Going on a safari to see Africa’s Big Five is an adventure people dream of adding to their bucket list. It’s thrilling to seek out and photograph the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo because these large animals can be dangerous.
It’s their wild and unpredictable nature that makes them so attractive to see in person, but it’s also the reason they are a big game sport. But because the Big Five are the most dangerous animals to track on foot, they are irresistible to trophy hunters.
It’s difficult to imagine that people still hunt important African animals for pleasure, or that some countries allow their iconic wildlife be killed for trophies, especially when their populations are disappearing. But sport hunting is a reality, and nearly as damaging to animal populations as illegal poaching.
There is hope for Africa’s Big Five, however, with many organizations are focusing on conserving and protecting these special animals, and maintaining their habitats for future generations. These special-interest groups work from generosity, but also as part of a sustainable, responsible ecotourism industry. Take visitors to view an elephant herd and let them “shoot” photographs instead of bullets and they’ll be able to profit from that same herd for a lifetime.
If you would like to advocate for endangered animals, especially the Big Five, consider a trip abroad where you can work towards the protection of all living creatures. When you study conservation as an environmental scientist, you’re mainly concerned with ecology and how to improve the wellbeing and habitats of wildlife and plants. You can choose to work towards preservation in a variety of ecosystems, including rainforests, oceans, and grasslands.
There are exciting careers for people who want to dedicate themselves to being wildlife advocates or conservationists. If you’re interested in the idea of working with wildlife, consider a volunteer opportunity or internship in Africa that puts you close to important apex animals. Read on to learn how you can get involved!
Featured Big Five Volunteer Programs in Africa
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
Having sent nearly 90,000 volunteers abroad since 2007, International Volunteer HQ is one of the world’s largest volunteer travel organizations. IVHQ’s Volunteer in Victoria Falls program is your chance to do your part protecting Africa’s Big 5 – the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Choose to join the Wildlife Conservation project, and do everything from helping to maintain the reserve’s ecosystem to engaging in anti-poaching initiatives. This project focuses on protecting the critically endangered rhino. Prices start from $880 for two weeks, and fees get cheaper per week the longer you stay.
Global Vision International (GVI)
Global Vision International aims to impact the world with projects that make a direct and tangible difference. Founded in 1998, GVI offers numerous award-winning programs in the areas of conservation and wildlife, education, community development, and more. Two GVI programs centered around protecting Africa’s Big 5 are:
- Anti-Rhino Poaching Awareness in South Africa: Spend time on the ground and attend lectures to learn all about the challenges facing the local rhino population. Spread awareness about the importance of anti-rhino poaching campaigns. Fees start from $2,495 for two weeks.
- Under 18s South Africa Wildlife Awareness: Teens can gain a well-rounded base of conservation knowledge during this program while seeing the world’s most majestic landscapes and creatures. Fees start from $3,590 for two weeks.
Plan My Gap Year
A reliable organization that receives great reviews from past volunteers, Plan My Gap Year works with communities in need around the world and empowers volunteers to travel, understand, and make an impact.
PMGY’s South Africa Wildlife Experience involves monitoring lions, rhinos, and other animals that roam the beautiful land here. You’ll also get to help out with fence patrols, planting of indigenous trees, and road maintenance. Prices start from $684 for one week.
Focused on transparency, affordability, and quality, Love Volunteers is a great choice for Big 5 volunteering programs in Africa. A very high approval rating from past volunteers and independent reviewers shows the organization has been doing things right!
Join Volunteering Solutions’ Wildlife Conservation program in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Research local wildlife and engage in efforts to improve the future prospects of endangered animals. Prices start from just $1,089 for two weeks.
Agape Volunteers supports humanitarian efforts and environmental conservation initiatives in Africa and beyond. Their Animal Conservation in South Africa program focuses on protecting animals native to Marakele National Park through anti-poaching efforts, animal monitoring, and park management. Fees start from $2,025 for two weeks.
African Impact launched in 2004 and now offers programs in 11 countries on the continent. When it comes to wildlife volunteering in Africa, they’re a top choice. Two great Big Five volunteering programs offered by African Impact are:
- Hands-on Lion Conservation in Antelope Park: Journey to Zimbabwe and walk alongside the king of the jungle. Participate in key research activities aimed at improving the futures of these majestic cats (from $2,597 for two weeks).
