Volunteer Abroad South Africa: Whale and Leopard Research
Be part of an amazing volunteer project in South Africa, which combines surveying the migration of Humpback Whales off the coast of Southern Africa and the largest camera-trap based leopard census in the world!
At the beginning of the project your team of at least six volunteers will be divided into smaller subgroups, which will take turns in participating in whale observation sessions and in the tasks related to the leopard population survey. Therefore, you will either take part in whale monitoring activities on the South African Eastern Shores or support our partner’s team by installing and evaluating the leopard project’s camera traps. Our whale and leopard project aims at gaining more knowledge about the leopard and humpback populations in the region and the threats they are facing.
- Actively contribute to wildlife conservation in South Africa
- Be part of an international volunteer team
- Dedicate yourself to researching whales and leopards
- Get to know South Africa’s fascinating wildlife
- Experience the pristine nature of South Africa’s Eastern Shores
Volunteering on South Africa's coast
As a volunteer you experience an amazing conservation project in South Africa which combines surveying the migration of Humpback Whales off the coast of Southern Africa and the largest camera-trap based leopard census in the world.
Arrival and orientation in Africa
After your arrival at the airport in Richards Bay you will be picked up for a fee of approx. 115€ and taken to the city of Mtubatuba, where a staff member will meet you to take you to your accommodation in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. After getting there you will meet the rest of the team and staff members and receive an introduction to the project’s goals and tasks, including safety regulations. Your team of approx. six volunteers will be divided into groups consisting of two people rotating throughout a two-week cycle between the whale and leopard project.
Volunteer activities in South Africa
The daily whale surveys will take place from two towers on the northern and southern end on the beach of Cape Vidal. Volunteers will be placed in both towers from 7 AM until 5 PM during the day. During these survey blocks you are instructed to watch out for Humpback Whales in a certain area which is clearly marked by a “survey box” demarcated by two marker poles directly ahead of the towers. Once sighted, whale groups will be tracked using a standard survey theodolite to establish their speed of movement and distance offshore, as well as their location. The collected data will be compared to the results from the last whale survey which took place in 2002, to gather new knowledge about the current development and growth of the populations.
While you are part of the leopard survey team you will take part in doing research on the local leopard population with the help of camera traps. These will be installed on different spots across an area of 100 to 120 km² to collect data about the population density and gauge population trends over time. Depending on what stage of the survey you arrive, you will support the staff members as a volunteer with a variety of tasks. These include e.g. construction and reduction of camera traps to move the project to a different location. Primarily though, you will help downloading photos from the camera traps, recoding the data and managing the camera trap sites.
Accommodation as a volunteer in Southern Africa
During your time at the project you will be accommodated in a spacious volunteer house together with other team members. The house has four bedrooms, which are usually shared by two volunteers, as well as a shared bathroom and a communal kitchen. There is also a lounge and an outside seating area including barbecue. All volunteers need to take care of their daily meals. You will have access to a stock of groceries which you can use to prepare your meals. Furthermore, the volunteer team is in charge of keeping the house clean and tidy. The volunteer house provides electricity and, in general, a working phone connection. Internet is available via ethernet cable.
Leisure time during the whale and leopard project
At noon, after returning from your morning surveys, you have some time to take a rest and relax. You are welcome to play games with the others, read or just enjoy the surrounding nature. In the evening you also have time for yourself.
FAQ – Learn more about this trip
Celina joined our conservation project in South Africa and helped protect endangered wildlife species. Here we would like to share some of her wonderful impressions with you.
“Among all these animals you get to see, the landscapes and sunrises in the park are simply stunning.”
Student Louis decided to spend his Gap Year with Natucate – one of his stops was our species conservation project in South Africa that he actively supported as a volunteer. Here you can find some of his impressions:
During her sabbatical Silvia also joined our endangered species project in South Africa. Here you can enjoy her amazing images and become part of her journey:
1. Eastern Shores
In this project, the wilderness and picturesque coastal sections of the South African Eastern Shores will become your place to live and work.
The Eastern Shores region is located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and is part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area of the Eastern Shores is characterized by numerous different habitats and the emergence of a large number of wild animals. Millennia-old coastal dunes, hundreds of bird species and an abundance of impressive mammals can be found here. In summary, the Eastern Shores provide a truly impressive backdrop for your conservation adventure in Southern Africa.
Purpose of the research project in South Africa
The last shore-based survey of humpback whales along the coastline of KwaZulu Natal was carried out in 2002. However, given the growing threat to the population of the humpback whales – such as oil and gas exploration, marine pollution and climate change – it is very important to ensure a consistent monitoring of the animals. This way population trends can be tracked and threats and impact can be determined to develop suitable conservation measures.
Over the period of 18th June to 13th August 2018 such a shore-based survey on migrating humpback whales will be conducted by our partner in cooperation with other organizations. The captured data provides valuable information about the population of the whales, their distribution, behaviour patterns, and habitat use. It also makes it possible to compare these results with the ones of the 2002 survey to gather information on the recovery and growth patterns, as well as prevailing threats for the humpback whales.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be your workplace for the research activities during this exciting species conservation project. The vast park in its entirety contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, is home to most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, more than 520 bird species and 25.000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The Eastern Shores Section of the Park is where the leopard survey will be taking place and where you can find a variety of habitats and numerous different wildlife species. The whale monitoring project takes place in Cape Vidal, a scenic coastal region and natural habitat of different turtle, bird and mammal species.
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