Projects Abroad | Wildlife Conservation

Malawi: Wildlife Research Internship

Lilongwe; Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve; Nyika National Park, Malawi


Location: Lilongwe, Malawi

Duration: Research Volunteers: 2-12 weeks; Research Students: 2-12 months

Start Dates: Ongoing; placements start each Tuesday

Cost: from £1,150 GBP

Includes: all food, accommodation, airport pickup, orientation and all project related activities

Does not Include: Flights, travel insurance, visas and vaccinations


  • Gain hands-on experience in research with exotic species in the field
  • Work with an expert team to learn new skills as well as contribute to a body of research that is of critical importance for Malawi’s conservation management plans.
  • Elephant and samango monkey research
  • Ideal for general volunteers with an interest in research or BSc, MSc, MRes and PhD students looking for a long-term placement to complete their studies
  • Keywords: conservation research, biology, research placement, flexible placement, Malawi
Costs Explained


Malawi has many amazing things to offer, such as very friendly people, amazing scenery and beautiful flora and fauna, however it is also unfortunately a place of great poverty, deforestation, wildlife crime and a degrading environment. This project was set up in 2008 as the only wildlife sanctuary, and has evolved into Malawi’s leading charity, addressing both issues of social welfare and environmental conservation. The project is a member of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), Malawi’s representative for the Species Survival Network and a founding member of the Malawi chapter of the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.

We are a registered Malawian NGO founded in 2009. We accept interns and volunteers from all nationalities to help us achieve our goals, learn from our experts in the field and share your knowledge and skills. We have had previous participants become permanent members of our team, so who knows where your placement will lead!

We firmly believe that a science-based approach is critical to effective conservation management. That’s why research stands as one of our four key areas of work. Currently our research programmes focus on elephants and samango monkeys, but we can also host students with research questions outside these existing projects.

Our research headquarters are based out of the Malawi Wildlife Research Institute (MAWIRI), which provides a research base for field programmes in Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve and Nyika National Park.

The institute is the first of its kind in Malawi and is a joint project with our key research partners, the government’s Department of National Parks & Wildlife, and Conservation Research Africa. The collaboration not only brings together internationally renowned wildlife research scientists but also ensures that findings are applied and inform conservation management.

We also have the wider backing of the world’s leading wildlife charities as well as British, US and German government agencies, and we are mandated by a number of local government agencies to carry out our work, including the Department of National Parks & Wildlife, the Malawi Police Service and the Ministries of Justice and Education. We’re also proud to count HRH the Duke of Gloucester and Virginia McKenna (OBE) as our founding patrons.

Daily Life

Elephant research

Assessing the status, distribution and movement patterns of elephants occupying the Transfrontier Conservation Area in Nyika NP & Vwaza MWR.

Who: research volunteers (2-12 weeks) or research students

Where: Based at MAWIRI, Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve (VMWR)

Why: VMWR is part of the Malawi Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) which forms a key international migratory habitat connecting Malawi and Zambia, encompassing an area of 30,621km2.

The TFCA is critical to the conservation of elephant populations between Malawi and Zambia, providing a wildlife corridor facilitating traditional movement, migration and gene flow. Currently nothing is known about the status of elephant in northern Malawi and estimates of resident versus migratory elephants are unknown. In addition, seasonal movements are not quantified, hindering conservation management. Data from this project will inform the Wildlife Enforcement project which aims to quantify the nature and impact of wildlife crime and trade on elephant populations occupying northern Malawi.

The work:

  • Foot transects to census elephant populations
  • Behavioural observations to record group cohesion and feeding behaviour
  • Individual elephant identification and development of ID database
  • Habitat assessments using vegetation plots
  • Data entry and GIS mapping
  • Diet assessments using dung surveys
  • Learning about the surrounding plant and animal ecology
  • Gaining field experience with an expert team
Samango monkey research

Assessing occupancy and density of Samango monkeys (Cercopithecus spp.) in Nyika National Park (NNP) and other locations, and conducting vegetation and GIS surveys to identify forest patch and habitat metrics. We are using molecular and ecological methods to assess the genetic impacts of habitat fragmentation and degradation on Samango monkeys in Malawi. We aim to confirm the taxonomic status of the Samango monkey subspecies in Malawi, and identify landscape characteristics that influence the genetic structure of this species group across a diverse environment.

