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A game of cats & elephants: safeguarding big cats, elephants and other species of the African savannah, Namibia.

Working holiday volunteering with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia, Africa.

Price/dates/status

NG
This expedition was honoured in the National Geographic Traveler "Tours of a Lifetime" list in the US edition and the "Ethical volunteer holiday" list in the UK edition.
Yves Rocher Foundation An expedition scientist was made a laureate of the environmental prize "Trophée de femmes" of the Yves Rocher Foundation for work on this project.
Wall Street Journal
This expedition was honoured in the
Wall Street Journal's "Best Volunteer Travel" list.
Business Insider
This expedition was honoured in Business Insider's
"Best Volunteer Vacations" list.

This expedition will take you to the beautiful Khomas Hochland (highlands) in central Namibia to conduct a survey of elephants and African cats (mainly leopard, but also cheetah and caracal) and their interrelationship with humans and prey animals (such as giraffe, eland, kudu, zebras, etc.). As part of a small team you will learn some bush skills and then follow elephants and cats on foot or in the expedition vehicles to record information about the animals’ behaviours. You will also set camera and live traps, conduct game counts and you may assist with cat capturing and collaring. All this in an effort to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and create a sustainable future for all.

LeopardElephant
CheetahCarrying a sedated cheetahLand RoverGame count

PRICE = Expedition contribution (land only per slot)
£1860 (ca. €2320 | US$3080 | AU$3290).
Please note: expedition contributions are quoted in British pound sterling and the approximate Euro and US Dollar equivalent. Try the XE currency converter for other currencies and an up to date Euro and US Dollar exchange rate.
Get your employer to support your conservation work with us and/or receive personal tax benefits.
Where does my money go and other money questions.

Dates
2014: 3 - 15 August | 17 - 29 August || 7 - 19 September | 21 September - 3 October || 12 - 24 October | 26 October - 7 November (12 nights).

Team members can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified).
How long can I join for? 

Status
Check detailed availability & sign up

Amber: Expeditions of status amber have few spaces available (or are currently in the field). To join them you need to decide soon.

Terrain
Mixed African savannah and riverine habitat.

Weather expected during expedition
Semi-arid savannah climate. The summer rainfalls peak from February to April, but even then 'peak’ means that it only rains for an hour or so during the day. During the middle of the year (the Namibian winter), it can get quite cold at night with temperatures near or below freezing.

Expedition base
Our base is a comfortable bush camp style research base of stone chalets with beds, linen, mosquito netting and furniture. There are hot showers, toilets, a communal lounge, rest areas with hammocks and a kitchen.

Team size
Up to 12 team members + 1-3 local scientists + 1 expedition leader.

Skills & prerequisites required
None. You don't need to be a scientist or have any special qualifications - everyone can take part and there are no age limits whatsoever.
Can laypeople really be of help to serious research & conservation projects?

Fitness level required
Much of the work will be done from vehicles, but you also need to be able to walk for about 5 km, sometimes when it is hot and in broken, mountainous terrain for some of the activities.
Will it be for me or am I too old/young/unfit?

Team assembly point
Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
What about carbon neutrality and other environmental and social impact?
Who books my flights?

And finally
Our expeditions are not about playing the primitive, neither are we a military style 'boot-camp'. Our expedition leader and the local scientist will be by your side and we believe strongly that we get the best out of our expedition teams by making them comfortable, safe and well fed. You won’t be living in the lap of luxury, but we will do our best to make you feel comfortable and at home in your working environment, as this is the key to a well-balanced and successful expedition.

Check detailed availability & sign up 

Details


This wildlife volunteering vacation is all about safeguarding some of Africa’s most iconic animals such as the leopard, elephant and cheetah. Almost all of Africa is under some sort of human impact and Namibia is no exception. Most game species roam on farmland, which is either privately owned or communal, and as such is managed by humans in one way or another.  Wherever humans and wildlife come together, conflicts tend to appear, and human-wildlife conflict has been identified as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity worldwide. Sound scientific knowledge is key to mitigate this conflict and to make wise management decisions that balance the need of humans, wildlife and the environment. In a sense lack of knowledge is one of our biggest environmental problems. We believe that knowledge is the key to conservation and the most effective way to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. Therefore this expedition will study the ecology of leopard, cheetah, brown hyaena, elephant and game species with the ultimate goal of using the knowledge gained in conflict mitigation work, for example to improve game herd management and minimise losses amongst local farmers.

