Immerse yourself in the life of a vet on a Big 5 game reserve, shadowing a veterinarian and other wildlife specialists in their day to day activities. This African veterinary experience is fantastic for those looking to learn more about living and working on a game reserve in a veterinary capacity. The game reserve is home to hundreds of species of animals, including the iconic Big 5, which makes it a perfect place to improve your knowledge and see some incredible creatures.
Duration: 2 – 4 weeks
Dates: Arrivals throughout the year
Arrival day: Monday
Return day: Saturday afternoon / Sunday
Eligibility: General level of fitness required
- From game counts to game captures, from health checks to autopsies – there is never a dull day on the reserve!
- Learning to use a dart gun – not a standard requirement in most veterinary experience placements!
- Daily work with and around exotic animals – from lions to elephants, from antelope to zebra
- Taking game drives morning, noon and night to observe different animal behaviours and activities
- Doing the rounds and getting hands-on with a variety of animals at the on-site rehabilitation centre
Experience the life of a vet in Africa and work with some of the continent’s most renowned mammals on a lush Big 5 game reserve. Work closely with the part-time reserve vet and wildlife experts as they work to ensure the health and well-being of the animals in their care. If you are looking to gain veterinary experience or put your skills into practice, this veterinary experience is a fantastic way to acquire a highly practical knowledge base.
The reserve comprises three main sections:
- The game reserve – where the wildlife lives
- The rehabilitation area – where sick, injured or disabled animals are cared for
- The domestic animals centre – where domestic and farm animals suffering from disease or illness are treated
There are two main components to this veterinary volunteering programme – the direct veterinary work experience and the indirect veterinary volunteer work.
The tasks at hand all depend on the specific cases at the time, however you should be able to work on a diverse variety of cases. Examples of direct veterinary tasks are:
- Blood tests
- Practical health checks
- Checking for parasites, diseases and injuries
- Assisting with minor operations
- Application of antibiotics, boosters and vitamin supplements
- Monitoring behaviour and well-being of animals in the reserve and in rehabilitation
- Basic dart gun training and possible darting of animals in the reserve
- Animal autopsies
- GPS of lion kills found
- Lectures and theoretical practice
In addition to the direct veterinary tasks, participants will also immerse themselves in the greater day to day routine of conservation and wildlife management on the game reserve. Participants work alongside the Big 5 participants in a variety of other reserve projects, which can include:
- game tracking, counts, captures and monitoring
- fence patrols
- game drives
- removal of alien vegetation in and around the reserve
- planting of natural species
- school feeding schemes
It is important to remember that the reserve is a dynamic and changing environment, and as such there are not always animals in need of direct veterinary intervention. For this reason, the vet comes to the reserve 2 – 3 days each week. For the rest of the week you will be working with game rangers, conservationists, the veterinary assistant and biologists.
- On-site accommodation in shared single-sex dormitories
- Single-sex toilets and showers
- Lockers provided for your belongings
- Access to swimming pools, tennis courts and gardens throughout your stay
- Basic dormitory accommodation provided in Port Elizabeth for participants wishing to explore on the weekend (no extra charge)
- Food is included throughout your stay at the reserve
- Three meals per day prepared for you by local cooks
- Breakfasts include cereals, bread, jams, tea, coffee and sometimes cooked options
- Lunches and dinners are buffet style and comprise of mainly western, African and Asian food
- If you choose to leave the reserve at the weekend, you will need to provide your own food
- Most dietary requirements can be catered for
- Your programme will keep you busy at the reserve from Monday to Friday, with weekends free for study, relaxation and exploring
- At the weekend many participants choose to head in to Port Elizabeth to enjoy the sea, surf and sand, as well as to use it as a base from which to explore the area
- Alternatively, you are more than welcome to remain at the reserve to enjoy the fantastic facilities there and simply relax
- We can arrange a week-long Garden Route tour after your time on the project.
- Follow the link to find out more about the Garden Route Tour.
Airport: Port Elizabeth (PLZ)
Arrival day: Monday before 17:00. You will be collected from the airport and transferred to the reserve
Departure day: Saturday after 12:00 or Sunday at any time
Our team of coordinators on the reserve will be your support network whilst you are on this project. Get to know the vet and game rangers as they teach you their craft and get you involved in assisting them on the project. The full-time team who work in the offices to coordinate your project are also there as a helping hand and can offer great advice on things to do on your weekends.
