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Volunteer in South Africa: Big Cats, Wildlife Conservation & Teaching

Written By
By Jordyn Hotchkiss
Guest Writer
Edited By
By Munira Maricar
Travel Writer

As one of the most tourist-friendly countries in Africa, South Africa has so much to offer for travelers who want to explore the world, learn about new cultures, and make a positive difference wherever they go.

Geographically, South Africa is comprised of a sprawling coastline with gorgeous beaches, an enormous Central Plateau bounded by the Great Escarpment and mountain ranges, and modern metropolitan areas such as Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. It’s one of the few countries with multiple capitals (Cape Town, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria), and has 11 different official languages, making South Africa an incredibly culturally diverse country. And it’s home to some of Africa’s most famous wildlife: giraffes, hippos, leopards, lions, and much more.

Despite the country’s amazing diversity, South Africa’s communities and environment face many challenges. South Africa’s high unemployment rate means that many of its citizens live below the poverty line, and are unable to access quality education, healthcare, jobs, and other services. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, and human encroachment on natural habitats threaten South Africa’s environment and wildlife more urgently every day.


Volunteers like you can make a difference by working alongside local NGOs and international volunteer programs to educate, care for children and the elderly, empower people in need, conserve the environment, and protect animals from endangerment or extinction. As a volunteer in South Africa, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the country and immerse yourself in a culture different from your own, make a positive impact on communities in need, pick up new skills, and make lifelong friends.

Read on to learn about the many ways you can explore South Africa and plan the trip of a lifetime!

Great Programs In South Africa

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) partners with NGOs worldwide to provide high-quality, affordable volunteer programs for travelers who want to make a difference in the communities they visit. Since 2007, IVHQ has placed more than 80,000 volunteers on 150 different projects across 35 countries all over the world. 


If you’d like to volunteer in South Africa with IVHQ, you have a lot of different opportunities to choose from. No matter which project you sign up for, you’ll stay at a shared volunteer house close to your volunteer site. IVHQ’s South Africa volunteer programs include airport pickup, orientation, program supervision, housing and meals, 24/7 support in-country, and administration costs.

Surf Outreach

One of the many volunteer opportunities offered in South Africa through International Volunteer HQ is the Surf Outreach Program, where you’ll volunteer with an after-school project for children aged nine to 15. Your work in building students’ self-confidence, providing a structured environment after school, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle is vitally important to these children, many of whom come from a background of poverty, abuse, and violence. You’ll help plan activities, teach children how to surf or play beach games, and assist with other daily activities at the surf development center. Each week, you’ll spend three days surfing and one other day organizing games, and can even volunteer with teaching or childcare programs locally if you’d like. And while you don’t need a surfing background to apply for this program, you must be a competent swimmer.

Wildlife Conservation Volunteering in Kruger

Imagine waking up to the sounds of the African bush in Greater Kruger National Park. This is the daily reality for volunteers in the Wildlife Conservation Volunteering program in South Africa, aimed at protecting endangered wildlife.


Starting on the first and third Monday of each month, volunteers aged 18+ (or 16+ if accompanied) can join for 2 to 12 weeks. Each day, they dedicate up to 8 hours to tasks like monitoring rare species, conducting habitat assessments, and clearing pest plants.

No prior experience is needed; comprehensive training is provided, covering reserve management, animal identification, and basic bush skills. While hands-on interaction with animals is limited, volunteers play a crucial support role in the reserve’s sustainability.

Living in a volunteer house, participants experience the African wilderness and gain invaluable conservation experience. This program is perfect for those passionate about animals and conservation, offering a meaningful way to help preserve South Africa’s biodiversity.

What Volunteers Say: Review from Denisse

Volunteering abroad has been in my bucket list since I started it. So this summer I found the opportunity to travel and volunteer with IVHQ, totally recommend it. I felt completely safe all time! Wish I could have stayed longer…I definitely miss seeing the kids smiling at me every afternoon.


GoEco is a renowned volunteer organization offering impactful programs worldwide, including in South Africa. Known for its excellent reputation, GoEco has been recognized for providing meaningful volunteer experiences that combine adventure with social responsibility. The organization ensures comprehensive pre-departure guidance, 24/7 support, and enriching cultural immersion.


Participants frequently commend GoEco for its well-structured programs and the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals globally. The organization’s commitment to impactful volunteer work and its dedication to the welfare of both volunteers and local communities underscore its stellar reputation​

Rhino Orphan Sanctuary

Join the Rhino Orphan Sanctuary Volunteer program in South Africa, the world’s largest orphan rhino sanctuary. Volunteers assist a professional team in rescuing, rehabilitating, and protecting rhinos. You’ll learn about African wildlife conservation from experts, care for and feed orphaned rhinos, and participate in game drives, night drives, and bush walks. 

