Review: Animal Interactions And Excursions At Volunteer Southern Africa

This post contains sensitive images. 

In my previous post about my experience with Volunteer Southern Africa’s Living with Big Cats Program, I went through everyday life and volunteer activities. In this post, I’ll be detailing some of the unique things we got to do throughout the week, all of which are included in the program.

Also, read until the end for a statement on canned hunting from the CEO of Volunteer Southern Africa.

Camp at the Living with Big Cats program.

First, we were allowed to join the twice weekly animal feedings. This was truly a sight to see. It would start with “chop chop,” where the meat of the day (usually a sick horse that had to be put down) would be delivered and require “chopping”…

Some volunteers were stoked to join the action with an ax. Others (me), not so much. 😉 After it was prepared, we’d drive around all the predator camps and throw a piece in for each animal.

It all felt very Godfather-esque.

The hyena and the tigers were usually the highlights of the feeding between the former’s loud screams and the latter’s high jumps.

Second, once-weekly excursions to nearby sights and attractions were included.

The first week we went to visit a bird zoo and a reptile park. What impressed me most was the incredible pizza at the reptile park, but other than that it wasn’t too remarkable in comparison to the animals we interacted with on a daily basis.

What’s that in my hands?

The next week, however, the planned excursion was coincidentally the one I’d been wishing for: visiting The Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While our volunteering farm was located in The Cradle of Humankind, we were stoked to visit the museum and famous caves.

Picture: South Africa Tourism.

I learned a lot at the museum and especially loved our tour guide in the caves. It was fascinating seeing the landscape where some of the oldest human fossils have been found.

Third, early in the morning once or twice a week, the elephant caretakers would allow a few volunteers to join on the elephant walks.

Every time we took a different route, and impressively the three elephants knew which way to walk by heart. We could get close and pet them, though at times they were quite hard to keep up with.

The story of these three female elephants was amazing.

Two were mother and daughter. The third, however, was not related. At a young age she needed to be placed in a sanctuary and after writing to several rehabilitation centers around South Africa, she was matched with this one. Since the mother had just had her daughter, there was a chance she’d adopt the orphaned cub as her own.

Luckily, she did, and all three are family now.

The fourth and, to me, most special activity was our Kodi interaction.

Kodi the leopard was born the runt of his litter. He was saved from near death and given medical and rehabilitative care at the sanctuary.

He grew very fond of one of the project leaders as a cub, which meant that volunteers could enter and cuddle with him as long as the project leader was with us.

While he was quite shy, we got a stroke him a few times. In my video from the volunteering experience, you can hear him meow. ADORABLE!

Fifth and last was the wedding. Almost every week, the sanctuary hosts a wedding on its grounds. I’m sure it’s very profitable given the cheap labor they get from volunteers.

The weddings would take place under a large tree on the roaming grounds surrounded by giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, and ostriches. The volunteers would help by loading a truck and laying out hay bails, which would be used as seats. Then we’d gather all the animals around the tree by pouring a circle of feed. When the wedding guests arrived, they’d be surrounded by exotic, grazing animals against a luscious, mountainous backdrop.

Following comments on my previous post, I reached out to Volunteer Southern Africa and received a statement from its CEO regarding canned hunting and VSA’s policy:

Volunteer Southern Africa sees the care of all animals paramount. Therefore, we have not, do not, and will not ever, under any circumstances, support any facility that sells lions to the canned hunting industry, whether directly or indirectly. Volunteer Southern Africa will continue to support the zero tolerance against animal abuse initiative and we vow to our volunteers that we will never associate them, as well as ourselves, with canned lion hunting. Volunteer Southern Africa is at all times ethical in our work with people and animals at all time. Lions born in captivity cannot be rewilded as they are not able to go back into the wild and fend for themselves. There are a number of instances where people claim this has been done, this is yet to be proven.

Of course, many of these volunteer programs are tourism-driven. However, during my time here I genuinely got the sense that everyone was there to help the animals. There has to be somewhere that actually takes care of animals in need of care?!

Overall, I strongly recommend this program. As I said in my previous post, these are the travel experiences I treasure most, and I’m so grateful to have had this experience.


  1. Well because someone said they don’t do something….it must be true! Daniel, you addressed but one criticism with this, while still touting about how amazing this whole thing is and how you’re completely in the right. Lucky this kind of stuff needs to stop.

