The Big 5: Conserve and Protect Africa’s Iconic Animals


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 “Big Five” aka 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

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International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

International Volunteer HQ is one of the world’s largest volunteer travel organizations, renowned for placing over 132,000 volunteers in 42+ countries to support global sustainable development. Here’s how you can work with Big 5 animals with IVHQ:

  1. Volunteer in Victoria Falls Program: Join the effort to protect Africa’s Big 5 in Victoria Falls with IVHQ. Participate in various tasks including ecosystem maintenance and anti-poaching initiatives, with a special focus on endangered rhino conservation. Prices start from $1045 for two weeks, and fees get cheaper per week the longer you stay.
  2. Wildlife Volunteer Program in Namibia: Dive into wildlife conservation in Namibia’s central highlands. Assist in caring for a range of African wildlife, from lions to baboons, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and release. Starting at $1196 for two weeks, this program offers hands-on experience in animal care and sanctuary maintenance.
  3. Wildlife Conservation Volunteering in South Africa: Experience the thrill of working in Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Engage in biodiversity surveys, habitat assessments, and monitoring of endangered species. Starting from $975 for two weeks, this program is ideal for those passionate about wildlife and conservation in a spectacular natural setting.

Intern Abroad HQ

Intern Abroad HQ, a sister organization of International Volunteer HQ, offers a diverse range of internships spanning 250 positions across 24 career fields in 23 countries, including this cool one involving the Big 5:

Reserve Management & Research at Kruger National Park, South Africa: Experience the thrill of living on a game reserve at Kruger National Park. This internship combines reserve management with specialized research, offering a unique opportunity to learn from experienced managers and scientists. Ideal for those looking to contribute to wildlife conservation, the program starts at $2874, includes accommodation and meals, and runs for 4 to 12 weeks.


Founded in 2006, GoEco offers over 150 volunteer programs in 40+ countries, emphasizing sustainability and responsible travel. The organization provides opportunities to encounter the Big 5 in the following ways:

  1. South Africa – Big 5 and Endangered Species Reserve: Join a transformative experience in the African bush at the Big 5 and Endangered Species Reserve. Immerse yourself in wildlife conservation, gaining firsthand experience in data collection and monitoring of Africa’s Big 5. Program fees start at $1,750 for two weeks, including a cultural tour of Johannesburg, accommodation, and meals, with a minimum commitment of two weeks.
  2. South Africa – The Big 5 Wildlife Reserve in the Greater Kruger Area: Be part of critical research on the Big 5 in the heart of South Africa’s wildlife hotspot. This program offers an up-close experience with herds of elephants, lion prides, and more, contributing to ecosystem management. Fees begin at $2,980 for two weeks, covering accommodation, meals, and airport transfers, with durations ranging from two to twelve weeks.
  3. Kenya – Maasai Mara Lion and Wildlife Conservation: Immerse yourself in Maasai culture and contribute to lion, leopard, and cheetah conservation in the Maasai Mara. Witness the great wildebeest migration and engage in crucial wildlife monitoring. Starting at $3,280 for a two-week stay, the program includes accommodation, meals, and airport transfers.
  4. Zimbabwe – African Wildlife Orphanage: Volunteer at a renowned wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe, working with a variety of animals including monkeys and lions. This program, starting at $1,650 for two weeks, offers an opportunity to care for injured wildlife and assist in rehabilitation efforts. Fees include accommodation, meals, and airport transfers.

Projects Abroad

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. On one of their following conservation projects, you’ll be sure to get up close and personal with the Big 5:

  1. Botswana: Live and work in the heart of the African bushveld, where you’ll help protect elephants, leopards, and lions. Elephant conservation is a priority on this project, as the area is home to a large elephant population.
  2. 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.

African Impact

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. A few of the great Big Five programs offered by African Impact are:

  1. Hands-on Lion Conservation in Antelope Park: Journey to Zimbabwe and walk alongside the king of the jungle. Participate in key research activities to improve these majestic cats’ futures (from $2,610 for two weeks).
  2. African Big 5 Volunteering Project in South Africa: Embrace the heart of the African bush with the African Big 5 wildlife conservation project in the Greater Kruger Area. Immerse in tracking and conserving lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo, contributing to vital research and anti-poaching efforts. Prices start from $3,555 for a two-week adventure, living in a private volunteer lodge surrounded by nature.
  3. Big Cat & Elephant Research and Conservation in Kenya: Join the Pardamat Conservation Area team in the Maasai Mara Ecosystem for an unforgettable experience studying lions, cheetahs, and elephants. Engage in field-based monitoring and contribute to conservancy management plans, starting from $3,725 for two weeks. Live amidst stunning landscapes and partake in Maasai cultural exchanges.
  4.  Wildlife Photography Internship in South Africa: Capture the essence of African wildlife through a lens in the Greater Kruger Area. Work alongside a professional photographer, enhance your skills, and use your art to raise conservation awareness. This program, starting at $7,330 for eight weeks, combines photography with direct wildlife and habitat conservation efforts.
  5. Facilitated Wildlife Research Internship in South Africa: Design your field research project in the Greater Kruger Area, focusing on a species of your choice. This program offers a blend of wildlife observation, data analysis, and physical conservation work, starting at $6,855 for eight weeks. Engage in diverse conservation tasks and deepen your understanding of African wildlife and ecosystems.

Volunteering Solutions

Since 2006, Volunteering Solutions (VolSol) has grown a global network offering over 250 projects in more than 26 countries, with over 15,000 volunteers dedicating 817,275+ hours to various causes  including this one: 

Wildlife Volunteer Projects in Port Elizabeth: This unique program offers a hands-on experience in wildlife preservation and direct engagement with Africa’s ‘Big 5’ animals. Live and work in a sprawling 6000-hectare reserve, actively participating in essential activities like alien vegetation removal, lion tracking, and anti-poaching efforts, all while exploring the rich local culture on your weekends.

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. Three GVI programs centered around protecting Africa’s Big 5 are:

  1. 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 $ 3,795 for one week.
  2. Under-18 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 $ 4,945 for two weeks.
  3. Wildlife Research in South Africa Expedition: This hands-on experience includes tracking and studying lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, rhinos, and cheetahs. You’ll contribute to important conservation initiatives, aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Fees begin at $3,795 for one week.

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.

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