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Project Quick Facts

  • Main Species: The 'Big 5' as well as general game
  • Conservation Impact: Wildlife research and monitoring, Reserve management, Behavioural studies
  • Project availability: Mid January - Mid December
  • Rhino Rating:




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.

How you can help

  • Work alongside the conservation research team on this Big 5 reserve
  • Help to develop a detailed population database
  • Be involved in white and black rhino monitoring
  • Conduct behavioural studies on population dynamics of predator populations
  • Focus work on lion and cheetah movements and management
  • Assist with elephant population monitoring
  • Learn about the intricate research and planning involved in managing a wildlife reserve

Your Role


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 & relocation programmes

Phinda is part of the Black Rhino Custodianship Programme, and is one of the few wildlife reserves in South Africa with a sizeable population of black and white rhino. The reserve has been involved in an international rhino relocation programme, in which several rhino have been relocated to start a viable population in Botswana's Okavango Delta.

All rhino in Phinda are carefully recorded and monitored. You will learn to track and identify individual rhino through a unique identifier system and might even be involved in collecting physical samples from rhinos for detailed ID kits.

Through regular tracking and surveys you will assist in maintaining the detailed population database for which you will record sex, age, territorial information and movements of all rhino in the reserve.

Big cat and predator monitoring

Phinda is home to numerous predators, including lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and wild dog. Specific studies vary over time, but the reserve keeps detailed records and individual ID charts for all lions, leopard and cheetah, and as a conservation traveller you will be involved in collecting the data to update these records.

Current studies include:

Cheetah monitoring: You'll identify territories and movements of individual cheetah through recognising the markings on their eyes and tails. You will also investigate a unique hunting substrate of the forest.

Lion monitoring: You'll 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. Phinda also recently relocated 5 lions to the Akagera National Park in Rwanda to establish a lion population there.

Predator and Prey research: Panthera run a leopard project at Phinda which involves an annual camera trap survey for 45 days. You may at times be involved in this study or assist the researchers with preparations.

Elephant monitoring

A reserve of Phinda's size can only support approximately 100 elephants before they have a detrimental effect on the habitat. Phinda therefore operates a non-hormonal contraceptive programme for elephants. This requires detailed monitoring and forecasting of the elephant population size. You will be involved in compiling records on elephant population size, herd structures and movements.

Ongoing wildlife monitoring

Depending on the time of your stay, you might participate in annual road strip counts – a game count technique done via vehicle to complement an aerial game count. In this survey method all prey species are counted and recorded repeatedly along pre-determined transects.

In addition the research team conduct extensive camera trap surveys to gain a comprehensive understanding of all wildlife species in the reserve.



The reserve management rely on the research taking place at Phinda to ensure inter and intra-species populations are balanced and animal management is optimum within the reserve. Conservation travellers like yourself make this research possible. Regular and dedicated research allows Phinda to become partner to essential conservation initiatives worldwide such as the Black Rhino Custodianship Programme on the reserve.

"African Conservation Experience has been a valued partner for numerous years at the Phinda Private Game Reserve research center. They have provided a steady flow of volunteers, in a fuss-free manner, which has enabled the project to mature into a respected research center. The financial support of the volunteers covers all of our running costs, from fuel and equipment through to salaries; allowing us to do the monitoring that is so important for the reserve."
- Cilla Pickering, Research Technician and Project Coordinator


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
I wanted to get a better idea of conservation efforts in the wild, and my trip definitely accomplished that.” Christina Cooper
At Phinda my most memorable moment was tracking the herd of elephants. This herd hadn’t been collared for long and was difficult to track. I got a signal for the herd but it wasn’t in their usual range. We tried a few other spots before following the signal. We did not see them but we heard them breaking branches. I was so happy I led us to them because it helped us learn more about this herd!” Kathrin McLean



Prices & Dates

Placement dates

Subject to availability, you can join the Phinda Wildlife Research Project any week from mid-January to mid-December.

Placements in 2016 run from Tuesday-Wednesday in South Africa.

If you arrange your own flights, you need to arrive at Johannesburg airport by 9 am on Tuesday morning. Your placement will finish on Wednesday evening, back at Johannesburg airport.

Placements in 2017 run from Tuesday-Tuesday in South Africa, or Monday-Wednesday from London.

Project Fees

Duration £ / Including

London flights

£ / Excluding


US$ / Excluding


2 weeks 2,860 1,980 2,690
3 weeks 3,360 2,485 3,380
4 weeks 3,775 2,890 3,930
5 weeks 4,180 3,300 4,490
6 weeks 4,590 3,710 5,045
7 weeks 5,000 4,125 5,610
8 weeks 5,410 4,490 6,100
9 weeks 5,825 4,940 6,720
10 weeks 6,230 5,350 7,275
11 weeks 6,640 5,760 7,830
12 weeks 7.050 6,175 8,390

Prices include accommodation, meals, transfers from Johannesburg airport, 24/7 support and financial contributions to the project. Prices are subject to change but will be confirmed in writing at the time of booking.

We also accept payment in EUR, CAD, AUD and ZAR. Please ask us for a quote, subject to exchange rates at the time.

You are welcome to volunteer at two or more projects during your stay. These placements are more complicated as they include travel arrangements between the projects, so please ask us for a quote for your desired project combination.

Rhino Rating

What is a "Rhino Rating"?

The "Rhino Rating" is our way of ranking a project in terms of how challenging it is - both physically and in terms of culture shock, comfort levels and skills required. Please refer to the "Rhino Ratings Explained" section for the general criteria for each rhino rating. The paragraph below explains the method behind our madness in choosing the rhino rating for this particular project.

Why does this project have a "2 rhino" rating?

The Phinda Wildlife Research Project is suitable for people of all fitness and ability levels. The monitoring and tracking work is done predominantly by vehicle, so you don't need to be able to walk for longer distances. Due to the heat you will usually have a break of a few hours in the middle of the day. Accommodation is in shared bedrooms in a simple farm house. There is hot water and electricity, but supply can be a little irregular when thunderstorms hit!



African Conservation Experience

Unit 1,
Manor Farm,
Churchend Lane,
GL12 8LJ,
United Kingdom

+44 1454 269 182

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