Samara Private Game Reserve in South Africa is a hub of conservation and animal reintroduction efforts in the Great Karoo basin. As a volunteer you will work on ongoing wildlife research and management projects as well as assist with community development and environmental education programmes. Come get your hands dirty in a unique South African bush experience!
Samara is located in the Great Karoo, a landscape of immense plains and dramatic mountains. Prior to European settlement 200 years ago, great migrations of springbuck, black wildebeest and eland passed through this area. Fenced farming relegated these migrations to the story books, and denuded the land. Samara is now pulling up the fences, rehabilitating the land and reintroducing the game, in an attempt to return this land to its former glory. The volunteer programme offers you the opportunity to contribute to this ambitious and worthy cause and experience the incredible and unique landscape of
the Great Karoo. As a volunteer you will be directly involved in our reserve rehabilitation and research, including monitoring our most charismatic creature: cheetah. Our research is in collaboration with various conservation organizations and universities and we teach volunteers to be competent in all required field techniques, meaning the data collected can be used by management and affiliated organizations. Samara is also home to the SACT Tracking Academy run by one of only two Master trackers in South Africa. As a volunteer you will have the opportunity to join the tracker students for a day in the field, seeing how they follow animals and interpret their behavior by the signs they leave behind. You will leave Samara with a deeper understanding of the bush, as well as useful skills and techniques used in current scientific research, conservation and wildlife management. We also hope you will leave energized by the experience of living so closely with nature.
The projects you will be involved with at Samara include management and rehabilitation efforts, which involve hands-on reserve work, as well as research projects requiring data collection and analysis. Samara is currently working on several projects in collaboration with The Centre for African Conservation Ecology (ACE) at The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth (www.nmmu.ac.za)
and The Wildlife Environmental Physiology Unit at The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg(www.wits.ac.za
Cheetah predator-prey research
Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animals! The cheetah introduced at Samara were the first wild cheetah to be back in the area in 125 years. With less than 900 cheetah left in the wild in South Africa, Samara has made cheetah conservation a priority. We are currently investigating the prey preferences of cheetah at Samara, which we will then use to determine how many cheetah the reserve can sustainably support. This information will also be useful to other reserves wanting to introduce cheetah. This research requires tracking radio collared cheetahs from a vehicle and on foot by using telemetry sets.
We are also interested in the behavioural response of prey (such as kudu and hartebeest) to the presence/absence of predators such as cheetah. We spend afternoon’s observing such animals, out of sight, to see how long they spend looking out for predators instead of eating.
Samara is home to the SACT tracking academy run by one of only two Master trackers in South Africa. The volunteer programme allows you to accompany the tracker students for a day in the bush. Learning about the bush from one of the most knowledgeable men in South Africa is a once in a lifetime opportunity (see www.trackeracademy.co.za). The tracker students come from rural areas throughout South Africa, meaning you will also be exposed to many different cultures.
This forms a large component of your daily activities as a volunteer and you will really get to know your way around all 27 000 hectares of the reserve. Bear in mind that being in reasonable physical shape will make some of these activities a lot easier, but if you’re not in good shape at the beginning of your stay, you will be by the end! Some of the activities you may be involved in during your stay are:
• Animal movement and population demography research – We are developing a database with information on the sex and age ratios of certain animals such as springbuck, as well as initiating a project to map the habitat utilization and movement patterns of various species on the reserve (using GPS).
• Land rehabilitation - Poor farming practices in the past, such as over-stocking livestock, have left severe erosion gulleys on some parts of the reserve. These areas need to be rehabilitated by means of soil erosion control methods e.g. stone and brush packing and tree planting projects. Volunteers also assist in removing old farm materials such as fence wires from the reserve, these materials can act as snares so their removal is of utmost importance.
• Invasive alien vegetation control.
• Game captures and introductions are periodically scheduled to ensure that the correct sex ratios are maintained and the game stocking level is sustainable in the long-term. Witnessing the suspense and intensity of a large game capture is an amazing experience and a great opportunity to see these beautiful animals up close and personal.
Vervet monkey research
These small primates belong to a group of monkeys more commonly associated with the forests of tropical Africa. Yet, not only do they survive in the harsh Karoo environment, they positively thrive! This has drawn scientists from around the world to Samara to investigate the key adaptations these monkeys have made to survive in an environment not commonly associated with them. As a volunteer you will have the opportunity to help collect behavioural data on these intriguing little monkeys which will help researchers understand how they utilize their environment and the resources available to them to survive in this harsh environment. As well as South African researchers, there are also Canadian students researching the monkeys, who we spend considerable time with both in the field and socially.
Conservation also means acknowledging the people that have lived in this area for generations. The volunteer programme has developed a good relationship with the Vuyani Safe Haven (www.vuyanisafehaven.co.za) located in the nearby town of Graaff-Reinet. We occasionally arrange environmental education and fun days at Samara for the children of the Haven. We also sometimes spend a Saturday assisting with painting, maintenance and child entertainment at the Haven. In addition to the time we spend with the children, it is also possible to actually volunteer at Vuyani Safe Haven for a few days or a few weeks. You live with the wonderful manager, Riana, and assist at the day-to-day running of the home including school work, caring for the younger ones, weekend
excursions and activity days. Click here to download the Vuyani Volunteer Information Pack. Interacting with these special children is a truly eye-opening and special experience, learning from people less fortunate than you.
Click here to meet the Vuyani Children.
Download the Vuyani Application Form.
• Hiking and camping. The mountainous landscape of Samara is ideal for hiking and camping! Spending time disconnected from society and without our everyday luxuries is a very liberating experience and one of the best ways to get to know the bush. The mountainous landscape of Samara is ideal for hiking and camping! Spending time disconnected from society and without our everyday luxuries is a very liberating experience and one of the best ways to get to know the bush. The reserve also offers hiking to caves that have San Bushmen paintings dating back thousands of years.
• Other researchers come to Samara from time-to-time, and stay at the volunteer camp. In the last year we have accommodated both local and international students studying the Jackals, the Meerkats as well as predator-prey work. While researchers are with us they are grateful to have volunteers assisting them with their field work.
• It is possible to see a bit of the surrounding area on weekends, and through a local tour guide you can take a trip to the ocean, Addo Elephant National Park, river rafting or a cultural tour.
ACCOMMODATION AND FACILITIES
During your stay you will be living in our volunteer camp. The rooms are comfortable and may be single or shared with one other volunteer; depending on numbers (we have facilities for a maximum of eight students). We happily cater for couples or friends traveling together. There is a fully equipped communal kitchen and meals are cooked by volunteers and coordinators in teams. We have a homely relaxing area with couches and TV, as well as an outside braai (BBQ) and fire pit overlooking the mountains, where we spend many evenings relaxing and socializing after a day in the field. In summer volunteers are able to swim in the nearby dams and river pools. Monday to Friday are working days at Samara. The activity times differ in summer and winter but usually consist of a morning and afternoon activity. Weekends are free time where volunteers can
relax and recuperate, socialize, visit the local town or organize trips to our beautiful east coast (aprox. 2½ hours from Samara), where there are endless beaches and fun coastal towns.
The wildlife volunteer program is run by South African ecologists and wildlife enthusiasts Carli le Roux and Ed Rice. Between them they hold a BSc in Conservation Ecology and an MSc in Conservation Biology. They are always open to new research ideas. The coordinators live at the volunteer camp and are there to make your stay comfortable, interesting and fun.
READ ABOUT US ON THIS TRAVEL BLOG
Volunteer Testimonials Download Volunteer programme here
Samara Wildlife Volunteer Programme is now registered to offer ASDAN’s Universities Award where, by
logging 120 hours of volunteer work with us, you receive a certificate which is UCAS recognized! Click here to learn more about the award.