We envisage that each and every volunteer leaves Mapesu having created a small legacy. We are hopeful that all our volunteers believe in our ethos of conservation, providing a protected area and to save endangered species. Our volunteers contribute to the reserve in a meaningful way by assisting the reserve in essential research and reserve tasks and we have created this project because we need the help to achieve our goals. This creates a rewarding experience for both the reserve, volunteers and our staff.

All activities are ethically minded for the protection of the community, and the fauna and flora of the area.



Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve

Leopards are listed as vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list of threatened species and their populations are decreasing throughout Africa. Actual numbers of leopards are difficult to obtain through traditional aerial census, so conservationists are using camera traps for this. You will help to set up cameras and create an ID kit of individual leopards from the photos. This will help the Reserve know the density of leopards on the property, incorporating the information for a global catalogue as well as help in establishing more accurate knowledge of the predator-prey balance on the reserve.

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve

Cheetah are also listed as vulnerable in IUCN’s list of threatened species and this is mainly due to loss of habitat. Two cheetahs were released recently onto the reserve as part of the process of re-wilding the area and due to their endangered status, it is important for the reserve to know how they are adapting to their new environment. You will help to monitor the cheetahs on a regular basis.

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve


The results of bird surveys has become of one of the UK governments 15 headline indicators of sustainable development and the “Quality of Life”. Birds can be used to investigate the impact of environmental changes such as land-use change (e.g., Schulze et al. 2004). Previous work has demonstrated that in urban areas, bird assemblages can show marked changes, typically being dominated by a few highly abundant species that are well adapted to human affected landscapes, be they native or alien invasive species (Clergeau et al. 1998; McKinney 2006; Van Rensburg et al. 2009; Evans et al. 2011; de Lima et al. 2013). Large-bodied birds, typically raptors, often decline markedly in abundance with landscape transformation, especially outside of protected areas (Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr 2000; Peres 2000; Devictor et al. 2007; Thiollay 2007).

Our own surveys can also become part of wider conservation efforts that are being conducted across southern Africa. “The Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) is the most important bird monitoring project in the region. It holds this status because all other conservation initiatives depend on the results of the bird atlas, to a greater or lesser extent. You cannot determine the conservation status of a species unless you know its range and how this is changing. So red-listing depends on the results of this project. So does the selection of sites and habitats critical to bird conservation. SABAP2 is the follow-up project to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (for which the acronym was SABAP, and which is now referred to as SABAP1). This first bird atlas project took place from 1987-1991. The second bird atlas project started on 1 July 2007 and plans to run indefinitely. The project aims to map the distribution and relative abundance of birds in southern Africa and the atlas area includes South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. SABAP2 was launched in Namibia in May 2012.”


Bird surveys need to be conducted within the first three hours of dawn, this is when birds are at the most active. Survey will be bird point counts at the designated ecological survey sites, each of the sites will have bird surveys repeated three times for each season (Winter and Summer).  The survey sites are always within 100 metres from the road and 5 minutes are given after arrival to reduce the effects of disturbance, thereafter all birds seen and heard in 10 minutes are recoded.  Once a month, we will also conduct bird surveys across the reserve for Southern African Bird Atlas Project. A description of which is above (


If birds are monitored regularly, with long-term data any changes in fluctuations due to environmental, disturbance or climate change may be evaluated. Birds can be an indicator for biodiversity; so where there are high diversity of birds then one may assume that the ecosystem as a whole is healthy. Having a good population of a diverse range of species on the reserve can also offer many ecosystem services to the reserve including: pollination, control of pests and invertebrates, seed dispersal and nutrient recycling (Sekercioglu 2006; Whelan et al. 2008). If there are known charismatic species of bird found on the reserve, and their preferred locations are known from the results, this can be used for tourism and to attract avid birders to come to the reserve.


Clergeau, P., J. L. Savard, G. Mennechez, and G. Falardeau. 1998. Bird abundance and diversity along and urban-rural gradient: a comparative study between two cities on different continents. Condor 100:413–425.

de Lima, R. F., M. Dallimer, P. W. Atkinson, and J. Barlow. 2013. Biodiversity and land-use change: understanding the complex responses of an endemic-rich bird assemblage. Divers. Distrib. 19:411–422.

Devictor, V., R. Julliard, D. Couvet, et al. 2007. The functional homogenization effect of urbanization on bird communities. Conserv. Biol. 21:741–751.

