Few experiences are more exhilarating than watching a pride of lions silently stalking through the long grass in search of prey. Their power and skill really is enough to make your hairs stand up on end. But as a volunteer on a lion conservation project, you’ll discover there’s much more to these big cats – and they urgently need your help.
As a volunteer at our lion conservation projects, you’ll get the unique opportunity to study lions in the wild, help care for sick and injured lions, and learn about important conservation issues such as canned lion hunting and cub cuddling.
Go behind the scenes on a ‘Big 5’ reserve and join one of the biggest conservation success stories
Explore a variety of animals in the Okavango Delta, home to the largest elephant population on Earth
Guided by wildlife professionals, discover how to manage, handle and care for Africa’s iconic predators
Join a project that looks after wildlife, carries out conservation research and educates local children
Help care for injured and endangered wildlife in a dedicated rehabilitation centre
Lead by experienced rangers, learn how to track animals, master bushcraft and understand wildlife behaviour
The ACE team and the Phinda locals have provided me with memories that will last a lifetime and an endless amount of stories that I will forever treasure.
I could talk for hours and hours about the many adventures I was lucky enough to undertake during my placements with ACE, I still haven’t finished telling my friends and family everything! The amazing sense of accomplishment and pride I feel whenever I look back at what I’ve learnt and been privileged to be a part of is unfathomable.
For me, it was the ‘team effort’ that really cemented the experience and made it so much more than a just a safari. I felt, I was contributing in some small way, to the work that is being done at Phinda; I had a sense of ‘belonging’, even if it was for only 3 weeks.
My experience at Phinda, in three words, was wonderful, unique, and enriching. The team from the researchers, ecologists, logistic, back-office, and our dear volunteers were all great people and supportive, and helped make my journey wonderful.
I decided to get involved with a conservation organisation. ACE has given me the opportunity to be part of dedicated teams helping preserve wildlife and the habitat. It has been a wonderful experience and I will continue to volunteer my time to conservation programs.
Being able to work so closely with rhinos was incredible at Care For Wild Africa, whilst Phinda was one of the best experiences of my life.
Nearly every morning we would get up at around 5:30am, gulp down a quick cup of coffee, and be out of the door by 6. We would drive through the morning mist, watch it diffuse into shimmering light as the sun rose, in search of an elephant herd, a lion pride or to check on the animals in the boma enclosures.
Catherine and I had the most fantastic trip to Phinda. The whole experience was more than we could ever have imagined.
At Phinda our lives were enriched by the knowledge of our team leader in the many facets of wildlife management, whilst working with the wildlife veterinarians at Shimongwe was AWESOME. We were able to be a part of a team capturing wild animals for medical treatment, ID chip placement, and relocation.
Phinda was my 3rd time with ACE and I am 77 years old !!!! If you really want to be a volunteer with wild animals in Southern Africa, please contact ACE.
To truly get a feel for just how special a place Phinda is you must go and experience it for yourself - you won't regret it.
Sunset on the Okavango while watching the maribou storks and cormorants settle at the heronry for the night was awesome. We watched the sun’s rays slanting across the water colouring everything with its red glow and then fading as the sun dipped below the grasses and out of sight leaving us in gathering gloom and heading back to our island abode for dinner.
For a full month at Okavango, I had the opportunity to assist in vital research, documenting species presence on the Kwatale conservancy. We had some truly special sightings while there.
The Okavango Wilderness Experience in Botswana (Moremi Game reserve) is truly amazing! A real feeling of being out in the bush and at the same helping out for a great cause. The outcomes from this volunteering are retained for ever!
Chipangali is an amazing family run organisation, run by Kevin & Nicky and their children and I am now best friends with the family. The centre has a great family feel and you quickly bond with all of the other volunteers and I still keep in touch with many of the other volunteers.
