Phinda Wildlife Management Project

Work with field researchers in a Big Five Safari reserve

Few reserves in Africa have the biodiversity Phinda Game Reserve offers. This vast tract of bush, riverine area and rare sand forest is home to dynamic populations of elephants, lion, white and black rhino, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo and antelope. An area formerly depleted in wildlife, large mammal reintroduction has allowed for the development of this stunning reserve. You can join the research team at Phinda dedicated to the management of this ecosystem.

Black rhino monitoring at Phinda

Conservation in the field

The reserve management rely on volunteers to support the research taking place at Phinda to ensure inter and intra-species populations are balanced and animal management is optimum within the reserve. Regular and dedicated research allows Phinda to become partner to essential conservation initiatives worldwide such as the Black Rhino custodianship programme on the reserve.

  • Phinda video
  • Cheetah at a kill
  • Darted Lion
  • Black Rhino
  • White Rhino
  • Sedating lions
  • Transporting Lions
  • Collared Cheetah
  • Male lions
  • Collaring leopard
  • Elephant
  • Male Nyala
  • Elephant Sighting
  • Phinda zebra
  • Phinda Accommodation

Phinda video

A video of volunteers at the Phinda Wildlife Research Project

Cheetah at a kill

Cheetah at a kill

Cheetah at a kill

Darted Lion

Darted Lion

Black Rhino

Phinda is home to a sizeable population of the black rhino

Black Rhino

White Rhino

White rhino at Phinda

White Rhino

Sedating lions

Volunteers assisting with darting and sedating lions

Sedating lions

Transporting Lions

Transporting sedated lions for relocation

Transporting Lions

Collared Cheetah

Phinda monitors its predator populations closely, so some animals are collared for study purposes

Collared Cheetah

Male lions

Volunteers at Phinda frequently get great sightings of predators

Male lions

Collaring leopard

A Volunteer collaring a leopard at Phinda

Collaring leopard

Elephant

Close up encounter with an elephant

Elephant

Male Nyala

Male Nyala

Male Nyala

Elephant Sighting

Viewing the Phinda elephants from the water

Elephant Sighting

Phinda zebra

The wildlife viewing opportunities at Phinda are superb.

Phinda zebra

Phinda Accommodation

The volunteer house at the Phinda project

Phinda Accommodation

Work with the wildlife

Sandwiched between the warm Indian Ocean, St Lucia lake and the Lebombo mountains, join an experienced research team at Phinda Game Reserve and be involved in various projects including;

Black and White rhino research

  • Learn to track and identify individual rhino through unique identifier systems
  • Assist in maintaining a detailed population database and recording sex, age, territorial information and movements, through ear notched individuals

Big cat and predator monitoring

  • Cheetah monitoring, identifying territories and movements through markings on their eyes and tails. A unique hunting substrate of the forest is also be investigated
  • Record movements and sightings of three lion prides at Phinda. Monitoring the prides allows for management of genetic diversity, for contraception purposes and movements across the reserve. 

Elephant population monitoring

Assist with behavioural studies to determine the effect of an elephant contraceptive programe to control numbers ( an ethical alternative to culling)

Spotted Hyena ecology and Leopard research

Independent researchers at times will invite volunteers to assist with their research at Phinda.

  • Spotted hyena research involves learning call up ceses, mark-recapture and trapping techniques and identifying clans and individuals. The researcher is involved in collecting prey utilisation data and scat analysis to determine factors driving the distribution of the hyena population on Phinda
  • Panthera run a leopard project at Phinda which involves an annual camera trap survey for 45 days. Volunteers may at times be involveed in this study or assit the researchers with preparations.

Nyala conservation programme

  • Collect data on Nyala densities, age and sex ratios
  • Vegetation sampling
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Hear from other volunteers who've visited Phinda Wildlife Research Project

My Phinda Research Volunteer Experience was my first trip ever to Africa and one that has left me wi... click for more...

My Phinda Research Volunteer Experience was my first trip ever to Africa and one that has left me with incredible memories to cherish forever. Over my 3 weeks there I learned to use telemetry equipment to track Leopard and Ele’s, to identify tracks of Lion, Leopard, Ele’s for tracking purposes, participated in Biopsy darting on Lion, and Rhino, participated in a Lion tranquilization darting (for DNA collection so 2 young males could be sold to an interested party) and I learned to identify Rhino through ear notching count techniques. We collected valuable data on animal counts, GPS locations, as well as sex, age and size of them and catalogued this data in their archives. The research we were participating in was primarily long term data collection, and observation of animals on the reserve (health, watching for injuries, snares). Coming home was very emotional for me! I had so many special moments and memories while I was at Phinda, that by the end of this trip I was in love with all the animals and those working relentlessly behind the scenes. With a heavy heart I left, teary eyes and all, and arrived home with a new found love of South Africa and their incredible animals. Now I know…. Africa is a place I will visit again!

Sharon Ringel, Volunteer 2012

Visiting Africa as a volunteer instead of a tourist was much more rewarding than I could imagine. The company I went through, African Conservation Experience, better known as ACE, were there for me every step of the way from planning my trip to making sure I arrived home safely. Within 3 hours of stepping foot into Phinda, we came across four lion cubs lying on the side of the road. Their mother had left them for the day while she caught up with two other lionesses. Luckily the cubs were not skittish as we had to park the vehicle quite close to acquire a skin biopsy sample from each one for genetic and health reasons. Right away we gained insight into what the research team did at Phinda and how they are helping in the conservation field. The opportunities we were provided with to go “behind the scenes” were truly amazing and not something that many people in their lifetime would have experienced. You have access to being close with lions, leopards and white rhinos that have been tranquillised for research reasons. Seeing a wild animal so close that you can see every hair on its body and to be able to compare the size of your hand against a lion’s paw is incredible and mind-blowing. ACE provided me with an unforgettable experience and adventure that I will cherish for a lifetime. I highly recommend ACE to anyone who wants to experience the rawness of Africa mixed with its natural beauty.

Karyn Gresser, Volunteer 2011

I have just come back from 2 weeks at Phinda, it was so awesome I wish I could have stayed longer! Every day is different, but the basic schedule was in the land rover at 6am, try to find certain animals (elephant, white rhino, cheetah, lion, buffalo, etc), work out who they are, who they are with, and what they are doing; back at the house for lunch/rest; on the road again at 3ish, back around 7-8ish. But the schedule changes all the time! I got to see a few lion dartings, track leopard, and when I left they were planning some rhino dartings. The people were great, it's a very relaxed environment, and the animal sightings are fantastic. You won't be disappointed.

Jennifer Palframan, Volunteer March 2011

It's amazing at Phinda... the people are lovely too!! Such a great experience and I was lucky to see all the big five, go on a walk to find black rhino, stroke a darted leopard, watch a male lion being darted, and lots more!!! Enjoy yourselves and watch the sunset every night...its beautiful!

Ellen Spencer, Volunteer 2010

There were so many amazing encounters at Phinda... We needed to collar a leopard for research, after setting up a trap and radio signal. After several hours there was no signal, I only woke once when a white rhino walked past the track munching on the grass. Just before day break the radio signal woke us... we had caught a spotted hyena!

Christopher Barass

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Your placement cost includes return flights and carbon offsets (if selected), return transfers from Johannesburg Airport to your project, all accommodation, meals (at most projects), transfers between projects if you are volunteering at more than one project, the 24 hour support of our South African ground manager, ACE T-Shirts, and, of course, the contributions to the projects, without which they could not operate. Read more about the costs, where your money goes and financing your volunteering placement here