Location: Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland.
Duration: 2-12 weeks
Start Dates: There are start dates on the first Monday of each month
Cost: from £1,478 GBP
Includes: all food, accommodation, airport pickup, orientation and all project related activities
Does not Include: flights, travel insurance, visas and vaccinations
- Learning about the wildlife and ecosystem functioning of the African Savannah from experts
- Gaining hands-on research experience in gathering and analysing data that will be used to protect this fragile ecosystem
- Embarking on game drives in the reserves to spot diverse wildlife
- Taking cultural excursions to understand better Swazi culture and learn about the interaction between wildlife and people
One of Africa’s last remaining monarchies, the Kingdom of Swaziland offers a rich culture and heritage, a stable and peaceful reputation, well-developed infrastructure as well as some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. With an expansive system of reserves and national parks, visitors can enjoy close encounters with wildlife including rhinos, giraffes and elephants. Available activities include hiking, horse riding, mountain biking and white water rafting amongst breathtaking mountains and waterfalls.
Savannahs are well represented in African conservation areas but they are subject to increasing degradation due to human influences of land use and climate change. Not as well known as the representatives of larger and charismatic game – elephants, rhinos and lions, many smaller species with an important role in the functioning of the savannahs are under increasing threat of extinction, such as birds of prey. They are at the top of the food chain and their territories extend far beyond the park boundaries which exposes them to the effects of both land degradation and human threats. The conservation project, located in the Lubombo Conservancy of north eastern Swaziland, contains lion, rhino, elephant, giraffe and a variety of other big game but focuses as well on a larger variety of flora and fauna including smaller species of birds, ungulates, predators, rodents, reptiles and bats.
This area of Swaziland is particularly rich in threatened species, and forms part of the Maputaland centre of endemism (one of the global “hotspots” of floral and faunal species richness and endemism). This project will take you to some of the region’s most exciting wildlife areas where you will assist in conducting wildlife research and biodiversity monitoring, radio telemetry movement studies, small animal trapping and mist netting. You will gain valuable field experience by walking and driving through game reserves conducting research and monitoring activities which locate and monitor different wildlife species which live and breed in north-eastern Swaziland, and record habitat and environmental variables. This is an opportunity to handle wildlife, set traps and use tracking equipment. While you are contributing to important conservation projects, you will get to enjoy game drives and scenic guided walks as the project is based in the Savannah Research Center in Mbuluzi Game Reserve.
Joining our team’s ecologists in the collection of wildlife field data will give you hands-on training and experience in field research. The research may involve weighing, measuring, tagging and banding young birds (especially raptors), bats and reptiles (lizards and tortoises) in order to study their population dynamics and dispersal and to monitor their condition. Additionally, you may fit radio-transmitters tracking the animals in order to determine their home range, distribution and movements. We use radio-tracking to understand how tortoises move through the landscape and we look at how changes in the vegetation communities and different boundary types affect the homa range size and movement patterns. With the use of GPS and radio-tracking as well as nest monitoring we gather valuable data on the helmeted guineafowl and seek to understand how agriculture affects their habitat use and breeding success. For understanding and monitoring trends in plant and animal habitat use and population dynamics, which are critical in combatting savannah loss and degradation, we use birds counts, acoustic bat monitoring, small mammal trapping, vegetation surveys and camera traps.
This project will allow you to learn about the wildlife and ecosystem functioning of the African savannah from experts and to gain hands-on research experience, gathering and analyzing data to be used for protecting this fragile ecosystem.
Our team will pick you up at OR Tambo Airport and transfer you from Johannesburg to the Ezulwini Valley (Valley of Heaven) in Swaziland. The journey takes about five hours by road. The following day you will have an early start as you are transferred to the Savannah Research Centre in the Mbuluzi Game Reserve in the east of Swaziland. You will be introduced to your research coordinators and get oriented with the research activities and life at the camp. You will get the necessary training on the use of equipment which will continue during your participation in the project if needed.
