Conservation is undoubtedly a huge topic in South Africa. Mammoth efforts are made across the country to protect wildlife, biological biodiversity, as well as assisting surrounding communities in their heroic battle against determined poaching syndicates.
What’s becoming clear is that you, the conscious safari traveller, want to get more involved in understanding what’s happening behind-the-scenes and how your safari travels have a direct and lasting impact. Our list of conservation experiences in South Africa will take you from spectator to active participant, with profound encounters of wildlife and the incredible people committed to their preservation.
1. Participate in a Pioneering Pangolin Initiative
Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
The pangolin is an animal that not many people are familiar with, as it’s near impossible to see one in the wild. Sadly, this rare, elusive and unusual looking creature is the most trafficked animal in the world.
Devastatingly, every few minutes a pangolin is removed from the wild. The reasons they are poached are because:
- Their meat is considered a delicacy and in certain countries they are consumed whole.
- Their scales (made up of nothing more than keratin) are being used in traditional medicines, with no scientific evidence to prove their efficacy of curing any ailments.
- Their diamond-patterned skin is processed into leather products, like boots, belts and bags.
All eight species of pangolin are threatened with extinction. Experts estimate that within ten years, two of the most endangered of the species of pangolin will be wiped out if current trends continue.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is pioneering a revolutionary pangolin conservation experience. In partnership with the African Pangolin Working Group, their mission is to re-establish Temminck’s ground pangolin in an area where they had once been eradicated. This truly unique experience will take you into the heart of the reserve, where you will join a researcher from a specialist conservation team in charge of health checks and collecting vital data from a UHF (Ultra High Frequency) tag that has been attached to each pangolin.
When you book this conservation experience in South Africa, all funds go directly back into the project and are put to good use purchasing tags and equipment, covering extensive veterinary costs, and the overall care of the reserve’s pangolins. Pre-booking is essential! And, because the project’s first and foremost duty is to the welfare of this precious species, these excursions will only be scheduled to coincide with the required periodic replacement of the tags and collection of data.
2. Meet the Incredible Women of the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit
Pondoro Game Lodge, Balule Private Game Reserve
Pondoro Game Lodge is where luxury safari travel meets purpose. This award-winning lodge is set on the banks of the Olifants River in the Balule Private Game Reserve, on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park.
Offering all the trimmings of a bespoke experience including superlative game drives, guided walking safaris, and romantic picnics at a treehouse hide, the lodge plays host to one of the best conservation experiences in South Africa.
This year marks the eighth anniversary of the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit, South Africa’s predominantly female team of anti-poachers. Established in 2013, the Mambas patrol the 100 000-acre private wildlife reserve’s borders for eight hours a day, committing their lives to the protection of the country’s lions, pangolin, elephants and rhino.
At the centre of the poaching conflict are rhino horns, highly sought after on the black market (inaccurately thought to have medicinal properties), and garnering millions of dollars – making it worth more than gold.
South Africa is home to about eighty percent of the world’s rhino population, making the Mambas’ contribution to their survival all the more important. During any visit to Pondoro Game Lodge, you not only meet the famous heroines (and heroes) of the African bush, but you will also spend a few insightful hours with them.
While they may look fierce in their camouflage uniforms, they risk their lives patrolling unarmed. They are shielded only by their determination to keep gathering intel, removing snares intended to trap the animals, and scour the landscape for bushmeat kitchens and poachers’ camps. Their story will not only help you gain a greater understanding of their conservation work but will leave you deeply moved by their unwavering dedication to protecting African wildlife for future generations.
Virtually Meet the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit:
3. Dart, Track & Monitor Africa's Beloved Mammals
Marataba Conservation Camps, Marakele National Park
The Marataba Conservation Camps are situated in a private section of the Marakele National Park in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains. The name ‘Marakele’ translates to ‘Place of Sanctuary’ in the local Tswana language, and this couldn’t be a more apt description.