I am a qualified veterinary nurse who decided to go to Africa to volunteer because I wanted to make a difference. I worked at Care for Wild for 2 months and Chipangali for 1 month. Whilst you are there it is important to remember to take a moment and appreciate where you are and how lucky you are to be there.
My experiences at Chipangali and Phinda were absolutely insane. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. The people there topped off the experience and I have so many good memories, I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone - just thinking about my trip makes me want to go back!
On my first day at Moholoholo I was involved in a rhino walk, which is as incredible as it sounds. We chaperoned a young rhino on a walk through the bush, providing him with exercise, mental stimulation and a bit of fun. This is just one of many unbelievable things that I was able to take part in.
You won’t quickly forget a bushbaby landing on your shoulder on your way back from dinner, a fearsome honey badger lying on its back without a care in the world or falling asleep at night to the sound of lions roaring and hyenas laughing outside your window.
Work hard and you maybe given more responsibility with special cases – teaching vultures to fly to the glove, looking after the baby bush pig and assisting with the cheetahs were some of the extra cases I had. I have so many amazing memories from being at Moholoholo.
The people and animals I met while I was there will always have a special place in my heart and I’ve done things I never thought I would like; help raise a baby squirrel, hold a baboon spider to get over my arachnophobia and see a white rhino in the wild.
As older travelers who have been to many countries around the world, we wanted to give something back while having a great experience. The intangibles, like seeing so many stars at night, and socializing with local people, made this part of our trip truly memorable.
1) They’re Africa’s largest predators but what do lions actually eat?
Lions are carnivores and will happily tuck into any animal they can get their claws on. As a volunteer working with lions in Africa, you’ll see their diet consists mostly of common local wildlife such as zebras, giraffes, buffalo and antelope.
2) When they’re hunting another animal, how fast can lions run?
Researchers working with lions in Africa have recorded them running as fast as 50mph (80km/h). That’s more than twice the top speed of the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt. However, while lions make excellent sprinters they aren’t cut out for long-distance running and will give up the chase if they don’t catch their prey quickly.
3) How many cubs do lions have during their lifetime?
A lioness will typically have between eight and 18 cubs in her lifetime. Once she reaches sexual maturity, which usually happens around age four, she can give birth to a new litter every two years and each litter produces between one and five cubs. However, lion cub survival rate in the wild is only around 50%.
4) Have you ever wondered: how long do lions live?
Well, the answer depends on their gender. The average lifespan of a male lion is 12 to 16 years while lionesses often live longer, usually between 15 and 18 years.
5) Why do lions have manes?
Only male lions grow a mane, which should give you a clue as to its role – a long, healthy mane shows lionesses that a male lion has strong genes and has survived for many years, suggesting he could be a worthwhile mating partner.
6) How big are lions when they’re fully grown?
A male lion will grow up to around 190kg (420lbs) whereas a lioness will usually be quite a lot smaller at around 130kg (280lbs).
In 2015, the feature-length documentary Blood Lions brought millions of people’s attention to the cruel and all-too-brief lives of African lions bred in captivity. The film revealed what every conservationist working with lions already knows: the lion breeding industry is an animal rights travesty.
Legal in South Africa, the industry exists primarily for the benefit of trophy hunters and the trade in fresh lion meat. Some breeding facilities also offer tourists the chance to have their photo taken cuddling a lion cub.
According to researchers working with lions, there are hundreds of breeding facilities in South Africa holding thousands of captive lions. This means a large percentage of South Africa’s lion population – probably even the majority – spend their lives in captivity. Following a meeting between the South African government and CITES (Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species) in 2016, it was agreed that over 900 lion carcasses a year could also be exported to the Far East, a decision which has accelerated the growth of the industry.
Usually, such a large-scale breeding programme would have at least some conservation merit. After all, many species are bred in captivity then introduced into the wild. But captive lions simply do not learn the huge number of complicated skills they required to survive in the wilderness. And complex pride structures are almost impossible to form unnaturally. This means breeding facilities can’t offer any support to real lion conservation projects, which work to ensure wild animals can survive in their natural habitats.