  2. Daniel, I won’t go all the way to say what J and William said, but I do think you should keep the posts related to the blog. What this post is about is undeniably a great topic and a great experience. I myself went to Kruger National park and Pilanesburg and had a blast with the wild animals, so in no way am I taking away from the experience that you had and it’s definitely worth sharing. But just not here.
    Daniel I cannot stress this enough but I’ve gotten a lot of value out of many of your posts. See lucky and many of the other people here fly only premium cabin. But you have reviewed premium economy products here like SAS plus which I actually used to pick my premium economy flight to Europe. Your posts about Swedish credit cards may not be directly valuable to me but the concept of how it works is very relevant to my relatives in that side of the world. Your many YouTube videos flying many economy class products have been very interesting to see what other products are like. I want to continue to see that and all that you have to offer. Because I do truly think you have some rare and unique niches that none of the other bloggers here cover. And if you expand on those spots on this blog, it makes this blog that much more diverse. But you see, the readers on this blog are reading it to learn the ways of “travel hacking”, read about many different airlines and the services offered, and many other related topics. They won’t find value out of this which is what makes it a value-less post. And even I feel bad for saying that because even though I find your experience worthwhile to read because I find it interesting, that’s not the case with Mose readers who read this blog. So I will go back to my main point and say to keep the posts relevant to the blog. Looking forward to your future posts and your ME 3 Y class airline reviews. Cheers!

  3. I’m amazed at the amount of comments (today and in the past) telling *bloggers* what they can and cannot write about. It’s like they missed how blogs work.

    In any case, to the armchair activists: Just what exactly should happen to the sick and/or orphaned animals that end up in sanctuaries, since you find places like this so distasteful?

  4. I have been following a Facebook page for years now called “Volunteers in Africa Beware” and they personally visit hundreds of facilities to ask hard questions about where the animals come from and where they go. It’s been a valuable resource for us as we plan trips to Africa because the information has been checked over and over.

    They have a list, which is updated almost weekly, called “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” and it lists many of the places you may come across when searching for volunteer opportunities. (Also see their Notes section for questions to ask facilities, older lists, etc.) It is worth noting that they primarily promote a hands-off approach so their “good” places will focus less on animal interactions and more on helping with back-of-house duties. A lot of places are looking for vet volunteers.

    Just thought I’d toss that out there in case anyone was interested in volunteering at similar places in Africa.

  5. Ignoring the merits of places like these, tigers aren’t native to Africa. Why they heck are they even there. This is a glorified zoo.

  6. I enjoyed this post and think it’s great you volunteered for this. I don’t understand all the hate you are getting for it. I must have missed something.

  7. @RewardingTravel

    This company Volunteer Southern Africa a.k.a. Glen Afric has been on the Ugly list in the past. They have allegedly had lion cubs disappear without a reasonable explanation of their fate, as well as “fostering” new cubs of uncertain origin.

    I try avoid these types of businesses unless they are attached to truly reputable research or conservation institutions.

    When I was younger I rode an elephant at a so-called elephant orphanage that in retrospect seemed more like a tourist attraction than something for the benefit of the elephants. I was naïve to accept the veneer of legitimacy they were provided by the local government.

    I think you may be naïve too, Daniel, (and perhaps feeling a little defensive) in your acceptance of their CEOs explanation. Their entire business is to make you the “volunteer” believe the animals are well-cared for because of your and others support. You can’t assume that’s true just because the CEO claims it and the employees outwardly seem to be animal lovers. That’s how most of the “volunteers” (customers) at all sketchy big cat parks feel about their experiences too…

  8. WTF is this crap being promoted on this blog. Why is Daniel still posting here? We’re sick of his crap post after crap post.

  9. Daniel,

    Awesome experience. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go straight to hell as far as I’m concerned!

  10. Oof, this looks pretty bad. That statement from the CEO is just a copy/paste of a section on their “About” page… and the wording is disconcertingly similar to other canned hunting/breeding “sanctuaries.” From the admittedly small amount of research I did after reading this article, these places all operate the same way – charging “volunteers” to come work with animals while promising bonding/petting opportunities that actual sanctuaries never would. I don’t know what specifically makes Volunteer Southern Africa’s different, but the CEO statement above doesn’t cut it for me. At the very least, they’d need to explain why they let you cuddle with animals unlike every other legitimate sanctuary in the world. Look, this is from the Africa Geographic article mentioned above… does it sound familiar??

    “The idea played on my mind, however, and I sent a message to a representative at Real Gap querying the reserve, but their response was just what I needed to ease my mind – they were disgusted at the very idea of canned hunting and assured me that the trip was solely for the sake of conservation.”

  11. I don’t think this post has anything related with aviation.

    We already had this kind of blog post previously and we had heavily commented about this.

    Mock volunteering is the reason why animal is born and kept in captivity. There are processes of transitioning them and evetually release them into the wild. They just want to make gold out of those animals in captivity.

    Other than occasional blog posts (most of which are average in quality at best), I find Daniel’s contribution to this blog is extremely limited and mostly incontructive. I am surprised that Ben still let him contribute to this blog.

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