Travel to a private South African nature reserve, an hour from the Kruger National Park, to track majestic herds of elephant, buffalo and rhino through the wide expanses of the savannah landscape alongside an international team of staff and volunteers conducting a range of wildlife conservation research projects.
For many, witnessing herds of elephants, rhino or buffalo in the heart of the southern African bushveld for the first time is a life-altering experience. However, unlike a conventional safari tourism trip, this program allows you to contribute directly to ongoing research and conservation, in partnership with Elephant’s Alive, Endangered Wildlife Trust and Karongwe Private Nature Reserve. You’ll live and work with participants and GVI field staff from all over the world on a wide range of other long-term conservation initiatives as well.
Megaherbivores – like elephants and rhinos – are incredibly important to the health of the ecosystem, ensuring the distribution of plants throughout a habitat and uncovering water sources in dry times that other animals can use later. However, they can also be destructive to a habitat if their populations are not well managed, due to their habit of pulling up roots of plants to eat them.
You will work with a trained GVI researcher to track rhinos, elephants and buffalo through the bush on safari vehicles, noting the number of individuals, their age and sex, as well as their behaviour and any identifying details. In addition, you might also contribute to an ongoing project focused on mitigating the impact of elephants on unique native plant at risk species like the famous baobab, marula and star chestnut trees.
Please note you can spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data in the heat of the African sun.
|24-hour emergency desk|
|24-hour in-country support|
|Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)|
|All project equipment|
|Food (except on long-term internship placements|
|Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)|
|Group introductory call|
|Endorsed GVI Specialisation Course|
|Endorsed Leadership Course|
|Sustainable project work|
|Data collection and research|
|Real projects with partners|
|Weekly group check ins|
|Remote Academic Internship Supervisor|
|Remote Career Internship Supervisor|
|Preferential recruitment on GVI positions|
|Job portal access|
|Endorsed Careers Course|
|Career coaching sessions|
Certificates and achievements
|PDF reference - upon request|
|Linkedin reference and skills endorsement|
|Additional drinks and gratuities|
|Extra local excursions|
|International and domestic airport taxes|
|Medical and travel insurance|
|Personal items and toiletries|
|Police or background check|
Live in the heart of the South African savannah, sharing a renovated farmhouse with qualified guides from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, other GVI staff, and participants from around the world. The base is incredibly remote, and tourists are unable to visit. Completely open to the bush and close to a dam, animals frequently visit the property, including elephants, buffalo, impala and leopards.
Boasting more than 20 thousand acres of open savannah, Karongwe features some of the best wildlife viewing of any private South African wildlife reserve. It’s home to all of the Big Five, including the elusive leopard, as well as cheetahs and spotted hyenas.
Rise each morning to the sound of African birdsong at dawn, before heading out in an open-topped safari vehicle to conduct research vital for the conservation of key predator species, like cheetahs and lions. Heading back to camp when the sun is at its height, you’ll input data, study, assist with cooking or tidying, or relax with the team in our shared outdoor social space. In the early afternoon, when the sun starts to set over the Drakensberg mountain range, you’ll head out again to conduct further research. Returning when the stars are at their brightest, you’ll share a meal and the day’s stories with your team. In your free time, visit Kruger National Park, an hour’s drive from your accommodation, or travel to the scenic Panorama Route, which takes you through the magnificent Blyde River Canyon.
With one of most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and home to many of the most threatened African wildlife species, South Africa is a nature, wildlife, and adventure lover’s paradise.
Lodgings consist of large dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms. The base is solar-powered to ensure less impact on the environment. When it’s time to relax, there are hammocks...
Transport to conduct field research is provided by our vehicles and drivers. We have one 15-seater taxi for organised transfers, which includes weekly trips into town, fortnight...
Our base has good connection to local cell phone towers, and participants with unlocked mobile devices can purchase local SIM cards during weekly trips into town. There is Wi-Fi...
Participants make their own breakfast, which is continental style, including bread and spreads. For lunch, it’s usually sandwiches and salads. Dinner might be anything from a tr...
Limpopo is well-known for its warm climate. Sunny days and low rainfall are the norm on most days throughout the year. Summer, starting in October and ending around March, coinc...
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards – the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development.
Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.
Joining a GVI program not only allows you to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems – but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer over weekends.
Field staff are a great source of advice and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. You can choose to travel before or after your experience with GVI (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships you’ve established on the program. Please note that the below options are not included in the program fee, and would be up to you to arrange at your own expense.
