Makalali Reserve,  Limpopo

Makhutswi Research Camp

Our Makalali project offers you a unique experience in the African bush and gives you the opportunity to observe and be a part of the research and monitoring teams on the reserve.

The focus of the Makalali project revolves around some of our key species; elephants, lions, hyenas and leopards.  You will also be involved with monitoring our breeding initiatives comprising buffalo, Livingston eland and nyala. Habitat work also plays an important part of the monitoring process.

The Greater Makalali Reserve is a vast Big 5 nature reserve covering an area of 25000 hectares.  Situated in the Lowveld area, the home of nature conservation in South Africa, your work is vital for accurate management of the animals within the reserve.  The data collected is also made available to students and researchers that we host, as well as a number of national conservation projects, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). 

Whether on a monitoring drive, on foot, or observing the wildlife at a waterhole, all of your work will be done under the guidance of our qualified rangers.  As each activity has a pre-determined objective, you don’t just get to view the animals, you get to live with them for a little while.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in the dark next to a lazing lion waiting for it to start its nightly call, or being surrounded by a herd of elephants and being able to spend time observing their individual traits and family dynamics.

At the end of the day, you return to the camp to share your experiences over dinner around the open fire and then fall asleep to the sounds of the bush.  Join us for the experience of a lifetime!

Setting up camera traps
Main Research camp
Elephant drinking, hot summers



Your home during your stay will be the Twines Research Camp, in the heart of the reserve with all of the wildlife on your doorstep, quite literally! There are twin share rooms with shared bathrooms and all meals are prepared by the group. In the evenings, while sitting around the open fire, you can listen to the nightly calls of the lions and sounds of the bush while doing some star gazing and sharing stories of your day.




1 week            $600        
2 weeks          $1200
3 weeks          $1750
4 weeks


Additional weeks at $500 p/ week



Whats included: Transfers for arrivals and departures on Mondays to/from Hoedspruit, all food (except snacks, soft drinks and alcohol), accommodation, linen (except towels), housekeeping service, training, travel within the reserve, assistance with travel in the local area, an outing every two weeks to interesting local attractions outside of the reserve (entrance fees to be paid by volunteers).





Makhutswi research project has a minimum duration of 1 week.


Start dates

The project start day is every Monday throughout the year, with volunteers being collected from Hoedspruit.


Typical Project Schedule


Monday: Project start day. Town trip to pick up volunteers and restock supplies.


Tuesday:  Early start setting out on a set route drive as part of our game counting program to determine populations of general game. In the afternoon we depart for a monitoring drive to locate one of our key species of interest; lion, elephant, leopards or hyena.


Wednesday: Waterhole monitoring in the morning to determine species utilisation of the area. We set off for a drive in the afternoon to the breeding boma to monitor the buffalo, Livingstone eland and nyala.


Thursday: Habitat work; we could be busy with exotic plant removal, erosion control or bush clearing. In the afternoon or evening, we head out on hyena monitoring and night patrol.


Friday: Early morning start and we will be out locating the elephants as part of the ongoing research into the elephant contraception program. The afternoon we will set out to monitor bird species on our way to a sleep out under the stars with the Endangered Species project.


Saturday: Habitat work in the morning, followed by an afternoon monitoring drive focussing on our lion population. On return in the evening, we may head out to the local pub or have a typical South African braai (BBQ).


Sunday: Either an outing will be planned or it will be a free day for volunteers to relax or head out on their own tour.


In between activities, volunteers will receive a series of presentations on the work of Siyafunda, or how to approach dangerous game on foot, or possibly history lecture. This time will also be used to transfer all data collected onto the computers and compile the weekly research report, as well as helping out with vehicle checks and cleaning.



Elephant Monitoring


Makalali introduced elephants in 1994 and 1996 and was the first reserve to have intact family groups relocated to it.  The reserve was also the first to take part in the Elephant Contraception Program, headed by Audrey Delsink, in order to regulate its total elephant population.  Makalali understands the importance of alternative population controls other than culling and translocation.  The program started in 2000 and is the longest running of its kind; it is the benchmark on which all other similar projects are based.  This is a pioneering study and it is important that we continue to monitor the elephant herds as Makalali has the most extensive and longest continuing database of elephants on contraception in the world.

Our monitoring of the elephants involves recording their movements to determine daily and seasonal ranging patterns.  We also observe and record long term behavioural aspects, focusing primarily on herd/bull associations and sexual behaviours.  Elephants are a key-stone species and require constant information collection for effective management decision making.

Lions Monitoring


The monitoring of our lion population is done to assess their movements, behaviour and predator-prey interactions. Lions, like elephants, are key-stone species and, within restricted wild environments, require constant monitoring to assist with management interventions when required. Interventions are done to vary genetic diversity within the population and to control population size. Makalali has participated with various population control methods and research. Contraception of lionshas been used and studied within this reserve. Lions are prolific breeders and between 1995 and 2007, 89 lions were born at Makalali. Numbers however need to be kept between 20 and 30.


Hyena Monitoring


Makakali reserve is host to both species of Hyena; brown and spotted. The Spotted hyena are superior in numbers and are a very important species for the effective functioning of this eco-system. They provide the cleaning up of carcasses, as well as being effective hunters.  We monitor den sites and activity and ID specific individuals to track interaction and behaviour.  We also monitor the ratio of scavenging to hunting and how this impacts on the prey species.

The brown hyena are very rare and sightings of them are met with great excitement.

Leopard Monitoring


We closely monitor the locations of leopards to determine territory extent as well as creating and updating ID kits to monitor individuals and determine total population size.  As with all predators, we also monitor prey selection and reproductive behaviour to effectively assist the reserve management.

In 2014, The Makhutswi teamed up with the Panthera Leopard Research Project, who are monitoring and determining the leopard population in the area.  This project is planned to continue for the next 10 years.  Working in conjunction with the Endangered Species Project you will assist with the setting and monitoring of camera traps during the key months of February and March.


Buffalo Release & Monitoring


Makalali Game Reserve has not had free roaming buffalo on the land for over 100 years. In 2009 the reserve re-introduced 8 disease free buffalo into a 400 hectare breeding camp, 10 years later in 2019 the population has grown to 52 buffalo. They were released into the open system in June 2019. Makhutswi research will be monitoring the buffalo very closely as they integrate into the larger reserve and will be interacting for the first time with predators. It is an exciting and nerve racking development. Greater Makalali now has free-roaming big 5

Habitat Conservation


Alien Vegetation Control: Under the guidance of Working for Water (WFW), volunteers will assist with identifying and monitoring stands of alien and invasive vegetation within the river and across the reserve. Volunteers will participate in the mechanical removal and chemical control of these species as well as the follow-up monitoring of problem areas. This is an important project as alien invasive plants have the ability to encroach on areas and prevent other indigenous plants from growing, as well as using up large amounts of moisture from the soil. This has a detrimental effect on your ecosystem and therefore requires constant monitoring and removal.

Habitat Rehabilitation: Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist in ongoing habitat rehabilitation initiatives in the reserve, including erosion control, the construction of rock gabions, brush-packing and re-seeding.

Camera Trap.jpg

Volunteer pictures


Fruit Bat