Big Cat Conservation Research in South Africa 2024

Contribute to big cat conservation and participate in other valuable wildlife research in South Africa AND get career training from Conservation Careers! Explore the wild side of South Africa when you join a global team of participants to take part in big cat research. Your time in the field will help you develop a thorough understanding of these animals and improve your wildlife research skills as you contribute to valuable data gathering to ensure their long term survival. Your efforts will make a substantial contribution to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #15, Life on Land

Protect Big Cats from Being Drugged for Selfies!

Expand your conservation knowledge, gain new skills, and kickstart your career in wildlife conservation. Work alongside our international research team collecting behavioural data on big cats, including lions and leopards, in partnership with international conservation organisations such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Learn how to use radio telemetry equipment to track lions across the savannah recording their location, number of individuals, sex, and behaviour with others of their species, other predators, as well as prey species.

You might also have the chance to work on maintaining identification kits of the local leopards. The information gathered is used by reserve authorities to track the impact of predators on prey populations and help them make decisions about maintaining the health of the ecosystem within the protected area. Please note you can spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data which can be tiring, in the heat of the African sun.


• Witness African big cats in their native habitat and contribute directly to their preservation.

• Listen to the quiet hush of the wild open spaces, waking each morning to a chorus of savannah birds and drifting off to the nighttime hum of endemic frogs and crickets.

• Learn to identify predators, like lions, cheetahs, and leopards, as well as megaherbivores like elephants and rhinos.

• Master radio telemetry techniques and learn how to track and record animal movements.

• Visit the nearby Drakensberg Mountains in your free time where awe-inspiring vistas are afforded over the Blyde River Canyon.

• Live and work alongside Field Guide Association of South Africa, FGASA, qualified guides, growing personally and professionally by learning from their experiences.

• Sleep under the star-filled Southern night sky, its beauty enhanced by the lack of light pollution, and wake to a golden African dawn.

Our Award-winning Partner Conservation Careers has teamed up with an award-winning, mission-driven organisation with a team of passionate experts across the globe who will make your experience a truly unforgettable one. Founded in 1998, they run programs in 21 locations, in 13 countries around the world, each aligned to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as the objectives of local partners.

Combating the illegal trade in big cats – 28 countries come together as  part of CITES Big Cats Task Force | CITES

They welcome participants from all around the world and help facilitate their development into global citizens. This is how they achieve their mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference. Their commitment to running high-quality sustainable development and experiential education programs has earned them recognition from numerous organizations such as Panthera, the Seychelles Parks & Gardens Authority, as well as Stanford, NYU, Duke, and Ohio State.

If you register your interest below, you’ll put you in touch with our partner to take the booking and to plan your trip! To see all our Conservation Careers Internship opportunities, please click here. Life On Base Live in the heart of the South African savannah, sharing a renovated farmhouse with qualified guides from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, other staff, and participants from around the world.

The base is incredibly remote, and tourists are unable to visit. Completely open to the bush and close to a dam, animals frequently visit the property, including elephants, buffalo, impala and leopards. Boasting more than 20 thousand acres of open savannah, Karongwe features some of the best wildlife viewing of any private South African wildlife reserve.

It’s home to all of the Big Five, including the elusive leopard, as well as cheetahs and spotted hyenas. Rise each morning to the sound of African birdsong at dawn, before heading out in an open-topped safari vehicle to conduct research vital for the conservation of key predator species, like cheetahs and lions. Heading back to camp when the sun is at its height, you’ll input data, study, assist with cooking or tidying, or relax with the team in our shared outdoor social space.

In the early afternoon, when the sun starts to set over the Drakensberg mountain range, you’ll head out again to conduct further research. Returning when the stars are at their brightest, you’ll share a meal and the day’s stories with your team. In your free time, visit Kruger National Park, an hour’s drive from your accommodation, or travel to the scenic Panorama Route, which takes you through the magnificent Blyde River Canyon.

With one of most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and home to many of the most threatened African wildlife species, South Africa is a nature, wildlife, and adventure lover’s paradise. Accommodation Lodgings consist of large dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms. The base is solar-powered to ensure less impact on the environment. When it’s time to relax, there are hammocks, a swing chair, and a projector for watching movies and documentaries.

