Bela Bela, South Africa


Founded in 2003, Bambelela is a wildlife rehabilitation centre in the beautiful Waterberg region of South Africa.  Though Bambelela works with all wildlife, it is most regarded for its exceptional work with vervet monkeys.

Bambelela is an amazing and  special place. With so many primate sanctuaries throughout South Africa, why is Bambelela so unique?  Because Bambelela is succeeding where other sanctuaries are not -- they are the only sanctuary in South Africa doing successful releases of vervet monkey troops back into the wild.

The committed team at Bambelela works tirelessly so that every animal has a second chance at a wild life.  It's a long process of finding release sites (and land owners who are committed to conservation), getting the necessary release permits from wildlife officials, preparing the site and rehabilitating the animals for reintroduction into the wild, and monitoring their progress for years after.  The team work hard towards this goal - because captivity isn't any place for wild animals, especially primates.

Volunteer Activities

Bambelela is a great opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to get involved in true wildlife conservation, rehabilitation and release.  Volunteers work directly alongside the experienced wildlife staff and will be trained in all aspects of primate care, including acting as "surrogate parents" to orphaned baby monkeys, introducing juvenile monkeys to existing troops at the sanctuary, and preparing established troops for release.  Long-term volunteers may even get to experience living at the release site and monitoring the progress of the newly released troop.

In addition to the many projects which are constantly running, volunteers also assist with the day-to-day running of the sanctuary. The volunteers’ daily tasks may include:

-Feeding of animals in the wildlife care (with food prep / cleaning)

-Making baby bottles and feeding orphaned baby monkeys

-Caring for and playing with baby monkeys, as surrogate parent and/or in Bambelela "kindergarten"

-Caring for injured or sick animals

-Assisting with basic medical practices, administering medications

-Cleaning of cages, camps, clinic, kitchen, bomas and enclosures

-Creating natural environments in enclosures

-Developing behavior enrichment programs for the animals

-Going out on calls to collect monkeys and/or food supplies

-Assisting with introduction of new monkeys

-Monitoring monkeys requiring daily attention

-Building of new camps and quarantine facility

-Writing up reports and keeping data lists

-Assisting with fundraising and social media efforts

-24 hour emergency stand-by (once a week)

Caring for animals requires patience, compassion, and a calm demeanor. A positive attitude, willingness to help and learn, and a sense of humour are essential - volunteers should expect to be dirty and exhausted by the end of the day!

Although the focus is on vervet monkeys, you may also get to experience other sanctuary wildlife at Bambelela including zebra, kudu, giraffe, warthog, porcupine, mongoose, meerkat and capuchin, as well as the many wild animals who are attracted to the Groot Nylsoog River and its marsh passing through Bambelela.

Community Outreach and Education

Apart from caring for, rehabilitating and releasing wildlife, Bambelela also runs outreach programs -  educating farmers, land owners and settlements and giving talks at schools, clubs, organizations, conservancies and the sanctuary itself.

Vervet monkeys are classified as “old world monkeys,” meaning that they have been around for over 65 million years - long before apes and humans.  Vervet monkeys are one of South Africa’s five indigenous primates. The other four are the lesser bushbaby, the thick-tailed bushbaby, the samango monkey and the chacma baboon.

Vervet monkeys live in close-knit troops of 5–40 animals, led by a dominant male.  Females have one baby at a time, typically every 1.5 years.  Babies are born throughout the year but mostly between October and December. Vervets are omnivorous, and eat fruits, flowers, seeds, leaves, shoots, bird's eggs, insects, lizards, etc. They continually patrol their territory to defend their boundaries and search for food. Vervets only feed during the day and sleep in trees at night.  Ideally, they prefer to feed in the morning and late afternoon, but if food is scarce, they might be forced to feed throughout the day or when food is available. 

Man is the biggest threat to vervet monkeys in the wild.  In addition to habitat encroachment and urbanization, thousands of vervet monkeys are trapped and sold every year to medical research laboratories. Vervet monkeys are also systematically eradicated by farmers due to the misconception that they destroy fruit crops.  The farming community is responsible for the majority of the orphaned vervet monkey babies (most often the mothers are shot by farmers). The vervet monkey is currently listed as a vulnerable species on Appendix Two of CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species).

Other Fun Activities

Volunteers may have the opportunity to explore the area during optional day-trips (typically every week, though may vary).  Possible activities include visiting the Thaba Kwena crocodile farm or doing a game drive at the Zebula Game Lodge (with hands-on experience with cheetah, lion and elephant). 

Depending on the number of volunteers and the work schedule, volunteers may be able to organize adventure activities in the area (such as tandem skydiving), visit the local "bush pub" or arrange an excursion to the C.A.R.E. Baboon Sanctuary in Phalaborwa. These activities are optional and at the volunteers own expense. 

Volunteers can also spend their off-time relaxing at the Bambelela pool or going on a hike in the mountains.

Bambelela is based near Bela Bela, a quaint town in the Waterberg area of South Africa.  The sanctuary is remote and there is no public transport to town.  However, volunteers may have the opportunity to visit town from time to time in coordination with trips to collect supplies. Bela Bela is small but has all the usual amenities, including medical doctors, supermarkets, restaurants and Internet cafés.

