Intern Abroad HQ! offers diverse Environmental Conservation Internships throughout South Africa. We’ve addressed your top questions to provide more information what makes our opportunities in Dinokeng, Sodwana Bay and Kruger Park the best conservation internships in Africa. Have a question that we didn’t answer below? Contact us and we’ll be glad to help!
- How can I choose which internship location is right for me?
- What do the different internship locations all have in common?
- Why are internships and conservation important in these regions?
- What might a typical day/week look like for an intern?
- When is the best time of the year to go?
- What items should definitely be on an intern’s “pack list”?
- What are the most common misconceptions about these internships?
- What are the safety considerations for an internship in South Africa?
- How do interns access the South African Environmental Internships?
- What can I expect from the food and accommodation?
- Is anyone eligible to join an environmental internship in South Africa?
- Sign me up! How can I start planning my Environmental Internship?
1. How can I choose which internship location is right for me?
At a glance…
Looking for an affordable option? The Dinokeng Game Reserve internship is easily accessible and offers progressive insight into human-wildlife conflicts.
Do you scuba dive or want to learn? The internship at Sodwana Bay, which focuses on marine conservation, is probably the right match for you.
Want an adventure? If you’re looking for a quintessential African experience that’s a little “off the beaten path”, intern in Balule Game Reserve, Kruger National Park.
The South Africa Environmental Conservation program that’s located at Dinokeng Game Reserve provides interns with the opportunity to form part of the ecological management team. This means that the research interns contribute to is directly helping to inform management decisions. For those who want to play an active role in the fight for conservation, an internship at Dinokeng Game Reserve should be your first consideration. Throughout the stay, interns gain knowledge on bush ecology, animal behaviour, navigation, GPS / GIS techniques and more. Due to the proximity of Dinokeng Game Reserve to major cities and villages, this internship placement also provides insight into the daily interaction which occurs between wildlife and human populations that are living in close proximity.
The internship at Sodwana Bay is perfect for people who are passionate about marine science and conservation. Whether you are already a certified diver - or if it’s something you want to learn - keep on reading! There is also scope to learn skills related to the use of underwater camera equipment for photographic databases. During the first phase of the stay at Sodwana Bay, interns will undergo their initial scuba dive training (if not yet qualified), or any further advanced or speciality courses (if already qualified). Once this course has been completed, they will begin the Marine Ecology Training Course and lecture series, which is presented by the resident marine coordinator. Training covers the methodologies that are required to collect data or contribute to databases, including fish, coral and invertebrate identification, data collection and survey techniques.
For comprehensive insight into large scale reserve management, predator research and wildlife conservation, then look no further than the internship program at Balule Game Reserve, Kruger National Park. Interns receive similar training to the lectures that are provided at Dinokeng Game Reserve, except there is less need to focus on human/wildlife proximity. The vastness of the Kruger national park is unrivalled in the diversity of its life forms and remains a world leader in advanced environmental management techniques and policies. If you’re looking for a true safari feel and ready to be immersed in nature, then you won’t find a better place to escape the rat race.
2. What do the different internship locations all have in common?
All of the South African Environmental Internship programs are based around ecological research and monitoring. The data collected is used to inform the conservation planning of the reserves where we are collaborating. Therefore, interns can be sure that they’ll participate in activities that are directly contributing to ongoing efforts for effective reserve management and conservation.
All interns receive lectures and training during their program, so that they are equipped with theory to better understand and interpret what they experience within the environment, during their internship. All of these programs are designed and supervised by ecologists, who frequently spend time within the field in each of these Environmental Internship locations.
We employ a highly experienced team (consisting of Field Guides, a Research Manager and Senior Ecologist) who are deeply passionate about conservation issues. This enthusiasm is always passed onto interns who come to spend time with us, along with expert mentorship and scientific insight.
Regardless of where an intern chooses to participate - be it Dinokeng, Kruger, or Sodwana Bay - they can expect to encounter a structured schedule during their internship program. Whether you can come for 12 weeks (the maximum duration) or just 2 weeks (the minimum duration requirement) our leadership team always aim to balance the schedule and tasks appropriately, so that interns have a balanced experience and are able to be as involved with as many diverse activities as possible.
