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Big Cat Rescue

This world-famous site offers a home to over 40 rescued lions and tigers from zoos and circuses around the world. The project now provides a stress-free, comfortable home for these predators to live out the remainder of their lives away from the public, and back under the African sky.

Big Cat Rescue


Location Closest town: Vaalwater, Limpopo Province, South Africa
Duration From 2 - 12 weeks
Dates All year round
  • You must have an upper intermediate level of English
  • Special skills: You must have a love for nature and animals
Minimum Age: 18
Your impact
Documents required Enrolment form, curriculum vitae, letter of motivation, passport copy, proof of medical insurance
Day of arrival Every 2nd Wednesday
Day of departure Tuesday


  • Work up close with a large variety of South Africa’s wildlife.
  • Work on the groundbreaking Lion Rescue project.
  • Make a difference to animals’ lives.
  • Learn more about animals and tracking.
  • Make new friends from all over the world.

Project Information

The Big Cat Rescue project is situated on a 5000ha private estate in the Vaalwater region of the Limpopo province, South Africa.

The Big Cat Rescue project made headline news around the world on 1 May 2016 when they received 33 big cats from the Animal Defenders International (ADI) rescue centres in Peru and Columbia. The rescue was part of ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom, and the lion relocation was the biggest animal airlift of its kind. These 33 lions were added to the 7 lions and 2 tigers which already call this centre home.

The project is also partnered with a lion sanctuary in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and has received five lions from this sanctuary. These sanctuaries are a temporary home for retired circus animals, animals that have had to leave zoos for various reasons and animals rescued from poor living conditions. The Big Cat Rescue project and these international organisations share the goal of providing older cats and cats with handicaps the opportunity to live in relative freedom and peace in gated natural reserves.

It is currently home to 42 big cats, including 40 lions and 2 tigers. The climate and environment at the project is ideal for the cats where they live in the ‘semi-wild’ in large enclosures in the natural African habitat of the Vaalwater region.

This area lies on the southern-edge of the Waterberg biosphere reserve, which has a stunning mix of habitats including mountainous regions, rolling grasslands, forests, cliff caves and river gorges. The region is also home to a variety of indigenous mammals such as lion, buffalo, giraffe and White rhino.

The Big Cat Rescue project has a no-breeding policy and female lions receive contraceptive medication so that they can remain with their mates. Males may also undergo vasectomies to make 100% sure that no lions are bred in captivity.

This is a premium project in a very remote area. The accommodation, food and experience are first class, but candidates must realize the remoteness of the project location, and know that they will have little to no contact with busy cities and towns, and will spend nearly all of their time located on site for the duration of their project. We recommend volunteers to plan trips and tours after their experience, and we at Good Hope Volunteers can help with these bookings. 

There is a maximum of 8 volunteers at any given time, so make sure to book in advance as this is a very popular project.

Your Role

You will have the unique opportunity to get involved in the day-to-day running and operations of the sanctuary and farm.
The Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary is a priority and the early morning checks and late afternoon feeds and checks happen every day. Other farm work varies a lot:

  • Doing morning checks.
  • Checking electrical fence.
  • Cleaning fences.
  • Cleaning enclosures.
  • Providing enrichment.
  • Preparing meat.
  • Doing evening feeds.
  • Doing animal observation.
  • Providing assistance to veterinary care when needed.
  • Building and upgrading enclosures.

Your work schedule

Your work schedule does vary depending on the weather and the tasks needed at the organisation, but generally you have Sundays off.

A possible work schedule could be:

  • 06:00 Morning feeding.
  • 07.00 Breakfast.
  • 07.30 Cleaning enclosures.
  • 10:00 Clean animal rooms and buckets.
  • 10:30 General farm work.
  • 13.00 – 14.00 Lunch.
  • 14.00 Maintenance.
  • 16:00 Meat preparation.
  • Afternoon activities vary and depend on the weather; sometimes it is too hot to be outside. The farm and the other animals that live there need care and attention too.
  • 18:30 Load buckets.
  • 19:00 Dinner.
  • 20:00 Evening activities and free time.

PLEASE NOTE: the project allows no interaction between volunteers and the big cats.

It is important to note that this description serves as an example only. The daily tasks and challenges depend on the volunteer, the time of year and the work that needs to be done. The final job description can therefore vary substantially from the above.


The accommodation of this premium project is very comfortable. You share a safari-style tent with an en suite bathroom with a second volunteer. The accommodation offers a dining room, a lounge, bomas, a library, view rooms, lapas, etc. In your downtime you can indulge in unwinding in a glorious swimming pool as well as play a number of board games. Bedding as well as towels are provided. Laundry service is available 2 times per week.

WiFi is available in communal areas with limited access – downloading of music, movies, etc. is not permitted.

The Big Cat Sanctuary is within walking distance of your accommodation. Other parts of the farm are about 2 to 15km away – daily transport will be provided.