Volunteer Testimonials   |  African Penguin Project Photos  |   Download African Penguin Volunteer Guide

As a hands-on volunteer at SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) you will find out what it means to be a member of the team at one of the world’s leading seabird rehabilitation centers.

SANCCOB have treated more than 95,000 oiled, ill, injured and abandoned African penguins and other threatened seabirds since being established in 1968. Independent research confirms that the wild African Penguin population is 19% higher directly due to SANCCOB’s efforts.

SANCCOB is an internationally recognized leader in oiled wildlife response, rehabilitation and chick-rearing; contributes to research which benefits seabirds; trains people to care for the birds and educates the public to appreciate this unique heritage. As a non-profit organization, they rely heavily on assistance from dedicated local and international volunteers like you.

During your placement you will receive training and supervision to get you up to speed in the first couple of weeks. You will learn about the various aspects of seabird conservation & care and can expect to be actively involved in catching, holding and feeding African penguins and a variety of other seabirds by the end of your first week.

African penguins have a lot of character and they will bite given the opportunity. The training you will receive combined with the protective equipment provided by SANCCOB will enable you to handle all the birds safely.

You will be involved with other duties at the centre including preparing fish, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene standards in the pools and pens, pressure spraying mats and many more. For a comprehensive list of activities that you are likely to be involved in please see the ‘Working Routine’ section on this web page.

To join this project you will need to be in good physical condition and aged 18 years or older by the time you arrive in Cape Town. Spending much of your time in the fresh air on a variety of physical tasks will leave you feeling tired at the end of most days, so personal characteristics like commitment, flexibility and the ability to use your initiative will be key. To ensure effective communication between all team members, a good understanding of the English language is also required.

One of the most rewarding moments for any volunteer is to see the birds they have nursed back to health return to the ocean. During your time with SANCCOB, you will have opportunities to join one or more penguin releases, either from a boat off the Cape Town coast, or from one of the local beaches. This is a great time to bring your camera for plenty of smiles and some unforgettable images of the birds as they waddle or dive back into the sea.

Main activitiesRehabilitation of African Penguins and other marine bird species. You will be actively involved with preparing food, handling & feeding the birds, maintaining cleanliness of pens, sterilising syringes and many other duties at the centre.
LocationTable View, a suburb of Cape Town in South Africa.
Arrival dayYou can arrive in Cape Town on Monday, or earlier. Your first day with the penguins will be on Tuesday.
Meeting pointOne of our team will meet you when you land at Cape Town Airport.
DurationYou can volunteer with the African Penguins for 6, 7 or 8 weeks.
Working hoursVariable hours. Approximately 8:00am - 5:30pm, 5 days per week
Age limitYou must be aged 18 years or older when you arrive.
Volunteer FeeVolunteer fees for each duration are shown on the top-right of this page with the option to select from several currencies.
Pre-arrival SupportOur experienced Cape Town based team are on hand with expert advice and assistance to ensure you are fully prepared for your trip to South Africa.
Airport transfersWe provide escorted transfers between Cape Town Airport and your accommodation in Table View.
AccommodationYou will stay in comfortable backpacker accommodation close to the project.
OrientationYou will receive a comprehensive welcome brief and introduction to the local area when you arrive. On your first day with the project you will receive a full orientation with ongoing supervision and training.
In-country supportBeing based in South Africa means that we can give you real support during your stay.
CertificateOn completion of your placement we will send you a special thank you to accompany your CV or resume.
VisasCitizens from most countries can arrive in South Africa and stay for up to 90 days without a Visa. Refer to our FAQ section for more details if you are unsure.
FlightsPlease ask us if you need any recommendations for keeping your flight costs to a minimum.
InsuranceWe have partnered with World Nomads Insurance to give you access to great value insurance for volunteers. Check out our Insurance page under the FAQ tab for more details.
FoodAll meals are self-catering

Volunteer Testimonials   |  African Penguin Project Photos  |   Download African Penguin Volunteer Guide

Your first day at SANCCOB will be on the first Tuesday after you arrive in Cape Town. One of the Via Volunteers team will escort you to SANCCOB and will introduce you to the on-site volunteer coordinator, who will organize your orientation, provide you with a tour of the facilities to help you settle in, and then get you started with your training.

It is important that training in all aspects of seabird care is completed as quickly as possible. Training opportunities are affected by the type and number of bird species at the centre, so the time it takes from joining SANCCOB to handling the birds can vary from volunteer to volunteer. The learning curve in your first week is steep as you become accustomed to daily routines, preparing food, learning about seabird care and helping with general duties. Don’t expect to be handling birds on your first day, but certainly by the end of your first two weeks. At this stage you should find that you have become a real asset to SANCCOB, and will be able to carry out any task asked of you.

