Makalali Reserve,  Limpopo

Siyafunda Research Camp

Our Siyafunda project offers you a unique experience in the African bush to join the team as an “Assistant Field Ranger”. This offers the opportunity to observe and be an integral part of the research and monitoring teams on the reserve.

The focus of Siyafunda revolves around some of the main keystone species; elephant, lion, cape buffalo, spotted/brown hyena and leopard. Habitat and reserve maintenance work also plays an important part of the monitoring and conservation 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 hosted by the project, as well as several national conservation projects, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

Whether on a monitoring drive, on foot, or observing the wildlife at a waterhole, all your work will be done under the guidance of qualified field 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!

on Trail.jpg
Camera Trap_edited.jpg
Elephant drinking, hot summers
Main Research camp
Setting up camera traps
Lion stalking.jpg




The Siyafunda Research project has a minimum duration of 1 week.


Start dates

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 monitoring drive and introducing all new assistant field rangers to our monitoring goals and techniques.
During the day there will be some key presentations to explain the project goals further.
In the afternoon you will depart for a monitoring drive to locate one of the key species of interest; lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard or hyena.


Wednesday: Morning monitoring walk, a great opportunity to experience all the little things the reserve has to offer and look for signs of animals not easily seen by vehicle. In the afternoon a drive will set off to look for one of the key species.


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 den monitoring, waterhole watch or a night patrol.


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


Saturday: Monitoring walk in the morning for key species followed by an afternoon monitoring drive focussing on our lion population. In the evening you will sit around the fire and enjoy a typical South African braai (BBQ).


Sunday: You will have a more relaxed off morning and able to sleep in a little later, or maybe enjoy having your breakfast on the perch to watch the animals come for their morning drink at the camp’s waterhole.
During the day you will review the data collected during the week and check through Camera Trap/Trail Camera images collected during the week. In the afternoon you will go out on a monitoring drive for the key species and enjoy a sundowner out in the bush before returning to camp.


In between activities, volunteers will receive a series of presentations on the work of the project, or how to approach dangerous game on foot, or possibly a history lecture. This time will also be used to sync all data collected during the drive, enter any Camera Trap/Trail Cam data, as well as helping out with vehicle checks and cleaning.



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 together 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.


Cost (2022 Rates)


1 week            $650 
2 weeks          $1250

3 weeks          $1800

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, walks with qualified rangers and assistance with travel in the local area.



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 Dr. 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.


Monitoring of the elephants involves recording their movements to determine daily and seasonal ranging patterns.  You will 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.

Lion Monitoring


The monitoring of the 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 lions using Deslorenlin has 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 to stay withing reserve carrying capacity.


Hyena Monitoring


Makalali 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. 

You will monitor den sites and activity and ID specific individuals to track interaction and behaviour.  You will also monitor the ratio of scavenging to hunting and how this impacts on the prey species.

Brown hyena sightings are much rarer but met with much excitement. Monitoring the pictures from the weekly camera traps play a key part in understanding more about this species.

Leopard Monitoring


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

In 2014, The Siyafunda teamed up with Panthera's Limpopo Leopard Project, who are monitoring and determining the leopard population in the area.  This project is planned to continue for 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 September and November.


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 and as of June 2022 their numbers have increased to 78 buffalo.
You will be monitoring the buffalo very closely as they integrate into the larger reserve and will be interacting 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.

river clean up

Volunteer pictures


Fruit Bat