The Story Behind Our Volunteer Program
Nkombi Volunteer Programme is based on a private reserve ( We can't mention the reserves name due to the presence of rhino on the reserve ) that covers an area of 4,760Ha (11,763 acres) and is situated in the malaria free North-West Province of South Africa.
The reserve has been fenced and protected since 1982. The formation of the reserve was coordinated by wildlife enthusiast Dougal MacTavish, who recognized the potential for a unique, highly diverse conservation area for wildlife. Dougal ( now semi-retired ) is responsible for the construction of several dams and animal watering points, the introduction of a range of large mammal species and protection of rare and endangered species.
Private reserves in South Africa receive no funding from government and have to generate their own income in order to survive. In 1998 the reserve started running field courses for universities in the United Kingdom. Over the coming years the field courses would become extremely popular, with more and more universities running their field courses on the reserve. This lead to more and more students wanting to return to help and support the small team of staff on the reserve.
In 2005, Nkombi Volunteer Programme was formed to give students and graduates the opportunity to live and work on a South African wildlife reserve. Volunteers assist our management team in all aspects of reserve management, scientific research and hospitality. (Click here to see all the activities)
Since 1982 the reserve has developed into an area of exceptional diversity with 50 species of large mammal including white rhino, buffalo, sable, giraffe, greater kudu, tsessebe and Burchell’s zebra. Smaller species include 4 species of mongoose, honey badger, aardvark and spring hare. Predators include brown hyena, black-backed jackal, caracal, serval and the occasional leopard. The reserve is also host to 30 species of reptile, 15 species of small mammals and 68 species of dung beetles.
The reserve boasts over 300 bird species mixing those which frequent the dry Kalahari type habitat and those that live in the wetter highveld region. The construction of dams has also led to an abundance of wetland bird species and other aquatic life. Nine plant communities have been identified which include over 85 grass, woody and herbaceous species.
Mankwe comprises of two camps, Waterbuck Camp which is the prominent short stay camp sleeping 33 situated on Motlobo Dam. Nkombi camp, which is where long stay volunteers and students stay is currently home to three permanent staff members, a Rhino Monitor and can sleep 10 volunteers / students.
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Get To Know The Nkombi Family
We are a small, passionate team of wildlife enthusiasts that are dedicated to South African conservation
Luke has lived and worked at Mankwe Wildlife Reserve for most of his life and has been involved in the programme since it first started in 2005. Luke studied BCom Business Management at the University of Pretoria majoring in Marketing and Strategic Supply Management. Luke has a keen interest in conservation, in particular the protection of the Rhino and works closely with the anti-poaching team. His strengths are working with volunteers and students; he is very much a people’s person and is always willing to make volunteers feel at home.
Dr. Lynne MacTavish
Reserve Operations Manager
Lynne joined her father in 2000, and has helped make this reserve a thriving research center. Over many years she has managed to co-ordinate 13 different universities, assisting with and teaching many components of the field course. In 2018 she received her honorary doctorate for her extensive contribution to conservation over the years. She has 17 published research papers; some through the different universities she has worked with, and many through her extensive work with the Earthwatch Institute.
Prof. Adam Hart
Head of Research
Adam Hart is Professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, where he teaches ecology, animal behaviour, evolution, diversity and field biology. He has written more than 120 scientific papers on research topics that include African ecology, thermal imaging and anti-poaching, trophy hunting and invertebrate biology, and he a keen advocate of "citizen science" methods, where scientists partner with the general public. In recognition of his insect-related research, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, where he is also a trustee and Chair of Outreach and Development. As a science communicator, Adam is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio and TV, including Radio 4 documentaries on trophy hunting and rhino poaching that had contributions from Mankwe. A frequent commentator and writer on conservation and ecology in the media, he has also written several textbooks and popular science books, co-authoring the OUP textbook Applied Ecology with Professor Anne Goodenough. His latest popular science book, Unfit for Purpose explores how our evolutionary history clashes with the modern world.
Prof. Anne Goodenough
Head Of Research
I’m an applied ecologist and fascinated by anything that grows, runs, hops, flaps, cheeps or chirrups. I have a special love for African ecology and am passionate firstly optimizing on-ground conservation and also developing and refining species surveying and monitoring techniques to monitor the effectiveness of management.
I’ve been coming to Mankwe for nearly 10 years and, along with my colleague Professor Adam Hart, have conducted numerous research projects with tangible benefits to the reserve and published in leading international journals. These span thermal imaging of antelope, bird-habitat associations, use of camera traps, vegetation monitoring, and parasite biology.
The Nkombi volunteer programme gives us the opportunity to undertake valuable long-term research where we can understand seasonal patterns and multi-year ecological change, which gives us an almost endless number of exciting possibilities for research on mammals, birds and plants. It really is win-win: numerous volunteers participate in key surveys learning key skills as they do so AND the data collected are genuinely useful in helping ecologists better monitor and manage the African wildlife we all love. I’m really excited to be part of this!
Dougal is the founder of Mankwe Wildlife Reserve and has been running an ever-growing team and site ever since its creation in 1992. He has built up a thriving and highly diverse ecosystem from the buffer zone of an explosive factory. Dougal's passion and knowledge has created a loyal and friendly community within the reserve. He has lots of knowledge to share and lots of stories to tell.
Prior to Dougal's involvement with Mankwe he had many years’ experience with the wildlife department in Zimbabwe and has a passion for anti-poaching and conservation.
He is a qualified CIS and has his FGASA level1, Dougal is also a qualified first aider.
Melissa first came to Mankwe Wildlife reserve in 2013 and has returned on and off since. She has a BSc in Biology from Durham University and a MScR on “The effect of burning on Invertebrates in a South African Savannah”. In May 2016 she began working full time as volunteer coordinator, but is now the research co-ordinator since starting her PhD in September 2019. She is also working towards her Level 1 Field Guide Qualification, is a fully qualified First aider and works as a Field Assistant for the Earthwatch Institute. Melissa has a great deal of experience in planning and carrying out research projects and will help students and volunteers with any personal projects for their university research She is friendly, fun and is always there to help
Assistant Reserve Manager
Richie first came to Mankwe in 2017 as part of the University of Gloucestershire field course and has been coming back ever since. He has a BSc in Animal Biology and an MSc by Res ‘Comparison and Optimisation of Nocturnal Surveying Techniques’ from the University of Gloucestershire. He is also a qualified tracker. In March 2021 he began working full time at Mankwe and is now the assistant reserve manager. He works all around the reserve with the conservation team doing maintenance, as well as anti-poaching response and training of the anti-poaching K9s. Originally from South Africa Richie loves animals and the outdoors, enjoying time around the reserve and is always happy to help volunteers learn about their surroundings no matter how big or small.
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