Aims & objectives

Our vision is a sustainable coexistence of humans and wildlife in Namibia. Our mission is to implement, through the acquisition of sound scientific data, important conservation issues in the day-to-day management decisions of landowners and to mitigate human-wildlife conflict on a local and regional scale. To achieve this, the expedition will study the

(1) Density, abundance, spatial distribution, home range size and habitat preferences of leopards
(2) Abundance, density, reproductive rate and population growth of game species
(3) Impacts of elephants on the vegetation and the ecosystem on medium-sized and large game farms.

In doing so, the expedition will

(A) Focus on capturing leopards, but may also opportunistically capture brown hyaena, cheetah, caracal, etc. for radio collaring and subsequent intensive monitoring of their daily movements, activities and behaviours
(B) Evaluate leopard intra-predator interactions, as well as inter-predator relationships between leopard and other predators
(C) Collect serology and other tissue samples of all captured animals for genetic and immunological studies
(D) Conduct game counts using different methods such as strip game counts, waterhole counts and camera trapping
(E) Monitor the local elephant population to investigate its impact on the ecosystem
(F) Conduct community work focusing on children of low-income families through cooperation with local schools.

Background

Namibia is a leading example in the field of nature conservation and the protection of species and ecosystems, not only in Africa, but in the world. 45% of Namibia is under some sort of protection, be it through national parks, private game reserves or communal conservancies. In the latter, wise management allows people to benefit from nature and sustain their livelihoods through consumptive and non-consumptive utilisation of wildlife and other natural resources. In addition, farmland, especially if well managed within the framework of the commercial conservancies, contributes to the rich Namibian biodiversity, providing habitat for impressive flora and (mega)fauna assemblages, as well as intact and functioning ecosystems on a large scale. But here to human-wildlife conflict is a growing cause for concern, especially in the light of growing human populations and an increasingly economically-driven society. Predators preying on livestock (whether in reality or only in people’s imagination) and elephants destroying water wells and habitat (very much in reality) pose a serious problem leading to wildlife persecution and declining populations.

But even game farms high with high densities of antelope and other species are not without problems. Most farmers buy in valuable game and erect high, game-proof fences in order to prevent their valuable (re-)introduced animals from escaping. This entails various problems such as genetic isolation, blocking of migration routes, higher susceptibility to diseases and the potential for overgrazing. Management of game farms is admittedly difficult as areas are vast with animals by and large roaming freely within. Even the most basic information such as abundance and reproductive success are generally based on guesswork only. As a result, most game farms are overstocked and therefore overgrazed. Some farms are even highly overstocked and vegetation severely degraded.

Another field of our research addresses these problems. Game count methods for farmers developed and tested as part of the expedition’s work; reproduction rate is monitored and used to calculate growth rate on a regional scale; the environmental impact of certain species (such as elephants) is investigated to derive management recommendations.

The pan-African problem of human-predator conflict due to predation on livestock (and now, with the booming game ranching industry, also antelope species) is well documented. However, practical solutions on how to minimise the risk of predation (especially in game ranching) are lacking. Our intensive monitoring of a number of large predators will shed light on their predation habits and preferences. Results will be implemented in advanced risk avoidance strategies.

Commercial farmland (which is mostly comprised of fairly undisturbed natural areas) comprises about 43% of Namibia. Beside the protected areas, game or cattle farms are thus the biggest ecological units. The Namibian government has social development (infrastructure, schooling, medical services, housing, etc.) as its priority and will thus not spend money on expanding its current national parks. With nature tourism being the global number one growth industry, the private sector has a golden opportunity to participate in and profit from the expansion of conservation land. The expedition’s research area is a relatively large 15,000 ha (150 sqkm) farm that will provide important data that will be used to develop a sample management plan to serve as a blueprint for improved management strategies for other game ranches and conservancies all over Namibia.

Study species

Leopard (Panthera pardus), African elephant (Loxodonta africana), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), caracal (Felis caracal).

Other species present

The research area supports a high diversity of plant and animal species. The predominant vegetation type is the Kalahari thorn bush savannah, connected to the grass-dominated dune lands of the Kalahari desert to the south.

Amongst the roughly 70 different mammal species found in this area the following carnivores also occur on the study site: African wildcat, black footed cat, black-backed jackal, Cape fox, bat-eared fox, banded, slender and yellow mongoose, suricate, small-spotted genet, honey badger and striped polecat. Other large mammals commonly seen include southern white rhino, giraffe, sable antelope, waterbuck, greater kudu, eland, Burchell’s zebra, mountain zebra, oryx, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, springbok, warthog, common duiker, steenbok, klipspringer, different bat species and numerous small species.