The base also has a volleyball court, footballs, skipping ropes, weights, and yoga mats, should you want to stay active. In addition, there are card games, board games and books as well as a braai area (the South African equivalent of a barbeque), and a firepit. To preserve firewood, we braai once a week (supervised by staff). For working spaces, there are data and research rooms as well as the education room, which houses preserved bones, textbooks, scientific papers and tourism guides. There is also an intern corner with a deskspace and charging stations.


Transport to conduct field research is provided by our partner’s vehicles and drivers. We have one 15-seater taxi for organised transfers, which includes weekly trips into town, fortnightly airport runs, emergencies, planned side trips, and COVID-19 tests. In your free time, should you wish to travel off the base outside of scheduled town runs with the taxi you can either hire a vehicle or organise a transfer with one of our local transfer companies in Hoedspruit.

Depending on the group size, a one-way transfer will cost between R100 – R200 ($6 – $13/ £5 – £10) per person. In order to hire a vehicle, participants must be 18 or older, hold a valid driver’s licence, and have a credit card in their name. For safety reasons, only our partner’s staff are permitted to drive any of their vehicles, as they hold the required driving licence. Communication

The base has good connection to local cell phone towers, and participants with unlocked mobile devices can purchase local SIM cards during weekly trips into town.

There is Wi-Fi available, but bandwidth is limited. For Wi-Fi use on personal devices, participants can purchase Wi-Fi vouchers from staff on base. Meals Participants make their own breakfast, which is continental style, including bread and spreads. For lunch, it’s usually sandwiches and salads.

Dinner might be anything from a traditional South African “potjie” stew to pastas and stir-fries. Climate Limpopo is well-known for its warm climate. Sunny days and low rainfall are the norm on most days throughout the year. Summer, starting in October and ending around March, coincides with the rainy season. Temperatures during this season can reach a sweltering 35°C (95°F) or higher – our temperature gauges have recorded temperatures in the 40s (over 100°F)!

During this time the heat is often interrupted by a short thunderstorm, which is usually a welcome respite. The start of the rainy season, in October, is the perfect season to spot baby animals as many animals give birth during spring. During the dry season, in the cooler winter months, it’s worth bringing warm layers for travelling in the open safari vehicles.

These drives are done first thing in the morning and at night when the wind chill is a factor to consider. Training This program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases.

Most of our staff are, in fact, Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.


Your Health, Safety and Wellbeing Learn about COVID-19 pre-departure guidelines, base expectations, personal and area hygiene practices and what we are doing to keep you safe. Orientation: Travelling Responsibly and Ethically Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.

Orientation: UN Sustainable Development Goals Introduction to the history and evolution of sustainable development, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and how these related to your project work. Orientation: Further Opportunities for Impact Learn about our country locations and further opportunities available to you during or after your program.

FOR ALL PARTICIPANTS AT LIMPOPO Community: Women’s Empowerment Learn about gender equality, skills development and examples of income-generating activities. Community: Human Empowerment Learn about our empowerment principles. Conservation: Survey Techniques and Logistics An introduction to different survey techniques and best practice guidelines for surveys; introduction to different types of data and how to record information via a datasheet.


Biodiversity & Target Species Identification

Learn about biodiversity and how biodiversity is measured, classifying different species and how to identify species that indicate the health of the habitat. Emergency First Response Training Learn how to apply first aid protocols and carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR. This is only offered for participants staying for two weeks or longer. Teaching Training Learn different teaching techniques and develop your confidence teaching students in a range of age groups.

GPS Data Recording

GPS, global positioning system, coordinations are a popular means of recording locational data important for conservation work. It is used to determine a specified area, record distances between points of interest and locate previously recorded points, animal sighting data. Participants receive training on how to use GSP systems to record this data. VHF Telemetry Learn how to monitor the movement of animals using VHF, Very High Frequency, telemetry.

Beautiful close-ups of endangered big cats make real catwalk look tame |  New Scientist

Bird identification

Learn about the many birds in Southern Africa and specifically those that are found in Karongwe Private Game Reserve. Find out how to identify key bird species. Sustainability awareness Using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, learn how small changes to your daily routine can make a big difference to the planet’s resources.

Conservation awareness

Learn about measures South Africa, and other countries, are taking to preserve their iconic natural habitats and wildlife as well as how you can contribute. This includes exploring about the importance of wildlife and wilderness for the wellbeing of generations of humanity.

