Our hub here is host to some of the most remarkable wildlife, landscapes and conservation opportunities South Africa has to offer, making volunteering abroad here a spectacular event.The province of Limpopo offers every imaginable setting, from the towering Drakensberg mountains and the famous Kruger National Park in the lowveld to the oldest Big 5 game reserve in South Africa. Volunteering here is a truly unforgettable experience.
Witness nature unfiltered, from a lion taking down its prey, to newborn cheetah cubs playing for the first time, or even a stand-off between two massive elephant bulls. Experience the African savannah landscape on safari. Unlike a conventional safari trip, this program allows you to play an active and meaningful role in the research and long term conservation of South Africa's natural resources.
No special skills or qualifications are required to join this program, as all training will be provided by our experienced team in the field. Learn how to track and identify predators, like lions and cheetahs, and megaherbivores, like elephants and rhinos. This data is used by reserve authorities and conservation organisations to develop an accurate picture of predator impact on prey populations, determine the spatial movement, behaviour, social structure and genetics of specific species. This information helps authorities maintain a healthy balance of natural resources in the reserve, helps conservation organisations further their objectives, and ultimately assists with conserving important African species and habitats. You will also have the opportunity to participant in our environmental conservation program which we run in the local community.
Please note you can spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data which can be tiring, in the heat of the African sun. This program offers durations up to 24 weeks. Speak to an Enrolment Manager for more details of extending your stay in-country.
Go on a wildlife safari adventure in a private South African nature reserve while contributing directly to conservation efforts.
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 learning how to track and record animal movements.
In your free time, visit the famous Kruger National Park, only an hour away from where the GVI base is located or visit the nearby Drakensberg Mountains 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.
Live in the heart of the South African savannah sharing a renovated farmhouse with Field Guides Association of Southern Africa qualified guides, other GVI staff, and participants hailing from all four corners of the globe. Rise each morning to the sounds of an authentically African birdsong at dawn, and head out in open-topped safari vehicles to conduct research vital for the conservation of key predators species, like cheetahs and lions. Head back to camp, when the sun is at its height, input data, study, assist with cooking or tidying, or relax with other participants in our shared outdoor social space. When the African sun starts to set over the Drakensberg mountains at dusk, head out again to conduct further research. Return when the stars in the Southern night sky are at their brightest and share a meal and the day’s stories with fellow participants. In your free time, explore Kruger National Park, a 45-minute drive from your accommodation, or the Panorama Route, including the magnificent Blyde River Canyon.
Lodgings are large dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms. The base is solar-powered to ensure less impact on the natural environment.
Most breakfasts feature cereal, oats, and fresh fruit, and or lunch, it’s usually sandwiches and salads. Dinner might be anything from a traditional South African ‘potjie’ stew to pastas and stir frys.
Our base has a good connection to local cell towers, and participants with unlocked mobile devices can purchase local SIM cards during a weekly town trip. There is wifi available but bandwidth is limited. For wifi use on personal devices, participants can purchase wifi vouchers from GVI staff on base.
Transport to conduct field research is provided by our vehicles and drivers.
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 in March, coincides with the rainy season. Temperatures during this season can reach a sweltering 35°C . 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 also the perfect season to spot many baby animals as many animals give birth during spring.
What's It like?
If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.
We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.
Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.
Follow GVI Limpopo's Facebook page for live updates straight from the field. Get an idea of the types of projects you might be involved in, meet our staff and participants, experience life on this GVI base, hear about free time activities, and learn about the local culture and environment.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
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All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. 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.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Many of Africa’s wildlife species are under threat. Private reserves, like Karongwe, where we run our conservation project, are a haven for species at risk. Karongwe is located within the UNESCO protected Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve. This biosphere represents only 1.4% of South Africa’s land, but contains 55% of the total natural life found here.