There is also a large number of man-made dams (artificial small lakes) and waterholes that support a rich bird life (over 230 species counted so far).

Typical day

Your typical day begins early in the morning with breakfast at base camp. You will then split into small groups to complete the research tasks assigned to you for the day. Depending on the task, you will return to base camp for a lunch break with time for a siesta during the hottest part of the day, or you may stay out in the field for the day. Everyone will return to base for dinner and on some days you may be out on a night drive. After dinner, we will have talks, discussions and brainstorming/planning sessions for the next day.

In the event of an animal having been captured (or another exciting event), where possible all members of the expedition team will be called together to witness and/or participate in the immobilisation/sample collection procedure.

Please note that every team member will be rotated through all activities and that research groups will return to base for the night where food is prepared by the expedition cook. There will also be rest and admin days as required.

Capturing and collaring

The capture method of choice will be by cage trap, which is a safe way to capture the target species. You will be involved in setting up the traps on various locations throughout the study area. Cage traps will be checked daily by one team. If an animal is captured, you will inform the rest of the expedition via two-way radio. All expedition participants will then have the chance to join in and assist in or witness the handling of the captured animal. The captured animal will be darted, immobilised and samples for research will be taken. After that, the animal will be fitted with a VHF or GPS collar and given an antidote to be released as soon as it has fully recovered.

Monitoring of leopards

Once an animal is collared, you will observe and study its movements and behaviour. This will be the main daily activity of at least one team. Depending on the number of collared animals within the study area at a given time, two teams may be assigned to this task. You will be provided with a VHF-tracking receiver with a directional antenna and will work from vehicles, followed up by foot patrols under the leadership of an experienced tracker. You will follow collared animals on a 12 – 24 hour delay, based on downloaded GPS information and record information about the animal’s behaviour (preferred places to rest, drink, hunt from, preferred prey species, frequency of kills, etc.) and, where available, collect samples from kills as well as scat to obtain further insights into predation habits. In the event of a sighting of a collared animal, you will do everything in your power not to alert or disturb the animal, but keep it under visual observation and record its natural behaviour.

Camera trapping

You will help to install and monitor camera traps all over the study site to monitor carnivore activity in different habitats, to quantify the number of different individuals and to assess potential locations for capturing them. At base you will help to sort and analyse pictures, and add them to a database.

Elephant monitoring

One team will set off early in the morning to locate elephants with the help of a tracker and VHF telemetry. Once you have found the elephants, you will stay with them (at a safe distance) and record their behaviour, location, habitat use and other parameters.

Game counts

You will conduct two different types of game counts. A strip game count from one of the expedition vehicle driving along a transect (i.e. a pre-defined route) through the study area, as well as counting animals visiting a waterhole. Of primary interest here are population demographic data (e.g. male: female ratios, age composition of herds, number of sexually mature females with calf, etc.).

Data entry

You will also assist with data entry into the expedition’s laptop and help with the analysis of camera trap images.

Research area

At 825,418 sqkm Namibia is the world's thirty-fourth largest country. However, after Mongolia, Namibia is also the least densely populated country in the world (2.5 inhabitants per sqkm). Namibia is also very rich in wildlife. It holds the world’s largest cheetah population, which is probably the species’ last stronghold world-wide. There are over twenty species of antelope ranging from largest, the eland, to smallest, the Damara dik-dik. The oryx, a striking antelope with long symmetrical horns and distinctive black and white markings is featured on the Namibian coat of arms.

The core of the study site is a private game reserve in central Namibia of 15,000 ha (150 sqkm) of very well preserved thorn bush savannah.

The study site has a very varied landscape (altitudes from 1500 – 1800 m) with different habitat types and as such contains ideal habitats for all of Namibia’s indigenous mammal species, including elephant and rhino. There are 14 waterholes fairly evenly distributed over the study site. The area has, for many years, not been used for any commercial farming activity, thus leaving the pasture and bush in prime condition. In addition to this, the area has a number of sites of archaeological interest (rock art).

Needless to say that the habitat diversity accommodates an equally rich diversity of fauna & flora and there are many typically African species present (leopard, cheetah, brown hyaena, caracal, African wildcat, elephant, southern white rhino, giraffe, sable antelope, waterbuck, greater kudu, eland, Burchell’s zebra, mountain zebra, oryx, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, springbok, warthog, common duiker, steenbok and klipspringer and many smaller mammal species). 