Intern Abroad HQ facilitates the application process and pre-departure support for all interns on the South Africa Environmental Internships. As all of the programs are based on experiential learning, Intern Abroad HQ also provides interns with a guided reflection course to complete during their stay in Africa. This covers personal and professional development objectives and provides interns with a portfolio of their experience upon completion of the Environmental Internship.
3. Why are internships and conservation important in these regions?
Dinokeng Game Reserve
These days, large untouched areas of wilderness are rare and the Dinokeng Game Reserve serves as a pioneering model for conservation initiatives that seek to find a sustainable balance between human habitats and precious natural ecosystems. The insight, progress and successes being achieved through conservation efforts at this reserve serve to inspire and inform future conservation endeavours, that draw upon the progress being demonstrated by this unique example.
Sodwana Bay Marine National Park
Sodwana Bay is a diving mecca in South Africa, having been awarded one of the top dive sites in the world. Due to the incredible scuba opportunities available in this area, the site is visited by domestic and international tourists year-round. The environmental impact of tourism can affect the complex reef system, so it’s important to document any changes in order to continually inform conservationists about reef health. The long-term diving records and megafauna surveys, which interns help contribute to, enables this important work to be carried out. This includes the ongoing monitoring of important marine faun in the region, such as critically endangered turtles and migratory species, such as whales. Our potato bass database is one of the most complete species databases in the region and it’s critical to keeping conservation efforts in motion!
Balule Game Reserve at Kruger National Park
The Balule Game Reserve forms part of the greater Kruger National Park and is a geographical area comprising approximately 30 000 hectares, which forms the western boundary of the Kruger National Park. This region is one of the wildest areas left in South Africa and, because it’s such a large area, local scientists and conservationists can’t cover the whole area with their efforts. Therefore, the efforts of the local team, combined with the valuable assistance of interns, are able to provide detailed information from the Balule sector which would otherwise be overlooked. This provides Reserve Management Authorities with essential information about the biodiversity and local ecosystems, so that conservation actions can be undertaken when they are needed. The expanse of the region also means that there are not enough rangers to help with regular upkeep, so interns can additionally assist from time to time with other tasks that are critical in conserving the environment over the long-term, e.g. clearing invasive vegetation.
4. What might a typical day/week look like for an intern?
Regardless of which Environmental Internship placement you choose to focus on, when new interns arrive, they always undergo a comprehensive orientation period. This allows time to settle in, get to know the team, understand safety rules, camp schedules, and generally become more comfortable with living and working in a new environment.
The expected work schedule is, on average, 8 hours per day (depending on weather conditions, longer or shorter work periods may occur). Environmental conservation activities can also be dependent on many uncontrollable influences such as climate, season, animal behavior and external human intervention.
Note that, in all locations, activities are unlikely to be scheduled during the middle/hottest time of the day. Therefore, be prepared for early-morning starts. An extended break usually occurs midday, so that people can rest and relax. After lunch there might be a quick lecture before going out for the afternoon - afternoon tasks can last until sunset.
Due to the collaborative nature of the Environmental Conservation camps, interns are rostered to assist with cooking and cleaning duties, as a group effort during their stay (this schedule, along with any other important camp duties, is coordinated at the program orientation). Since interns are responsible for the entry of conservation data which is being collected and recorded, evenings are usually split between either being on data-entry duty or dinner-duty. After dinner, you can relax and enjoy the night sounds - perhaps sitting together and sharing stories around a campfire or watching a documentary about wildlife.
Generally, the work week is 5-6 days. Interns must be available to sometimes work over weekends, depending on the research requirements, data collection times and workload / nature of activities. However, due to the rural location of the environmental conservation internship placements in Africa, having extra tasks to do over the weekends is usually something that’s welcomed and enjoyed.
Come prepared to work hard and work together with a team… and receive great satisfaction for doing so!
5. When is the best time of the year to go?
Environmental internships in South Africa are available year-round. Internships in Dinokeng and Balule Game Reserves begin the 1st and 15th of every month. The Sodwana Bay Marine internships begin on the 1st of every month only. You can choose to spend just 2 weeks on the program of your choice, or stay up to a maximum of 12 weeks.