Karongwe Nature and Wildlife Reserve
Karongwe Nature and Wildlife Reserve was once made up of individual farms. In 1998 the landowners banded together to create a 8,000 hectare wildlife reserve. GVI was brought onto Karongwe in 2001 to monitor the large predators and herbivores on the reserve. This helps reserve management to understand the impact of predators on prey and maintain a healthy ecosystem by ensuring a balance of natural resources. Predators are often tracked using telemetry, or monitored using camera trapping, to learn how they use the space within the park, what their feeding behaviour is like, how they interact with one another and other predators. Herbivores might be counted, their numbers, age, and sex listed, and their impact on vegetation noted. This data is presented to Karongwe management and landowners on a weekly, quarterly and annual basis. We also assist with anti-poaching efforts by compiling ID kits of any rhinos we come across and maintaining the park’s fences and roads. We also assist with removing old farm infrastructure and invasive alien plant species as well as working on soil rehabilitation to help with habitat recovery.
Cheetah Research and Conservation
Our cheetah research is conducted in conjunction with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a conservation organisation who currently manage SA’s cheetah metapopulation. Cheetahs are a species listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species. They are a rather fragile species as they naturally have a low genetic diversity and are not able to compete well with other larger, stronger predators like lions and hyenas. Our study mainly focuses on how cheetahs make use of their kill by setting up camera traps near their fresh kill to see how much time the cheetahs spend on their kill and what potentially encourages them to leave. This helps to know how they are dealing with competition with other predators. We also collect data on breeding success.
Elephant Vegetation Impact Mitigation
In partnerships with Elephants Alive, who have been actively involved in elephant conservation for the past 20 years, we also conduct surveys of the impact elephants have on the local vegetation. Due to their habit of pulling up trees to eat the top leaves and roots, a large population of elephants can have a negative impact on a small environment, especially at risk species like the baobab tree. This might involved monitoring sensitive areas of the reserve and the movements of elephant groups, developing elephant identification kits, and analysing the effectivity of elephant vegetation destruction methods.
Bird Research and Conservation
We also contribute to the South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2), the most important bird monitoring project in Southern Africa, and its largest citizen science database. Birds are appropriate indicators of ecosystem health because they are popular and well studied. The availability of significant, long-term datasets in South Africa makes birds a good choice for early-warning system for climate change impacts and other systematic, ecosystem-wide threats to broader biodiversity. The number of critically endangered birds in South Africa has increased from 5 in 2000 to 13 in 2017. One group in particular features particularly dramatic statistics, 22 of the 79 raptors occurring in the North-Eastern region of the country are now considered threatened. Of concern are the low numbers of scavenging raptors. Most of South Africa’s vulture species, as well as the Tawny Eagle and the Bateleur, two obligate scavengers, are listed as endangered or critically endangered. In December 2016, SABAP2 featured nine million records across 17339 pentads, five minutes of latitude by five minutes of longitude, squares with sides of roughly 9 km, in South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Selection of sites and habitats critical to bird conservation rely on this data. All other conservation initiatives depend on the results of the bird atlas, to a greater or lesser extent. On cannot determine the conservation status of a species unless you know its range and how this is changing.
We also conduct environmental education programs at several schools in the area.
As the requirements of our partners change over time so do the details of our projects. We make ourselves available for conservation-focused mini-projects. This might include documenting bird of prey nesting sites or the creating a list of micro fauna species in the park. In the past we have partnered with a range of conservation organisations like Panthera and academic institutions like the University of Cape Town, Pretoria University, and Bournemouth University. Exact project details are also always subject to change due to weather conditions, time of year and animal movements.
As such, the specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal we work on in Limpopo is #15, Life On Land.
Our Partners In Limpopo
GVI Karongwe’s Long-term Objectives:
1. To provide long-term and consistent data for Karongwe Reserve Management to assist with Reserve Management decisions based on scientific data.
2. Increase local awareness of GVI’s purpose and impact on Karongwe PGR.
3. Increase scientific output.
4. Contribute to three large scale reserve management projects alongside the Warden in accordance with the Reserve’s Management Plan.
5. Increase our in-country capacity by providing environmental and conservation education and training and through community upliftment projects.
The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.
‘The effects of land use and other anthropogenic effects on the population dynamics and behaviour of small mammal communities in the Limpopo Province.’
