The Greater Makalali Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s premier, privately-owned conservation areas comprising over 61,000 acres and containing Africa's Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo). It is home to two of Enkosini's conservation projects, the Siyafunda Research Camp and the Siyafunda Endangered Species Project. When you volunteer at the Research Camp, among many other things, you will assist with the world's most advanced elephant contraception program.
The World's Most Advanced Elephant Contraception Research
Makalali’s research activities are fueled by the support of the reserve’s rangers, and the Siyafunda volunteer program. The Siyafunda Conservation Initiative, located on the southern part of the reserve, was established to assist with existing research projects and provide reserve management with the necessary data needed to make well-informed decisions. The two most important ongoing monitoring and research initiatives conducted on Makalali are:
Elephant Contraception - Answering the desperate need for alternative methods of elephant population control besides culling and translocation, Makalali's immunocontraception program, the first of its kind in Africa, created a safe, effective and non-lethal biological control method. Since May 2000, Makalali has implemented an immunocontraception programme on their elephant population and 23 cows have been vaccinated to date. These cows are individually recognized by means of identification templates and photographs. Extensive records are maintained, including observations and reactions to the darting and their behaviour thereafter. To date, no unusual behaviour or side effects have been detected. As the Kruger trials proved the vaccine’s efficacy, safety and reversibility, the aim of the Makalali study is to determine the vaccine's reliability in controlling population growth. Since August 2002, a minimal growth rate has been maintained indicating very promising applications for population growth regulation of elephants on small reserves.
Lion/Predator Management - In all game reserves, a delicate balance between prey and predator species needs to be carefully managed and maintained because they exist in closed environments. The aim of this project is to produce a GIS based model that will act as a tool for correctly managing the predator population at Makalali. This project will allow the Head Ranger to determine the ‘carrying capacity’ of each large predator in the reserve and consider whether to introduce more predators into the system or relocate.
The Siyafunda Research Camp at Makalali provides volunteers with a stimulating and practical experience in wildlife monitoring and research, and includes a physical component - assisting with reserve management activities. Daily activities are interesting and varied, and may include several of the following activities on any given day:
•Elephant contraception: behavioural and range utilisation monitoring of the elephants.
•Lion contraception: behavioural monitoring of targeted females and range utilisation of the pride.
•Leopard monitoring: activity monitoring by traversing fixed routes within the reserve.
•African wildcats: long-term monitoring program to acquire data on the ranging, foraging and reproductive behaviour of released offspring in savannah environment.
•Species demography: identification and sexing of reserve individuals (lions, rhino, cheetah and elephant) and continuous monitoring of these populations with reference to predator/prey density, inter and intra-species relations and the maintenance of identification kits.
•Sex ratio analysis: establishment of repeatable routes to accurately record the sex/age ratios of herbivore species for the optimal ratio to increase productivity (in conjuction with annual game counts).
•MSc research: assistance with any Masters of Science student fieldwork and data collection.
•Alien vegetation & bio control monitoring: identification and mapping of alien and invasive vegetation within the river and reserve, spreading of biological and chemical agents, and follow-up monitoring of problem areas.
•Community work: Siyafunda provides support for the Holy Family Orphanage every 2-3 weeks. This is a Catholic run HIV orphanage with approx 90 children under care. Volunteers are welcome to bring old clothes, school supplies or food during visits.
Through these collaborative research projects, volunteers make an important contribution to the “bigger picture” of conservation in Africa - monitoring biodiversity processes and addressing challenges created by the ever-increasing human population, specifically fragmented and isolated habitats.
An average volunteer week generally consists of: 2 elephant monitoring sessions, 2 lion monitoring sessions, 2 rhino/cheetah drives, 2 nocturnal drives (late evening to early morning) for tracking leopards and small predators, and bush clearing/erosion control. Volunteers will also have the opportunity to participate in bush walks and sleep outs within the Reserve.
Makalali is remote and there is no public transport to town. However, volunteers will have an opportunity to visit town approximately once a week (Mondays) in coordination with trips to collect food and pick up/drop off volunteers. The nearest town, Hoedspruit, is small but has all the usual amenities, including medical doctors, supermarkets, restaurants and Internet cafés.