- Access to your own personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the program and manage your booking
- Dedicated contact time with an experienced destination manager to discuss the project, answer any of your questions and for us to find out more about you
- Help and advice from our UK office before arrival and whilst you are away
- In-country support
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and project advice
- Financial protection: ATOL (if we book your flights); IPP (if we don’t book your flights)
- Thorough orientation on arrival
- Accommodation (see the ‘accommodation’ section above for details)
- Advice on visa requirements
- Oyster plants a tree in Africa with TreeAid to help reduce the impact of global carbon emissions
- Airport collection
- Food full board at the reserve
- Weekly return transport to and accommodation in Port Elizabeth
- Return transfer to Port Elizabeth at the end of your stay
- Oyster Worldwide volunteer t-shirt
- Oyster luggage tag
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
- Flights – as an ATOL bonded company, Oyster can book flights for you
- You need a valid passport that meets the requirements of the country you will be travelling to
- Insurance (covering your time with Oyster and any planned independent travel)
- Any costs associated with changing your return flight date if you need to
- Independent travel costs
- Home country travel costs
- Spending money for additional trips, food and entertainment
- Food when not at the reserve
“This is a great opportunity for anyone looking to really deepen their knowledge and to come away with an amazing experience. I loved visiting the reserve and experiencing it all first-hand,” says Anne, Destination Manager
This project has been adapted to ensure participant safe guarding measures are in place. Depending on when you are due to travel and the current global policies at this time, you may find that these measurements have become obsolete. We advise however that for time being, it is imperative that you prepare for possible ongoing requirements:
- All volunteers must bring masks, gloves and hand sanitiser
- All volunteers must be able to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test (taken within 72 hours before departure)
- Prepare for a thorough orientation on arrival regarding health and safety measures at your project and in your country destination
- Reduced capacity in the dorms of between 25%-50% (depending on the dorm type and its layout)
- No school feeding visits/ community engagement for the foreseeable future to keep the local community safe
- Reduced weekend excursions, possibly limited to a day excursion to Port Elizabeth for essentials
- Masks to be worn when in public areas on the reserve
- Food will no longer be self service, but served to you
- Social distancing in place for meals
- Employees will have been trained to issue guidance and instruction in order to help you and others stay safe
- Protocol is, and will continue to be, followed with the aim to minimise risk to staff and volunteers
- Strictest hygiene controls are in place for equipment and all public areas.
- The simple answer is no!
- Anybody is more than welcome to participate in this programme, however it is important to note that the level of knowledge would also determine the extent of the work possible
- It is important that everyone who takes part in this programme has an active interest in veterinary medicine
- This project can be done as summer work experience for improving university applications
- It is ideal for those who are taking a gap year before going to study veterinary medicine at university, who are looking to get some veterinary experience during holidays or who are changing career paths to go into veterinary medicine
- This is a great opportunity for anyone looking for some practical and theoretical veterinary experience. Participants should also be interested in gaining an insight into animal care, animal management and conservation
Find out why previous vet participant Liz loved her time on the veterinary experience project.
The typical day starts at around 9.30am and comes to a close at around 16:30 / 17:00. A typical day might look like:
08.30 – 09.30 Breakfast
09.30 – 13.00 Morning tasks
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch
14.00 – 17.00 Afternoon tasks
18.00 – 19.00 Dinner
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
We are an approved activity provider for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. You are able to put the time that you spend volunteering abroad on this project towards achieving your Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. We are happy to sign off your completion of this programme to show that you have achieved the Residential section of the Gold Award.
There is no contact with animals living wild in the reserve unless veterinary intervention is required. Participants will act under the careful guidance of the vet and rangers when out in the reserve.
There may be the opportunity to work hands-on with some animals in the rehabilitation centre.
It is important to remember that all tasks are demand-driven.
Oyster assesses projects carefully to ensure that they offer high standards of animal welfare and environmental practice. We also check that volunteers understand key points of good practice before working with animals. To find out more, see our animal welfare policy.
The reserve is situated an hour from Port Elizabeth and gets moderately hot summers, and mild winters. It is one of the richest rainfall areas in South Africa. Most of the rains occur in the winter months, brought on by the humid sea-winds from the Indian ocean. The area is perennially green, making it a beautiful region to visit.
- Spring: late August to October.
- Summer: November to March, with December to February seeing mid-summer daily temperatures of about 24-30ºC.**
- Autumn: April and May, with average daytime temperatures in the low 20s.
- Winter: June – August, where the days can still be warm (up to 20ºC), but expect chilly nights.
**We have noticed in recent years a dramatic increase in temperatures in December and January. Temperatures have been rising to 40 – 45 degrees celsius during the day time. This heat may result in project activities having to be adapted for the health and safety of participants and animals.