Evans, K. L., D. E. Chamberlain, B. J. Hatchwell, R. D. Gregory, and K. J. Gaston. 2011. What makes an urban bird? Glob. Change Biol. 17:32–44.

Herremans, M., and D. Herremans-Tonnoeyr. 2000. Land-use and the conservation status of raptors in Botswana. Biol. Conserv. 94:31–41.

Set routes are driven regularly on the reserve and all animal species are observed and recorded. This information is useful to know the health and population of animals are stable. You will help with this; game transects are a really good way of exploring the reserve and spending time observing animals.

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve

There may be opportunities to get involved in animal capture and releases onto the reserve. You will need to occasionally get your hands dirty and help with reserve tasks such as filling in holes on the fence line to ensure animals do not escape, cutting branches and taking down reserve structures.


Close management of carnivore populations is crucial to understand their distribution via a primary focus on their movements and feeding behaviour. As predators are elusive creatures and difficult to monitor on a daily basis, alternative methods are required to track and identify their movements on the reserve. Detailed descriptions of an animal behaviour can be determined by interpreting the signs that they leave behind. As a result, tracking can provide valuable data, especially on animal movement as well as behaviour and becomes useful when tracking animals are in low densities or nocturnal across substantial areas. Together, tracks and signs offer information on undisturbed, natural behaviour while direct observations can often affect the animal due to the presence of the researcher. Therefore, tracking is a non-invasive method of gathering information with minimum disturbance and reduced biases. Track data represent significant information to animal movement and distribution. By using measurements of an animal’s tracks, different individual animals of the same species can be discriminated.


Carnivore sign survey are based mainly on tracks and pasting marks (i.e. territorial marking). This method is very effective to determine animal movements and frequency of their distribution within the reserve and can be divided in two main parts. The first part consists in splitting the reserve into transects that can be driven or walked to search for sign surveys within a given area. If sufficient and consistent data is gathered, analysis can take place to estimate species distribution and locations of frequent use can be set up. This can later be handed to guides as well reserve management to assist with animal sightings during night drives and daily monitoring.

The second aspect is the use of track plots which involve clearing the soil across the road at delimited five kilometre intervals with the use of a grass broom to take away all previous tracks/signs. The setup should take place in the evening to maximize the number on animals walking over it as well as minimize the number of vehicles driving on them. It is particularly useful to enhance the observation of “perfect” tracks, offering a good exercise to train new students as well as recording extra data rather than just the species. From this method, the stride, straddle, track size and track width (front and back) of the animal can be easily measured. This information will then provide an individual set of data which can be used in the future to calculate an estimate of the number of animals on the property.

Carnivore signs and visuals are also recorded as we go about our activities on the reserve.

Long term goals

The main focus of this project is to increase insights into our carnivore populations in terms of movement, feeding ecology and genetics. The project has the following goals:

Detection of signs, and especially scats of carnivores, can be facilitated thanks to both the scent detection dogs and track plots, enabling the collection of several samples, critical for further analyses (genetics). The first method is particularly efficient for species with low densities such as carnivores. Dog detection also help to gather the fresher scat, important to preserve the genetics’ information.
From the scats, crucial information can be obtained with a more accurate knowledge of the diet for different species of carnivores within Mapesu. Thus, it will help monitoring Mapesu carnivore’s population on a monthly basis. Dietary analysis can also take place by examining the scat from a broad perspective to identify the main types of food of carnivore species (e.g. mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates). Moreover, a more advance scale approach could be pursued where hair samples of mammals can be analyzed with a microscope to identify mammal species. The same can be done on all the other categories of species to determine specifically each carnivore’s diet in the Mapesu reserve and thus, helping reserve management to disclose the proportion of which herbivore species are consumed by which carnivore.
Important genetics aspects can be used from the scats which can lead to future potential publications and grant opportunities as few studies have been done on the subject in South Africa.
Afterward, camera trapping can be implemented in the reserve, merging data obtained from the scat and tracks with animal presence recorded from the camera traps. This could also create important publications opportunities by comparing the efficiency of these three methods.

Mapesu Private Game Reserve is home to several species of animals which have been collared including the Buffalo, Cheetah, Rhino and Wild Dog. Wild Dog are endangered and Cheetah are classed as vulnerable although may be close to being reclassed as endangered so knowing the status and location of these animals is of great importance.

These collars and the use of radio telemetry are essential in the management of wildlife. They are used to locate the general area an animal is in and aid in obtaining a visual on the animal.