Volunteer accommodations at Makalali Research Camp are double rooms (volunteers to share) with en-suite shower/toilets, supplied with hot and cold water. There is a communal lounge and separate kitchen. Volunteers participate in the creation of menus, the preparation of meals and general upkeep of the Camp on a rotational basis.
For further information, visit www.siyafundaconservation.com.
Training / Qualifications
Training will be given in all aspects of the African bushveld, including wildlife conservation, tracking and research.
Makalali accepts volunteers of 16+ years of age. Volunteers under 16 years old are only considered when accompanied by a parent/guardian. There isn't a maximum age limit, though a reasonable fitness level is necessary. Families are welcome!
1 week: GB£595 / US$795
2 weeks: GB£975 / US$1295
3 weeks: GB£1345 / US$1795
4 weeks: GB£1695 / US$2295
Extra weeks: GB£375 / US$495 per week
Volunteers can also choose to experience both camps at Makalali (2 weeks at Research Camp, 2 weeks at Bush Camp) for a discounted rate of GB£1495 / US$2495.
Volunteers get discounted rates when joining 2 or more Enkosini programs!
Enkosini uses USD rates as standard due to currency fluctuations. GBP rates are indications of approx recent values. Currency convertor atwww.xe.com.
Volunteer contributions cover meals, accommodation, activities, transfers from Hoedspruit to Makalali, and project donation. Flights and travel/medical insurance are NOT included. The only additional spending money required will be for personal purchases, social excursions away from Makalali, and pre/post project travel. We do not have discounted rates for partial weeks.
Please bear in mind that the sooner you apply, the better your chances of securing your placement!
There are no set dates for this project, although we always organize arrivals/departures on Mondays to coincide with weekly town trips for food/supplies/etc. There is no charge for Monday transfers, but off-schedule transfers will cost R650 South African rands. Volunteers just need to inform Enkosini Eco Experience of the date they are planning to arrive. Volunteers are required to sign an indemnity form acknowledging and accepting the consequences of working in close contact with wild animals.
The closest town to Makalali is HOEDSPRUIT - nearly 500kms from Johannesburg. Hoedspruit is approximately 70kms, or 45 minutes away from Makalali.
Flights and buses are available from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit. Arrangements will be made to collect incoming volunteers from either the Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport or the Hoedspruit Bus Station.
If you need to overnight in Hoedspruit either before or after your program, the Makalali staff can pick you up or drop you off at the Blue Cottages Guesthouse (www.countryhouse.co.za).
By Plane – Jo'burg to Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport
Flights leave from the domestic terminal at Johannesburg International Airport. The flight is ± 1hour, 15 minutes. These flights are conducted by SA Express (www.flysaa.com).
By Bus - Jo'burg to Hoedspruit
Buses leave from the Johannesburg Park Station or Pretoria Bus Station. To get to these stations, you will need to organize transport with your hotel/backpackers or catch a taxi.
Translux buses depart every day from Jo'Burg at 09h30 and Pretoria at 10h30, arriving into Hoedspruit at 15h40. For bus reservations, contact Veena at firstname.lastname@example.org - email her with your name, dates of travel and where you will be traveling to/from. Volunteers need to arrive at the bus station at least 30 minutes before departure to pay for your bus ticket or the ticket will be forfeited. Try to book your bus ticket at least a month in advance as they definitely fill up!
The Hoedspruit area borders a malarial zone and it is incumbent upon each person to take medical opinion on vaccinations and whether or not to follow a malaria prophylactic programme. There are no formal vaccinations requirements for entering South Africa. See FAQs for complete packing list.