Dinokeng Game Reserve
The warm season, from September through March, is hot and rainy (most rainfall occurs during the afternoon). Expect a humid and subtropical climate. The good news? The Dinokeng Game Reserve and Gauteng region is a malaria free zone. The colder months, May through July, are dry and cool. The average lows during winter are mild, but it can get cold due to the clear skies, bringing temperatures in the range of 36 °F to 23°F (2°C to -5 °C). The average annual temperature in the region is 65.7°F (18.7 °C).
Sodwana Bay Marine National Park
Sodwana Bay has a tropical climate and the temperature average is 72°F (22°C). January is the warmest month of the year, with an average temperature of 79°F (26°C). In June, the average temperature is 64°F (18°C) and it is the lowest average temperature of the whole year. June is also the driest month of the year. Most rainfall occurs during February. The area is a low-risk malaria zone, so precautions should still be taken.
Balule Game Reserve at Kruger National Park
The Kruger Park region experiences wet summer months, from October through April. Hot and humid weather can be expected at this time, with average daytime temperatures reaching 90°F (32°C). It usually does not rain all day but you can expect storms in the afternoon. The dry season is from May through September. During this time of year, it can cool off considerably at night and it’s advisable to bring warm clothing for activities in the early morning and evening. During June, July and August, the average morning temperature is 48°F (9°C) but afternoons temperatures are pleasant - typically 79°F (26°C). Traditionally, the best game viewing is in winter (June through August) when the vegetation becomes sparse and rivers and water holes become important sources of hydration.
6. What items should definitely be on an intern’s “pack list”?
These are a few tips - we provide all registered interns with a comprehensive packing list!
- You need to bring a comfortable yet small daypack, for daily adventures.
- All of these internship destinations in South Africa can experience very high temperatures, but it’s still important to bring warm clothing.
- Your water bottle will be your best friend! Don’t leave on an activity without it.
- Make sure you pack a light rain jacket. Sometimes rain showers can appear from “out of the blue” so you don’t want to be caught out without your coat. If possible, we suggest investing in a lightweight GORE-TEX® jacket, as they offer waterproof, windproof and breathable weather protection. (The breathability of these jackets is really an asset when you’re working somewhere that’s also hot and humid).
- Bring some sturdy boots! The bush is full of sharp and pointy things (sticks, rocks, thorns, etc). Good boots will keep these things out of your socks and feet.
- Binoculars are an essential tool for African conservationists. You will need them for all sorts of things, whether you’re identifying birds or trying to figure out if you’re looking at a leopard under a tree, or another leopard-shaped rock. If you want to buy some and invest in a good set, we recommend Olympus 8X42 EXWP 1, as these are pretty good value for money.
7. What are the most common misconceptions about these internships?
People often think they will see animals everywhere, all the time. While there is definitely the likelihood of seeing wildlife during these experiences, no sightings can ever be guaranteed. Wild animals will do what they like in the great outdoors, and sometimes this means not wanting to be seen by humans! (If you spend some time looking into the “behind the scenes” making of Planet Earth II, you will learn just how much time and patience goes into capturing wildlife footage! The legendary “iguana vs snake showdown” was captured after patiently watching the site for two weeks, from sunrise to sunset every day. It also took three months to capture the “lion vs buffalo” scene in Grasslands). However, this understanding can really heighten your awe and appreciation of the wildlife sightings that you do encounter! The longer you can spend, the more scope you have to see and experience a variety of diverse flora and fauna. It always depends on the luck of the day!
8. What are the safety considerations for an internship in South Africa?
As with traveling to any country or city in the world, there are guidelines to follow that will help to keep you healthy and safe. Not much is different in South Africa, we simply avoid some areas. The camps were interns are based during their placements are very secure and every participation is provided with a thorough safety briefing on any potential dangers and health hazards. All guides are very experienced in dealing with health and safety issues within the environments where we work and 24/7 support is provided, as local team members stay on-site in order to provide supervision and assistance at all times.
9. How do interns access the South African Environmental Internships?
These details are great for you to keep in mind when researching and planning your. However, don’t book your flights until you have registered for your South Africa Environmental Internship first. This allows us to ensure that your place on the internship has been confirmed! Then we’ll provide more specific guidance for scheduling your travel.
Dinokeng Game Reserve - Arrival Airport: O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg (JNB)
If you want to choose an Environmental Internship in South Africa according to which option has the most economical travel costs, then we recommend choosing the Dinokeng Game Reserve placement. To access this program, O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg (JNB) is the typical international gateway into South Africa. From there, interns are collected and transported by vehicle on a 100km journey to the internship camp at the Game Reserve (this is about 90 minutes driving time from the airport).
Sodwana Bay Marine National Park - Arrival Airport: Richards Bay Airport (RCB)
You’re bound for the coast! After arriving to South Africa (usually flying into Johannesburg, which is the typical international gateway) then a domestic connection to the Richards Bay Domestic Airport (RCB) in KwaZulu-Natal is required. (The local connecting flight from JNB is serviced by SA Express Airways). From there, interns are met and transferred to the camp.
Balule Game Reserve at Kruger National Park - Arrival Airport: Hoedspruit Airport (HDS)
There’s nothing like touching down in Hoedspruit and thinking, “this is Africa!” Experiencing the expanse of Kruger National Park (one of the largest game reserves in Africa) is truly awe-inspiring. This kind of adventure definitely has the potential to become the trip of a lifetime. Interns wishing to join the program at Balule Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, would typically first fly into O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. This is the usual international gateway into South Africa. From there, a domestic connection to the Hoedspruit Airport (HDS) is required, where interns are met on arrival.
10. What can I expect from the meals and accommodation?
On all of the Intern Abroad HQ Environmental Internships in South Africa, the local staff stay on-site in order to provide 24/7 supervision, support, and security. On the placements at Dinokeng and Kruger, interns are accommodated together in the research house. Both of these research camps have a large dining area, swimming pool, and ‘braai pit’ for barbecues.
If you choose to stay at Sodwana for your internship, you will be accommodated in a camp, in Sodwana Bay village (within walking distance to the local restaurants and shops). Shared rooms are provided, either in the main house or smaller wooden cabins.. Although the beach in iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is only about a 10 minute drive away, the camp site also has a swimming pool. The main house is fully furnished with all modern conveniences, including large outside gardens with lovely shady trees.
No matter what location is right for you, note that bedrooms are dormitory-style and it is not possible to have a private bedroom or accommodation upgrade. Everyone chips together to take turns preparing meals. (The food that’s provided for this purpose is supplied by the local staff and your internship program fee covers the cost of these groceries, so all meals during the stay are covered). It is no problem to cater for vegetarian or other dietary requirements (just let us know in advance). For more notes about accommodation and meals, check the information on our South Africa Environmental Internships webpage.
11. Is anyone eligible to join an environmental internship in South Africa?
Anybody is eligible to join the Environmental Internships in South Africa, whether you have a background in conservation or not. The experiences are entry-level and introductory but, for anyone who is studying in relevant areas (e.g. conservation wildlife, environmental sciences, biology, botany, etc) then - depending on whatever activities are being conducted at the time of your internship - you may be assigned to specific tasks that could be related to practical components of your studies. We always endeavour to assess interns in terms of their skills and interests and provide appropriate guidance and mentorship.
Although some of the internship activities can be physically demanding, the most important “entry requirements” for these internship placements are:
- The desire to step out of your comfort zone and learn something new
- The willingness to work hard and get your hands dirty
- Respect for conservation efforts and the environment
- A positive, friendly and helpful attitude
People with an appreciation for unique ecosystems are particularly encouraged to join these internship programs and gain interesting insight into diverse conservation challenges.
The first step toward getting involved is to submit an application online. Applying for the program doesn’t commit you - but it allows us to formally receive your expression of interest, so that we can outline the process to confirm your participation and answer any questions.
12. Sign me up! How can I start planning my Environmental Internship?
Internships are available year-round and are offered in conjunction with Intern Abroad HQ’s guided reflection program, for personal and professional development. It can be challenging to take the first step, but once that decision has been made, the experience only gets better!
Apply online first. The application process is non-obligatory and free.
After applying, you’ll receive more details on how to confirm your internship placement.
To confirm, you’ll register online after your application has been accepted. This means taking care of the US$299 Registration Fee, which enables us to provide services and pre-departure support. Affordabla internship fees for South African programs can be reviewed online.
Once you’re registered, the adventure begins! Intern Abroad HQ will support you with prepping for your trip… and we will look forward to seeing you in South Africa!