Frequently Asked Questions
What exotic animals can I expect to work with?
Volunteers in all 3 programs can expect to work with wildlife for some length of time. In the past, volunteers have assisted in the capture and relocation of rhinos, lions, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, buffalo, hyenas, and various antelope. Types of capture include helicopter capture, net capture, and capture from an open safari vehicle. Capture days are often planned less than a week ahead of time so we cannot predict which species or activities will be scheduled for a given week. Volunteers in the Vet Experience and Vet Student programs will also work with wildlife at the East London Zoo and the reptile sanctuary.
What is required to apply for this program?
No prior experience is required to participate in the Vet Experience or Game Capture programs. Volunteers in the Vet Student program must have completed at least 1 year of their veterinary course. Most of our volunteers are interested in veterinary medicine, conservation biology, animal behavior, or zoology. Since this experience is often included on vet school, job, and internship applications, most volunteers have a veterinary focus.
What are the group sizes?
Vet Experience volunteers are divided into groups of 6-12 depending on the activity. The Vet Student and Game Capture programs are limited to 6 volunteers.
How long should I stay?
Vet Experience sessions can be 2 weeks – 6 months, Vet Student sessions are 3 weeks, and Game Capture sessions are 3 1/2 weeks. Many Vet Experience volunteers choose a 2-week program due to schedule or budget limitations, however we recommend a minimum of 3 weeks based on volunteer feedback. All program components (small animal, large animal, and wildlife) are covered within a 2-week period. Long-term volunteers build a strong relationship with our Program Vets and staff. Students are also given more freedom and responsibility as their skills develop on the program. Some long-term volunteers are offered future career opportunities as Student Liaisons, Program Coordinators, and even Program Vets.
How much spending money do I need?
Each volunteer should have a budget for souvenirs, weekend activities/trips, and eating/drinking at the local cafe. Local activities range from $10-30 USD while weekend trips can range from $50-100 USD (See Weekend Activities).
How much money should I exchange before I arrive and how should I pay for souvenirs and activities?
We recommend exchanging at least $50 USD to South African Rands before departing, as a general rule of international travel. Both Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in our area, including most local activities and weekend destinations. Some activities are cash only, but ATMs are regularly accessible. We recommend calling your bank to find out about international ATM withdrawal, debit card, and credit card fees. Most banks have a withdrawal fee plus a conversion fee for ATM withdrawals but only a conversion fee for debit or credit card purchases. Some “travel rewards” credit cards offer no international fees. If you decide to use a credit card for most purchases, you should also have access to an ATM card (this is cheaper and easier than exchanging money and safer than traveling with a lot of cash).
Can I request a recommendation letter?
All 3 programs are regularly used as a unique experience on vet school, job, and internship applications. Vet Student and Game Capture volunteers work with a qualified vet for the duration of the session. Vet Experience volunteers work directly with one of our Program Vets at least 50% of the time when there are no temporary vets with us (we often have short-term vets join our staff to allow more veterinary interaction, especially during the summer months). Activities with direct vet supervision include game capture, small animal clinic, and some farm days. Our full-time vets work in our non-profit clinic most of the week, so students do some activities under the supervision of our Program Coordinators- even though you may not be with a vet for these activities, you will gain valuable vet skills such as subcutaneous and intramuscular injections, suturing practice (on suture pads), and clinical exams. Our Program Coordinators are a mixture of vet techs and highly qualified field guides with an extensive knowledge of South African culture, wildlife conservation, and farming practices.
Recommendation letters with the following details may be requested: number of hours worked, number and species of animals handled, and clinical skills learned.
What is the process for booking flights?
All volunteers should book their flights to and from the East London Airport (ELS). We now have a partnership with STA Travel to help our volunteers book flights at reduced student rates. Once you have confirmed your booking with GVE, our dedicated STA representative will contact you to start planning your personal itinerary. As a travel expert, our STA rep can also help with travel insurance and local excursions before, during (weekends are free time!) or after your session. If you have booked your flights through our STA partners, your airport transfers will be scheduled automatically. If you choose to book flights through a different company, you’ll need to send us your arrival and departure information so that we can schedule your airport transfers.
What is the airport pickup procedure?
Since ELS isn’t an international airport, all flights have a stopover in either Johannesburg or Cape Town where you’ll need to collect your checked bags and go through Customs. One of our Program Coordinators will meet you in the Arrivals area holding a sign with all of the incoming volunteer names. On the way to the Volunteer House, you’ll have an opportunity to buy snacks, toiletries, adapters, and any other items you might have forgotten.
Do I need a visa?
Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries receive a free, 90-day visitor permit upon arrival in South Africa.
Students are responsible for checking their visa requirements before departure- please visit this page to find out if you need to apply for a visa prior to entry.
Are there any required vaccinations?
The typhoid vaccine is highly recommended for all developing countries. The Eastern Cape is a malaria-free and yellow fever-free area, however, there may be flight stopovers that require special vaccinations (i.e. West Africa). We recommend visiting your physician at least one week before departure to check your overall health, and to verify that the following immunizations are up-to-date: tetanus, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Although not a requirement, the rabies vaccine is recommended for anyone who works with animals regularly.
What is the weather like?
Seasons in the Northern Hemisphere are opposite to those in the Southern Hemisphere. The warmest month is March and the coolest month is July. October is the wettest month and June is the driest. Winter days can still be warm (it is Africa!) but winter nights can get chilly.
Should I take a cell phone?
Students can register for a South African SIM card (Vodacom and MTN are best) and buy airtime for local and international calls- this card can be used in a smartphone or in a disposable phone that can be purchased on arrival. We recommend getting your SIM card at the Johannesburg or Cape Town international airport during your layover.
Our Program Coordinators use a group chat on the free app “Whatsapp” to communicate with students who have brought their cell phones.
Will I have access to the internet?
Wifi is available in both Volunteer Houses but can be spotty when there are a lot of people using it. There is no wifi access at our Community Outreach sites where Vet Experience volunteers stay 1-2 nights / week.