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Field Conditions

Volunteers stay in shared accommodation, with a 4-bed women's room with en-suite bathroom and a 4-bed men's room with en-suite bathroom.  We can arrange private accommodation for couples at extra cost.  There is also a community kitchen and living room with TV/DVD.

A lightweight duvet, fitted sheet and pillow are provided, but you must bring a sleeping bag. Alternatively, for a special add-on of 500 ZAR, the Bambelela staff will provide a towel set, headlamp, bed cover/blanket and coffee mug.  

Brunch and dinner are provided each day (by staff chef), and Bambelela can cater for vegetarians.  The tap water is safe to drink. There must not be excessive alcohol consumption due to the nature of the work.

Volunteers will have hot water, electricity for charging electronics, and internet access (extra 100 ZAR per week for WiFi).  There are free self-service laundry facilities.

Training / Qualifications

Training will be given in all aspects of animal care for this project. During your stay you will learn a great deal about vervet monkeys, as well as about the African bush in general.

On departure, volunteers receive a certificate of practical experience in wildlife care, English language, eco-tourism and game ranch management.

Age Requirement

Bambelela accepts volunteers of 16+ years of age.  Volunteers under 16 years old are only considered when accompanied by a parent/guardian.  There isn't a maximum age limit, though a reasonable fitness level is necessary.  Families are welcome!

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Volunteer Contribution:

1 week: GB£445 / US$595

2 weeks: GB£595 / US$795

3 weeks: GB£745 / US$995

4 weeks: GB£895 / US$1195

Extra weeks: GB£145 / US$195 per week

Please Note:

Volunteers get discounted rates when joining 2 or more Enkosini programs!

Enkosini uses USD rates as standard due to currency fluctuations. GBP rates are indications of approx recent values. Currency convertor at

Volunteer contributions cover meals, accommodation, sanctuary activities, and project donation. Flights and travel/medical insurance are NOT included. The only additional spending money required will be for personal purchases, social excursions away from Bambelela, and pre/post project travel. We do not have discounted rates for partial weeks.

Please bear in mind that the sooner you apply, the better your chances of securing your placement!

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There are no set dates for this project, although we try to organize arrivals/departures on Mondays to minimize travel costs for volunteers (i.e., shared transfers to/from Johannesburg Airport).  Volunteers just need to inform Enkosini Eco Experience of their ideal dates for joining.

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AVIS Luxury Cars & Chauffeurs will arrange your transfers between the Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport and Bambelela.  Please send us your flight arrangements soonest so that we can arrange your transfers with Avis.  They will meet you in arrivals with a signboard with your name (please note pick ups between 08h00 and 14h00 for daylight driving).  The transfer cost of 1,130 ZAR each way should be paid directly to Bambelela (not the driver).  We will do our best to coordinate your transfers with the arrivals/departures of other volunteers to minimize costs.

For arrivals outside of pick up times, we recommend staying overnight at the City Lodge O.R. Tambo as it reasonably priced and located directly at the Johannesburg airport.


The Bela Bela area is very low risk for malaria, but it is incumbent upon each person to receive medical advice on malaria prophylactics as well as vaccinations. Due to the nature of working with animals, it is recommended that volunteers are up to date with tetanus and rabies vaccinations.

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 “My husband, myself and our two daughters, ages 11 and 10, spent a week volunteering at Bambelela and loved every minute of it! The monkeys were amazing, the people were awesome and the work was rewarding. There were many tears when it was time to leave (I was going to say from my daughters, but who am I kidding?!?!). If you've got a good work ethic, a willingness to get dirty and have a soft spot for animals, this is the place you're looking for.” -JillW - Hong Kong

 “My time at Bambelela was the most fun and awesome experience I've ever had. Getting to work with the monkeys and help out around the farm was interesting. The people there made the experience even better. They are fun to be around and all of them have a deep passion for the animals. I can't wait to return” - Ave_John

 “Our time at Bambelela was an amazing experience and I plan on going again. My family and I went for two weeks. Two kids - 12 and 14 years old. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The in-cage monkey interaction is fabulous, but not for everybody. Volunteers only enter the kindergarten cage (with baby monkeys) and the handicap cage. In the kindergarten cage, monkeys jump on you from all directions and for some this may be unsettling. The volunteer's time is definitely utilized and it was very difficult when it was time to leave...” - Travel the World, Beijing, China

 “So I've been volunteering at Bambelela for a month now, this place is honestly incredible, the people are so lovely and the animals are unreal Am volunteering for 3 months and I wish it was longer, it's not for the faint-hearted as there is a lot of hard work to do but it's all for the animals The people here put in their life and souls into helping vervet monkeys and its incredible, there life revolves around helping animals and getting them back into the wild. Seeing and looking after the monkeys is awesome, everyone makes you feel so welcome and the memory's I've made here will stay with me forever If anyone is looking to volunteer I'd highly recommend Bambelela” - Ross Graham

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