BIG CAT WILDLIFE RESEARCH & CONSERVATION
from US$2,695 – US$7,075
BIG CAT WILDLIFE RESEARCH & CONSERVATION
Join our team on the edge of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya for a rare chance to conduct wildlife research on 3 of Africa’s most iconic big cats – lions, leopards, and cheetahs. This program gives you a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the wild hinterlands of East Africa and witness spectacular displays of wildlife while conducting important wildlife research that contributes to long-term wildlife conservation and reserve management plans.
This volunteer program is ideal for big cat lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, and aspiring conservationists or zoologists.
*Travel before 30 June 2021, and receive 20% off the project fee.
Your home during your stay in Kenya is a unique location in the middle of the African bush. You will live at our volunteer base in Naboisho Conservancy, a vast savannah wilderness that is part of the Serengeti / Maasai Mara ecosystem. This special ecosystem is a wildlife hotspot, so you can expect to fall asleep to the sound of lions roaring, hyenas laughing, and thousands of wildebeest and antelope roaming the great plains.
Naboisho Conservancy is located in the Great Rift Valley in the South Western region of Kenya and shares a fenceless border with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Mara, as it is known, has the highest densities of wildlife on the continent, including all of Africa’s big cats and significant elephant and giraffe populations. Naboisho Conservancy is home to rare species such as aardvarks, caracals, aardwolves, and honey badgers.
Your accommodation is a truly authentic and comfortable rustic safari camp enveloped by nature. You have a choice of shared dormitories, large safari tents, or private 1-person safari tents. Meals are prepared by a chef from the local community and there is an outdoor area where you can socialize with other volunteers as the wild sounds of Africa fill the air around you and warm blue skies stretch for miles overhead.
Three meals and drinking water are provided daily. Breakfast is continental style with tea, coffee, juice, cereal and toast with toppings such as jam and peanut butter. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausages and French toast are also served in rotation. Lunch and dinner is normally a hot meal, with a varied menu that incorporates local and international cuisines. We can accommodate most dietary requirements if notified before your arrival.
WiFi is available during the day at the Koiyaki Guiding School. This is a short walk (about 200m) from the accommodation. If you wish to use internet at night, you will need to purchase a local SIM card and Internet bundles.
The wet season begins in November and goes on until May, but there are a couple of dry months in January and February. Days are often overcast, with showers in the afternoon, and chilly mornings with temperatures that hover around 13°C (55°F). The dry season is from June to October. You'll enjoy warm weather during the day, although there may be a shower or two at times and cold weather at night.
Are big cats endangered? Africa's big cats - specifically, lions, leopards and cheetahs - are all currently considered Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. While not yet officially endangered, big cats in Africa face high risks of extinction in the wild and desperately need intensive conservation efforts to secure their future. What are the threats big cats are facing? While some of the top predators in Africa's ecosystems, big cats, are, unfortunately, not immune to life-threatening external threats. World-renowned for their allure and striking beauty, hunting remains one of the most significant dangers to big cats across Africa. Additionally, as human development expands into previously wild areas, many big cats are forced out of their habitats and into conflict with human predators, where big cats are devastatingly outmatched. How many are there remaining in the wild? Lions: Conservationists estimate the population of mature adult African lions to be between 23,000 - 39,000, with the vast majority of the population declining at an alarming and rapid rate. Cheetahs: Approximately 6,700 cheetahs are remaining in the wild, according to the IUCN. However, as researchers point out, there is a severe lack of firm data on the population of leopards in African parks, and as such, this number is simply a rough estimate. Leopards: While there is little data on the mature adult population of leopards in the African wild, there is compelling evidence that this population is decreasing significantly. Following the trends of other top predator populations - such as lions - and facing regular human threats, it is evident among conservationists that leopard populations are in danger. What will I be doing as a volunteer for big cats? As highlighted by the above prompt, there is a severe lack of actual data on big cat populations' health across Africa. Without the proper information on the populations of lions, leopards, and cheetahs in their area, it's difficult for game reserves and conservancies to understand how to protect these vulnerable creatures best. As a volunteer on our Big Cat Wildlife Conservation and Research project, you'll venture out into the heart of the stunning Naboisho Conservancy to conduct essential research and analysis on local big cats. By tracking the health, behaviours, and populations of resident wildlife on exciting game drives, your research will contribute to conservation databases that ensure the long-term protection of Africa's big cats.
PROJECT IMPACT AREAS
BIG CAT MONITORING
As a volunteer, the data you gather will contribute to the Mara Predator Conservation Program; a flagship initiative by Kenya Wildlife Trust. This program brings together the community, conservancy rangers, and tourism camps in Naboisho Conservancy to help secure the future of lions, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs in the Mara conservancies through tracking, monitoring, and understanding wildlife behavior. You will go on daily safari game drives to identify and monitor big cats, as well as notable elephant bulls and matriarchs moving through the conservancy. Data will then be input to relevant databases to inform conservancy management plans and wider conservation policy.