Volunteers can stay for 2 to 12 weeks, working shifts from 6 AM to 4 PM. Activities include preparing food, maintenance, and rehabilitating baby rhinos. Accommodation is in wooden cabins with meals provided. Located near Kruger National Park, this program offers a unique chance to contribute to wildlife conservation. Volunteers gain hands-on experience under professional guidance, making a significant impact in the fight against rhino poaching. This is an unforgettable experience for those passionate about animals and conservation, offering a meaningful way to help preserve South Africa’s biodiversity.

Penguin and Marine Bird Sanctuary

Volunteer at the Penguin and Marine Bird Sanctuary in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to aid in the conservation of African penguins and other marine birds. This internationally recognized sanctuary rehabilitates sick and injured birds, focusing on oil spill response and chick-rearing.


Volunteers, aged 18+, commit to 6 to 12 weeks, working from 8 AM to 4 PM. Tasks include animal care, feeding, cleaning, office work, and educating visitors. On arrival, volunteers receive an orientation and city tour. Accommodation is in shared rooms at a backpackers’ lodge, with three meals provided daily.

Located on Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth offers vibrant beaches and marine life. Volunteers work hands-on in wildlife rehabilitation under expert guidance, contributing significantly to conservation efforts. Weekends are free, and organized group excursions occur every Friday afternoon.

Cape Town Community Projects

Join the Cape Town Community Projects in South Africa and empower local communities. Volunteers can stay for 2 to 12 weeks, with a special offer of a free third week for sign-ups of two weeks or more.

Arriving in Cape Town, volunteers settle into shared accommodations and begin their journey with a city tour and welcome dinner. The program includes teaching children, assisting in preschools, and supporting a unique farm school. Volunteers work weekdays from 8 AM to 4 PM, with weekends free for exploring Cape Town’s beauty, including tours of Cape Point and Boulder’s Beach.


Volunteers help with educational resources, assist teachers, organize fun activities, and support feeding programs. Accommodations include shared rooms with meals provided. This program is ideal for individuals aged 18 to 80, including families. Volunteers gain a rewarding experience, contributing significantly to the local community while exploring the vibrant culture of Cape Town.

What Volunteers Say: Review from Ben

During my stay, I had the privilege to interact with animals such as cheetahs, snakes, servals, lemurs, bat-eared foxes, caracals and many more. The staff was incredible and I learned so much from them. The entire atmosphere of the Ranch is very comfortable, inviting and laid-back.

Projects Abroad

If you’re looking for a wide variety of volunteer programs, check out Projects Abroad – one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world. 

Volunteer in South Africa and support local communities through Projects Abroad’s ongoing development efforts in Cape Town. 

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Cape Town has a lot to offer in your free time when you’re not trying as much delicious food as possible. You can visit the iconic Table Mountain, or go on a weekend trip to do a safari and see the Big Five!

Volunteer Teaching IT

Volunteer in Cape Town, South Africa, teaching IT skills to disadvantaged children and adults. You’ll work at a community center, teaching basic computer skills like Microsoft Office and internet use, while living with a host family for cultural immersion. No prior teaching experience is needed; local staff will assist and you’ll receive thorough induction and ongoing support.


This project bridges the digital divide, improving job prospects for participants. Volunteers can also help improve the curriculum, assist with computer maintenance, and support students’ job searches. This role is ideal for those with basic IT knowledge, a proactive attitude, and a desire to make a meaningful impact while exploring Cape Town.

Volunteer with Animals

Volunteer with Animals in South Africa to gain practical experience and support local staff at shelters or rehabilitation centers. Help improve the lives of abused domestic animals or rehabilitate seabirds suffering from illness or injury. Volunteers work at either a shelter for domestic animals in Grassy Park or a seabird rehabilitation center in Bloubergstrand, Cape Town.

No prior experience is needed; local staff will teach you everything. Tasks include feeding, exercising, and rehabilitating animals, as well as playing with domestic animals to build their confidence. Volunteers stay with host families, immersing in South African culture. This program runs year-round, with a minimum commitment of two weeks for domestic animals and six weeks for seabirds. This is a perfect opportunity for animal lovers passionate about making a difference while exploring South Africa.

International Development Internship

Gain practical work experience with an NGO in Cape Town through an International Development Internship. Support local community initiatives by helping disadvantaged people cope with challenges like poverty and high unemployment. This program is ideal for students and recent graduates of business or development studies. 

