Volunteer Abroad Wildlife Conservation in South Africa

Whale and Leopard Conservation on South Africa's East Coast

Volunteer adventure in Southern Africa

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. Take part in this extraordinary project and make the bush and beach of South Africa’s Eastern Shores your “office”!

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.

Services Our Services at a Glance


  • Placement in the project
  • All meals during the project – volunteers help to cook
  • Assistance with travel arrangements
  • Drinking water
  • Assistance with selecting travel insurance
  • On-site orientation and project training
  • Assistance with booking flights
  • English-speaking support by long-term experienced staff
  • Pre-departure information pack
  • 24/7 support throughout the project
  • Accommodation during the project

Not included

  • Flights
  • Airport pick up and drop off
  • Travel insurance
  • Bottled water, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages
  • Visa fees
  • Personal expenses and optional excursions

South Africa – Eastern shores

Start DateDurationCostNATUCATE-ID V.RSA-003
2 Weeks 500 €
4 Weeks 1.000 €
6 Weeks 1.500 €



To take part in this volunteer project you must be at least 18 years old and have a good knowledge of English. Working conditions in the project can be quite strenuous because of South Africa’s sometimes extreme weather conditions. Therefore, you need to be physically fit and we will require a medical certificate testifying as to your state of health. As you will be involved in observation activities over a longer period of time you should have a good vision. You should also have a strong interest in nature and be motivated to be part of this dedicated species conservation project. The ability to work in a team as well as independently, to be open and to be flexible are important as well.

Details Volunteering in South Africa


Volunteering in South 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.


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. All data which you collect during these sightings, including weather and environment conditions, will be recorded at hourly intervals. 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. In case of high rain falls or strong winds the whale surveys will suspended for a short time.


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. While you are on your way to checking the traps, you will have the chance to witness the region’s fascinating wildlife.

After you’ve finished the daily project tasks you and your team will get back to your accommodation and have time to have dinner together and relax.

If you’re interested, please note that this project does not involve any direct interaction with wild animals. We are strongly against breeding young lions for canned hunting, and have therefore signed the strict code of conduct of the organisation CACH ( Campaign Against Canned Hunting). We can provide additional information if required. We realise that some of the people on our projects in Southern Africa want to see as many animals as possible in their natural environment. However, this is dependent on a number of factors. Please note that NATUCATE makes no guarantee that you will see a variety of animals, in particular the big five. To make such a guarantee would be unprofessional and against our corporate philosophy.


Accommodation during the project

During your time at the project you will be accommodated in a spacious volunteer house together with other team members. The house is situated not far away from Lake Banghazi which is close to the coast – you will most likely have the chance to listen to hippos bathing in the lake. 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, which invites for relaxed gettogethers after work. 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. It is possible to take care of a vegetarian diet. 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. To keep the team efficient and small the group of volunteers in general does not consist of more than 10 volunteers.


Everybody interested in volunteering abroad should be able to adjust to entirely unfamiliar standards of living in their future host country. Therefore, we would like to point out the importance of being flexible and adaptable regarding the accommodation and sanitary facilities provided by the project. Those are very basic and – depending on the project – cannot be compared to European standards. The equipment and furnishings are limited to a minimum; air conditioning is not available. Depending on your host country occasional power blackouts or water outages are quite common. Please contact us if you have further questions about your accommodation. We are pleased to provide you with comprehensive information since we would like you to feel entirely prepared for your time abroad.

Leisure time

Leisure time

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.


Project background

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.

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