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(Tzaneen, South Africa)

Founded in 1993 to provide protection to orphaned and injured primates, the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary operates the largest sanctuary for monkeys in South Africa. The Sanctuary receives approximately 40-60 babies and 30-60 juveniles/adults every year and currently looks after over 500 vervet monkeys.


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 laboratories worldwide for medical research. Due to the misconception that they destroy fruit crops, vervet monkeys are also systematically eradicated by farmers. In fact, the farming community is responsible for a major portion (73%) of the many orphaned vervet monkey babies that are found in the wild. The vervet monkey is currently listed as a vulnerable species on Appendix Two of CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species).


Apart from caring for the monkeys, the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary also runs numerous outreach programs, educating farmers, land owners and settlements and giving talks at schools, clubs, organizations, and conservancies. A national network called Monkey Watch was created in which concerned citizens monitor the monkeys in their area and report any indiscriminate killing. The Sanctuary also maintains a complete database on vervet monkeys and has done a twelve-year study into their ethnology and role within the eco-system. In the Limpopo Province, where the Sanctuary is based and most actively involved, the project has already seen a positive change in attitudes towards primates, particularly the vervet monkey.


The Sanctuary has had a lot of publicity and accolades in South Africa. It was the third nomination for the AUDI TERRA NOVA CONSERVATION AWARD in 2000 and received the CARE CENTRE award in 2002. A registered non-profit organization, the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary receives no government or major corporate support, and is reliant on the generosity of concerned individuals and animal welfare groups to continue their work.


Volunteer Work

The Vervet Monkey Sanctuary is a great opportunity for those with an interest in primates to get involved with animal welfare/conservation work. Volunteers work directly alongside a world-renowned primatologist and will be trained in all aspects of primate care, including serving as "surrogate parents" to baby monkeys and introducing juvenile monkeys to existing troops at the sanctuary.


Currently the project is building three new camps for monkey troops; each camp is 25,000 cubic metres in size. Once the camps are completed, volunteers will be needed to dart and transfer the monkeys into their new camps. Volunteers will witness the excitement of a 'soft release' and experience first hand the antics that take place when these monkeys are moved into their new homes. Once released, a large part of everyday life at the Sanctuary is focused on monitoring individuals and troops.  In order to differentiate every monkey, the Sanctuary also runs an identification project. Any volunteer who enjoys this sort of activity is welcome to be trained on how to identify monkeys and update the database.


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


-Washing of feed bowls

-Washing and making baby bottles during baby season

-Giving babies their feed

-Assisting with the cleaning of cages

-Preparing Pronutro feed and giving feed to groups of monkeys

-Preparing and assisting with the main daily feed

-Monitoring monkeys

-Assisting with introduction of new monkeys

-Assisting and handling of babies during baby season

-Assisting and caring for sick and injured monkeys

-Doing daily inspections and following up on monkeys requiring daily attention

-Providing intensive care to babies

-Collecting and sorting food

-Going out on calls to collect monkeys

-Assisting with basic medical practices and administering medications

-Writing up reports

-Building of new facilities

-Assisting handlers in trapping and relocating monkeys

-Checking integrity of cages

-Being on call 24 hours a day

-Assisting with fundraising


Duties commence at 7.00am and finish at 5.00pm (Monday to Friday). Staff members and volunteers are on call 24 hours a day.


Other Activities

The Sanctuary is based near Tzaneen, a town in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, bordering the greater Kruger Park area. Given its bushveld location, volunteers will have the opportunity to see a variety of indigenous wildlife during their stay as well as visit the local bush pub. 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 every week or two in coordination with trips to collect food. Tzaneen is small but has all the usual amenities, including medical doctors, supermarkets, restaurants and Internet cafs.


Field Conditions

Volunteers will be staying in a tent village. It is a traditional African camp in the bush so be prepared for a truly outdoor experience! The water is solar heated. There are free laundry facilities. Please note that primarily vegetarian food is provided (which has had great reviews from past volunteers!)


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.