Spend your gap year in South Africa with Projects Abroad

Tasks include assisting with marketing, guiding business development, coordinating fundraising, conducting market research, and hosting business workshops. You’ll work from 9 AM to 4 PM, Monday to Friday, and stay with a host family for cultural immersion. This internship enhances your CV, provides valuable skills, and makes a significant impact on the community. No prior experience is required.

African Impact

Since 2004, African Impact has led responsible volunteer and internship programs across Africa, working closely with local communities. South Africa is a prime destination, offering diverse and inspiring options. 

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Volunteering with African Impact means gaining lifelong skills and joining a global community. Secure accommodation, meals, transfers, support, and orientation are included. 

Sports Coaching Volunteer Project In Cape Town

Join in transforming the lives of children in Cape Town through sports coaching, and fostering physical fitness, teamwork, and communication skills. Design innovative sports classes and organize competitions to create lasting memories and empower the next generation. Assist local coaches in delivering dynamic physical education sessions, design engaging fitness challenges, and share your passion for sports in aftercare programs. This project is more than just teaching sports; it’s about making a lasting impact. In your free time, explore Cape Town’s vibrant surroundings and immerse yourself in the local culture.


Wildlife Photography & Conservation Volunteer Project 

Embark on a transformative journey mastering wildlife photography while contributing to conservation efforts. Learn from a seasoned professional, participate in wildlife research, and capture stunning images that aid conservation. Receive mentorship to expand your photographic skills, contribute to wildlife conservation research, and master night wildlife photography. Explore the rich wildlife of Greater Kruger, immersing yourself in its breathtaking landscapes and diverse fauna.

Shark Conservation Volunteering 

Assist with shark conservation in Gansbaai, working alongside marine biologists to study great white sharks and other marine species. Gain valuable skills in marine conservation, participate in shark cage diving, and support African penguin conservation.


Experience South Africa’s diverse marine wildlife, learn about shark behavior and conservation and assist with shark cage diving and whale watching. Additionally, you can get PADI Scuba certified, enhancing your underwater exploration and conservation efforts. This program offers a unique opportunity to contribute to marine conservation while experiencing the beauty of South Africa’s ocean life.

What Volunteers Say: Review from Mollie Robbie, UK

South Africa has been the best experience ever – African Impact has been life-changing! Sports volunteering was brilliant. The kids were a pleasure to coach and welcomed me with open arms. The coaches at the schools are doing a great job and I will miss them all greatly! I came to South Africa alone and was very nervous, but everyone did a fantastic job of making me feel this was my home. I’m leaving here feeling more than content and with a completely different outlook on life.

Volunteering Solutions

Since 2007, Volunteering Solutions (VolSol) has offered diverse volunteer programs and internships for students, gap year travelers, backpackers, and seniors. With over 21,000 volunteers placed in more than 25 countries, VolSol ensures impactful experiences. In South Africa, you can volunteer in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth in Childcare, Teaching English, Sports Development, Wildlife Conservation, or Medical Programs.

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Accommodation options include staying in volunteer houses or with host families. VolSol provides comprehensive support, secure accommodation, and meals, ensuring a safe and supportive experience. Programs are flexible, ranging from 1 to 24 weeks. Join VolSol in South Africa for a meaningful volunteer experience and explore its vibrant culture and stunning landscapes.

Wildlife Volunteer Projects 

VolSol’s Wildlife Volunteer Projects in Port Elizabeth offer a unique opportunity to experience African wildlife ethically and contribute to their preservation. Volunteers work in a 6000-hectare wildlife reserve, participating in activities like lion tracking, tree planting, game counts, and anti-poaching efforts. This program provides a true African experience, with volunteers living on-site and engaging in daily conservation tasks. The reserve is a stunning blend of grasslands, sub-tropical vegetation, fynbos, and bushveld, offering an inspiring environment for wildlife enthusiasts. Volunteers are required to be 18 years or older and must provide a clean criminal background check.

Volunteer Teaching 

Volunteering Solutions offers a teaching program in Cape Town, where volunteers can make a significant difference in local schools. Volunteers assist in teaching English, Maths, and Geography, and help in designing curriculums and conducting extracurricular activities. The program focuses on primary and secondary schools in Cape Town’s suburbs and townships, benefiting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Volunteers stay in volunteer houses or with host families, providing a cultural immersion experience. The program includes airport transfers, orientation, and comprehensive support throughout the stay. Volunteers need to be 18 years or older and provide a clean criminal background check.


