Phinda Wildlife Research Project

Go behind the scenes on a ‘big 5’ safari reserve.

Phinda is one of the great success stories of African wildlife conservation. Unlike most safari reserves, the land is owned by the local community which means everyone works together to protect the wildlife – and everyone benefits from the park’s success.

As a phinda volunteer, you’ll play a vital role in this amazing story. As part of the reserve’s main research team, you’ll help to manage thriving populations of elephant, rhino, lion, cheetah and other species. You’ll have countless chances to observe these animals in their natural habitat. And by working behind the scenes, you’ll see a side of Phinda that tourists don’t usually experience.

You will also have the unique opportunity to monitor black rhino as part of Phinda’s involvement with the pioneering WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.

Rhino Rating


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Wildlife Research and Management


Elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo, cheetah


Wildlife research and management
Reserve management


  South Africa

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Experience wildlife management behind the scenes

As a conservation volunteer at Phinda, you’ll experience life behind the scenes on a safari reserve and get closer to the wildlife than regular guests.

Protect one of Africa’s largest rhino populations

Assist in managing this critical rhino population through daily monitoring, regular dehorning and other activities.

Supported by the WWF and Panthera

By working with the wildlife in Phinda, you’ll support major international conservation organizations.

Owned by the Zulu community

The Phinda reserve is owned by the local community, most of which belong to the Zulu nation. So your placement will help to support this unique initiative.

Great cheetah viewing

Due to its growing cheetah population, Phinda plays a pivotal role in cheetah conservation throughout the whole of southern Africa.

Biodiversity hotspot

The Phinda reserve is situated within one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots known as the Maputaland complex



As a volunteer on our Phinda Wildlife Research Experience, there’s always something to do. Your your role will be varied and hands-on. Depending on the animals being managed and researched, you’ll get involved in the following activities:

Wildlife research

To maintain the perfect balance of species within the reserve, Phinda’s conservationists keep a close watch on population numbers.

  • Record wildlife sightings and map their movements to build up a detailed database of animals’ territories
  • Use satellite technology to track the movements of collared wildlife such as elephants and rhino
  • Monitor priority species such as black and white rhino, elephants, cheetahs and lions, to help protect them from threats such as poaching
  • Study the behaviour and population dynamics of animals such as elephants and predators
  • Help to carry out a comprehensive predator census at Phinda

Wildlife management

Careful management of the wildlife is vital to Phinda’s conservation success.

  • Help to notch rhino ears, enabling researchers to identify, monitor and protect individual animals
  • Assist with humane rhino de-horning, an effective anti-poaching strategy
  • Carry out disease testing to establish a healthy buffalo population
  • Use a contraceptive programme to manage the populations of elephant and predators
  • Get involved with Phinda’s wildlife relocation programmes, helping to move species such as rhino, lion and antelope
  • Manage and preserve wildlife habitats to ensure a sufficient supply of resources such as food and water

Community support

As Phinda is owned by the community and is a major employer in the area, you’ll play a vital role in supporting the local people.


As well as gaining hands-on experience (which you can read about under the ‘do’ tab), you’ll also learn about the conservation, ecology, biology and behaviour of Phinda’s wildlife.


  • Rhino poaching, anti-poaching methods in the field, and relocation programmes
  • Breeding programmes for rare and endangered species – such as Phinda’s black rhino custodianship programme
  • Wildlife relocation programmes – including the WWF’s black rhino range expansion project, the rhinos without borders programme, and lion relocation to Rwanda


  • The natural environment of the Big 5 and other African species
  • The role of different species in the ecosystem
  • The impact of population growth or decline of certain species, such as lions and elephants, on the ecosystem as a whole
  • Interesting smaller ecosystems on the Phinda reserve, including a unique sand forest


  • The physiology and natural diets of the Big 5 and other African species
  • Native African plants, reptiles, amphibians and birds


  • The relationship between predator and prey species
  • Behaviour of animal groups, such as the hierarchy systems in prides of lions, troops of primates and herds of elephants
  • Predator hunting behaviour and the differences between social predators such as lions and hyena, compared with solitary predators such as leopards and cheetah
  • Mating and breeding behaviour of Big 5 and other African species
  • The movement of herd species such as elephant, buffalo and antelope

Our costs include:


Internal Flights

Airport Meet & Greet


24/7 Support

Personal Guidance


Cost Calculator


Looking for something bespoke?

You can volunteer at more than one project during your time in Africa. Please contact us for a bespoke quote including travel arrangements between locations.


Costs are subject to change but will be confirmed in writing at the time of booking.

I spent 2.5 months across 4 different projects, each of which were so incredible and different from one another. It is insurmountable how much I had learnt about the culture, language, politics, myself and of course, wildlife.

I’ve been to a lot of countries and photographed a lot of creatures in the oceans and on the land.  But, I’ve never been “in the field” and experienced “hands on” action like this.

Maartje van Vlerken at Care for Wild | African Conservation Experience

The first time you feed the baby rhino’s is something you will never ever forget.
It makes you so emotional and realize this is what is going on in the world and all other things seem so unimportant

Taking one of the biggest risks in my life, became one of the best decisions I have ever made. Traveling to Phinda game reserve and the Okavango Delta through African Conservation Experience and meeting some of the most humble down to earth people was a truly fantastic experience.

We spent our time doing transects in different parts of the reserve recording all the mammals we saw, tracking particular animals if they needed to be checked up on for some reason using telemetry trackers (i.e. waving an aerial around hoping to hear a beep!), or driving around different areas of the reserve just checking what was about/going on and recording all the lions, rhinos, elephants and buffalo we saw. 

If there was such a thing as a typical day at Phinda, it would consist of morning and evening monitor drives to observe and record data on the wildlife, but there is no such thing as a typical day.

Although I was only able to spend a short time at Phinda, I am so happy that I got to be a part of the incredible efforts and learn so much about Africa and its wildlife.

We learn so much about ourselves and about the world when we travel. ACE ensured that my daughter’s first experience of travelling abroad on her own was amazing!! I have no doubt that she will treasure the memories forever and the experience will give her the confidence to try new experiences in the future.

What Makes Us Different?

Southern Africa's original conservation travel company

We are qualified zoologists and conservationists

Personal guidance before you book

Join real wildlife conservation projects

Enjoy total peace of mind, with 24/7 in-country support

Empower vital conservation initiatives


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