Volunteer Contribution:

2 weeks: GB595 / US$995

3 weeks: GB695 / US$1195

4 weeks: GB745 / US$1295

8 weeks: GB1495 / US$2495

12 weeks: GB2295 / US$3895

6 months: GB3595 / US$5995


Important Note:

Due to fluctuations in the major currencies, Enkosini will be using the USD rates as our standard until further notice.  The GBP rates above are indications of approximate recent values. Please visit to convert from USD to your currency.


Volunteers receive a US$100 / GB50 discount when joining multiple Enkosini Eco Experience programs (one discount only).


The volunteer contribution covers meals, accommodation, transfers from Tzaneen and donation to the project. Flights and travel/medical insurance are not included. The only additional spending money required will be for personal purchases (curios, alcohol, soda, luxury/imported goods, chocolates, sweets, toiletries), social excursions away from the Sanctuary, and pre/post project travel.



There are no set dates for this project, although we try to organize arrivals/departures on Mondays/Tuesdays to coincide with weekly town trips for food/supplies/etc.  There is no charge for Monday/Tuesday transfers, but off-schedule transfers will cost R150 South African rands.  Volunteers just need to inform Enkosini Eco Experience of the date they are planning to arrive.


The Vervet Monkey Sanctuary requests that volunteers commit to a minimum stay of 2 weeks during baby season (Nov - Apr) and 3-4 weeks during juvenile season (May - Oct) as it can take longer to train volunteers to work with the cheeky juveniles. Volunteers are required to sign an indemnity form acknowledging and accepting the consequences of working in close contact with wild animals. Applicants must be over 18 years old.  



The closest town to the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary is TZANEEN - approximately 400kms from Johannesburg. Buses are available from Johannesburg to Tzaneen, and arrangements will be made to collect incoming volunteers from the Tzaneen Bus Depot.


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 and Midrand every day at 10h00, arriving into Tzaneen at 15h40.  The Midrand bus is recommended for volunteers arriving on early morning flights as it provides as extra 30 minutes of grace period.


Reservations: "Bus Tickets" section of or - cost of R150 (South African rands) each way. Alternatively, contact Veena at to book bus tickets - email her with your name, dates of travel and where you will be traveling to/from.  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 Tzaneen 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, however all volunteers must obtain a chest x-ray or skin test for tuberculosis before having any contact with the monkeys.  This x-ray/test can be done in advance or immediately upon arrival at the Tzaneen Medical Clinic.  The cost in South Africa is approximately $25.  See FAQs for complete packing list.



"Well, I never imagined I would enjoy spending my days covered in monkey poo!  But I did, and Id go back in a heartbeat!  After spending two years working in an office in Swindon I decided I needed to do something different. My previous holidays have consisted of a week in Cancun and basically lying on a beach ... so this was definitely different!  Never having been away on my own before I thought a placement would be a good way to start my travels. I found a placement working at the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary in Tzaneen, South Africa, and after a spur-of-the-moment decision was on a plane, on my way!


After spending a night in Johannesburg I went to the bus station to find out Id missed my bus! My first time abroad alone and I was stranded in Joburg!! A few deep breaths later and Id managed to sort out a bed for the night and booked my place on the bus for the next day - and found out the correct time!  I was picked up from the bus stop and driven to the sanctuary, just outside Tzaneen, in the back of a Ute. I really didnt have much idea what to expect when I got to the Monkey Sanctuary... and luckily I loved it instantly! I think it would be impossible not to!



Firstly a bit of background - In Africa the vervet monkey is seen as vermin ... for complicated reasons that I wont go into now. But Arthur Hunt has dedicated his life to saving these gorgeous monkeys, and his sanctuary does just that.  Injured or orphaned vervets are brought in and the aim of the sanctuary is to rehabilitate them and rebuild troops that can be released back into the wild.

Its a very difficult process that can take many years as they are very intelligent, complex animals who wont be in a troop with just any other monkey you know!


The sanctuary has around 600 monkeys in different enclosures with troops of various sizes at different stages on the rehabilitation programme.  The babies and juniors are still used to, and like, human contact, whereas other enclosures, nearer the realising stage, no longer have any human contact.


