The tour starts at Johannesburg airport. You will receive full details of exactly where to meet your Group Leader on the Joining Instructions which will be sent to you 2-3 weeks before your trip starts. You will be met at the airport and taken to Pretoria Backpacker’s hostel in Pretoria (approx 45 mins). The orientation starts at 5pm. The orientation is a crucial part of settling in to life in South Africa and will take you through what it’s going to be like at your project, do’s and don’ts, how to stay safe and it’s your prime opportunity to ask any burning questions that you haven’t yet had answered. After the orientation you’ll have some time to relax and prepare before your first day at the project tomorrow. Backpacker’s hostel – 1 night
Today you’ll jump on an early morning bus from Pretoria to Phalaborwa. At the end of your 7 hour journey the team will meet you and take you to the project. You’ll have the rest of the day to settle in. Take your time, because this is your home for the next few weeks! The first day will be all about settling in and getting to know how things work. The team at the project will be on hand for you to ask any questions and to get to know them.
The project is set at Selati reserve, a 30,000 hectare habitat boasting high concentrations of wildlife. The park has around 90 elephants, 50 rhinos, numerous leopards and plentiful game species. The Selati Research programme was developed in 2004 with the aim of monitoring behaviour patterns, movement and the impact on prey and predator species that reintroduced lions have on the reserve.
Forget the noisy confusion of normal life and settle into the laid back ways of the bush. With only the sounds of the birds and the wind, you’ll truly have the chance to find calm again and appreciate the hours as they tick to a slower rhythm. Farmhouse (dormitory style bedrooms) – 12 nights (self catering, all food provided)
Daily life starts with getting up at the laid back hour of either 4 or 5am (ouch!). Everything is done with the animals in mind, so the time you wake up depends on where the lions are! Lions are the priority of the research and it’s important that they are tracked and located every day as part of ongoing monitoring of their introduction into the reserve. You’ll leave camp in your 4X4 car armed with the telemetry kit, data recording set, spotlight for catching the glint of an eye in the early morning night and the most important item; a box with hot coffee and snacks for the mid morning pit stop.
Once trained, you will generally be out in the game drive vehicle twice a day, tracking, spotting and then observing and recording the lions' behaviour. The hours vary depending on lion movement and activity so you could be out late into the night. During the heat of the day, you will find yourself entering the data you have collected from the field, becoming involved in reserve or house maintenance or getting involved with the other research programmes conducted on the reserve.
This is a unique opportunity to get involved with a pioneering research programme and gain knowledge from highly trained staff. This is a chance for you to learn skills such as tracking collared lions using radio telemetry, navigation techniques, using a GPS, animal identification and gain an awareness of the fauna and flora in the area. The results of the research you'll be helping with and your direct involvement in the project will allow reserve managers to make well-informed decisions about how to manage the animal populations of the game reserve.
But it isn’t just about the lions. The elephants, rhinos, zebras, leopards, wildebeest, eagles, vultures, elands, kudus and many more amazing animals will all play a significant part in your daily life. You will spend hours every day getting the chance to see and be part of these animals environment and you realise how amazingly formed they are for the land that they live in. The sun gets too hot to be out in at midday so you’ll head back to the lodge anytime between 9am – 11am.
When you’re not out on drives or inputting data on the computer, there’ll be plenty of other tasks that need attention such as basic maintenance of the accommodation and surrounding areas. Past volunteers have built a new wall around the shower block, ripped up old carpets and cleared areas to make way for new exciting areas for the accommodation. This is totally optional but will be great for team building and tanning those arms and legs!
Say your goodbyes as the project team drop you back at Phalaborwa to catch your return bus to Pretoria and then journey onto Johannesburg where the trip ends.