Big 5 Conservation

About Big 5 Conservation Project

Project Details

The Welgevonden Game Reserve is located in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains and as the anchor reserve in this region has become a place of sanctuary for an impressive variety of wildlife, due to its location in the transitional zone between the dry western and moister eastern regions of South Africa.  The reserve is characterised by contrasting majestic mountain landscapes, grassy hills and plunging valleys.  The reserve is home to an abundance of plant species, including some rare yellowwood and cedar trees as well as five-metre high cycads and tree ferns.  All the large game species including the Big 5 (elephant, black rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion) as well as cheetah are present in the reserve.  An amazing variety of bird life includes the world’s largest colony of endangered Cape vultures, with more than 800 breeding pairs, which have settled in the surrounding mountains.

The reserve was formed by a group of landowners who took down their fences in the late 1980s in an attempt to re-wild their lands.  As a result the area now comprises a mixture of natural veld and old farmland, which in itself poses certain management questions that need to be addressed.

Answering these fundamental questions is vital for the effective conservation management of the reserve and, although management staff have teased and probed at answers, they have never had the resources to look in detail at these issues.  For this reason they have asked WTSA and WEI to use volunteer manpower and scientific expertise to deliver recommendations through research projects.


Volunteers are accommodated at the WEI Research Camp which is located near the main reception and administration buildings inside the reserve.  Accommodation is either in the dormitory building at the staff house, or in the comfortable tented camp with permanent dining, kitchen and ablution facilities.  Volunteers prepare their own meals and are responsible for daily cleaning of the camp.  

Volunteer staff stays on site at the farmhouse and this is an ideal opportunity for volunteers to gain firsthand knowledge from experienced staff about the challenges and rewards of living and working in the African bush.

What will you do?

All volunteers complete a one-week Bush Craft Training course which prepares students to safely work in a big game environment and provides a foundation of knowledge on animal identification, tracking and behaviour.  During this week volunteers go on educational walks to get used to being on foot in the bush.  The mornings of the remaining weeks are spent monitoring and collecting samples from the pit line traps.  These traps are 3 x 5m strips of partially-buried plastic with buckets at the end; the concept is that small mammals, invertebrates and reptiles will try to bypass the plastic and fall into the bucket so that they can be identified and counted.  The remainder of the morning is spent conducting bird point counts for estimates of bird diversity in the area.

The afternoons are spent on three main tasks.  Firstly, some time is spent developing the rhino identikits.  These take advantage of unique features on individual rhinos to form a database of all of the individuals on the reserve so that individual movements, social interactions and other behaviours can be monitored.  Other time is dedicated to carrying out herbivore and bird drive transects and dung counts in the old farmlands to give estimates of herbivore numbers and their usage of the experimental management blocks.  Volunteers also have to radio-track the two main prides of lion on the reserve at least once a week.  Finally, students make observational notes on the behaviour of the contracepted elephants to create data for the long-term monitoring programme in Welgevonden.

South Africa
Minimum Duration:
4 Weeks
Maximum Duration:
12 Weeks
Airport Pickup
Arrival Orientation


Past Volunteer Comments

Amanda Keil (United Kingdom)

"We had a tremendous amount of sightings because the volunteer coordinator always went out of his way to ensure that we did. We got ample time out in the field and learnt an incredible amount about wildlife."