The 'Big 5' as well as general game

Conservation Impact:

Wildlife research and monitoring, Reserve management, Behavioural studies



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 Phinda wildlife research team who are 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


The Phinda Private Game Reserve is sandwiched between the warm Indian Ocean, St Lucia lake and the Lebombo mountains. Join an experienced research team and work in this beautiful setting. You will participate in meaningful wildlife research and management work:

Black and White rhino research & relocation programmes

Phinda is part of the Black Rhino Custodianship Programme. As such it 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. 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. 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: As part of the Phinda wildlife research team, you’ll record movements and sightings of three lion prides. 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 help with compiling records on elephant population size, herd structures and movements.

This year Phinda also works with a researcher who conducts tests to ascertain that there are no long-term effects from the contraceptives. There are frequent operations involving the darting of elephants to take blood tests and assess their reproductive health. At the same time, you will take various body measurements of the elephant. This data supports a study into heat regulation by larger mammals. The study’s significance is in determining how animals might cope with increased temperatures due to climate change.

Ongoing wildlife monitoring

Depending on the time of your stay, you might participate in annual road strip counts. This is  a game count technique done via vehicle to complement an aerial game count. In this survey method you will count and record all prey species repeatedly along predetermined transects.

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

Conservation Value

The Phinda reserve management rely on the wildlife research 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.

Prices And Dates

Placement Dates

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

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

Project Fees

Duration £ / Including London flights £ / Excluding flights US$ / Excluding flights
2 Weeks 2,980 2,100 2,730
3 Weeks 3,520 2,640 3,430
4 Weeks 3,950 3,070 3,990
5 Weeks 4,380 3,500 4,550
6 Weeks 4,820 3,940 5,120
7 Weeks 5,260 4,380 5,695
8 Weeks 5,690 4,810 6,255
9 Weeks 6,120 5,240 6,810
10 Weeks 6,550 5,670 7,370
11 Weeks 6,980 6,100 7,930
12 Weeks 7,410 6,530 8,490


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!


Discover more about the Phinda Wildlife Research Project by watching this video.



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