Phalaborwa, South Africa


The C.A.R.E. Baboon Sanctuary was established in 1989 as a sanctuary for all indigenous wildlife of South Africa. While no animal is turned away, the Sanctuary has specific expertise in nurturing and caring for primates, with an emphasis on the chacma baboon. The Baboon Sanctuary currently houses over 400 baboons and is the largest sanctuary in Southern Africa for orphaned, injured, abused or abandoned baboons. 

Despite being listed as a CITES Appendix II “threatened” species, baboons are offered no protection under the law in South Africa. Baboons are shot and poisoned by farmers, illegally captured for sale as pets, utilized by traditional doctors for "medicinal" purposes, and vulnerable to such hazards as power lines, pylons, veld fires, habitat destruction and road accidents.

C.A.R.E.’s main intake is small, pink-faced baby baboons, generally orphaned after their mothers have been injured or killed. The Sanctuary also offers refuge to baboons released or confiscated from laboratories – allowing them to grow old with dignity. These baboons are often severely traumatized, having spent many years incarcerated in small lab cages being subjected to numerous experiments.  

The C.A.R.E. Baboon Sanctuary has been a pioneer in primate care, and its rehabilitation program has gained respect within scientific and animal behavioral communities. C.A.R.E.'s success in rehabilitating hand-reared primates and releasing fully formed troops back into the wild has been well documented in numerous television programs on Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. 

Despite these rehabilitation successes, releases are infrequent due to the difficulty in finding suitable release locations and the local authorities reluctance to issue the necessary permits.  Nature conservation officials sadly consider baboons and other primates in South Africa to be "vermin" as they compete with the farming industry.

The C.A.R.E. Baboon Sanctuary has been involved in several other well publicized events, including the first recorded instance of breeding Samango monkeys in captivity (a red data listed species), the rescue and relocation of hand-reared lions destined for "canned hunting," and an inventive solution for rescuing a hippo which had fallen into a swimming pool.  Assistance has also been given to anti-poaching and drought relief efforts in the Olifants River area.  

A non-profit organization, C.A.R.E. is reliant on the generosity of concerned individuals, including volunteers, and animal welfare groups for financial support. Although the baboon isn't a glamorous species like the rhino or cheetah, the C.A.R.E. team work hard to ensure their long-term survival before it joins the ranks of chimpanzee and mountain gorilla as endangered species.  

Volunteer Activities

Volunteers assist in the daily running of the Sanctuary as well as the rehabilitation program. Caring for animals requires patience, compassion and a calm demeanor. Volunteers should have a love of animals, particularly primates, a passion  for nature, and a desire to protect and preserve our natural heritage. The physical aspects are not overly challenging, but a reasonable level of fitness is recommended. The Sanctuary is built on a slope and the weather can be hot and humid. A positive attitude, willingness to help and learn and a sense of humor are essential - volunteers should expect to be dirty and exhausted by the end of the day!  

C.A.R.E. comprises numerous "hoks," each holding a troop of 10-18 baboons. Situated in a nature reserve, the Sanctuary is visited often by a variety of wild animals including elephant, giraffe, antelope, snakes and spiders. A wild troop of 60 - 70 baboons live in the area, and spend a great deal of time at the Sanctuary interacting with the enclosed baboons. They sleep in the trees alongside the river overnight. They are unthreatening, but must be treated with respect.  

The Sanctuary is run in a spirit of co-operation, and everyone is expected to give their best at all times. The project leaders require that you heed the advice/rules given for the safety of you and the animals. The animals are the top priority, irrespective of the day or hour. There are no set working hours – volunteers finish when everything is completed. Off-time is dependent on the number of volunteers at the Sanctuary and the well-being of the baboons.  

The volunteers’ daily tasks include:

• overseeing the baby baboon "crèche"

• preparing and feeding formula bottles to the babies

• changing nappies and washing bedding

• playing with the youngsters

• observing and monitoring interaction between animals

• administering medicine to sick or injured animals

• maintaining records of animals, treatment and progress

• procuring, collecting and preparing the animals' food

• cleaning and maintaining the facility

• checking and cleaning enclosures and water troughs

• filling the river and borehole dams  

Other Activities

The Sanctuary is situated on the banks of the Olifants River in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, bordering the greater Kruger Park area. Given its bushveld location, volunteers generally have the opportunity to see a wide variety of indigenous wildlife during their stay, either at the Centre itself or on excursions into Kruger National Park. During quiet times at the Sanctuary, educational visits to and from schools and public organisations are also promoted.  

The Sanctuary is remote and there is no public transport to town. However, volunteers will have an opportunity to visit town (Phalaborwa – 30 minutes) every week or two in coordination with trips to collect food. Phalaborwa is small but has all the usual amenities, including medical doctors, supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas and Internet cafés.  

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Field Conditions

Rustic accommodation with bedding is provided for 10 volunteers in a timber cabin with shared bathroom facilities, hot water and electricity. There is additional housing in caravans, tents and converted containers, with access to central bathroom facilities. Food is purchased in town once a week and prepared by the volunteers on a communal basis. The Sanctuary follows a mainly vegetarian diet. The accommodation and kitchen facilities are maintained and kept clean by the volunteers.  

