Volunteer Experiences
May 21, 2019

What is a Typical Day of Volunteering Like?

A “typical” day volunteering with Wildlife ACT would look roughly like this:

Volunteers leave the research camp just before sunrise – seated on the back of the open 4×4 tracking vehicle. The first priority is locating the animals that are required to be monitored on that day, as per the reserve managements requirements or research goals. This is done by using radio telemetry equipment that receives radio signals from the collars which are fitted onto the animals.

Once they have been successfully sighted, you will observe them for as long as necessary and record data about their location and behaviour and to ensure their safety, before moving onto the next animal/species on the daily monitoring schedule as instructed by reserve management. If there is a specific need (for example if an animal has been reported missing or wounded),  this will be an exception to the rule and the team will be expected to spend all day out in order to ensure the safety of the animal.

Volunteering with Wildlife ACT - Rahel Meier using Telemetry
Volunteer Rahel Meier using Telemetry

You will usually be back at camp by late morning to prepare some food and have a little time to relax, read, have a nap, or watch the abundant bird and animal life around the camp. Each project has a list of much-needed camp and garden maintenance tasks to tackle, so if you feel like getting the heart rate up, this would be a great opportunity to get meaningfully stuck into camp life! You will then head out again on the vehicle between 2-3pm to follow-up on those animals which were not located in the morning monitoring session. You should be back at camp shortly after sunset - to start preparing supper and sit around the fire listening to the sounds of the bush and discussing the day’s events.

Volunteers relaxing at the iMfolozi camp after a monitoring session
Volunteers relaxing at the iMfolozi camp after a monitoring session

It is crucial for the team volunteering with Wildlife ACT to compile and capture the field data. These data capture sessions can be between field monitoring sessions. On most reserves, there is an admin afternoon once a week, where the team will stay at the research camp in order to catch up on the all the administrative work that needs to be done.

Every day in the African bush is different. Some days you could try very hard to find certain animals and not see them. On other days you could go looking for certain animals and end up seeing all focus individuals and the different species in one morning. There are no guarantees when it comes to sightings. Some days volunteering with Wildlife ACT can be a stretch and even laborious at times. You may even track one animal for an entire day over large distances without success; but it is absolutely important, and it is the reason why we are here.

Volunteering with Wildlife ACT

How much hands-on work will I experience with the animals?

The primary focus of our work is the telemetry tracking of priority species, from the monitoring vehicles, each day. Our contracted role to these Game Reserves is to monitor key species. Although other activities might occur during a participant's time volunteering with Wildlife ACT, our main focus is the monitoring sessions since this is what is required of us from our conservation partners. The valuable information gathered by our conservation volunteers has numerous management applications.

On occasion, specific animals might need to be tranquilised for treatment, relocation or collaring. These potential interventions will be identified and guided by the Reserve's Management team. 

These interventions will only happen strictly when needed, and are therefore simply impossible to accurately predict - since they rely on numerous influencing factors, including:

  • Weather (which can impede or delay planned activities)
  • Pack / pride dynamics and their physical location within the protected area (there may not be road access for a support team)
  • Logistics of coordinating the busy schedules of the various Reserve Management Staff and Wildlife Veterinarians who collaborate in these interventions.

The nature of the work dictates that the animals are our number one priority, and therefore even planned schedules/activities may at times have to be altered due to unforeseen circumstances or incidents, within this wild and dynamic environment.  

It is therefore crucial to note that at certain times these interventions will not form part of our responsibilities; we are not always necessarily guaranteed to be involved – depending on the situation. (Sometimes the response action required for a particular situation will be more efficient with 1 or 2 professionals - and not an entire team). The priority for these interventions is to do whatever is best for the animal from a conservation perspective.

Although you might be lucky enough to be a part of one of these activities during your time volunteering with Wildlife ACT, we do caution our participants not to sign up with the expectation of being guaranteed to participate in these additional conservation interventions.

The work we do is not always pretty, or easy, but as a Wildlife ACT volunteer, you will be contributing towards the conservation and preservation of these species for years to come.

Wildlife ACT offers award-winning, Fair Trade Tourism certified volunteering projects across 5 different protected areas in Zululand, South Africa. Join us and get directly involved in some of the most important and exciting work being done on the ground by the professionals.