The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga Province is one of the most scenic parts of South Africa. This area is most often visited en route to Kruger Nat...
Learn more about Southern African reptiles at the nearby Hoedspruit Reptile Centre, where you’ll see species of chameleon, snakes and lizards, to...
Further south, In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, you’ll find the historic Zululand, as well as the grave and memorial of the famous leader, King ...
Experience the unique cultural milieu of the coastal town of Durban. On the coast of the Indian Ocean, its warm waters make the city a haven for ...
Watch the sunset from the top of Table Mountain (you can hike to the top or take the cableway up and down) or walk the circular route to the top ...
The rusty sandy expanse of the Kalahari stretches from South Africa to Namibia and Botswana. Home to dunes reaching the heights of several buildings and a diverse range of wildl...
The Drakensberg mountain range is dotted with canyons, and many people experience the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping for the first time he...
South Africa might not be top of mind when considering skiing destinations. Tiffindell Ski Resort in the Drakensberg mountains is South Africa’s ...
There are 19 national parks you can visit during your stay in South Africa. Run by South African National Parks (SANParks) the closest park to us is the famous Kruger National P...
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program.
On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts.
From a fisherman’s meal of fish and chips to a spicy curry with naan, the diversity of South Africa lives in the dishes available in most communi...
The most dominant religion in South Africa is Christianity. As a land of acceptance and diversity, you will find many people of different faiths,...
The Northernmost region of South Africa and home to the Kruger National Park, the Limpopo province features some of the best opportunities for wi...
Possessing one of the highest biodiversities in the world and the home to many of the most threatened African wildlife, South Africa is a nature, ...
If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.
We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.
Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.
Pleased to introduce you to Zoe, who is the Program Manager at our base in Limpopo. Her journey started out with a six month internship with GVI back in 2016. Prio ...
Assistant Program Manager
This is Sophie, she is our Assistant Program Manager at GVI Limpopo here in South Africa. Originally from Northern Ireland, Sophie’s journey with GVI started after attendi ...
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Many of Africa’s wildlife species are under threat. Private reserves, like Karongwe, where we run our conservation project, are a haven for at-risk species. Karongwe is located within the UNESCO protected Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve. This biosphere represents only 1.4% of South Africa’s land, but contains 55% of the total natural life found here.
Karongwe Private Game Reserve
Karongwe Private Game Reserve was once made up of individual farms. In 1998 the landowners banded together and created an 8,500 hectare wildlife reserve. In 2001 GVI was brought onto Karongwe to assist the Karongwe Ecological Research Institute (KERI) in their monitoring of the large predators and herbivores on the reserve. In 2006, GVI Limpopo took over this role. This helps reserve management understand the impact of predators on the prey species, and maintain a healthy ecosystem by ensuring a balance of natural resources. Predators are often tracked using telemetry, or monitored using camera trapping. Through this we learn how they use the space within the reserve, what their feeding behaviour is like, how they interact with one another and other predators. Herbivores might be counted, their numbers, age, and sex listed, and their impact on vegetation noted. This data is presented to Karongwe management and landowners on a weekly, half-yearly and yearly basis. We also assist with anti-poaching efforts by monitoring and recording the movements of individual rhino on the reserve through the use of our ID kits. Sometimes we assist with the upkeep of the reserve’s fences and roads. We also assist with removing old farm infrastructure and invasive alien plant species, and work on soil rehabilitation to help with habitat recovery.
Cheetah Research and Conservation
Our cheetah research is conducted in conjunction with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a conservation organisation who currently manage SA’s cheetah metapopulation. Cheetahs are a species listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species. They are a rather fragile species as they naturally have a low genetic diversity and are not able to compete well with other larger, stronger predators like lions and hyenas. One aspect of our study focuses on how cheetahs make use of their kill, as well as prey preference. When possible, we set up camera traps to see how much time the cheetahs spend on their fresh kill and what potentially encourages them to leave. This helps to know how they are dealing with competition with other predators. We also collect data on breeding success and interactions with other predators.
Elephant Vegetation Impact Mitigation
With assistance from and collaboration with Elephants Alive, who have been actively involved in elephant conservation for the past 20 years, we conduct surveys of the impact elephants have on the local vegetation. Due to their destructive feeding habit of pushing over large trees to eat the top leaves and roots, a large population of elephants can have a negative impact on a small environment, especially for species like the marula tree. Surveys might involve monitoring sensitive areas of the reserve and the movements of elephant groups, developing elephant identification kits, and analysing the impact of elephants feeding habits on the vegetation. We conduct transect surveys to determine the level of destruction to tree species and their level of recovery. This can help us determine which areas and tree species on the reserve are particularly vulnerable and might benefit from mitigation measures.
