Many thanks for your interest in volunteering on the meerkat project! The Kalahari Meerkat Project has been running since 1993 and aims to use long-term life history and behavioural data to answer questions about the ecology and evolution of cooperative breeding of meerkats. We take around 10-12 volunteers per year (from anywhere in the world), who each spend a minimum of 12 months on the project monitoring our study population of about 18 meerkat groups. We cannot offer positions for less than 12 months.
Volunteers on the project work extremely hard but really do learn a huge amount and it is great training for anyone who wants to do a Ph.D. or become a field biologist of any kind. However, competition for places is intense as we have many more applicants than there are places available. Most successful applicants already have some fieldwork experience. Unfortunately, we are only able to take volunteers who have a valid driving licence.
To apply, we ask people to send a CV and covering letter for their application as one pdf document named in the following convention: “SURNAME Firstname.pdf”. The covering letter must state whether you would be able to stay for the full 12 months; that you have a driving licence and your driving experience; and when you would be able to start. Please see below for more details on the application process.
The KMP volunteer work is quite varied and volunteers learn numerous different skills including the collection of behavioural data, animal handling, habituation and radio-tracking. Please note that this is not a conservation project and you will not acquire skills in conservation management, although individuals interested in pursuing a career in conservation will benefit from acquiring scientific research skills through the KMP.
Although volunteers are unpaid, we provide accommodation and food at our study site and give a stipend of about 350 South African rand per month. The stipend is generally enough to cover personal internet use, mobile phone credit, and buying special food items for yourself (e.g. chocolate), though we recommend that potential volunteers budget extra money for these things on top of the stipend.
The major costs to volunteers are their flight, medical insurance, visa, vaccinations and holiday trips. We recommend that volunteers budget £2000-£3000 (keep in mind that you are living in another country for a year and you may wish to travel at the end of your time at the project), but we also suggest that you take some time to estimate these costs yourselves prior to applying so you are not surprised. If a volunteer completes the year at the Project, we contribute €300 to the cost of their international flight on their return to their home country. For local South African volunteers, traveling in-land will be reimbursed for their bus expenses and the potential overnight accommodation (at backpackers).
There are no ‘special’ qualifications that are necessary to apply for a position. However, many applicants have completed an undergraduate degree in a relevant field (such as Biology, Zoology, Conservation, or Psychology), but this is not a prerequisite. Most successful applicants have some fieldwork experience, but again, this is not necessary to get a position. We usually aim to take applicants who are committed, enthusiastic and could benefit from spending a year on a behavioural ecology project; these are usually people who have recently graduated from a degree and are thinking of pursuing a career in academia or a related field and would like to gain research experience.
Successful applicants will apply for a research visa from the South African High Commission in their country.
Vegetarians and other dietary requirements (lactose intolerance and vegans, for example) are accommodated at the KMP, but keep in mind this is a remote field site, so you may not be able to eat exactly as you would in the comfort of your own home.
Successful applicants will be given a list of things we recommend they bring to the project and although no special equipment will be necessary, volunteers should bring a good pair of (minimum) 10×32 binoculars to aid observations in the field. Sometimes, we will ask UK residents if they could take equipment for the Project (such as scales, GPS units, palmtop computers etc.) on our behalf.
The living conditions at the field site are generous for a remote field site; volunteers are given their own room with a bed, a desk and other small furnishings. The farm house is shared by all at the project and there is a large communal kitchen and living area.
There is good and regular internet access at the farm house but volunteers should be aware that this is not free as we buy satellite internet (it is cheap, though). There is good but sometimes patchy mobile phone reception and texts and calls can be made and received from the field site.
In the morning, volunteers will travel to the meerkat burrow, weigh the meerkats when they emerge, collect 3h of behavioural data after the meerkats start to forage, and weigh the meerkats again before returning to the farm house. At the farmhouse, volunteers will upload and manage the data they collected, perform other small project-related tasks, eat lunch and rest before returning to the field for the afternoon session. In the afternoon, volunteers will radio-track the meerkat group, collect another 1 h of behavioural data and weigh the meerkats when they return to a burrow but before they go down for the night. Volunteers are given a day off every week, and on Sundays only weight data are collected in the morning and the evening (i.e. no behavioural data are collected). Volunteers are given a three week holiday.