The Sanctuary has a land-line telephone which is reserved for sanctuary use only. Therefore, volunteers who want to regularly make/receive calls should consider carrying a cell phone as they do work from the high ground of the property. Local SIM cards and pay-as-you-go facilities are freely available, and text messages are the most reliable form of mobile communication.  

C.A.R.E. does not offer a luxury holiday experience.  It is a unique sanctuary and those committed to working with us will have the opportunity to observe and interact with these gorgeous, cheeky, hilarious, loving primates. We guarantee you will leave with a greater knowledge and understanding, and a feeling that you have made a difference to the plight of the primates.  

Training / Qualifications

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

Age Requirement

C.A.R.E. 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:

2 weeks: GB£595 / US$795

3 weeks: GB£745 / US$995

4 weeks: GB£895 / US$1195

Extra weeks: GB£195 / US$295 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 atwww.xe.com.

Volunteer contributions cover meals, accommodation, activities, transfers from Phalaborwa to C.A.R.E., 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 C.A.R.E., 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 whenever possible.

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The closest town to the Baboon Sanctuary is PHALABORWA - nearly 500kms from Johannesburg. Flights and buses are available from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa, and arrangements will be made to collect incoming volunteers from Phalaborwa (either airport or bus depot).  

By Plane – Johannesburg to Phalaborwa

Flights leave from the domestic terminal at Johannesburg International Airport. The flight is ± 1hour, 15 minutes.  These flights are conducted by SA Express (www.flysaa.com).

By Bus - Johannesburg to Phalaborwa

Buses leave from the Johannesburg Park Station or the Midrand Bus Station ± 25kms from the Johannesburg International Airport.  To get to either station, you will need to organize transport with your hotel/backpackers or catch a taxi.

Translux buses depart Jo'Burg every day at 09h30, Midrand at 10h00 and Pretoria at 10h30, arriving into Phalaborwa at 16h50.  The Midrand bus is recommended for volunteers arriving on early morning flights as it provides as extra grace period.

For bus reservations, contact Veena at veena@apx.co.za - email her with your name, dates of travel and where you will be traveling to/from.  You can also reserve online at www.computicket.com. Volunteers need to arrive at the bus station at least 30 minutes before departure to pay for your bus ticket or the ticket will be forfeited.  Try to book your bus ticket at least a month in advance as they definitely fill up!


The Phalaborwa area borders a malarial zone and it is incumbent upon each person to take medical opinion on vaccinations and whether or not to follow a malaria prophylactic program. There are no formal vaccinations requirements for entering South Africa.  SeeFAQs for complete packing list.

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 “It was a fantastic experience and one that I would hope to do again. As well as the experience with the baboons, I loved the communal aspects of living and working together. Very bonding. Very few experiences are so truly "hands on" with baboons being charming, fascinating, highly intelligent creatures. The description of program and accommodations was pretty accurate so no major surprises or disappointments.” -Ruth Cohen, USA

 “I wanted to thank you so much for getting me involved with the Baboon Sanctuary. I had the most incredible 6 weeks there. What an amazing place and the people there are awesome. It really was a great experience. Having that interaction with the baboons especially the babies (and how many new little babies came when I was there!) I just wish it hadn't been so short as I was never so sad as the day I had to leave. Thank you again so much.” -Bronwyn

 “Thank you so much for letting us come to the Baboon Sanctuary, we had a really once in a lifetime experience and your place is just amazing. You do so much it was a privilege to have met you and been able to see your work. I will always remember my time with the baboons and I really hope to come back one of these summers and spend a longer time there. Thank you so much for your hospitality and I hope to speak to you soon.” - Anne

 “I miss the centre very much, and dream about baboons all the time. I have also decided that I wish to specialise in primates when I finish my education, and I owe this decision to you and the animals for teaching me and showing me the wonderful world of baboons! Thank you.” - Silje

 “I would just like to thank you and everyone at the Baboon Sanctuary for the experience I had, it was fantastic. The baboons have a special place in my heart now and I think my time with the baboons was very special and I will never forget them.” - Stephen

 “The first thing that hit me when I got out of the jeep was the overwhelming baboon scent. By the next morning, it had magically disappeared and all I could smell was the familiar and sweet South African air. My trip to the Baboon Sanctuary was an experience never to be forgotten and one that I take with me wherever my mind and body take me.

The volunteers and staff who run the sanctuary are no less than awesome. The dedication with which they care for these beautiful creatures is inspiring. How they still have patience and compassion for the novice volunteers like me, is beyond me. These are some very special people.

Days were spent tending to the sanctuary duties - it was always a fun moment when the next day's schedule was posted - different and many chores each day so as never to tire of doing the same thing over and over, and to learn about all the facets of maintaining a sanctuary. By far and without question the best part of the day for me was spent with the babies. They are irresistible!

