Experience living in the African bush and help rehabilitating the indigenous vervet monkey.
About the project
The Vervet Monkey Foundation operates the largest centre for vervets in the world. In 2006 we became a member of PASA (Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance) and we are also a GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) certified sanctuary. We currently care for over 500 monkeys and we take in many orphans each year. We also have some ex-pets here that you may get a chance to spend some time with. In addition you will help the monkeys further by general husbandry, feeding, building new enclosures, observations and maintaining the upkeep of the foundation. Longer term volunteers may become involved with integrations of monkeys into social groups which is very rewarding and a lot can be learned about their behaviour. You will get the opportunity to make new friends and form long-term relationships with like-minded people while you get involved in the everyday tasks of running a monkey sanctuary.
You may be involved with hand-rearing during baby season, teaching them to drink and get ready for their introduction to monkey moms, you may be lucky enough to see juniors venture out into their new enclosures, watching them become real monkeys. We have some ex-pets here that often need some time spent grooming from outside the cages before they are ready to be integrated into troops. In addition you will help the monkeys further by building new enclosures and maintaining the upkeep of the foundation.
Traveling to the project site
You will need to fly into Johannesburg (Oliver Tambo) airport and take a Translux coach to Tzaneen. Translux coach tickets cost approximately R255.00 each way. The bus usually leaves Johannesburg at 9.30am, Midrand at 10am and Pretoria at 10.30am. If your flight gets in before 8am and you are able to get the bus the same day as your flight then we advise you to take the Gautrain from the airport (approx R125) to Pretoria bus station. The coach arrives in Tzaneen around 3.40pm. We will pick you up upon arrival in the car park where the bus drops you in Tzaneen and transport you to the Foundation. Please note it is essential to book your bus ticket in advance (min 3 weeks) as there may not be any seats left on the day. I If your arrival in Johannesburg is too late to be able to connect with the bus departure, we suggest that you stay at Pretoria for the night. You may phone one of the guest houses below to arrange to pick you up at the airport and drop you the next morning at the Translux bus station.
On Arrival to the VMF
On arrival all volunteers will have to sign an indemnity form indicating that you accept and understand that you are working with wild animals and that your presence and all activities you undertake at the centre are done so at your own risk. Volunteers will be expected to be on call at all times, including weekends. You should be prepared for often challenging and hard work, based around a shift rota with other volunteers. A typical work day is 8 hours per day depending on the time of year.. You will be presented with a day off each week that you may use to travel to the local town of Tzaneen to purchase supplies or to relax. Volunteering can be an altogether rewarding experience, working together with like minded individuals. You will be able to see at first hand how your actions are benefiting the vervet monkey and the people striving to protect this indigenous primate of Africa.
A number of volunteers now work at the Foundation after deciding to stay on to further support the monkeys in our care. As long-term volunteers, they help by co-ordinating daily tasks and are at hand to offer assistance and experience to new volunteers.
You will not need any prior experience as we will teach you everything you need to know – just come with enthusiasm and an interest in conservation! If you have any specific skills or interest we are happy to try and utilize them during your stay. No matter what you do, you can expect that it is hot, dirty and hands on!
Hands On Experience
During the baby season (Nov – Feb) there is a possibility volunteers will work with baby monkeys, nearly all orphaned and traumatised. We introduce them to foster mothers ensuring each baby is stabilised, healthy and able to drink from a bottle when handling them. During the juvenile season (Mar – Oct), you may be able to see juniors being integrated into a troop within our rehabilitation programme or participate in other integrations. Baby rehabilitation involves volunteers handling or observing the babies in their outdoor playpen, mixing up bottles of milk, preparing foods and administering medicine if required. You will feed and monitor them throughout the day, constantly checking their progress. Be aware these babies will defecate and urinate on you quite happily - this is unavoidable so old clothes are recommended. You must remember the vervet monkeys are wild animals so expect a few ‘nips’ whilst they play! You will be helping to rehabilitate vervet monkeys into viable troops for release into protected reserves, integrating them back into their natural environment.
Touring and days off
Volunteers get one day off per week; we provide a lift into Tzaneen to purchase supplies, swim in the nearby lodge pool, spa or relax over a cappuccino in the mall. Volunteers her for 4 weeks are also invited to take one touring day per week to visit local sights. Volunteers often tour with new friends met at the VMF. You may wish to hire a car with some friends you meet here. Popular tours include the world famous Kruger National Park, only 1 hour from here. Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, stunning waterfalls and of course, wildlife viewing.
Each “Main Feed” involves the daily preparation and distribution of food to all of the monkeys in the sanctuary. As a volunteer, your duty would be to prepare the food bowls. You will cut, wash and share out the fruit and vegetables equally before distributing the food bowls to the vervets. Seed pods and fruits are also picked from our indigenous trees on a regular basis.
Monitoring is a crucial and important job as you will monitor and observe each monkey within the sanctuary, checking for any injuries, stress or sickness - reporting information back to “base” to ensure the vervets are in the best of health. This task is done daily; you will usually have a 2-day to 3-day shift rotation whilst monitoring to provide continuity of observation.
There are also plenty of opportunities to visit local attractions such as the Kruger National Park or to go on adventures with other volunteers to local sites and site seeing expeditions.
Volunteer Village life involves sharing a wooden cabin with twin beds with one other person. Alternatively, we have an individual private cabin with double bed for an extra fee. We have a natural, electricity-free environment at the Volunteer Village, though, you may take your electronics for recharging up to the cottage on occasions. You may wish to bring a small camping lantern for your cabin and definitely a head torch / torch. We provide mattress, table, pillow and sheets but please ensure you bring a sleeping bag.
This is home sweet home; the potential creature sightings are colorful lizards, snakes and birds. The village houses 4 showers, 2 eco-toilets, and a campfire; which is great for an evening under the stars or a braai (South African BBQ)!
The shower is on the whole able to provide hot water, but be aware cold showers are a possibility (refreshing on a blazing hot day)! Water in the area is scarce. The eco-toilet is a bush toilet with worms that do the composting. You don’t have to flush here!
We have recently added the addition of two private cabins outside of the village suitable for a couple or those who prefer a little privacy - please enquire within for fee.
All meals are animal friendly (vegan), breakfast is all help yourself from various cereals , toast, coffee and tea. Lunches and Dinners are prepared during the week with volunteers helping on weekends - tea and coffee are provided.