Using the telemetry to locate the species on the reserve is a daily task which must be done to ensure there are still on the reserve, in good condition and to inform Mapesu of the potential habitat preferences of different animals, their distribution and reproductive status.

To use the telemetry the aerial must be unfolded and plugged into the receiver. The receiver is switched on, ensuring that the gain is low so you can pick up some signal. It should then be held so the spokes of the aerial are vertical- this will pick up long range signal from the collared animals. While holding the aerial high in the air you can turn around to receive signal from every direction. Once long range signal has been picked up the aerial can be flipped so the spokes are horizontal, this will pick up short range signal from the collared animals. Once short range signal has been received the gain can be increased which will pinpoint a more specific area where the animal can be found.

It is best to start at a high point and see what signal can be picked up, using the different gain to narrow down the area that should be searched. Reading from right to left the higher the gain, the closer the animal is. However it should be noted that at these high points the animal may appear to be closer than it is. It should also be known that terrain- rocky areas and rises and dips can affect the signal that is picked up. Power lines and electric fences can also interfere with telemetry signal and clicks can be heard which may be mistaken for the beep of a collar signal. As well as this, sometimes back signal can be picked up which is not an accurate representation of where the animal is.

If no signal for a collared animal is picked up it does not mean the animal is not on the reserve, it may just be too far away or amongst difficult terrain. Also, there are many areas of the reserve which are inaccessible to members of staff or volunteers by car. These areas may only be accessible on foot which cannot be done by volunteers without trained personnel. It is for this reason that many of the animals also have a satellite transmitter. This gives the exact location of the animal at certain times and can be received by appropriate members of staff. The animal’s satellite location can give a good place to start using the telemetry and picking up signal.

Each animal should be located- either visually or through the receipt of a strong signal- regularly. This confirms that they are safe and present on the reserve, a vital piece of information needed for the effective management and conservation of these animals.

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve

We are establishing long-term continuous data which will be available for use. We can also adapt our current research around your needs for your undergraduate or post graduate thesis. If you have a specific project in mind, contact us and our resident scientist can discuss it with you.

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve

As part of the process of restoring the reserve to its full ecological potential, research needs to be conducted on the plant life on the reserve and the ways to increase biodiversity. The reserve also needs to ensure that the food source for herbivores is sufficient. You will conduct habitat surveys to help gain a sustainable carrying capacity for each species on Mapesu Private Game Reserve.


This is a study into how different individuals and herds of species across the reserve react to disturbance posed by game viewers. It is attempting to establish the distance at which an animal feels most secure with the vehicles presence, and how this may differ with species and/or location across the reserve. The comfort experienced by the animals on the reserve should be a top priority for managing them and should be considered if new work or game-viewing routes are being discussed. This can also be used to monitor the habituation of newly introduced species that may initially be shy and wary of vehicles and human observers. The habituation of animals is mainly affected by three factors: the nature of any previous experience with humans/vehicles, the structure of the habitat, and the behaviour of the species when faced with an unfamiliar intruder.


These studies can be done as we travel between other activities, as well as a stand-alone activity. When any animal is seen the car is stopped and the engine turned off, and the timer of the ethogram is started. The ethogram involves observing the animal’s behaviour every ten seconds for a period of one minute after the disturbance is first encountered. After these behaviours have been noted other data including the location (GPS), date and time, bearing, habitat, visibility, composition of the herd (if applicable), distance on arrival and if normal behaviour has resumed (and the distance at which it does if it occurs) are recorded.

If the same individual/herd are observed when the car moves off their behaviour is not recorded again as they have already experienced the initial disturbance.


The results of this study can allow insights into where species feel most comfortable on the reserve, and so can suggest what habitats and structures are preferred. It can also be used to monitor the habituation of individuals and herds, which in turn, can allow for individual and herd health and welfare to be more easily checked. This can give indicators as to how the ecosystem, as a whole, on the reserve is doing and if there are ample reserve to support all the animals. This can also highlight which species are seen most regularly and their comfort level to the vehicles.


It is debated as to the number of species of Giraffe that Africa is home to, however the population as a whole has decreased by 40% over the past 30 years.

Our aim is to calculate an approximate population size through the use of photo recognition software to identify individuals, photos are taken by cameras out in the field and then collated data back at camp. We are using our findings to create an identikit to allow us – and guests – to spot individuals, track their movements and contribute to the future of their conservation


If visibility is good side profile photographs of giraffes seen in the field are taken, with both sides photographed when possible. Total number of individuals, herd composition, and GPS location are recorded.