Township Volunteering Program 

The Township Volunteering Program in Port Elizabeth focuses on assisting children in Walmer Township, many of whom are affected by HIV/AIDS. Volunteers participate in various programs, including dancing, preschool, primary school, and sports. They provide mentorship and support to children, helping with their education and daily needs. The program offers a meaningful way to contribute to the local community while exploring Port Elizabeth. Volunteers stay in a beachfront accommodation, enjoying modern amenities and prepared meals. The program includes airport transfers, orientation, and comprehensive support. Volunteers must be 17 years or older, with a clean criminal background check and parental consent for under-18 participants.

What Volunteers Say: Review from Noah M

I absolutely loved my time at Kwantu Game Reserve with the wildlife volunteer program. Over the course of a month I was able to partake in projects in and around the reserve, such as lion rehabilitation, game drives, game counts, and others. I also made some incredible friendships and connections with other volunteers, as well as rangers on the game reserve. I will always remember my time in South Africa, and cannot recommend this program enough. Just make sure to do a minimum of 2 weeks as the first week is very introductory.

Global Vision International (GVI)

Global Vision International (GVI) is another excellent organization you should look into if you want to volunteer in South Africa. Each year, GVI places more than 2,000 volunteers and interns on impactful programs worldwide. GVI’s South Africa volunteer programs last two weeks or longer, and when you sign up to volunteer with GVI, your program fee covers pre-departure support, 24-hour emergency phone, airport pickup, staff support, housing and meals, orientation and training, and much more.

Wildlife Research Expedition

If you’d like to learn about Africa’s most famous species of animals, GVI offers a magnificent wildlife research expedition, where you can work with some of South Africa’s biggest predators. On this program, you’ll travel to a private Big Five game reserve, where you’ll work alongside an international team to track animals through the bushveld, study their behavior, and get acquainted with big species like lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinoceroses. You’ll be fully trained in equipment and how to identify, track, and study the behavior of these animals, so you don’t need background experience to sign up. You will spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data, which helps create a baseline and holistic understanding of the animals you’re studying, as well as their environment. In addition to research, you’ll be able to participate in educational programs throughout your host community to highlight the importance of conservation. During your weekends and free time, you’ll be able to travel, go shopping, and take optional side trips.

Volunteer Forever - Global Vision International

Women’s Empowerment Project in Cape Town 

Volunteering Solutions offers a Women’s Empowerment Project in Cape Town, where you can contribute to long-term initiatives promoting gender equality. By joining this project, you’ll work with women in township and rural communities, helping them access education, healthcare, and income opportunities. The project involves 35 hours of fieldwork per week, with durations ranging from 1 to 12 weeks. Volunteers assist in various tasks such as hosting workshops, providing educational support, and facilitating dialogues. This program aims to break the cycle of poverty by empowering women, ultimately benefiting entire communities. Experience Cape Town’s vibrant culture and beautiful landscapes while making a meaningful difference.

Big Cat Conservation Research in South Africa 

Join the Big Cat Conservation Research program in Limpopo, South Africa, and contribute to the preservation of African big cats like lions, cheetahs, and leopards. Volunteers work alongside international research teams, collecting data on species behavior, spatial utilization, and prey preferences. This program, which lasts from 1 to 12 weeks, supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land. Participants will also engage in community development initiatives, enhancing local education and promoting environmental awareness. Live in a remote research station, share experiences with fellow volunteers, and explore nearby attractions like Kruger National Park. The program offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in wildlife conservation while enjoying the stunning South African savannah. 


What Volunteers Say: Review from Amy

This really was a trip of a lifetime. My 6 week stay in South Africa was the first time I had done anything like this and certainly the first time I had been abroad on my own. I had a great time and experienced so much whilst out in the bush. The sights and sounds of the African bush are something you can never forget, nearly 3 years on and the memories are so vivid it’s like I was there last week. The staff both in the UK and in the field were excellent – very supportive, enthusiastic and clearly loved their jobs. In fact I have never met such passionate people and they really made me determined to finish my degree and follow in their footsteps. Overall it was an amazing trip, worth every penny, and I would 100% do it all over again!

Ready To Travel?

What are you waiting for? If any of these amazing volunteer projects in South Africa have sparked your interest, go and check out their websites – and be sure to sign up for an account on Volunteer Forever to begin planning and fundraising for your trip! Through these volunteer programs, you’ll be able to expand your horizons and immerse yourself in new cultures as you help children, animals, communities, and so much more: South Africa invites you to explore, help the community around you, and learn about yourself in the process.

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