Conduct regular game counts along transects or within sample areas to monitor the distribution of wildlife across the conservancy and their trends over time. This empowers conservation efforts by measuring the improvements in wildlife density and movement patterns in the conservancy. In particular, volunteers collect data on elephant sightings, including the location, size, and composition of elephant groups. Elephants require huge dispersal areas and move between Maasai Mara National Reserve, neighboring conservancies, and community land. This data is reviewed regularly by the conservancy management and is also shared with researchers to ensure coordinated ecological monitoring efforts spread across the Greater Mara landscape.
Like all wild areas, the Naboisho Conservancy faces problems such as soil erosion and invasive species which can significantly impact and alter the environment in a detrimental way. Volunteers partake in conservation initiatives to enhance the health of the ecosystem for it to successfully support its inhabitants. These initiatives are conducted in cooperation with the conservancy management team and include, alien plant species removal, soil erosion control, grass monitoring, game drive routing, road identification, litter picking, and road repair.
KOIYAKI GUIDING SCHOOL
Koiyaki Guiding School is a facility that provides a quality education in guiding and conservation to local Maasai youth who want to get involved in the tourism industry by becoming safari guides. Through the school, Maasai guides can obtain certification with the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association. Over the last decade, hundreds of Maasai youth have graduated and found employment in the ecotourism industry. Through teaching, you will help open up employment opportunities for community members, promote and encourage conservation of the Maasai Mara ecosystem, and meet and talk to locals who will offer an intimate insight into their community, culture, and country. Some of the topics volunteers cover includes customer service, guiding principles, languages and culture, and many more.
Community education and empowerment are inextricably linked to efforts to protect wildlife. There are several schools in the vicinity of the conservancy, but many of them lack basic facilities and are plagued by a shortage of teachers. Volunteers engage with students at the local primary schools to raise awareness of the importance of conservation.
Volunteers develop teaching plans and implement them at Wildlife Club at the primary schools every week. This has led to a 70% increase in participation by students in their school wildlife clubs – thus instilling a passion for wildlife in the next generation.
“Two weeks that I will never forget. Having always wanted to go on safari, I have managed to do just that and so much more for a fraction of the price, whilst contributing to wildlife research. Seeing such a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat is something that money can’t buy and it was amazing to get so close.”
Shashi Kapur, UK
Big Cat Wildlife Research & Conservation
“I had such an amazing experience on this project. Of course, the wildlife was incredible and I thoroughly enjoyed the monitoring and game drives. What made the biggest impression on me, though, are the incredible people I met while there—both on staff and in the community.”
Melissa Hanlan, USA
Big Cat Wildlife Research & Conservation
“The grass is green, lush from overnight rains. Multiple animals in herds or alone, often with many babies, filled our monitoring sheets, cameras, and dreams. Game drives in the evening with the Guiding School students were a delight of interactions. I don't think there was a day we didn't spot a pride of lions, or a leopard, or cheetahs. A highlight was a family of cheetah cubs playing while mom feasted on an impala. I sadly leave the project because of the Coronavirus shutting down the schools, camps, and airline restriction of flights.”
Maggie, United States
Big Cat Wildlife Research & Conservation
Frequently Asked Questions
Volunteer South Africa Big Cats
Are big cats endangered?
What threats are big cats facing?
How many big cats are there remaining in the wild?
What will I be doing as a volunteer for big cats?
With base camp in the middle of a beautiful private reserve, there are endless opportunities to experience the wonder of the African wilderness. Movie nights under the stars, campfire nights, and bush dinners are regular events on the calendar on our Big Cat Wildlife Research program. You could also stroll across to neighboring safari camp – Eagle View – for a drink or to just sit back and watch the resident wildlife visit the watering hole from the terrace. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is your playground during your time in Kenya. Spend your free time going on safari through its wild landscapes in search of elephants, lions, rhinos, and other iconic African wildlife. Or witness Mara from the sky on a hot air balloon safari for an experience you will never forget! Stay at one of the luxury safari camps for a truly unique safari camping experience.
Catch a 50-minute flight to Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, and visit Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage, a rescue and rehab center for orphaned elephants and rhinos. The orphanage is open to the public for 1 hour every day, during which time you can watch the orphans getting bottle-fed and taking a mud bath. You will also learn about the threats facing elephants in Kenya and the work Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is doing to protect them.
Kenya is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Africa. Over weekends you can head to the coast and enjoy the sun-kissed sand and warm waters of the Indian Ocean at Mombasa Beach, Watamu Beach, and Diani Beach. Mombasa Beach is excellent for swimming and feasting on fresh seafood at the seafood beach shacks, while Watamu Beach offers incredible snorkeling and scuba diving expeditions.
dates, rates & Apply
Once you have submitted your application, a Destination Specialist will be in-touch to discuss the project with you.
project fee includes
- Accommodation throughout your stay
- 3 meals a day cooked by a local chef (weekdays only)
- Airport pick-up and drop-off
- Morning transfer to and from the Mara
- 24/7 support from experienced international and local staff
- Full orientation to ensure you contribute responsibly
- Project equipment and resources
project fee excludes
- Flights (Sunday arrival to qualify for airport pick-up)
- Travel insurance (we can assist you with this)
- Visa-related costs
- Weekend trips or tours not on the itinerary
- Snacks, soft drinks, gifts, and souvenirs
- Mandatory contribution of US$25 that is donated to the African Impact Sustainability Fund