On return to camp, the photos are uploaded to a computer and run through the pattern recognition software “Hotspotter”. If camera traps record photos of giraffes these are also run through Hotspotter. This program compares the patches of each giraffe for matches, and provides a results screen showing the photos of patches have the highest chance of being a match. Each of these results is checked by eye and it is determined as to whether they are “true” matches or not. If it is a “true” match these giraffe are the same individual and so within Hotspotter can be labelled as the same individual. If it is not a “true” match then the individual is labelled as its own individual.

All the individuals are then listed in a word document along with their ID number, gender, and identifying patches. Each individual will have identifying photos in it’s ID with the identifying patches outlined on the photo.


The identification of individuals in a herd of giraffes allows for the estimation of the population size of the herd and for tracking of movements of individuals on the reserve. The GPS location recorded when the giraffe is observed in the field also allows for an individuals preferred sites to be determined, and so show where they are most likely to be found.

Giraffe monitoring can be improved as group dynamics, social behaviour, feeding and health (for example, from droppings) can be studied with more ease as individuals can be quickly identified and so efficiently followed. Giraffe can also be tracked to gain insight into preferred conditions and how this changes as the habitat does. Lodge and reserve management can then be altered to allow trails and the identification kit can be used by guests to allow them to further interact with the wildlife around them in a safe manner.

Effective giraffe identification may also allow more viable running and management of lodges and reserves, due to applications in the identification and treatment of ‘problem’ giraffe. Additionally, it may prove useful in the transfer and translocation of giraffe between areas, the use of genetics in breeding programmes, and monitoring inbreeding/ genetic variation in populations. General giraffe research can also benefit from these developments, as efficient identification can improve the accuracy of endangered species counts (including mark recapture – which can be adapted to be just observational and therefore non-invasive, which is much less stressful and risky for the giraffe) and save money and time in genetic studies (as genetics only need to be tested once then matched to the giraffe when sighted). Improvements to studies and monitoring using this identification is relevant in wild, managed and captive giraffe populations.


Camera traps provide an insight into the densities and dynamics of a range of species across the reserve. These species can be experts at avoiding human presence, and so the only way to gain data on them is through camera traps. Camera traps also aid in gathering data on nocturnal animals and particularly shy species, so allowing for interpretation of data that would not otherwise be collated.

Leopards are listed as vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list of threatened species and their populations are decreasing throughout Africa. Actual numbers of leopards are difficult to obtain through traditional aerial census, so conservationists are using camera traps for this. The population of leopards on Mapesu has gone through a noticeable decline since the beginning of 2019, and camera traps may aid in determining why this has happened.


Cameras are set up at set locations around the reserve. These locations are chosen to coincide with Game Transects, Dam Observations and Trackplots. The camera casing is attached to a tree by zip-tie, this allows for them to be moved easily. Once the settings on the camera are confirmed (date, time, image and video settings) it is armed and securely placed in the casing. Every few days the camera will be checked, to ensure it is still secure to the tree and has sufficient battery. After a week the camera and casing are collected, the images recorded are uploaded to the computer with the location and date recorded. The memory card is then cleared, the casing is set up in a new location and the batteries in the camera are replaced with fully charged ones (the batteries removed from the camera are brought back and are recharged for the next rotation).

The locations of the camera traps are rotated every few weeks so as to cover all habitats present on the reserve.


Since the start of 2019 there has been a noticeable decline in the leopard population that frequents Mapesu. From the photos gained from the camera traps we can potentially determine if any leopards still frequent the property, where they frequent and determine what might have caused the decline. This data can also be incorporated into a global catalogue for the species. If the photo is of a good enough quality, it can be run through the program “Hotspotter” and compared with results from previous Panthera Camera Trap Surveys to determine if the same individuals are still frequenting the reserve.

The camera traps can also be used to monitor the natural behaviour of species without the influence of a human presence and to gain insights into animals that might otherwise be shy. The photos can aid in determining individual and herd health, and in habitat and time of day preference.

When used in combination with other methods of data collection (such as Game Transects, Dam Observations and Trackplots) it can not only increase the accuracy of the data collected (by helping to clarify and confirm the interpretation of tracks on Trackplots) but also give insights into how the animal responds to its environment and inter-species relationships.

