At Go Eco’s African Wildlife Ranch project you can get up and close with some of Africa’s most endangered animals on the Western Cape of South Africa. At first I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt volunteering at a ranch, but after having my concerns cleared up by the staff I can see exactly why volunteers have an essential role here at the Wildlife Ranch – for animal enrichment.

The African Wildlife Ranch

This facility is just an hours drive from the George airport and is home to over 90 different species of animals. The ranch is a local tourist attraction that houses a wide range of endangered species such as cheetahs, white tigers, ring tailed lemurs and meerkats.

Besides being what essentially you could call a zoo, the ranch is now a platform for conservation by raising public awareness and funds for multiple endangered and vulnerable species.

Breeding Program: Cheetahs are unfortunately on the vulnerable list with their population decreasing every year due to the loss of habitat, loss of wild prey and from humans hunting. The facility here was put in place 28 years ago to assist with the conservation of the cheetah gene pool.

Conservation through education and interaction: It’s near impossible to do conservation without money, hence why ambassador programs were created. Here at the ranch, visitors can interact with lemurs, crocodiles, cheetahs and servals for a fee that then goes back into conserving the livelihood of the species.

It’s all about enrichment

Upon arrival we noticed that there were well over 100 full time staff on board at the ranch, so why do they need volunteers? This was a question which thankfully was answered the moment I asked.

The openness and transparency from the staff was shockingly surprising. We have been to volunteer projects in the past where questions of breeding facilities and practices were ignored and left to ones interpretation which always leads to negative connotations.

So the simple answer was: volunteers are here to provide enrichment for the animals and to assist the ranch staff. The ranch staff are here to prepare food and run the facility which means there isn’t enough time to enrich the lives of the animals.

Because the animals are here to provide conservation through education it means that unfortunately some will be in enclosures for the rest of their lives. However, in return they raise public awareness and funding that goes directly into assisting the issues surrounding the entire species.

The ranch has has been inducted into WAZA (World Association for Zoo’s & Aquaria) and is one of only 4 institutions in Africa to have an accreditation from PAAZA (African Association of Zoos and Aquaria) which means you know every animal in here is being well taken care of.

Volunteering Tasks

Whilst you are here to primarily focus on enrichment (which at the end of the day is one of the best volunteering tasks you can do) there are also a wide range of other tasks you can undertake:

Cleaning Enclosures: The cheetahs, tigers and generally all the animals can make quite a mess over night. Your job is to clean it up to make their environment comfortable every morning.

Preparing Food: There is a meat room part of the program but if you don’t want to prepare food for the carnivores you can cut up some fruit for the monkeys and birds.

Feeding: Always the best part of volunteering is getting to feed all the different animals.

Providing Enrichment: This can be in the form of toys with hidden treats to manipulating their environment (scents, smells & artificial prey) to help stimulate the animals.

Other tasks: Assist with maintenance around the ranch and if any additional tasks are required by the staff.

Volunteering at a Ranch is not for everyone

We just want everyone to be aware prior to going into the ranch is that it can be quite eye opening to fly across the globe to the middle of nowhere in Africa to work in what is essentially a tourist attraction, a zoo if you call it that. We will be honest it made us feel uneasy at first but over the course of our time you learn all the amazing things the ranch is doing for conservation and how much they care for every single animal living at the ranch.

There are plenty of volunteer projects in Africa needing your help, you should always look around, check blogs and watch volunteering videos before booking but we are telling you now, you will not be disappointed volunteering here!

One of the most well run volunteer projects

As we said above, the transparency at this volunteer project is hands down the best we have ever seen. Nothing was hidden, questions were answered and even if you had a rebuttal they would re-assure you why the animals are here. Transparency is key, when projects start hiding or ignoring facts you start to question the legitimacy of the organisation.

Being such a large ranch, there are plenty of animals and tasks to keep you busy. Like us, we stay clear of the meat room so it was re-assuring to have an alternate task at the ready for us. So if you aren’t enjoying your time, its nice to know you don’t have to be unhappy in your role, they are super flexible and cater for everyone.

Our experience

As we do with every volunteer project we head out to, we show you what its really like to get down and dirty working with incredible animals. Check out our time at the Wildlife Ranch below including some alternate fun activities not mentioned above including being able to cage dive with crocodiles.

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You can book your volunteer experience in South Africa for $1050USD per person, for two weeks.

Have you ever volunteered abroad? We would love to read about your experience below.

Stephen and Jess signoff

Thank you to Go Eco for allowing us to experience this volunteer project in South Africa. Our opinion is, as always, our own.