“Booked through Enkosini for a family of 5 (3 teens) for Siyafunda Conservation on the Makalali reserve. The reserve and includes the Big 5 and our experience was phenomenal! As volunteers, we have set tasks to help with and we do data recording of animals on all the game drives. Back at camp, we all share in the cooking and cleaning, and get to share stories around the fire every night. The camp itself includes a few buildings - including the dorms with showers. Accommodations are basic but wifi is available (when electricity doesn't cut out). The camp is not fenced and is often visited by various animals - both day and night (nyalas, impalas, mongoose, gennet). We heard lions on numerous occasions at night, though they never ventured in camp. We also had an outing to a nearby orphanage one day. Our stay of one week was good, but I would recommend two weeks to get more fully immersed and to have a better chance of seeing the Big 5. And for those who would prefer tenting rather than bunk rooms and hot showers, then you can sign up for the bush camp instead.” - Alain Soucie, Calgary
“First I want to thank Kelcey for directing me to Makalali. I wanted to spend time on a reserve, experiencing day to day activities and learning about the animals, and not just going on a photo safari staying at a four or five star resort. But, I also wasn't ready to sleep under the stars and pack in everything I needed to survive in the bush. My goal was to give back, but more important, to try to find a way to better support organizations with boots on the ground in Africa. What are the real needs and issues they face on a daily basis.
Twines is a wonderful base camp. There is a main indoor sitting area, rooms for the volunteers with shared restroom facilities, a large shared kitchen area and laundry facility and outdoor dining. The first week I had my own room. The second week shared with a friend. You really spend very little time in your room - just sleeping. Up early for game drives or work activities. Few hours midday to relax and have lunch. Then back out again for afternoon/evening games drives and work activities. Generally arrive back after dark. Have dinner. Sit by the fire. And go to bed. There was a mother wart hog who I had to negotiate with each morning to let me pass as I left my room. I can't tell you how adorable it was to watch the five little ones run with their tails straight up in the air. There are no fences. So, one night we came back and there was a bull elephant eating from the marula tree outside my room. So, I just hung out at the kitchen until he was done.
We all took turns making dinner. It is definitely a new experience cooking for 20 people. I wish I had taken some easy recipes with me, and maybe some curry packets. And do yourself a favor when its your turn, have the veggies cut up before you go for the afternoon game drive. On Sunday nights they generally have a braai. Great fun to sit around the fire and enjoy the traditional South African bbq. Everyone just picks up something to bbq in Hoedspruit that day.
Met some great people from UK, Sweden, Australia that were volunteering along with staff from South Africa, Germany and Australia. We all loved our guides - Bethuel, Andrews and Claudia.
I really enjoyed the lectures. One day we had a speaker who was an elephant expert and was responsible for initiating the birth control practices at Makalali that are now required on all private game reserves in South Africa. She was fascinating. We also had a great lecture about hyenas from one of the guides who was conducting a field research project. I came away with a great appreciation for this much maligned species.
Favorite part of the experience hands down were the walks. We tracked rhinos on several occasions, always finding them. I always felt very safe on foot with our guides. Another favorite experience - sundowners overlooking the river listening to the hippos.
We learned to identify tracks, if the tracks were fresh or old, where an animal had laid down. And all sorts of interesting animal factoids - like a herd of giraffes is called a journey and they don't really stay with their family. They just find some buddies in the morning and say "hey, want to hang out today?". How many of your friends know that little tidbit?
There is definitely a business in managing a private game reserve, and some of these animals (like the malaria free cape buffalo, and sable bulls) are worth a great deal. While no one really wants the painted dogs. I found the business side fascinating.
There is some hard work like clearing roads. So take a good pair of work gloves. But, generally only 2-3 hours at a time in the cool of the morning. So, its manageable. We also walked through the bush looking for snares. The main project is tracking animals for the researchers. The information is required to maintain a predator/prey balance and manage the large mammals. Reserves are permitted only so many elephants per x# of square hectares.