You will be provided with a schedule so that you can see in advance when you will be helping out. You can expect to be busy for an average of 5 days each week, including some Saturdays and Sundays. Louise will let you know if there are any changes to your schedule, which is likely at some point during your stay as the schedule has to revolve around the needs of the birds.

You will normally begin your day at around 7:30am when you depart from your accommodation for a 5-10 minute walk to SANCCOB. When you arrive at SANCCOB you will have some time to get into your boots and oilskins in time for the team briefing at 8:00am. Please note that your oilskins, boots and gloves are provided by SANCCOB.

Your working day at SANCCOB is normally from 8:00am to 5:30pm. Working hours can vary at short notice, so you will need to be flexible and be prepared to work through to 6:30pm during particularly busy periods or in response to a late intake of birds. Your day includes a 1 hour lunch break and shorter breaks for tea or coffee in the morning and afternoon.

Please note that there are peaks and lows with seabird admissions during the year, but unfortunately there is no way to predict when these will occur.

You can expect to be involved with the following seabird care duties for approximately 50% of your time:

  • Handling and Bird care - (mostly different types of gulls, cormorants, terns, African penguins, Cape gannets as well as the odd pelican, albatross, skua or petrel)
  • Catching and handling different seabirds
  • Defrosting and preparing fish for a variety of seabird species
  • Administering medication such as ointments or tablets to a variety of species
  • Hydrating (tubing) different seabird species
  • Feeding (force feeding or free feeding) different seabird species
  • Holding birds for basic medical procedures
  • Assisting with bird release preparation
  • Assisting in the Intensive Care Unit
  • Assisting in new seabird admissions
  • Holding birds for washing and rinsing
  • Participating in a bird release (weather and bird depending).

For the remainder of your time, you may be involved in any or all of the following general duties:

  • Scrubbing and cleaning of bird enclosures, mats, crates and pools
  • Washing and drying of towels and sheets
  • Cleaning of all food preparation and feeding equipment used
  • Kitchen duty
  • Centre maintenance duties occasionally (including painting, weeding, enclosure construction)
  • Assisting in the Education department from time to time.

Volunteer Testimonials   |  African Penguin Project Photos  |   Download African Penguin Volunteer Guide

Self-Catering Backpacker

Elements Lodge is just a short walk from SANCCOB and provides the perfect base for exploring Cape Town. Close by you will find the excellent MyCiti bus route which provides safe reliable transport to Cape Town center and the V&A Waterfront for around R10 per trip. In the local area you will find a well-equipped shopping mall, a cinema, restaurants, bars and beaches with postcard views of Table Mountain.

You will share your Elements home with other Penguin volunteers. Elements is cleaned daily and includes the following facilities:

  • Dormitory accommodation with a maximum of 4 volunteers in each room
  • A shared kitchen with tea, coffee and sugar provided
  • All bedding including linen, duvet and pillows (linen is changed weekly)
  • Shared shower room
  • Towels
  • Laundry service – 1 free bag per week including powder, wash, dry & fold
  • Wi-fi is available for a once-off fee of R100
  • A guest phone
  • A travel desk for booking tours and activities
  • A large garden with a pool, BBQ and relaxation areas.

If you are travelling as a couple or as friends that want some extra privacy, please ask us about booking an apartment or double en-suite at Elements.

View photos of the Elements Lodge in Table View

If you are interested in upgrading to the Homestay option with all your meals included, have a look at our African Penguin and Seabird Rehabilitation - Homestay page.

Volunteer Testimonials   |  African Penguin Project Photos  |   Download African Penguin Volunteer Guide

SANCCOB is located in Table View, one of Cape Town’s large suburbs. The center sits on the banks of a lake with great views of Table Mountain and Cape Town to the south. The lake is home to a wide variety of birds including Pelicans, Cormorants and a colony of Pink Flamingos. Close by you will find Blouberg Beach where you can use your camera to capture classic postcard views of Table Mountain and the bay while you enjoy the fresh sea air coming off the Atlantic Ocean.

We have arrival dates for this project every Monday throughout the year.

  • You should aim to arrive in Cape Town on or before your chosen Monday arrival date
  • You can arrive at any time of day and one of our team will be there to welcome you with a big ‘Via Volunteers’ sign when you land at Cape Town International Airport
  • We will then escort you to your accommodation near SANCCOB
  • You will join SANCCOB on Tuesday morning.

It’s easy to add extra nights to your stay, so if you find a cheaper flight that arrives earlier than your Monday arrival date just let us know. You can also add extra nights after your placement for the same reason.

If you want to add another project, a Scuba Diving Course, a Surfing Week, or even a longer tour, we can help you with that too. Please ask one of our friendly team at any time before you arrive in Cape Town.

Durations & Pricing

Change your currency
6 weeks - £ 660
7 weeks - £ 780
8 weeks - £ 900
You do not pay anything when you book. We will provide you with a detailed itinerary and quote for you to check. When you are happy with the details, you will be able to confirm your placement with a deposit of £90.

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