Partners

IZW
Leibniz
On this expedition our main partner is the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, Germany. The IZW is an interdisciplinary research institute dedicated to developing the scientific basis for novel approaches to wildlife conservation. It has a field centre in Namibia and is part of the prestigious Leibniz Association, which connects 89 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural, engineering and environmental sciences via economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities. Other partners include Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the University of Namibia, the Namibia Polytechnic University, as well as other local authorities and communities. Swarovski Optik, BUFF® and Motorola also support this expedition.

Check detailed availability & sign up 

Maps

Namibia

Map of the region and study site.

Google map 

Google map of all Biosphere Expeditions study sites, expedition bases, assembly points, office locations, etc.

 

Pictures

Leopard

Leopard
(primary study species).

Leopard Leopard
(primary study species).
Leopard Leopard in box trap.
Leopard Leopard caught on a camera trap.
Leopard Leopard being released from a box trap.
Elephant Elephant
(primary sutdy species).
Elephants Elephants
(primary study species).
Cheetah Cheetah
(secondary study species).
Cheetah Cheetah in a box trap.
Transfering a cheetah in a box trap Transferring a cheetah in a box trap.
Cheetah Cheetah being released from a box trap.
Cheetah Cheetah caught on a camera trap.
Caracal  Caracal (primary study species).
Giraffe

Giraffe.

Kudu

Kudu.

Oryx

Oryx.

Springbok

  Springbok.

Zebra Zebra.
Meerkat Meerkat.
Porcupine Porcupine.
Warthog Warthog.
Aardvark Aardvark.
Baboon Baboon caught on camera trap Wink.
Study site

Savannah ladscape.

Landscape  Savannah ladscape.
Sunset Sunset over the study site.
Study site  Sunset over the study site.
Introduction to the plan of daily research activities Introduction to the plan of daily research activities.
Training on how to look after the expedition Land Rovers Training on how to look after the expedition vehicles.
Game count On a game count.
Game count

On a game count.

On capture shift

Tracking a leopard.

Tracking a caracal Tracking a cheetah.
Recording a track Recording a track.
Community work

Community work.

Community work Community work with local school children.
Community work Community work with local school children.
Community work Community work with local school children.
Tracking a collared cat Tracking a collared cat.
Tracking a collared cat Tracking a collared cat.
Setting up a camera trap Setting up a camera trap.
Carrying a sedated leopard to the field lab for radio collaring Carrying a sedated leopard to the field lab for collaring.
Field scientist Kristina Killian fitting a collar to a leopard Fitting a collar to a leopard.
Transferring a sedated cheetah to the field lab for radio collaring

Transferring a sedated cheetah to the field lab for collaring.

A sedated leopard's paw

 A sedated leopard's paw.

Data entry at base Data entry at base.
Traffic jam Traffic jam Wink
Expedition base stone chalets Expedition base stone chalets.
Relaxing at base after a day's work

Relaxing at base after a hard day's work.

Expedition fleet

Expedition fleet.

Ever so slightly stuck

 Ever so slightly stuck Wink

Sundowner

Sundowner.

   
More images on 

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Video

Please note that over the years, the project has covered various study sites with different expedition bases, some of which you may see in the videos below. The current study site, expedition base and other conditions are described in the first tabs of this page.

Namibia expedition summary video.
Three cheetah "hot releases". Hot release means that a captured animal is released without being sedated and having a radio collar fitted, usually because the animal is a re-capture and is already wearing a radio collar.

Tour around the expedition base.

Tongue-in-cheek spoof video masterpiece made by the A team of Michael Clifford, Wolfgang Schmid and Shawn Pompeian during the Namibia expedition in 2010 Wink
YouTube Watch more Namibia expedition
clips
on YouTube.  

Audio

Deutsche Welle

Biosphere Expeditions' founder Dr. Matthias Hammer talks about how it all works and also about previous work on cheetahs in Namibia.
in English

Press

Please note that over the years, the project has covered various study sites with different expedition bases, all of which are covered in the articles below, so don't be surprised if the descriptions vary. The current study site, expedition base and other conditions are described in the first tabs of this page.