Who: research volunteers (2-12 weeks) or research students

Where: (these may be subject to change, depending on the project development)

April: Kumbali Lake Retreat, Senga Bay
May: Ntchisi Forest Reserve
June: Nkhata Bay/Zulunkhuni River Lodge
July: Nyika National Park
August: Nyika National Park
September: Zomba
October: Satemwa

Why: The genetics, ecology, distribution and ecology of the Malawian Samango monkey population is currently unknown, limiting conservation management. This is the first Samango research in Malawi. Results will be used to inform conservation management for this species group and more broadly to advance our understanding of the genetic consequences of human-induced environmental change.

The work:
  • Population census surveys (walked transects)
  • Habitat assessments (vegetation plots)
  • Learning about the surrounding plant and animal ecology
  • Gaining field experience with an expert team
  • Data entry and organization
  • GIS mapping (using QGIS)
  • Collecting genetic material using sticky hair traps
Student research projects

We offer students the opportunity to conduct their MSc, MRes, PhD and BSc research projects across our programmes, and we also welcome applications for unrelated topics that you are personally interested in doing. We can support your project with access to expert supervision from our team of scientists. Use of some equipment, lab facilities and vehicles can also be made available. Research students are able to join us at any time of year and are offered a long term discounted monthly rate.

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Travel & Accommodation

Projects are based out of Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve or Nyika National Park. Volunteers should arrive at Lilongwe Kamuzu International Airport, where they will be met by a project representative. Transfers to the relevant project will be organised and are covered in the cost.

Elephant research: Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve

A long-term research camp is located on the edge of Lake Kazuni, close to the main gate of the park. Volunteers and students will stay in large shared tents in the research camp. There is an ablutions block, kitchen and dining area (both permanent structures) in the camp. There is also storage space, lab, office, and teaching space. Solar power is available.

Samango research: Nyika National Park and various other locations

Accommodation is in a cosy log cabin on the Nyika Plateau. It is self-sufficient with its own kitchen, shared bedrooms and one bathroom. There is electricity for four hours every evening. For information on the other various locations for this research project, please contact us.


Three vegetarian meals a day are provided and included in the cost. Unlimited drinking water, tea and coffee is provided.

Fundraising Help


  • Minimum age 18.
  • Minimum 2 weeks commitment (this is for research volunteers).
  • Research placement students must be studying for a relevant qualification (BSc, MSc, MRes, PhD).
  • Basic English language skills.
  • Necessary vaccinations – rabies vaccinations are strongly advised
  • Necessary flight & visas.
  • Full travel & medical insurance – full assistance provided in arranging everything you will need if you choose our Premium Support
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Research volunteers

No. weeks 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
GBP £1,150 £1,575 £1,975 £2,355 £2,585 £2,785 £2,935 £3,035 £3,135 £3,235 £3,335

Research placement students

No. months 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
GBP £1,360 £1,870 £2,380 £2,890 £3,400 £3,910 £4,420 £4,930 £5,440 £5,950 £6,460
What’s Included:

Project Fee includes

  • Accommodation
  • All meals and unlimited tea, coffee and drinking water
  • Airport transfers and all work related transport
  • WiFi, T-shirt and local SIM card (please bring an unlocked phone)
  • Training in all relevant departments, plus full support during your stay.
What’s not included:
  • Flights
  • Vaccinations, travel and medical insurance
  • Visa ($75 single entry 30 day visa, plus extensions every 30 days = $10)
  • Additional excursion, nights out, souvenirs and personal expenses such as soft drinks, beers, snacks.

All research volunteers placements start and end on a Tuesday. It is possible to arrive or leave on a different day, but there is an extra £30 airport transfer fee, and you may miss out on some of the useful inductions.

Most nationalities are required to obtain a $75 visitor’s permit valid for 30 days, with the option to extend for additional 30 days at roughly $10 up to a maximum of 90 days. Check with us when applying

We recommend bringing out a little extra to spend on drinks, meals out and souvenirs. £30 a week should more than cover these, depending on your lifestyle. As an idea of costs for extra trips, you will need about £65-£125 if you want to take a trip to Lake Malawi, dependent on accommodation and activities. A 3 day safari to Zambia would be around £450.

All of the money raised through our volunteer programme, after costs, goes directly into the Wildlife Centre, MAWIRI and the associated projects – without you Lilongwe Wildlife Trust would not be able to continue to operate! Your donation means that we can continue to take in animals, provide the essential medical care that they need, pay local wages and conduct vital research.

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