The word ‘hunting’ may suggest some form of pursuit is involved in this activity. But with canned lion hunting, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, trophy hunters pay large sums of money to participate in a false hunt where they are praised for shooting a drugged lion that has been delivered to a particular spot for that exact purpose.
Conservationists working with lions in Africa are campaigning hard for this widespread barbarism to be made illegal. Even many hunting groups now agree it should be stopped on ethical grounds and because it lacks what they see as the sportsmanship of a wild hunt, where the lion has a small chance of escape. This is a rather warped logic however as wild lion hunting is, if anything, even more devastating than canned hunting and the goal should be to put a stop to all forms of lion hunting.
Despite calls for canned hunting to be banned, governments are reluctant to act as this practice brings in a large number of tourists to Africa every year and provides jobs for rural communities. In fact, the authorities have even helped rebrand canned hunting as ‘captive hunting’ to make it more appealing to trophy hunters. And this is just one of many efforts to legitimise the industry. Some supporters have tried to claim it takes pressure off wild lions or that canned hunting helps conservation by reintroducing captive lions into the wild.
However, these arguments don’t stand up to the evidence. Demand for wild hunting licences hasn’t decreased since canned hunting was introduced (if anything, this cheaper way to kill lions has fuelled more demand for trophy hunting).
Many captive lion centres offer tourists the chance to cuddle up to a lion cub or the young of another carnivore species. While this may sound harmless enough, even heart-warming to some, sadly it is just a way for canned hunting facilities to make money from lions before they’re old enough to be hunted or slaughtered for meat.
Young cubs are taken from their mothers in captivity and hand-reared. Then, once they reach maturity, they return to the lion farm where they’re either shot by a trophy hunter for money, used for breeding themselves, or killed and shipped to the Far East for meat.
Rather than revealing the unsavoury truth about their business, predator petting zoos tell tourists their cubs have been abandoned or rescued in the wild. Of course, this is very rarely true. Rescued lion cubs usually end up in a working sanctuary where they receive proper care, rather than a petting zoo where tourists cue up for their 20-minute cuddle!
Many unscrupulous lion and other large carnivore breeding and care centres are marketing themselves to conservation volunteers under false pretences with many of the cubs eventually ending up in the trophy hunting industry. They may claim to support lion conservation or have a team of scientists on-site, they may even claim to be releasing their lions back into the wild, but can seldom prove this.
Educating yourself so as not to be caught out by projects involved in these practices is vital. Here are five ways you can spot an unethical lion or other large carnivore breeding or care centre.
1) They allow hand-rearing of cubs so as to be able to offer other human-lion interactions, which they actively market to the public.
2) They keep lions in social groups that do not mimic how lions live in the wild.
3) They keep lions in enclosures that are small and without any form of enrichment, for example platforms to climb and shade to rest in.
4) They claim to introduce hand-reared lions into the wild. Although this is possible it is very costly, time consuming and is only done by a few specialist facilities.
5) They pass their animals on to unknown and undocumented sources which allows vulnerable animals to end up in canned lion facilities.
There are however a number of large carnivore centres that provide sanctuary for animals that can never be released back into the wild. These centres only allow specific species to breed under strict conditions for clearly defined reasons, for example to increase genetic diversity, and they never allow the breeding of lions. Animals rescued from exploitative centres often end up at one of these sanctuaries.
If you volunteer at one of our lion conservation projects, you can rest assured you’re making a real difference, helping to protect Africa’s wild lions and joining the fight against cruelty towards captive lions.
Help injured and orphaned animals through wildlife care, husbandry and nursing
Learn from conservationists and field researchers, helping to protect wild animals and ecosystems
Join some of Africa’s most experienced wildlife vets and help treat wild animals
Work with the world’s largest land animal by joining a team of experts
Help save the rhino by working closely with these incredible prehistoric creatures