One can look at the world and be overwhelmed by the enormous amount of work there is to be done in order to make it a better place. My time with the Baboon Sanctuary has reminded me that no matter how little difference we think one person can make to the world; we can make a difference - one mitzvah (good deed) at a time.  Thanks to everyone!” - Louise Sherman, Canada

 “The 2 months I spent at the Baboon Sanctuary were the 2 best months of my life.  I just got back to the States in January and my heart aches for Africa and the baboons every day. The staff is amazing, the baboons are amazing and I can't wait to go back...for longer. I feel very lucky that I found the sanctuary.  I wish I could take my trip all over again.” - Tonya Leavitt, USA

 “A Day at the Baboon Sanctuary - A Volunteer’s Story

"I awake with the ‘baboon alarm clock’ as mischievous youngsters from the wild troop play an early morning game on the roof above my head. The troop moves from their sleeping trees at the river's edge to higher ground, seeking the warmth of the early morning rays of sun.  

I head off to check the enclosures in my allocated block. Ensuring that all is well, I stop to tickle tummies and lip smack a greeting to each troop. On to the kitchen to prepare fruit and vegetables and the first of many bottles for the day. The baby baboons form a creche group and as they grow older and more confident spend the day with similar aged youngsters in an outdoor playpen.  

After a quick breakfast with the other volunteers we split into teams to tackle the jobs for the day. Some will travel to local farms and suppliers to secure the animal's food for the day, others will assist with small repairs or maintenance work. Assistance is given to the Centre’s staff to ensure that storage dams are topped up, paddling pools in each enclosure are drained and filled with fresh water, and that waste is cleared and fresh sand added where needed. The food team returns by mid-day with a bakkie (pick-up) load of fresh produce and food preparation begins.  

I spend time inside a cage of young baboons, becoming part of the gym circuit as they dash from roof to floor, dam to sleeping platform, chasing one another around. Bonds between individuals are evident, as is the dominance of some over others. As one little softy sits on my knee, two others vie for my shoulder, a third sits on my head and others are wrapped around my legs. Emerging an hour later I am damp and dirty, and my shoelaces are chewed on the ends. The nuts hidden in my pocket have been found by curious little fingers and sand is deposited down my neck, in my hair and the back of my shorts. Just a regular day at the ‘office.’  

By early evening 250 baboons are fed - not to mention the ever present, opportunistic troop of 60 wild, free roaming baboons.  

We wander to the sandy riverbank to watch the wild baboons settling in for the night. Noisy teenagers are running around with a sack stolen from the feed room, climbing the sprawling fig tree, and claiming the prize from one another. On the opposite bank a shy group of impala nervously drink from the waters edge - ever wary of the presence of crocodiles.  

As the sun sets we settle the orphaned pink-face babies for the night, ensuring they have a warm blanket, soft toy and bottle, giving a last cuddle before they sleep. Dead chickens are fed to the jackals and scattered in the area for the released animals. Genets, jackals, feral cats and the occasional lynx can be spotted if you wait long enough.  

As the animals climb to their sleeping platforms, we climb the hill to our container camp. Dinner will be a casual affair as we sit on the deck overlooking the trees, absorbing the bush sounds and comparing notes and events of the day. The hippos will begin their snorting and the jackals will cry as we settle down for the night - ready to be awoken again by that banging on the roof…"

"I found out about Enkosini Eco Experience when my sister saw a television segment on the orphans at the Baboon Sanctuary in South Africa. With one look at the picture on the website showing a baby baboon in diapers being fed a bottle of milk by a radiant (yet a little tired looking) volunteer, I was hooked.

My first friend was Mr. Stubbs who quickly came over to investigate and invited himself on to my lap. What I soon found, however, is that baboon friendship is fleeting. Yet, there was no reason to worry as there was usually at least one baboon that needed a cuddle or special time from me every day.

Besides the machete lessons for cutting fruit and the 700 milk bottles to be filled and cleaned every day, I still found time for my favorite activity, monkey massage. I became an oasis of calm in the afternoon, especially in the medium pen where I would offer my services. Beau was usually the first to arrive for his daily massage and nap. On his back with his head near my knees and his legs going past my right hip, he would drop his head back and fall asleep. With gentle circular movements, I would go from the tips of his ears, to his fingers and toes and finally down to the end of his tail. At times, he would be so relaxed, he would begin to slide off my lap. If I had not been paying attention and caught him, he would have plunged head first onto the concrete.

At times a baboon would land on us unannounced from above. How Beau could sleep through a 10-pound baboon landing on the middle of his exposed belly, I will never understand.

I miss them all. Constant in my thoughts are Nigel and Valentine in the smalls, Beau, Caley and Violet in the mediums and Button and Elf, the two new babies in the troops that I monitored. Last but never least, Charlie the Samango will always hold a special place in my heart. The thought of his hand reaching out during our last visit can still reduce me to tears.

I will never forget the baboons and the special friendships that developed with the little charmers.” - Jane Stanfield, United States

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