Starting on your third day you will join the research and conservation activities. You are likely to spend around 6 hours per day doing field work. Depending on whether you are focusing on reptiles and birds which are active during the daytime or bats which are active at night, you will complete your work in the morning or evening. The daytime fieldwork starts between 7:00 and 8:00 and the evening fieldwork ends between 21:00 and 23:00.
If you are working during the daytime, your day may start with a delicious breakfast and traveling to your placement in order to get ready for the day. You will join your chosen project and start on recording behavioural data, collecting information through small mammal trapping, conducting bird and vegetation surveys and more. Around 13:00 you can choose to eat the food you prepared for yourself in the morning or return to the accommodation for lunch. Afterwards, you will either resume your morning’s work or engage in other research and mountain bike game cycles through the reserve. At around 16:30 you will return to the accommodation and shower off the dust and enjoy some time with the other volunteers. After a delicious dinner together you can spend the evening relaxing however you prefer.
During the weekends you are free to explore Swaziland and join any of the unforgettable excursions available, among which are zip lining in Molotoja National Park’s beautiful mountains and gorges or white water rafting on the Great Usutu River. You can also go on a quad bike tour or choose to try a rural home stay in a Swazi village.
If you have chosen a two week option, then day 15 will be your final day on the project and our team will assist you in traveling back to Johannesburg for your flight home.
If you have chosen a longer stay, you will continue with your project and enjoy more time experiencing the country and contributing to the project.
Travel & Accommodation
The Savannah Research Centre located in the Mbuluzi Nature Reserve in the Lubombo Area of Swaziland will be your home during the project. It is a relatively safe environment, which you can explore on foot or by bike as there are no lions, elephants or rhinos.
The camp site has semi-permanent tents with mattresses and pillows; however, you need to bring your own sleeping bag and towel. It also has a house with a lectures/study area, a kitchen, a deck area and a wonderful campfire. There are flushing toilets and hot showers on site. Electricity is provided by solar power and a generator and is limited and should be used responsibly. There are lanterns available and you are advised to bring a torch or headlight as well.
During the project you will be provided with three meals a day – some on a self-serve basis and others will be cooked for you. The meals are eaten together on the communal decking area. Breakfast and lunch are self-service and you can choose from a selection of cereals, bread, fruit, yogurt, eggs and spreads in the morning and bread, ham, cheese, salad and fruit for lunch. Dinner is a cooked meal and you can participate in its preparation on a rotational basis. The dishes include pasta, stir-fry, braai and stew. If you are a vegetarian or have food allergies this will be taken into consideration.
- Minimum age 18
- Minimum 2 weeks commitment
- Be able to communicate in English
- Be open minded, patient, adaptable and willing to embrace the challenges of the project
- Have a positive attitude towards living in a rural setting and working in a team
- Good mental and physical health – an appropriate level of fitness
- Necessary flights & visas
- Full travel & medical insurance – full assistance will be providing in arranging everything should you choose our Placement Support Package
Please note: this project is for people who have a strong interest in wildlife conservation and some previous experience. This project takes place a few hours away from the bulk of our volunteers stay, and is a 100% camping experience. Often you will be assisting our team when university students are at the research centre, or you may even be there as the only volunteer or intern on site at times, and help our team with research between groups.
* Currency conversions are approximate.
** All payments incur a 5% bank transfer fee.
*** Places are confirmed with a 4 week deposit
Project Fee includes food, accommodation, airport pickup, orientation, in-country support and project activities.
What’s not included:
Flights, insurance, visas (if applicable) and vaccinations. Full assistance will be provided in getting all these arranged if you choose our Premium Support.
Premium Support Upgrade
We understand there’s a great deal to plan and organise for your trip. When booking a Placement, many of our participants choose to purchase our Premium Support Upgrade to benefit from the expertise, knowledge and experience of our Project Coordinators.
We can provide the personal advice you need to ensure your trip is organised with excellence and planned with efficiency; ensuring the very best experience possible. Read more about how we can help you.
Note: Map coordinates are approximate