeding patterns of elephants, participants will get a gritty, hands-on perspective on wildlife conservation that'll beat a safari drive by a long mile.

Floortje, who volunteered on the project in 2015, remarked that "Not only did I get some hands-on experience with a variety of beautiful animal species, I also learned a lot from the veterinarian who worked there." What better way to learn about a new region of the world than by working alongside a local expert for 2-12 weeks?

Programs for Adults

Elephant research in South Africa (ad)

5. Dive into Elephant Conservation in the Garden Route

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-60
  • Where is it? The Garden Route, South Africa
  • What will you do? Learn about elephant conservation, get involved with regional projects, work closely with elephants.
  • Learn more about project and read reviews.

Elephants are one of the most iconic animals in Africa, but also one of the populations who have suffered the most. Elephants are all too often killed for their valuable ivory or because they've destroyed crops or houses (part of an issue called the Human-Elephant Conflict). Fortunately, conservation efforts have helped to prevent the decline of elephant populations in the region thanks to organizations such as GoEco and their partners.

While participating in GoEco's African Elephant Research and Conservation project, volunteers will contribute to these initiatives. They will study the behavior of nearby elephant herds and give them basic veterinary care. They will learn about elephant behavior, husbandry, and welfare strategies. For those who have no previous experience working with elephants (which is most of us...), the project includes training so that volunteers can accurately collect and report behavioral data.

This project isn't all work and no play, though. A 5-day safari to the world-renowned Addo Elephant National Park is included in the volunteer program. Many other adventurous excursions are available nearby as well.

This project lets volunteers get directly involved with regional conservation efforts and research initiatives while they learn about complex issues surrounding elephants. How's that for a unique wildlife experience in South Africa?

Photography volunteer project (ad)

6. Help Wildlife Research Through Photography in the Greater Kruger Area

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-80
  • Where is it? The Greater Kruger Area, South Africa
  • What will you do? Learn photography skills from a professional and contribute to a research photo database.
  • Learn more about the project and read reviews.

While on safari anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, you're bound to come home with some incredible photos. But what if you were learning how to photograph wildlife on safari alongside an award-winning photographer? Furthermore, what if your photos made an actual impact on wildlife research rather than just gathering likes on Instagram?

Created for those comfortable behind the lens, this program does just that. It combines conservation work with the chance to learn professional photography skills in the most diverse area of Africa. Volunteers will get started with a 3-day wildlife photography course, then put what they've learned to use by adding to a photo database for researchers.

Volunteers do this by taking photos of wildlife during daily game drives and fauna walks. These photos are then used for awareness and educational purposes. By the end of the project, participants will be an expert in documenting spot and whisker patterns, but also have contributed to a good cause.

Zach, a 2015 participant, described his experience in the Greater Kruger Area as a "side of life I had only seen in my dreams. Doing a wildlife conservation trip gave me unreal encounters with some of the most majestic and intriguing African wildlife."

Still want to learn more? Volunteers also have the option to learn some basic phrases in Zulu.

Programs for Groups and Families

Become a Cheetah Caretaker in Hartebeespoort (ad)

7. Become a Cheetah Caretaker in Hartebeespoort

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-65
  • Where is it? Hartebeespoort, South Africa
  • What will you do? Work with cheetahs and wild dogs at a wildlife sanctuary; feed, groom, and clean the animals; work with conservation and regeneration projects on the reserve.
  • Learn more Sanctuary project and read reviews.

You don't have to bring a plus one (or more) for this project, but if you want to volunteer with a group or a family, GoEco's Cheetah and African Wild Dog Sanctuary project is a great option. Volunteers will focus on working with endangered cheetahs and wild dogs. Like several other predators in the area, these species are in danger of being over-hunted by farmers protecting their livestock from becoming prey.

Volunteers start their day bright and early by feeding the cheetahs. Depending on the need, volunteers then move on to repair damaged areas of the sanctuary or make bedding for the cheetah cubs. Each interactive task will be under the supervision of trained staff, allowing you to safely get close to the animals you're caring for. And after a long day of hard work, you'll have the evening free to explore the rest of the sanctuary -- or make use of the reserve's pool!

The incredible part? This sanctuary is the first to successfully breed king cheetahs in captivity and has since then bred over 800 cheetahs!

Wildlife conservation projects (ad)

8. Explore 5 Diverse Wildlife Sanctuaries in Hartebeesport

  • Who's it for? Adults from 18-80
  • Where is it? Hartebeespoort, South Africa
  • What will you do? Learn about animal conservation, work in sanctuaries for elephants, monkeys, vultures, cheetahs, wild dogs, and on game reserves.
  • Learn more about the project and read reviews.

"I've always wanted to have a close and personal experience with African animals," says Natacha, who volunteered in 2015, "and you really get a chance to do that on this project."

Created for the volunteer that wants to try everything, this program allows participants to explore several diverse wildlife sanctuaries and get exposure working with more than half a dozen species. From elephants and monkeys to cheetahs and wild dogs, the Diverse Wildlife Sanctuaries project serves up a well-rounded opportunity to understand wildlife conservation in South Africa. By working with trained professionals, volunteers will also learn how to do so in a safe and ethical manner.

The sanctuaries serve as a shelter for mistreated wildlife or animals that are unable to survive in the wild. Participants will be able to interact closely with the rehabilitated animals and gain a unique perspective of each individual sanctuary.

To maintain top living conditions for the sanctuary's wildlife, volunteers will create new building structures for monkeys and develop feeding areas for the impala and springbok. Whether it's painting with the elephants, creating enclosures for cheetahs, or feeding monkeys, this is a truly unique chance to make a positive difference.

Discover more wildlife volunteer projects.

Erica Chen
A current UC Berkeley student and associate editor at Go Overseas, Erica is a typical twenty-something with roots laid in Taiwan and California. Study Read More...