WildlifeExtra.com Trip report: Namibia
in English
View article
Wild Travel Footprints in the sand
in English
pdf View article 624.47 Kb
Escape Wilderness adventure
in English
pdf View article 3.44 Mb
The Australian Great big leopard diary
in English
pdf View article 3.72 Mb
Biosphere Expeditions Magazine 2011

Turning farmland into conservation areas
in English
pdf View article 426.75 Kb

Psychologies magazine Going wild for leopards
in English
pdf View article 2.99 Mb
Forbes Track African cats in Namibian highlands
in English
pdf View article 369.05 Kb
BA High Life Where the wild things are
in English
pdf View article 1.20 Mb
CN Traveller Leopard conservation in Namibia
in English
View article
LTU Cheetah trail
in English
pdf View article 3.52 Mb
Women's Adventure Magazine Wildlife Voluntourism in Namibia
in English
pdf View article 196.76 Kb
 New Trail Erin McCloskey’s Namibian wildlife encounter
in English
pdf View article 124.30 Kb
Independent City boy animal instincts
in English
pdf View article 3.98 Mb
Land der Berge

Mit Biosphere Expeditions in Namibia:
Die Wüste lebt

in German
pdf View article 4.54 Mb

Emotion Magazin

Die Leoparden-Retterin
in German
pdf View article 12.42 Mb

GeoSaison  Hilfreich im Tierreich
in German
pdf View article 1.43 Mb
Universum Geparde mit Sendungsbewusstsein
in German
pdf View article 594.46 Kb
Sonntag Aktuell Katzenjammer auf der Farm
in German
pdf View article 91.11 Kb
LTU Die Spur des Geparden
in German
pdf View article 6.53 Mb
Land Pretection des fauves
in French
pdf View article 7.80 M

 

Feedback

“Biosphere Expeditions' support of our research is a continuation of a great tradition where, they have, since 2002, been involved with various wild carnivore research projects in Namibia. Together we aim to research predator (especially leopard & cheetah) ecology to obtain a better understanding of these magnificent, but much-maligned cats predation habits and preferences. Our joint objective is to identify possible eco-friendly game management strategies that could minimise predation on high value game species and thus improve game ranchers' tolerance towards predators.”
Vera Menges, local scientist.

“A big thank you to all those involved in this wonderful project for giving us the chance to be part of it. I came with high expectations, which have been more than fulfilled. I leave with wonderful memories of the real wild Africa, not just of the game reserves I have visited before. The last two weeks have been an awe-inspiring experience with so many highlights! I hope your continued work is as successful as it has been so for and you are able to fulfil your aims.”

Eva Davey, 66.
 

 

Feedback from team members about their experiences and
reasons for coming (on/from various expeditions).

 

“I can’t find French words to tell you how fantastic this stay was for me so you can imagine in English! So thank you for making my dream come true and so memorable. Please just stay the way you are – it’s so good to meet people like you and all the work that you do.”
Géraldine Illien, 33.

"We really had a wonderful time and are very grateful for all your hard work. We had very high expectations for this expedition and they were all more than met; we would not hesitate to do something like this again, so you have not heard the last of us."
Jethro Frankenberger, 27 & Karolin Renkel, 26.

“The dynamics between the expedition leader, scientists, guides and cooks were outstanding, which really made the expedition go well. (…) It was amazing seeing conservation in action and it was especially the enthusiasm of the staff that brought the expedition alive.”
Marie Camus, 38.

“This has been the most wonderful period in my life and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to spend four weeks here. Many, many wonderful memories. Thank you Biosphere for making it all possible. All in all a very, very memorable and life-changing experience.”
Anne Evans, 48.

Briefing

The expedition briefing contains very detailed information on this expedition, including instructions on how to get to the assembly point, what you will be doing whilst on expedition and who your expedition leader and scientists will be.

Briefings are provided as pdf documents and you must provide a name, country of residence and valid e-mail address to be able to download one.

You can access briefings via the Download Centre.

Join


Join this volunteer vacation / working holiday working with leopards, elephants and cheetahs in Namibia.

Check detailed availability & sign up 

An easy way to grow your contribution

Many employers, particularly in the USA and Canada, but also elsewhere, will match fund charitable contributions made by their employees, retirees and employees’ spouses. That means you may well be able to increase significantly the contribution you make towards wildlife contribution. > more information

You may be able to reduce the net cost of your expedition


Depending on your country of origin, a portion of your expedition contribution and additional expenses (such as additional food, lodging and transportation) may be tax-deductible. Have a look at www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tax for more details and examples.

 

 

Awards & accreditations


News

Latest ezine

Biosphere Expeditions wins National Geographic accolade more

 


Magazine

Magazine2014.gif Our annual Biosphere Expeditions Magazine is packed with stories from the field, achievements, looks behind the scenes and an overview over our expeditions, projects, taster days and other activities.

 


YouTube

Biosphere Expeditions YouTube channel Watch our YouTube channel with philosophy and background information, clips from the field, etc.

 
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Officially accredited member of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council & Global Ministerial Environment Forum
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