The Lion Sanctuary volunteer project is a highly ethical lion sanctuary in the northern parts of South Africa’s Limpopo province caring for several prides of rescued lions- and. hopefully more to come. Not only will you assist in caring for these majestic big cats in a natural and safe sanctuary on a beautiful private wildlife reserve, but you will be surrounded by the beauty of the raw African bush with its spectacular sunrises and sunsets and regular sightings of other types of indigenous wildlife.

Starting daysFridays throughout the year
Minimum Requirements2 weeks and longer subject to visa requirements. A minimum age of 18 years old if unaccompanied and 16 years if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Cost£700 for 2 weeks and £250 for each additional week
What is includedAccommodation, meeting you at Polokwane airport, airport collection and drop-off, transport on your project, a weekly shopping trip, re-departure support, in-country staff, 24- emergency help
What is not includedFlights, food, visas, laundry, travel insurance, spending money
Best forGappers, career breakers, families, post-retirement gappers, animal lovers, nature lovers, big cat fans, volunteers who like to get hands-on, conservation, zoology and veterinary students or professionals

Project Description

The Lion Sanctuary volunteer project originally started back in March 2016 with the aim to rescue lions from the cruel canned lion breeding industry -which is known to breed lions indiscriminately for trophy hunting and the lion bone industry- and to provide a safe and ethical sanctuary for them in a more natural environment to live our their natural lives. As this is a highly ethical lion sanctuary volunteer project, no breeding, no cubbing or petting takes place as it is about the quality of life for the lions that is the first and foremost focus.

Currently there are thousands of lions being bred on roughly 160 farms throughout South Africa, for the canned-hunting trade. Most of these facilities are cruel and over-stocked, with lions living in cramped and horrendous conditions.  If not being shot by wealthy foreign trophy hunters, some of the lions are being slaughtered when of age, for the ever-demanding lion bone trade. The lion bone trade is a relatively new revenue stream for the breeders and farmers and has come about as lion bones are now being used as an alternative to tiger bones in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There are now more lions held in captivity (upwards of 5000) in South Africa, than in the wild (about 2000)

The future dream of the Lion Sanctuary volunteer project, is to be able to move these lions, established in prides, into their own semi-wild camps in Botswana’s Tuli block but it is a long and arduous road to fulfil this dream. Botswana is known to be a very safe country for lions due to their laws and regulations and once there, their ownership will be turned over to the state. For this to happen, numerous across border permits are needed to transfer and transport the lions out of South Africa and into Botswana across the border and semi-wild camps need to be built in Botswana according to their regulations for keeping lions in captivity which in size is a minimum of 1 hectare per lion.

The current lion enclosures at the Lion Sanctuary volunteer project at the private South African wildlife reserve, are built around natural bush and trees and are a minimum of 1 acre in size although the average size per enclosure is 2.5 acres. Several of the enclosures have dry river beds running through them as well as low hills and rocky areas. They have been purposely built to be as natural as possible for the lions to ensure the rescued lions have the best possible life, in the most natural surroundings.

Please also be aware that breeding lions in captivity has no conservation value due to these reasons and at the project no breeding, petting, or trading takes place due to ethical reasons. As these lions have been captive bred, they are familiar with human interaction but NO interaction takes place unless lions are sedated for veterinary treatment as this is an ethical project. Sadly, in the petting trade, cubs are generally taken away from their mothers at around 3 weeks old and will never see her again. Humans (usually paying guests) are used as ‘surrogate mothers’ to the cubs. This, along with the fact that the unscrupulous lion industry has irresponsibly bred lions so badly, means that the gene pool quality is adversely affected, and they can never be released back into natural wild areas. The reason for this is that if they were to breed with wild lions, this would have disastrous consequences for the future of wild lion populations as their DNA would contaminate the quality gene pool of true wild lions. No ethical project working with lions, will breed in captivity and the only way that younger juvenile lions or cubs will ever be at the project, is if they have been rescued from an unethical situation. The lions that are part of this project, will live out their natural lives in this safe sanctuary.

The current lion camps holding 12 lions from three separate prides, are based on a small wildlife reserve outside the town of Alldays in the northern South African province of Limpopo which borders Botswana. This wildlife reserve acts as a halfway house to rehabilitate any future rescued lion prides, a sanctuary for the current three prides of lions in a safe and natural environment and camps are being built to accommodate future rescued lions. Some of the lion prides will never be able to be moved over to Botswana due to bad inbreeding from their past situations, so those prides, will remain at the wildlife reserve on the South Africa side. There is also a relocation of rescued lions from the Ukraine taking place in the near future once documentation is all in place with four lions in Poland in quarantine waiting to be relocated to the sanctuary with a possible future lion rescue from the Ukraine, taking place in the future. 

