2015 Project Highlight – Zingela Reserve in South Africa

by isvolunteers on Sunday, 31 January 2016

ISV Project Leader, Leticia Martinez, reflects on her experience leading a group of students on a brand new volunteer project in South Africa last season at the Zingela Game Reserve.

Surrounded by the true wilderness and all its beauty in Zingela Reserve. (c) ISV


Getting around Zingela can be fun, especially when its open and there are animals to spot in the reserve! (c) ISV

Excitement, joy, nerves…it’s hard to explain the mixture emotions I had before leading ISV’s new project at Zingela Game Reserve with my amazing group of volunteers. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we could all sense that an incredible experience was waiting for us.

Located in a small town in the Limpopo province, Zingela is a seven hour drive from Johannesburg. It’s a remote part of the country, but as we entered through the reserve gates and made our way to our base on the first day, we realised that we were surrounded by the true wilderness and all its beauty.


The group excited to start working beneath a large Baobab tree. (c) ISV

The reserve is managed by a non-profit conservation organisation called Wildlife Ecological Investments, who’s primary goal is to initiate research and training in areas of ecological importance. Their approach is to develop  infrastructure, human resources and intellectual capital that benefits local communities while making a meaningful impact to the environment.

To help achieve this, our volunteers assisted in building a ‘habitat map’ to identify the reserve’s key priorities. We worked on a variety of tasks, such as maintaining roads, clearing alien vegetation and supporting local and national researchers with important data collection. All data we collect is used as baseline research for crucial management decisions about the species in the area and the reserves’ capacities, namely leopards, roan antelope and brown hyenas.

But you don’t need to be a brave bush scientist to experience Zingela. Host Organisation staff train our volunteers in various research techniques and how to operate equipment such as camera traps, compasses and ropes. You’ll also learn about pressing conservation issues, biodiversity, reserve management and specific environmental research methods. By the time your two weeks is up, you’ll be a true bush researcher!


Helping to feed the roan antelope. (c) ISV

The project does have early morning starts, unpredictable weather, and it involves lots of hard work…but it’s always a warm, rewarding and FUN experience.

This season, Zingela provided an opportunity for us all to reconnect with nature in an incredibly meaningful way. It reinforced the concept that everything is interconnected, every action has a consequence and everything we did on this projects counts.


Getting vital bush training out in the field. (c) ISV

This is a once in a lifetime experience, where volunteers are part of a collaborative effort to bring about long term, meaningful change. We are both making a difference and are the difference!

Thank you to all who volunteered last season, and I look forward to many more projects with ISV.


ISV Project Leader, Leticia Martinez, who is completing her PhD in conservation. (c) ISV

Leticia Martinez

ISV  Project Leader – South Africa

Leticia completed her PhD in conservation in South Africa in 2013, comparing how rhinos breed in captivity versus in the wild. 

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