- African Big 5 and Wildlife Conservation in South Africa: Enjoy the ultimate safari volunteering experience in the Greater Kruger Area as you research the Big 5 and provide valuable information to protect them from poaching, starvation, and other dangers (from $2,272 for two weeks).
Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad is the preferred organization for more than 10,000 volunteers and interns annually. Join Projects Abroad in Africa to protect some of the continent’s biggest and most famous animals. Many species are coming under greater threat due to habitat loss, poaching, and other forces. On a conservation project, you will team up with passionate environmentalists and contribute to real, ongoing research and work that defends our environment.
- Botswana: Live and work in the heart of the African bushveld, where you’ll help protect elephants, leopards, lions, and more. Elephant conservation is a priority on this project, as the area is home to a large elephant population.
- Kenya: You’ll be based in the famous Great Rift Valley, where you’ll help preserve local biodiversity through research and monitoring. Along with hundreds of bird species, you can see buffalo, lions, zebra, waterbuck, impala, gazelle, eland, hyenas, leopards, and hippos! The main focus of this project is to preserve the critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.
Projects Abroad also offers a Rainforest Conservation Project in Madagascar.
Fronteering has a mission to provide off-the-beaten-path volunteer programs that lift up the places they serve. They host a Safari Conservation project in Gauteng, South Africa. The goal of this project is to raise awareness about conservation efforts and actually increase the size of the nature reserve (from $1795 for two weeks).
Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
Global Leadership Adventures specializes in international volunteer programs for teens. The vast majority of past volunteers consider their experience in GLA’s programs life-changing.
GLA’s South Africa: Safari Service Expedition puts you on the front lines of rhino conservation in Somkhanda Game Reserve. You’ll also encounter three other members of the Big 5: leopards, elephants, and buffalo. Tuition is $3,999 for 14 days.
Founded in 1989, Frontier has sent more than 103,000 interns and volunteers abroad. Frontier has two wildlife volunteering programs in Africa:
- South Africa Game Ranger Internship: Head to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and take a field guide training course. By the end of it, you’ll be a skilled natural guide. The eight-week course costs $4,445.
- Zimbabwe Black Rhino and Elephant Conservation: Help improve the future outlook for the black rhino and elephant by participating in game park management and community education. (from $2,395 for two weeks).
Naturally Africa Volunteers
Dedicated to running responsible and impactful projects across Africa, Naturally Africa Volunteers offers two thoughtfully designed Big 5 volunteering programs:
- Safari Guide Course in South Africa: Take a field guide course and set yourself up to be a guide on safari volunteering excursions. The 28-day course takes place in Selati and Karongwe in South Africa, and Mashatu in Botswana (you can choose where to go).
- South Africa Pre-Vet Wildlife Project: Head to the Eastern Cape and get hands-on experience working with antelope, snakes, lions, and other magnificent local animals. It’s a great resume-building experience for aspiring vets (from two weeks for $1,450).
Founded in 2009, Global Nomadic has helped more than 10,000 interns find placements around the planet. Their Malawi Wildlife Research Internship is a particularly great program. Located in Lilongwe, Malawi, you’ll get the chance to contribute to the growing body of research on local species, including the elephant and Samango monkey (from £1,150, or ~$1,528, for two weeks).
Big or Small, All Animals Are Important
The earth is losing species each year, as plants and animals are threatened by human encroachment and by hunting for profit or sport. You can help to stem this tide by advocating for wildlife, and raising awareness of their plight. As a conservationist, you can conduct important research and develop workable plans to preserve ecosystems and animals, from the tiny African pygmy mouse to the enormous African elephant. Big or small, all animals matter and have a place in the circle of life.
Nick Callos · Writer
With a BA in English Literature & Writing from Boston College, Nick researches and writes about volunteer, intern, and teach abroad programs worldwide. He has studied abroad and taught English in Chengdu, China, and aims to help fellow travelers make a lasting impact on the communities they visit.