Overall, great experience. I highly recommend.” - Tammy Halstead, Redmond
“If you want a REAL experience of Africa – not the type in which a waiter serves you a gin and tonic while you watch the wildlife from a lodge terrace or a luxury vehicle, but the type that has you putting your fingers in rhino poo to see how long ago the animal passed by – then this is for you. You’ll be up early monitoring wildlife, searching for elephants using a radio tracking device, putting off poachers on night drives, checking on the health of important animals …and yes, putting your own fingers in that rhino poo. Accompanied by a ranger (and believe me, they know what they are doing – you’re safe!) you´ll be out on drives every day or exploring the bush on foot to spy on cheetahs, wildebeest and lions.I have been sniffed by a rhino that approached our vehicle, locked eyes with a male lion as he strolled by, sat on the ground 40 metres from a resting lion family, and watched ravenous lionesses tearing into an antelope not 20 feet away. I’ve been surprised by a giraffe who was inspecting my washing, sat silently among a herd of browsing elephants, and been completely and utterly ignored by two leopards! I’ve eaten around a campfire in the bush, slept out under the African stars, cooked for 10 people, and made many, many good friends. If you want the 5 star hotel treatment, then don’t come here (the water may not even always be warm!) but if you want a five star adventure, if you want to get down and get dirty if needs be, if you want to get the smell of Africa into your clothes, then certainly, certainly do.” - Burton, Madrid
“If I was asked to rate my experience at Makalali, I'd simply say that it was "off the charts". With elephant drives, leopard stake outs, hyena catches and bush walks, along with the constant monitoring of lions, hippos, cheetahs and rhinos, plus other animal and bird sightings too numerous to mention, learning to read tracks, shoot a rifle and drive a safari four wheeler.... I was in heaven, albeit a dusty one! Thank you for letting me be part of an important research project. I won't say that it was a once in a lifetime experience, because I am definitely going to return...” - Michelle Janko, USA
“What I can I say about my Siyafunda Conservation experience, other than it was fantastic! I was only there for 2 weeks, but in that time experienced a great deal and learnt so much about the flora, fauna & people. We would go on daily game drives, where we would go 'off road' to get close to the animals and often spend up to half an hour watching them - there is nothing like watching wild animals in their natural habitat up close & personal! My most enjoyable and exhilarating experiences were sleeping out under the stars, watching a male lion while on a game walk, watching two cheetahs eat a kill and being visited by a rhino up close while sitting in a hide around a water hole. I got some amazing pictures and met some great people from all over the world. I was also lucky enough to be there when we had a visit from a local orphanage - the kids were so excited on the game drive and thanked us by singing for us. I would like to thank Mike, Greg, Andrews & the team for a fantastic experience and for being so friendly & accommodating. They are all extremely knowledgeable & were always available to help in any way. I can't say enough about my experience & so wish I had stayed longer than 2 weeks. I am eagerly looking forward to my next trip!” - Kellie Phelps, Australia
“Audrey was a mind of information about the Elephant project... we had some magical times following the ellies. We also saw some truly amazing things while we were on animal monitoring duties with Marius and Mike. I hope the data we collected and posted onto the computer has been a small help in the overall picture, and the broken dam may yield some vegetation in years to come. I would love to come back to Makalali... the experience is very special.” - Janice Bennett, UK
“I spent 2 unforgettable weeks (late October to early November) with Siyafunda, and left teary-eyed wishing I had more time. It is the kind of experience for those who really want to be in the authentic South African bush. We went on game drives to collect data twice-a-day that were always incredible-- we managed to see the entire Big 5 (and many more) in my first two days! Aside from the breath-taking wildlife, the staff and guides were exceptional. Their ability to connect with the volunteers, all while constantly educating us on everything in sight and making us feel safe in our surroundings made me feel immediately at home at Siyafunda. I was fortunate enough to spend some time at both the Bush Camp and the Research Base Camp, and I recommend doing both. Bush Camp is as authentic Africa as it gets, and it worth the experience. There is truly nothing like sleeping with Hyenas howling right outside your tent at night, which will inevitably happen at bush camp. Though you do maintenance or a project at least once a week, it is still something to look forward to, knowing that you are helping maintain the reserve for both people and animals alike. One of the best things about Siyafunda is their drive to educate and immerse you with the wildlife around you. Unlike fancy lodges where you arrive at a sighting and spend maybe 2 minutes with an animal, Siyafunda guides let the volunteers determine how long we stayed at a sighting to watch the animal, which lended to some incredible sightings. Because we were able to stay at sightings, we were able to see things like a two lions and leopard fight over a warthog kill, and hyenas bravely stealing a kill from a male lion. Siyafunda leaves you feeling as though you made a difference and are connected to nature. There is no doubt that I would recommend this program to anyone of any age, and I know that you will leave with indescribable memories, lasting connections, and wishing you had more time.” - Kensie C, Petaluma, CA, USA