Master of Science (title TBC) – thesis
‘The behavioural ecology of a solitary lion pride in Karongwe Game Reserve’
Mtech Nature Conservation
Monika B. Lehmann
Peer Reviewed Article
‘Home Range Utilisation and Territorial Behaviour of Lions (Panthera leo) on Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa’
Monika B. Lehmann (1, 2), Paul J. Funston (1), Cailey Owen (2, 3) and Rob Slotow (3)
Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd (Open access)
1: The Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa 2: Wildlife and Reserve Management Research Group, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa 3: Department of Nature Conservation, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
A GVI 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, GVI 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.
For All GVI Participants
Introduction to GVI as a whole and the work in your specific location. Learn about the short, mid, and long-term objectives of the sustainable development projects at your base, which United Nations Development Goals they impact most directly, and which local partners we work with.
Health and Safety Training
Learn about the Emergency Action Plans in place at your base, the full Risk Assessment, and best practices for personal safety.
Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Training
Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.
For All Participants at Limpopo
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.
Learn different teaching techniques and develop your confidence teaching students in a range of age groups.
This is a frequently employed methodology used to estimate animal density and abundance. Participants will learn how to use distance sampling to conduct a seasonal census of animals in the reserve using this technique.
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.
Learn how to monitor the movement of animals using VHF, Very High Frequency, telemetry.
Learn about the many birds in Southern Africa and specifically those that are found in Karongwe National Park. Find out how to identify key bird species.
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.
Learn how 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.
Learn about best practices for conducting a biological survey in any environment.
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.
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.
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.
Joining a program not only allows participants to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer.
Long term field staff are a great source of advice, and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. Many decide to travel before or after their experience (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program. Please note that the below suggestions are not included in the program fee, and are for the individual to organise at their own expense.
South Africa might not come to mind as a top skiing destination, but at Tiffendale in the Drakensberg mountains you can rent skis or a snowboard and practice gliding down slopes.
Bungee Jumping and Ziplining:
Awe-inspiring canyons dot the Drakensberg range, and many use the opportunity to experience the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping for the first time. If you aren’t ready to dive headfirst into the canyons you can glide overhead, using the many zipline tours available in the area. This is an excellent way to see the spectacular landscape from a bird’s eye perspective.
Kinyonga Reptile Park
Learn more about Southern African reptiles by visiting the nearby ‘Kinyonga’ park, a name that means ‘little lion’ in Swahili in reference to the chameleon.
Kruger National Park
The famous Kruger National Park is a massive wildlife reserve where you can spot Africa’s big five, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and, of course, the African bush elephant.
The rusty sanded expanse of the Kalahari stretches from South Africa, to Namibia and Botswana. Home to dunes reaching the heights of several buildings and a diverse range of wildlife, including the majestic oryx gazella, a visit to the desert is not to be missed.
Watch the African sun set over the top of Table Mountain, discover the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas.
Further North, you’ll find the historic Zululand, as well as the grave and memorial of the famous leader, King Shaka.
Experience the unique cultural milieu of the coastal town of Durban on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Its warm waters make the city a haven for surfers.
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches not only global awareness but 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 is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many activities you can get involved with in 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 diverse and eclectic topics like Theravada Buddhism in Laos or how plastic pollution and climate change affects Indian Ocean coral.
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.
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.
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.
Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.
We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.
Our 10 Ethical Commitments
Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
Working Against Dependency
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
Responsible Exit Strategies
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
Clear Roles & Specialized Training
We aim to ensure that ever participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.
Respect for all
In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.
We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.
Transitioning from the Orphanage Model
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
Child and Vulnerable adult policies
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.
However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Parent Info Pack
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office. Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios. Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page. Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
Support & Safety
We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.
Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.
Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.
It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays just can’t achieve. This is why thousands of people around the world participate in paid GVI programs.
As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the health and safety of our participants, staff, and local community members at all of our 20+ bases around the world.
The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes a nasty turn, we are prepared to respond to stormy situations.
Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations around a program are created, the GVI team takes immediate action to ensure that the situation rectified.
24-hour emergency phone
24-hour in-country support
Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
All necessary project equipment and materials
All necessary project training by experienced staff
First Aid & CPR training
Long term experienced staff
Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)