Whether you’re learning to track elephants across the wilderness, giving an orphaned rhino calf her afternoon feed, or racing into the bush to help a wounded giraffe – as a conservation volunteer in Zambia you’ll get hands-on in the fight to save Africa's enchanting wildlife.
Help animals in Zambia
Live and work on projects, where you’ll get to know Africa’s animals, local professionals and your fellow volunteers. Volunteer in a real conservation project where your time and energy make a meaningful impact.
Encounter animals in Zambia
If you’re up for unique and safely-distanced encounters with animals, Zambia’s national parks are where you’ll find diverse wildlife. Without doubt, Zambia is one of the finest safari destinations in Africa.
This is probably the continent's most dangerous animal to hikers, but there is a difference between the old males, often encountered on their own or in small groups, and large breeding herds. The former are easily surprised, if they hear or smell something amiss, they will charge without provocation – motivated by a fear that something is sneaking up on them. Buffalo have an excellent sense of smell, but fortunately they are short-sighted. Avoid a charge by quickly climbing the nearest tree, or by side-stepping at the last minute. If adopting the latter, more risky, technique then stand motionless until the last possible moment, as the buffalo may well miss you anyhow.
The large breeding herds can be treated in a totally different manner, if you approach them in the open, they will often flee. Sometimes though, in areas often used for walking safaris, they will stand and watch, moving aside to allow you to pass through the middle of the herd. Neither encounter is for the faint-hearted or inexperienced, so steer clear of these dangerous animals wherever possible.
Unfortunately there are few black rhino left in Zambia. However, if you are both so exceptionally lucky as to find one, and then unlucky enough to be charged by it, use the same tactics as you would for a buffalo: tree climbing or dodging at the last second (It is amazing how even the least athletic walker will swiftly scale the nearest tree when faced with a charging rhino).
Usually elephants are a problem only if you disturb a mother with a calf, or approach a male in musth (state of arousal), its important to keep away from these, for your safety. However, Lone bulls can usually be approached quite closely when feeding. If you get too close to any elephant it will scare you off with a 'mock charge': head up, perhaps shaking – ears flapping – trumpeting, this will certainly frighten you. But it is just a warning and no cause for panic, just make sure to freeze to assess the elephant's intentions, then back off slowly.
When elephants really mean business, they will put their ears back, their head down, and charge directly at you without stopping, this is known as a 'full charge'. There is no easy way to avoid the charge of an angry elephant, so take a hint from the warning and back off very slowly as soon as you encounter a mock charge, make sure to not run! If you are the object of a full charge, then you have no choice but to run – preferably round an anthill, up a tall tree, or wherever.
Tracking lion can be one of the most exhilarating parts of a walking safari. Sadly, they will normally flee before you even get close to them. However, it can be a problem if you come across a large pride unexpectedly. Lion are well camouflaged; it is easy to find yourself next to one before you realise it. If you had been listening, you would probably have heard a warning growl about twenty metres ago, unfortunately, now it is too late.
The best plan is to stop, and back off slowly, but confidently and if you are in a small group its vital to stick together, ensure you never run from a big cat. Truth is, firstly, they are always faster than you are, secondly, running will just convince them that you are a frightened prey, and worth chasing. As a last resort, if they seem too inquisitive and follow as you back off, then stop and call their bluff, pretend that you are not afraid and make loud, deep, confident noises: shout at them, bang something, but whatever happens, do not run.
Leopard are very seldom seen, and would normally flee from the most timid of lone hikers. However, if injured, or surprised, then they are very powerful, dangerous cats. Conventional wisdom is scarce, but never stare straight into the leopard's eyes, or it will regard this as a threat display (The same is said, by some, to be true with lions). Better to look away slightly, at a nearby bush, or even at its tail. Then back off slowly, facing the direction of the cat and showing as little terror as you can. As with lion – loud, deep, confident noises are a last line of defence, and whatever happens, never run from a leopard.
Hippo are known to account for more deaths in Africa than any other animal (ignoring the mosquito). Visitors are most likely to encounter hippo in the water, when paddling a canoe or fishing. However, as they spend half their time grazing on land, they will sometimes be encountered out of the water. Away from the water, out of their comforting lagoons, hippos are even more dangerous. If they see you, they will flee towards the water – so the golden rule is never to get between a hippo and its escape route to deep water. Given that a hippo will outrun you on land, standing motionless is probably your best line of defence.
These are really not the great danger that people imagine, most flee when they feel the vibrations of footsteps; only a few will stay still. The puff adder is responsible for more cases of snakebite than any other venomous snake in Zambia because, when approached, it will simply puff itself up and hiss as a warning, rather than slither away. This makes it essential to always watch where you place your feet when walking in the bush.
Similarly, there are a couple of arboreal (tree dwelling) species which may be taken by surprise if you carelessly grab vegetation as you walk, so don't. Spitting cobras are also encountered occasionally, which will aim for your eyes and spit with accuracy. If one of these rears up in front of you, then turn away and avert your eyes. If the spittle reaches your eyes, you must wash them out immediately and thoroughly with whatever liquid comes to hand: water, milk, even urine if that's the only liquid that you can quickly produce.