Hence, the end-goal aim of this project is to rehabilitate these lions back into a safe, semi-wild environment, using the huge camps as semi-free-roaming areas for rescued lions to live out their years in a safer and more natural environment whether in South Africa or Botswana.

Although the lions on the reserve are in secure camps, there are other wildlife species that are free roaming, and it is not uncommon to see zebra and antelope roaming or the neighbouring reserve’s giraffe watching with interest as you drive by. The reserve itself will give you the opportunity to see some of the great variety of species living there, and it is not uncommon if the opportunity arises to cross the border into Botswana, to see even more diverse free roaming wildlife with elephant, baboon, monkey, hippo, and crocodile sightings being common. If you are very lucky you might even get to see African Wild Dogs on the road as past volunteers have witnessed.

This is a real life project and unpredictable as working with wildlife generally is so your volunteer duties can change as needed on that day. Your exact duties for the day cannot be guaranteed but your volunteer duties may include some or all of the following:

  • Preparation of food and feeding lions and other animals
  • Cleaning out and maintaining existing lion camps and enclosures
  • Ensuring all animals have enough fresh water
  • out and maintaining existing lion camps and enclosures
  • Facilitating lion enrichments and monitoring their behaviour
  • Building enclosures for lions to be able to rescue future lions from bad situations
  • Sweeping the roads for footprints. (The sand pathways around the reserve need to be swept in order for the anti-poaching patrols to notice any new footprints).
  • Assist with lion schools program both setup and administration
  • General game reserve management which could include waterhole checks, boundary fence security patrols, wildlife management and anti poaching duties.

Please note: As you will be working with wild animals on a reserve, you’ll need to remain open-minded and flexible as each day can bring on new challenges which they may need your assistance with. Working with wildlife is totally unpredictable and the hours can be long, the workload heavy, dangerous and stressful and the location quite isolated.

Typical day

The description given is of a typical day (EXAMPLE). Please be aware though when working with wildlife, changes do happen. You will have two days off a week and a shopping excursion once a week to buy food.

06:00 Wake up, wash and get ready

06:30 Breakfast 

07:00 Lion enclosure checks

08:00 Lion enclosure cleaning, maintenance and other volunteer duties

12:00 Break for lunch

13:30 Fetch lion food

15:30 Lion Enrichment activity followed by feeding the lions

18:00 time to prepare dinner, relax, swim, read, contemplate on the meaning of life, listening to the lions roar…

Please be aware that work on the day can change. Lion enclosure management, lion moving can take up most of the day when building or repairing. Times can change and game reserve management duties some times take longer than scheduled due to the nature of work.

Free-time activities

You will need to assist five days out of seven days with two days off. As the project is in quite a remote part of the African bush, there are no shops in walking distance or public transport so days off will be a chance for you to catch up on a book and relax around the swimming pool. It is also possible to do a one or two day tour of the neighbouring wildlife reserves in the area like Kruger National Park or Mapungubwe Transfrontier National Park- or even over to the lodge in Botswana- for a fee which can be arranged with management while you are on your project. 

Accommodation

Volunteers will share bedrooms and bathrooms at the onsite volunteer house and have use of the main lodge kitchen. There is a swimming pool onsite to cool down on hot summer- and winter- days and wifi but it is very limited. Volunteers are expected to keep their accommodation clean and tidy up after themselves.  Volunteers do their own laundry (hand wash facilities available). Alternatively there is an option to have laundry done at extra cost.

Food

Food is not included in this project’s cost but a weekly excursion to the closest town to do grocery shopping, is. So you can choose and purchase your own food items to prepare your meals in the kitchen in the volunteer accommodation. All volunteers will need to assist with food preparation for their meals and clean up afterward themselves.

Location

The project is situated approximately 2 and a 12 hours from Polokwane Airport. This is the airport that you will need to arrive and depart from Fridays only and can be connected to via Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport. Due to the distance between Polokwane Airport and the volunteer project base, please take note of the following guidelines when booking flights:

·       For your arrival, your flight must arrive at Polokwane Airport no later than 14:30.

·       On your departure day, your flight must depart no earlier than 10:00.

The surrounding area is predominantly private game farms and wildlife lodges with the closest town being the small rural town of Alldays -also known as Tatshane – with basic amenities and shops. A short drive north of the wildlife reserve that the lion sanctuary is based at, is the mighty Limpopo river with its many hippos and crocodiles and the Platjan border control post. It is possible to cross over into Botswana’s Tuli block with its lovely Mopane tree forests and free roaming wildlife from this border control post. It is an hour’s drive in a north-east direction to Mapungubwe Transfrontier National Park bordering South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe and a bit further to the east is the epic Kruger National Park. It truly is a raw Africa experience for those that want to escape the city life and take in what this amazing continent has to offer.

For more information or to book, please use the contact form or email us at info@volunteerinternationaladventures.com