“I had an excellent experience at Malakali. Marius, their ranger, was so knowledgeable and so thorough in pointing out and explaining the behaviours of the animals. He was also excellent at birds and grasses and trees, which are a particular interest of mine. I also very much enjoyed doing habitat reformation with Ross, and had a wonderful experience with the elephants with Audrey and her telemetry equipment.” - Maxine Crook, UK
“I had a wonderful time at Makalali. I think Ross and Audrey are doing a wonderful job - they were nice enough to organize and include us in several projects that I felt really contributed. Marius is a great guide and knew so much about the plants and the birds -I was really impressed. I had a wonderful trip and I thank you very much for all of your help getting me there!” - Jennifer Benjamin, USA
“The staff were absolutely awesome, they all seemed to know a lot about everything and whenever they didn't know something they'd find out and let us know. They were amazingly friendly and went so far out of their way to make sure we all felt at home. I really enjoyed following the herds of elephants while we monitored things like their mood, the male's sweat excretions etc and the late night frogging sessions were awesome.” - Ben Colagiuri, Australia
“Hello , My name is Dani and I live in Belgium . I want to take a few minutes to share my experience of volunteering in Makalali . I was 52 years old when I went to Makalali and it was my first time to volunteer. I love Africa and wanted to live something different than going on safari, " Do " something to help Wildlife and conservancy. Pick-up in Hoedspruit and first the volunteers go to the shopping center to buy some personal items so as soft drinks, candies, chips etc; Arriving in Makalali, welcome by the staff and explaining the organisation in the camp. Accommodation is pretty nice , double shared rooms and bathroom, all located in the middle of nature, no fences . I did 2 weeks there and it has been a wonderful experience. Go out early morning with the 4X4 for animal observing, data base of the different animals , do Bush walks, bush clearing, surviving experience with a Zulu member ( amazing and lovely man). The work in the camp is shared, some people make the food, other do dishes, etc, following a day plan and menu to prepare the food. You can expect to see the big five. Some days are hard work but it is so rewarding, having the opportunity to be there, have time enough to make pictures during the daily game drives for data base. I would definitely recommend this amazing project, wonderful experience and eye opener to protect and respect wildlife. Thanks to the staff and other volunteers to make this experience unforgettable.” - Danielle Rubens, Belgium
“Hello, I’m seventeen years old and i spent six weeks at the Siyafunda research project from the 7th of July till the 18th of August this summer...it was really amazing and a real life time experience !!! all staff members were really nice, and made my time there gorgeous !!! the Makalali game reserve is wonderful and hosts lots of animals, it took me not long to see all of the big five ! the accommodation was nothing special, but quite good, everything i needed was in the room, i was happy with it ! (it’s not a luxurious lodge, it’s a volunteer accommodation, that’s what people need to have in mind !!) weekly programme was great, we usually left at 6:30am and came back for around 10:30/11am, then we left the camp again in the afternoon from 2pm until 6pm... we had maintenance work once or twice a week, depending on what needed to be done ! i met lots of pupil down there and since I’m back in France I’m still in contact with them, so I’m happy about that ! i really have to say that it was an awesome experience and i definitely want to return there !!” - Robert-Vincent
“Everything about the place is phenomenal, from the incredibly close encounters with wild animals to the amazing atmosphere created by the staff. During my two week stay, there wasn't a day where I didn't have a breathtaking story to report back to my family. This is the perfect place for first hand experience and to develop your knowledge of the African bush. I have made friends from all over the world. The staff are welcoming, friendly and super helpful with the thousands of questions I ask them daily. I believe volunteering here is a lot more beneficial and truly changes you as a person as you gain a deeper insight into the issues surrounding African Wildlife. I loved it so much at Siyafunda so I decided to stay and intern for 3 months as I couldn't imagine leaving yet.” - Amie