On Mapesu Private Game Reserve there are 7 captive ostriches (Struthio camelus australis), two males and five females who will hopefully breed. For reproduction to be successful the animals need to be in good condition with few stresses. This study hopes to observe the behaviour of these ostriches and determine their level of stress in the hopes to increase breeding success. There are two enclosures for the Ostriches, a separate observation needs to be carried out for the individuals in each enclosure.

This study will be carried out to answer the question: Are the captive ostriches showing signs of stress?

Firstly, a trial observation would need to be carried out to determine the different behaviours that may be exhibited. These may include but are not limited to: preening; feeding; drinking; foraging; being vigilant; walking; sitting; standing and running.

During an observation, observers would be sat in a game viewer- which will provide some shade for the observers. Observers will be at a distance of 25 metres from the Ostriches. Behaviour can be recorded by one of two methods

  1. Observe for a definite amount of time, recording the behaviours at set intervals (eg/ 10/30 seconds or 1 minute).
  2. Observe for a definite amount of time, noting down each behaviour as it happens and recording how long that behaviour is carried out for.

The final method chosen will depend on the outcome of a trial observation. If certain behaviours are carried out for an extended period of time it would be more efficient to use method two. However, if they do not carry out behaviours for a long time method one would provide a better overview of their behaviour.

Behaviour that may be a sign of stress could include stereotypic behaviour- repeated behaviours which are not normally seen in the wild. Ostriches are known to be stressed by loud noise so as observations are going on potential disturbances should be recorded, for example, temperature, wind, noise from cars or other sources.

Observations should also take into account and could investigate the differences in behaviour when the birds have been fed or time after feeding.

This study would hope to identify stress in the ostriches and could potentially lead to a mitigation strategy to reduce stress and thus increase reproductive efficiency.

Ecology and reserve management related topics:

Bush clearing, how best to establish greater coverage of herbaceous cover?
How does bush clearing affect the ecology of a reserve? Using invertebrates (pit fall traps) or birds (bird point counts) as an indicator for biodiversity, compare recently cleared, non-cleared and restored areas.
The effect of bush clearing on herbivores over time; how soon do they start utilizing an area that is re-establishing grass cover?

Zoology related topics:

Cheetah monitoring: establishing a home range for cheetah, how do they utilize the reserve and how are their movement affected by prey availability?
Male buffalo post release, how do they utilize new areas, how do they create a new social structure with the females?
Newly released elephants, how do they adapt to new area and why?
Using scat analysis as a tool to find the diet of carnivores on the reserve.

Geology/Geography related topics:

How to control erosion in a private game reserve in South Africa.

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve

Experience the raw, untamed South African bush when you take part in hands-on survival training course.

Learn what it takes to be like the original San people in the area! Throughout the centuries the San people kept alive by having a close relationship with their natural environment and mastered the skill needed to survive in the harshest of conditions. You will be taught skills to exist in the wild without any modern conveniences.

You only need a backpack with essentials!

Learn how to track animals
Learn how to navigate your way to your camp site
Locate the rock art of the San people and be inspired
Eat the traditional foods of the area, including mopane worms
Find water
Find firewood
Light a fire with a flint (no matches or firelighters allowed)
Create shelter for the night by making your own rope from the plant fibres
Camp out under the stars
Learn how the San hunted (no hunting will take place) and gathering skills
Cook your food on the fire
Take turns to be on guard during the night to protect all from dangerous animals that may approach the camp

You will be supervised by qualified and experienced staff at all times for your safety, but all survival activities are up to you!

Once complete, you will be rewarded with a certificate of achievement proving you have the skills, experience and mental strength to make it on your own in the wild.

Two courses available.

Basic Survival Course: one night, two days training
Ultimate Survival Course: two nights, three full days training

Want to find out more? Contact Amy!

Amy has a degree in Zoology, a Master’s Degree in Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation, and is a qualified field guide. She has been working in conservation research since 2010 and has specialized in creating volunteer programs in South Africa.

Amy is a firm believer in creating wilderness and protected areas in South Africa. With the help of volunteers, Amy has experience of researching ecology and wildlife with the aim of advising reserve managers to fulfill the reserves potential in maintaining maximum biodiversity.

Tel: +27 604292888

Game Reserves in South Africa | Mapesu Private Game Reserve



*Per person per week. Includes ALL activities & food but excludes transfers. Minimum duration of visit is 2 weeks .

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