Bird Research and Conservation
We also contribute to the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2), one of the most important bird monitoring projects in Southern Africa –and its largest citizen science database. Because they are popular and well-studied, birds are appropriate indicators of ecosystem health. The availability of significant, long-term datasets in South Africa makes birds a good choice for an early-warning system for climate change impacts and other systematic, ecosystem-wide threats to broader biodiversity. The number of critically endangered birds in South Africa has increased from 5 in 2000 to 13 in 2017. One group in particular features particularly dramatic statistics: 22 of the 79 raptors occurring in the North-Eastern region of the country are now considered threatened. Of concern are the low numbers of scavenging raptors. Most of South Africa’s vulture species, as well as the tawny eagle and the bateleur (two obligate scavengers), are listed as endangered or critically endangered. In December 2016, SABAP2 featured 9 million records across 17,339 pentads, 5 minutes of latitude by 5 minutes of longitude, squares with sides of roughly 9 kilometres, in South Africa, Lesotho, and Eswatini. The selection of sites and habitats critical to bird conservation rely on this data. All other conservation initiatives depend on the results of the bird atlas, to a greater or lesser extent. One cannot determine the conservation status of a species unless you know its range and how this is changing.
We also conduct environmental education programs at one primary school and one day care centre in the area. We make ourselves available for conservation-focused mini-projects. This might include documenting bird of prey nesting sites or the creation of lists for microfauna species in the reserve. In the past we have partnered with a range of conservation organisations like Panthera, as well as academic institutions like the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, and Bournemouth University. Exact project details are also always subject to change due to weather conditions, time of year, and animal movements.
As the requirements of our partners change over time, so do the details of our projects.
The specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) we work on in Limpopo is Goal 15: Life On Land.
Over the past 21 years, GVI Limpopo has:
1. Presented at over 70 land owner meetings
2. Assisted more than 1,200 children in learning about the environment and wildlife (since 2014)
3. Constructed 3 day care centres (since 2015)
4. Recruited 17 national scholarship students (since 2013)
5. Taken more than 300 learners on game drives
6. Supported over 20 partner organisations
7. Published 17 peer-reviewed papers
8. Presented at and attended 4 Endangered Wildlife Trust cheetah cluster meetings (since 2015)
9. Placed tracking devices on 25 individual animals, including cheetahs, lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs
10. Monitored 375 individual animals and rare game
11. Assisted with over 25 rhino dehorning events
12. Raised over £46,000
13. Hundreds of participants have passed through our doors, and many have gone on to have careers in wildlife conservation (or another aspect of the natural environment), due to the experience gained with us.
GVI Karongwe’s Long-term Objectives:
1. Provide long-term and consistent data for Karongwe Reserve management to assist reserve management in making decisions based on scientific data.
2. Increase local awareness of GVI’s purpose and impact on Karongwe PGR.
3. Increase scientific output.
4. Contribute to three large-scale reserve management projects alongside the warden in accordance with the reserve’s management plan.
5. Increase our in-country capacity by providing environmental and conservation education and training, and through community upliftment projects.
The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.
Master of Science (title TBC) – thesis
Mtech Nature Conservation
DTech Nature Conservation Thesis
Journal of Mammalogy
Forest Ecology & Management
Dissertation – BSc Equine Studies June 2011
Austal Ecology: In Press
Dissertation – BSc Ecology
Ecological Society of America: Preprint
Poster abstract for RCUK conference
Science 346, 79 (2014)
South African Journal of Wildlife Research
Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd (Open access)
Master of Arts in Conservation Biology, thesis
Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.
We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.
In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.
We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.
However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.
We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.
Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.
We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.
We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.
Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.
Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.
Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.
We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos
We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases
When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.
We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.
We don’t offer any veterinary programs or animal rescue and rehabilitation programs. We don’t allow participants to do any work they would not be able to do in their home country.
A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.
Learn about COVID-19 pre-departure guidelines, base expectations, personal and area hygiene practices and what we are doing to keep you safe.
Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.
Introduction to the history and evolution of sustainable development, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and how these related to your project work.
Learn about our country locations and further opportunities available to you during or after your program.