Data Handling

Data is collected daily and recorded by an allocated data person under the supervision of a staff member. This is to ensure that the data is kept as accurate and consistent as possible. We use numerous data sheets and participants will learn how to complete each of these during the training week. Bio-surveying Techniques Learn about best practices for conducting a biological survey in any environment.

Reptile Identification

Learn about the many reptiles in Southern Africa, and how to identify the main ones of importance in Karongwe Nature and Wildlife Reserve. This is only offered for participants staying for two weeks or longer. Mammal Identification Most of the research we carry out in Karongwe is on mammalian species. Learn about the main mammals found in the reserve and how to identify them. Your Impact All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Big Cats in the Backyard | College of Natural Resources News

This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs. Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs.

Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these. Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference. Experiences During your program, you’ll also have the opportunity to experience tailor-made adventure and wellness activities.

These have been specially designed to further immerse you in the diversity and richness of the habitats and cultures around you.

• Learn to make a potjiekos • Develop your wildlife photography skills

• Discover the medicinal uses of indigenous plants

• Master basic bush survival skills

• Watch a magical sunset at a watering hole

• Enjoy a night sky safari • Walk through a prehistoric cycad forest

• Sleep in the open bushveld Cultural Immersion Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace

.Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience.

Big cats, facts and information

Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program. On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element.

Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts. Karongwe private nature and wildlife reserve Boasting more than 20 thousand acres of open savannah, Karongwe features some of the best wildlife viewing of any private South African wildlife reserve. It features the entire big five, including the elusive leopard. Limpopo The Northernmost region of South Africa, the Limpopo province features some of the best opportunities for wildlife in Southern Africa.

It is sparsely populated and borders Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. South Africa Possessing one of the highest biodiversities in the world and the home to many of the most threatened African wildlife, South Africa is a nature, wildlife, and adventure lover’s paradise, featuring species like lions, cheetah, rhinos, and many other unique species. Experiences During your program, you’ll also have the opportunity to experience tailor-made adventure and wellness activities. These have been specially designed to further immerse you in the diversity and richness of the habitats and cultures around you.

Exclusive local experiences:

• Learn to make a potjiekos

• Develop your wildlife photography skills

• Discover the medicinal uses of indigenous plants

• Master basic bush survival skills

• Watch a magical sunset at a watering hole

• Enjoy a night sky safari

• Walk through a prehistoric cycad forest

• Sleep in the open bushveld BONUS!

Conservation Career Kick-Starter online training programme (worth £295) Do you want to spend your career helping wildlife to flourish, but are feeling a little lost, confused or disillusioned? Start your career in wildlife conservation with a unique programme of training, support community & jobs from Conservation Careers!

The Conservation Career Kick-Starter is a proven step-by-step system to get clear, get ready, and get hired as a professional conservationist. Whether you’re at university and planning your next steps, a graduate in the job hunt or working in an unrelated job but interested to switch into conservation, this course is designed to help you.

After going through the course, you’ll have created a personal career plan which will give you confidence in your job hunt and will make everything quicker, simpler and more fun! All you need to do is register your interest in the project below, and if you choose to make a booking we’ll save a place for you on the Kick-Starter when you get back from your placement. Included with the Kick-Starter is a year’s full-access to the world’s biggest conservation job board with over 15,000 jobs, plus access to our private online support community, CC Pro.


Dates & Costs Duration of fieldwork:

1 – 12 weeks

Register your interest below to learn about upcoming start dates.


• 1 week – £2,445

• 2 weeks – £2,795

• 4 weeks – £3,545 • 6 weeks – £4,295

• 8 weeks – £4,995

• 10 weeks – £5,745

• 12 weeks – £6,495

What’s Included

• 24-hour emergency desk

• 24-hour in-country support

• Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)

• All project equipment

• Food (except on long-term internship placements)

• Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)

• Group introductory call

• Welcome presentation

• Endorsed Leadership Course

• Sustainable project work

• Leadership responsibilities

• PDF reference – upon request What’s Not Included

• Additional drinks and gratuities

• COVID-19: Health and Hygiene Fee

• Extra local excursions

• Flights

• International and domestic airport taxes

• Medical and travel insurance

• Personal items and toiletries

• Police or background check

• Visa costs Register your interest! Reserve your place or ask a question