The Placement 

The sanctuary employs ten to 15 volunteers at a time and we all lived in a little 'tent village' in the middle of the sanctuary. That in itself was a real experience - back to basics!  All Ill say about the toilets is DONT LOOK DOWN - when the light shines in at a certain angle you see more than you need to!!  You soon get used to them, though, and theres something indescribably beautiful about showering outside with the stars in full view above.  Wed wake up every day to the sound of monkeys playing in the trees and the sun streaming in through the tent, and occasionally step out of the tent to see one of the monkeys had snuck in and was eating our breakfast. Cheeky monkey!



The work consisted of daily duties which wed allocate over breakfast.

-Making up the milk for the babies into tiny little bottles and then feeding them. 

- Making up and delivering the pro-nutra (which is kind of a banana-flavour mush - very good for monkeys!) 

- Cleaning the feeding bowls from the day before.

- Monitoring - which is checking all the monkeys for any injuries or signs of illness.

- The daily feed: filling about 100 bowls with fruit, vegetables and bread and then delivering them to all the different enclosures (and having competitions to see who could carry the most bowls on their head!)

- And the best one - playing with the babies and juniors!


Id spend most of my afternoons with 20 babies jumping all over me. I could easily have been mistaken for a tree!  They loved to sit on our heads and groom or chew our hair, or use us as climbing frames, with little, curious fingers going everywhere, up noses, in ears... There was one little one who for some reason loved trying to separate your lips from your face! Obviously they are still wild animals so not being toilet-trained it could be a messy job, but we soon became used to the smell: Eau De Monkey Poo!


Theres absolutely no way that I could describe how adorable the babies are. One day we bathed them, and when we got the hairdryer on them ... poof, a little ball of fluff in your hand! They are very clingy when they are young, so youd try and pick one up and about ten others would cling on so you had a monkey train. As well as the monkeys we also had a litter of puppies to keep us busy and of course the not-so-cute snakes, spiders and scorpions that we prayed we wouldnt run into!


Great Friends

Of course it wasnt all work. When you spend all day, every day with the same people, living in tents together you become very close. We consisted of volunteers from all over the world.  Wed spend our nights sat around a campfire, learning songs from the locals, cooking (well, mostly burning) food over the fire, and drinking plenty of cheap beer. Or wed visit 'The Half Human', the local bar which had a startling resemblance to a garden shed.



There are amazing sights to be seen in the surrounding area as well. Five of us took a four-day weekend, hired a car and went to Kruger National Park which is only an hours drive from the sanctuary. We saw everything from lions, rhinos, elephants and giraffes to hyenas, baboons, hippos, leopards and zebras. Its incredible to see these animals in their natural habitat as opposed to in a zoo.


I would recommend a placement to everyone. I made some amazing friends from all around the world and I could have stayed forever. And I will definitely be going back! I miss my monkeys!


"I really had a terrific time at the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary and learned a lot about orphaned baby vervets.  I spent the majority of my time with the little fellows who were only weeks old and they were an absolute riot!  Yes I did get wee'd and poo'd on A LOT but you just get used to it after a few days.


Tent village was actually pretty nice and we had a local fellow keep the grounds tidy for us.  We have two women who cook for us and do our laundry (YES - we even had our laundry done!!).  The food was good - all vegetarian.  It was the same five meals on a rotating basis and then we made pizzas on Saturday night and Sunday we were on our own to make whatever we pleased.


We mainly learned from each other or by observation.  We did have one group meeting while I was there to discuss the progress of projects currently in the works and to discuss the arrival of the orphans.  Once we began receiving the orphans, things became quite stressful for everyone because we ALL had to take turns caring for the little guys and taking them to bed with us so they could be fed during the night.  Just like children, they have special demands but they were so fun and totally entertaining.  It was hard to leave them when my 4 weeks was up. - Victoria Fogg, England


"I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.  I have been sharing my photos with my co-workers and with passengers on my flights and everyone is amazed that a project such as this even existed.  It's very dirty work being with the monkeys but so much fun!"

-Christine Lumgair, Canada







To contact our South African office:

Enkosini Eco Experience

P.O. Box 1197, Lydenburg 1120, South Africa

E-mail:, Web:


To contact our US office:

Enkosini Eco Experience

4111 East Madison Street, Suite 76, Seattle, WA 98112, USA

Tel: +1.206.604.2664, Fax: +1.310.359.0269

E-mail:, Web:


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