You will know your spending habits the best, however a recommendation would be to budget for £50 per week for drinks, meals when in Port Elizabeth, laundry and treats. If you plan to travel further afield and do trips at the weekend, you should budget separately for any outings that you wish to do.
There is easy access to cash machines in Port Elizabeth so you don’t need to take all of your cash for you. Cards can be used everywhere.
No visa is necessary for under 90 days from UK and most western European countries. You will receive a tourist stamp upon arrival allowing you stay in the country for free for up to 90 days.
You need to make sure your passport is valid for a minimum of 30 days after you leave South Africa.
Most of our volunteers are independent travellers and you will become part of a group of people from around the world here. It is fine to travel with friends or as part of a small group too however- more the merrier!
You should visit your doctor or travel nurse to find out what vaccinations you will need. Your routine vaccinations will need to be up to date; hepatitis A and Typhoid are likely. You should follow your doctor’s advice.
Please check below for where the closest hospital to the project is- your doctor may ask to know this so that they can provide information on rabies.
There is good access to pharmacies, doctors surgeries, first aid clinics and hospitals in and around Port Elizabeth. The main hospital is a 60 minute drive away and there is 24/7 access to vehicles.
Safety is the main priority here as you will be living in a reserve full of wildlife. The accommodation is in a large and fully enclosed area away from the main reserve. Staff live onsite and there is 24/7 access to help and assistance. When working out on the reserve you will always be accompanied by a member of staff, whether that be a game ranger or an other expert in the field. You will receive a health and safety briefing on each different activity that you undertake to ensure that you understand it fully.
Port Elizabeth is known as the “Friendly City” (but also the Windy City!). It is at the far end of the Garden Route linking it to Cape Town. This makes it very much on the tourist trails and you will not feel out of place here! The city is very modern with large shopping malls, a beautiful promenade and great free time activities. During your weekends you are free to go to Port Elizabeth, where safe accommodation is located in the leafy suburbs of the city. Crime in South Africa is mainly concentrated in the larger townships of the country however you are advised not to walk alone at night time and to take a taxi back to the accommodation if you have been out and about at night time. The streets are less well lit in South Africa than you might be used to at home.
Port Elizabeth is about one hour from the reserve. There are weekly transfers into town on a Saturday morning to return on Sunday evening.
There is wifi access available but this can be intermittent. You will need to take a device to be able to connect to it.
Please bear in mind that you are in Africa, and signal and speed are unlikely to be as reliable as you might be used to back at home.
There is good phone reception here.
South Africa is 2 hours ahead of GMT (GMT +2)
In South Africa, a mixture of European plugs and South African plugs are used.
- Weekend trips are arranged to Port Elizabeth and other local attractions
- If you choose to go to Port Elizabeth for the weekend your accommodation and transport are included, but not food
- If you choose to go further afield this is possible but covered at your own expense
- Participants are welcome to remain at the reserve and enjoy the tennis courts, swimming pools and other leisure facilities
- Port Elizabeth is a vibrant city, with great water sports, shopping and leisure facilities. There are plenty of bars and restaurants where participants often enjoy their down time at the weekends
- Many of our participants have gone to Addo elephant park, have done bungee jumping and surfing, or simply enjoyed the glorious beaches
Your project is Monday – Friday, with evenings and weekends generally free.
If you are keen to do some organised travel after your project, we are pleased to be able to offer you a Garden Route tour. This lasts for 6 days and takes you from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town with some exciting stops in between. The trip only leaves on selected dates each year, and as such you will need to coincide the end of your programme with the beginning of the tour. To find out more about this, and see the upcoming dates, visit our Garden Route tour page.
Supervision will be fairly intensive during the first few days, when you will receive a thorough induction and work-related training. Once you are comfortable with things, you might not always have a supervisor working alongside you, but there will always be staff and other volunteers around to help, and you will always be accompanied for any high risk activities.
Staff at Oyster’s head office and in-country will be responsible for your safety and welfare while you are at the project. This will start from the moment you are picked up from the airport until the time you are dropped back to Port Elizabeth. Before and after these times, you will be outside Oyster’s responsibility and should make sure that you act safely and avoid risk. This is also true if you choose to leave the project during your time off. We will give you plenty of guidance and advice about this.
Oyster has personally hand-picked some of the best volunteering projects out there. With so much amazing choice, it can be hard to make a decision. Our Animal Welfare Destination Manager, Anne, has written a guide to help you to choose the best animal volunteering project for you.