The luxury lodges where guests can “help” dehorn rhinos, tie up wild dogs or monitor pangolins

  • Many high-end lodges and game reserves in Africa now offer guests the opportunity to partake in hands-on conservation experiences.
  • For an additional fee, guests can accompany veterinarians who track, monitor, or collar animals such as rhino, elephant, cheetah, wild dog, and even pangolins.
  • Unlike extended volunteer programs, these usually only last a few hours and allow guests to return to the lodge for a sundowner in five-star comfort.
  • But operators say those experiences play a crucial role where tourism, education and conservation intersect.
  • And in many cases, they directly fund critical surveillance and rehabilitation programs running in reserves across the continent.
  • Here are eight lodges that offer premier conservation experiences in Africa.
  • For more stories see

Many high-end tourism companies are now offering hands-on conservation experiences for their guests. Depending on the reserve, its location and the nature of the ongoing conservation programs, this can mean anything from charting the health of a rehabilitated pangolin, to monitoring the breathing of a sedated elephant, to assisting in the dehorning or microchipping of a rhino.

Lodges have been running these activities behind the scenes for many years, but many now allow guests to accompany veterinarians and conservation teams — for a fee. Given the rising costs of wildlife management, this is a welcome additional source of income for many. These programs also serve as good companions to conservation-related messages that most lodges communicate.

As a result of Covid-19, some operators are reporting an increased interest in hands-on and behind-the-scenes activities that accompany the more traditional luxury lodge offering.

Brandon Kemp, Asilia Africa’s director for southern Tanzania, says they’ve noticed an increasing interest in conservation experiences. As a result, they’ve integrated this into Usangu Expedition Camp in Ruaha National Park, where he believes guests are part of the solution and not just the beneficiaries.

“At Asilia we see it as our duty to immerse our guests in the wilderness and offer the opportunity to connect with nature. By offering these hands-on conservation experiences, we hope to inspire the conservationists of the future and creating a ripple effect will help preserve wild places for generations to come,” Kemp told Business Insider South Africa.

Although guests return to their luxury lodges at the end of the day, they contribute directly financially to campaigns that monitor and protect the animals on the property.

Charli de Vos, Ecological Manager at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, says the fees guests pay for their popular pangolin experience go directly to defray the cost of tracking devices for the animals being reintroduced onto their property .

“Guests pay for the privilege of joining our team as they monitor the pangolins, and this experience directly helps cover the cost of the program. Although the amount they’re paying doesn’t cover the cost of a single satellite tag, it does contribute to the overall funding of the project,” De Vos told Business Insider.

While offering big game sightings, Tintswalo Lapalala in the Waterberg region of South Africa is now also focusing on conservation activities. Alistair Leuner, who oversees all safari operations for the Tintswalo Group, believes there are numerous benefits for visitors and wildlife alike.

“We believe these experiences show the public a different perspective on wildlife and conservation and offer a different aspect of tourism. If guests let us know in advance that they would like to participate in a conservation experience, we can include them. And in doing so, it helps the reserve, the animals, and tourism,” Leuner told Business Insider.

Many high-end luxury lodges in Africa now offer these hands-on conservation activities, usually for an additional fee. Costs range from around R2,000 per person for pangolin monitoring to R10,000 or more per person to participate in a rhino or elephant dehorning, microchipping or collaring activity. Most lodges also require guests to book a three-night minimum stay when adding these activities to their travel plans.

Here are eight lodges currently offering hands-on conservation experiences:

Tintswalo Lapalala

Tintswalo Lapalala is a family friendly camp in the Waterberg region of South Africa. They offer guests hands-on conservation experiences such as collaring African wild dogs and cheetahs where possible. They also offer rhino and elephant programs that allow guests to watch these animals darting about and participate in various tasks such as monitoring breathing rates and temperature.


Tswalu in South Africa’s Kalahari region offers conservation experiences with rhinos and pangolins. Guests can accompany scientists and graduate students as they learn more about pangolins and their behavior in the wild. Between April and September, guests can also take part in Tswalu’s Rhino Notching Initiative, where trained trackers and veterinarians shoot young rhinos, notch their ears for identification and collect DNA samples for a global database.

Private Ngala Game Reserve

Ngala Private Game Reserve shares an unfenced boundary with Kruger National Park and offers a popular rhino conservation activity. A veterinarian will shoot a rhino from the air, and guests following in open-air vehicles will witness and participate in tagging the rhino’s ear and microchipping its horn.

Marataba Conservation Camps

Marataba, located in the Marakele National Park, has made a name for itself as one of the most popular destinations for conservation experiences in South Africa. They have achieved this by encouraging guests to fully participate in conservation experiences such as B. managing elephant, rhino and predators, removing snares and setting and retrieving camera traps to monitor various species on the property.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

The Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape prides itself on tailor-made safari experiences – including a 3-day, 4-day rhino conservation safari. On it, guests accompany experts who shoot rhinos, use microchips and nick ears.

Phinda Private Game Reserve

Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal offers guests multiple conservation experiences. This includes accompanying veterinarians and conservation teams on trips to tag, collar or ear-carve elephants and rhinos. They also offer a popular pangolin experience, tracking animals and monitoring their health and performance since they were released back into the wild.

Usangu Expedition Camp

Usangu Expedition Camp is a new camp in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania with a special focus on conservation experiences. Guests there can participate in various conservation experiences in the area, including setting and later retrieving camera traps, spotting collared lions and meeting with researchers working at the adjacent Douglas Bell Eco Research Station.

Ol Pejeta Protected Area

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in northern Kenya is home to the world’s last two northern white rhinos. These also offer various conservation experiences, mostly centered around their anti-poaching initiatives. Guests can learn about the Conservancy’s anti-poaching canine unit and meet a dedicated team of rangers who patrol the extensive grounds.

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