15 October 2012

Guest post: Aren’t Lions just over sized cuddly kittens?!

As a natural born sceptic, two weeks as a volunteer at the Lion Ecology and Monitoring Volunteer Programme was not going to be the most fulfilling…. But how wrong I was!
This volunteer programme does exactly what is says on the tin and more!!! The main focus is on the resident lion pride and their ecology on a fantastic reserve in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. However, I learnt very quickly that monitoring these amazing creatures was far more rewarding them I had ever imagined. We learnt about the history, their diet preferences, the funny little habits and their very individual personalities. We got so much in-depth knowledge of about prides movements, social dynamics, habitat preferences and interactions with their entire environment. All this information plus so many outstanding photos and up close encounters.

Lions are an iconic African savannah animal which most of the visitors to this amazing country have a dream of seeing. On this volunteer project, volunteers are guaranteed to see these majestic beasts and on a regular basis. Not only that, but volunteers may get to witness some incredible encounters with other species and the ins and outs of pride life.
Now just when you though it couldn’t get much better, this project also collects data and monitors a whole array of other species via; direct observation, remote camera trapping and tracking. Species under their research include: leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, rhino and elephant. So not only do you get to see lion, there is also a chance of seeing the other 3 species out of the "big 5" on the reserve! In addition, We also got our hands dirty and assisted with some practical habitat management tasks.

The work done by the project and indeed by the volunteers has a significant positive impact on the conservation policies and practices in South Africa. The data that volunteers and staff collect goes towards valuable wildlife management reports and well respected academic institutions databases. Conservation areas will be able to make decisions that affect the balance of ecosystems and help them to restore farmland to wilderness in a sustainable way.

Volunteer roles include:
  • Determine and monitor predator numbers in the including lions, leopards, cheetahs and spotted hyaena.
  • Monitor the feeding behaviour, prey selection, kill frequencies, and the ecological impact of lion and other predators in the reserve
  • Monitor the social dynamics of the reserves resident lion population
  • Monitor the spatial movements and territories of predators and mega herbivores in the reserve
  • Habituate elephants and develop their identification kits
  • Monitor the conditions of white rhino in the reserve.
  • Collar and habituate resident leopards
Volunteer life at the project was also pretty good! The accommodation is in a secluded old farmhouse on the reserve. Nothing too flash but it was perfect. My favourite place was the boma, complete with dart board and a great view of a small water hole close to the house. Regular visitors to the water hole were; numerous bird and antelope species, giraffe, warthog and spotted hyena. There was even a leopard seen only a few weeks ago. If you get the angle right and don’t mind waiting, keen photographers are in for a treat! We had a braai once a week and the food was great! Not much of a pot washer so I opted to cook whenever I could!!!! We also went out on trips! To the local bar when the rugby was on, to a restaurant for a good old meal and we often went into town.
All in all the volunteer work and general vibe at the Lion Ecology and Monitoring Programme as excellent and the work was indeed very rewarding. I was pretty tired by the end of it, but I came away with some new skills, an experience I would never forget, some new friends and some incredible photographs!

Further details are available from http://www.bluelizardadventures.com/volunteer/south_africa/lion-ecology-and-monitoring-programme.html


  1. Hallo everybody!
    I was volunteer at this project recently and I have to say that it is amazing! The reserve is beautiful and the project runs very well!
    The volunteers are involved in lots of activities and they help in the research collecting and inserting the data, tracking and locating the animals using the GPS and the radio telemetry, reserve management activities (such as alien plant removal, road maintenance etc.)... We also had the opportunity to climb koppies and do bushwalks with the ranger! But the most exciting thing for me was the sleep out under the stars, looking at the stunning sky and listening to the bush sounds!
    Every day is different from the previous one: we used to do 2 game drives per day )morning and afternoon),with the main focus on the lion research, but also on elephants, rhinos and leopards and other species! :-) It's a truly african experience... No lodges, no other cars.. The volunteers have the priviledge to be the only guests of this beautiful reserve! I really suggest this experience to all the people that would like to live the bush in a true way, watching, studying and monitoring the animals and their natural behaviour! :-)

  2. This project is about as near as you can get to a wilderness experience in South Africa. The 30,000 ha reserve is private and has no commercial lodges ~ so no other tourists to disturb your wildlife observations ! Every day can bring some surprises ~ you may set out on a Lion monitoring game drive with a plan but be prepared for the unexpected.There is a teriffic variety of wildlife ~ not just the big boys special that they are. And you get the chance to sleep out under the stars, to bush walk to observe predators on a kill, and if you are lucky take part in recollaring one of the reserve's monitored animals. I have now been to this reserve on two occasions (5 weeks in all) ~ I will certainly go back (for as long as my holiday budget can afford). I see from a facebook post a 10% discount is offered if you book a trip between October and December 2012.