Marataba is privately-owned by a group of Dutch philanthropists who have developed an ingenious tourism-conservation model – pairing the nitty-gritty business of conserving with a private and luxurious safari experience. Each booking is on an exclusive-use or semi-exclusive use basis, where your days are completely tailored to your preference.
Some of the key conservation activities include:
- Spending time with the conservation team and the Managing Director/Lead Vet for the reserve, Dr. Andre Uys. You’ll learn all about the intricacies of what it takes to preserve the wildlife.
- Participating in identifying, monitoring, tracking and collecting data on the large mammals including rhino, elephant and cheetah. (Go2Africa’s MD was fortunate to be there during an ultrasound on a rhino to check fertility, a truly immersive African wildlife experience!)
- Playing your part in a rhino conservation experience that’s of particular importance at Marataba. Being home to a population of endangered white and black rhino, Marataba supports repopulation to various locations across the continent.
The Marataba Conservation Camps offer a world-class conservation experience in South Africa that caters perfectly to travelling families wanting to connect in wild places, while enjoying educational safaris. This is where kids of all ages can expand their world views beyond their backyards and become ambassadors of future efforts.
All funds raised by these conservation experiences go directly into funding tools such as microchipping equipment, radio collars, and all the tech that is needed such as camera traps – making your travel spend matter.
"One of the best trips I have been on was a visit, during the pandemic, to Marataba Conservation Camps before their opening. We took part in several conversation activities accompanied by the two vets that are in charge of the reserve’s efforts. I was able to join in darting rhinos for ultrasound scans and checking fertility, the mass collection of impala for relocation — an incredibly well-orchestrated operation — and setting up camera traps. To be able to play your own role in these kinds of experiences is something humbling and fundamentally meaningful.”
Maija de Rijk-Uys – Managing Director, Go2Africa
4. Helicopter Darting of Elephants & Rhino
Jaci's Lodges, Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe Game Reserve is South Africa’s diamond in the rough, and a true conservation success story. Pre-1991, the reserve was farmland and populations of African wildlife were driven out. But after Operation Phoenix was initiated, the land was designated for eco-tourism and conservation.
Private entities, local communities and the state pulled off the largest translocation of precious species, and successfully re-introduced elephant, rhino and African wild dog (the painted wolves of Africa), among others. Jaci’s Safari Lodge – famed for its luxury safari prowess with opulent accommodation – offers specialised conservation safaris that have been designed to bring ardent wildlife enthusiasts closer to the conservation action, and even taking to the skies in darting exercises.
Every excursion is led by a team of passionate professionals made up of vets, field rangers and skilled low-level flying helicopter pilots. Jaci’s Lodges has also included a Madikwe Guest Conservation Contribution that goes directly towards funding their projects from wildlife conservation and eco-friendly initiatives to community support and upliftment – a holistic approach to sustainable travel.
5. Discover Rare & Elusive Species
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, Northern Cape
In the malaria-free Northern Cape Province, Tswalu Kalahari offers an exclusive, tailor-made experience with conservation at its core. It’s also South Africa’s largest privately owned wildlife reserve.
Tswalu was founded by South African diamond heir, Nicky Oppenheimer, who transformed the land that was once used as a hunting estate to establish breeding programs, demolish existing structures, and purchase surrounding farms to expand the natural habitat. It was officially declared a reserve in 2014.
The diversity of African wildlife at Tswalu is nothing short of spectacular. The reserve is home to pangolin, black-maned lion, cheetah, desert rhino and the elusive aardvark. Plus, Tswalu Kalahari was declared South Africa’s first vulture safe zone. Tswalu Kalahari offers one of the best conservation holidays in South Africa where you can revel in encounters with unusual species and the opportunity to engage with academic researchers that are on a mission to maintain the Kalahari’s natural ecological processes.
How Can You Help Wildlife in South Africa?
By going on safari! Our Africa Safari Experts have first-hand travel experience and can therefor give you sustainable travel tips and help tailor-make a trip that will not only be right for you, but make you an active contributor to the conservation of wildlife: