South Africa might be famed for the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard, in case you were wondering), but that’s just the tip of this country’s wildlife iceberg. It’s also home to beach-dwelling penguins, great white sharks, giraffes, dolphins, monkeys and every kind of snake that’s ever appeared in your nightmares.
As the natural habitat for so many species, South Africa is a real hub for conservation volunteering. There’s plenty of work to be done from maintaining the environment to monitoring endangered species – but it’s important to choose your project wisely.
One big problem the country faces right now is canned hunting. Ranch owners allow tourists to pet tamed lion cubs, and some masquerade as “breeding programs” to attract well-meaning volunteers. Once the cubs are fully grown, and no longer marketable as cuddly play-mates, they are sold to trophy-hunting farms, where rich foreigners can pay to shoot them dead. This is just one of the urgent conservation issues facing the country right now, and volunteers are desperately needed both to protect wild populations and to spread awareness.
But not to be all doom-and-gloom about it – there’s plenty of fun to be had in South Africa too. Climb Table Mountain, taste some seafood at the bay, or test your nerves by cage-diving with great whites. Or really test your nerves with a night out in Cape Town’s infamous Long Street.