Top 5 Opportunities to Volunteer with Elephants

volunteer with elephants

Have you ever wanted to make a difference while travelling, for elephants and other wildlife? We’ve picked out our top five projects where you can contribute toward the conservation of elephants as a wildlife volunteer.

1. Conserving Desert Elephants in Namibia

volunteer with elephants

In the Namib Desert in Namibia, live the desert-adapted elephants of Damaraland. These elephants have become so uniquely adapted to the desert, that some scientists regard them as a subspecies of the African Bush Elephant. These desert elephants need to coexist with local village communities, which often poses challenges for both elephants and people. In this water-scarce environment, elephants and mankind find themselves competing for this vital resource, often leading to conflict.

There are only 62 desert-adapted elephants in the area where our team operates, following a drop of 32% in the population since 2016. We are also researching possible causes for the deaths of nine of 14 new-born calves between 2014 and 2018. One of the biggest solutions contributing to the resolution of this conflict is the work done by our NGO partners on the ground. Volunteers have been joining this program since 2003 to assist with the building of peaceful relationships through various projects between elephants and people, while gaining hands-on conservation experience. Join us to volunteer with elephants in this remote wilderness area and make a difference. More info.

2. Conserving Asian Elephants in Sri Lanka

volunteer with elephants

Sri Lanka is home to under 4 000 wild elephants, sharing this island country the size of only 65 610 km² with about 22 million people, resulting in competition between the elephants and people for land. On the island, there used to be over 20 000 elephants, reduced due to increasing pressure on their traditional habitat by humans. Since 2002, volunteers have been joining this community-based conservation programme to assist with various projects aimed at alleviating the pressure on both humans and elephants. These projects are focussed on working with the rural communities who bear the full brunt of living with wildlife and nature on their doorsteps.

This is frontline conservation aimed at reducing the number of incidents due to human-elephant conflict, such as both elephants and people being killed, crops being raided by elephants, damage to infrastructure by elephants and accidents with elephants by vehicles and trains. Volunteer with elephants in the Wasgamuwa National Park as our NGO ground partners guide you through a programme addressing the above challenges and monitoring wild elephants for research. More info.

*We also offer a Sri Lanka online eVolunteering programme.

3. Conserving African Elephants in Zimbabwe

volunteer with elephants

In contrast to South Africa, fences around conservation areas are not common in Zimbabwe. An exception is the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, home to one of our wildlife conservation projects. The reserve is designated as an IPZ (Intensive Protection Zone) for critically endangered rhinos, and at one time was home to the last population of Black Rhino in the Victoria Falls region. While this highly-patrolled fence is an important barrier to poachers, it causes various challenges. One of these challenges is that the elephant population needs to be intensively monitored and managed. In 2016, we relocated ten elephant bulls from the reserve to a national park to alleviate pressure on the environment and the breeding herds by these bulls. As part of the conservation programme, elephants are monitored regularly, along with other wildlife in the reserve. Together with local NGO partners, our project staff and volunteers also gain awareness about the specific human-elephant conflict in the communities surrounding the reserve and workshop ways to achieve peaceful coexistence for elephants and the people. You can volunteer with elephants and other wildlife to gain hands-on conservation experience with us in Victoria Falls. More info.

4. Conserving African Elephants in South Africa

volunteer with elephants

Worldwide Experience offers two wildlife volunteering opportunities in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. This is one of the most biogeographically complex locations on Earth, with eight biomes, 6,500 species of plants (over 200 of which are found nowhere else on the planet), 421 species of birds, and 48 species of large mammals, with twice the number of ungulates in all of North America. The Eastern Cape Albany Thicket region was once the stronghold of the African Bush Elephant population, but sadly this population was reduced to only 11 individuals in 1931. These great herds of elephant and other wildlife were almost decimated by colonist hunters over the 1700s and 1800s. In the late 1800s, farmers began to colonise the area around the park, also taking their toll on the elephant population due to competition for water and crops. The park has proved to be a great success and is currently home to more than 600 elephants and many other mammals. The blossoming of private game reserves in the area since the early 1990s has also contributed significantly to elephant conservation and habitat restoration. Volunteers can join our wildlife conservation programme near Addo at Shamwari Game Reserve, founded by our chairman Adrian Gardiner in 1992. Elephants were reintroduced into Shamwari in 1993, and with the final ‘Big Five’ species, the lion being introduced in 2000. Even though the elephants have 25 000 hectares to roam, their population requires intensive management, especially from habitat and genetic perspectives. Wildlife volunteers gain experience with the conservation of elephants, other wildlife and the environment, through a holistic approach. If you can volunteer with elephants and the rest of the ‘Big Five’ with us at Shamwari. More info.

5. Conserving Coastal African Elephants

volunteer with elephants

There is certainly something magical about viewing a wild elephant with the Indian Ocean as the backdrop. Also in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Worldwide Experience offers a unique opportunity to help conserve elephants in one of their original coastal habitats at Kariega Game Reserve. This ‘Big Five’ game reserve is nestled between two rivers which empty into the Indian Ocean just 10km south of its boundary. Historical evidence indicates that elephants once roamed the coastal areas of South Africa in great numbers, even venturing onto the beaches. While it is unlikely that elephants will roam the beaches freely again, this reserve forms a key part in the overall conservation of African Bush Elephants and their habitat. This has a positive ripple effect for all other wildlife in the reserve, as elephants go about their days performing important functions in the ecosystem. Our wildlife volunteers assist with elephant monitoring, among many other conservation activities. Part of elephant monitoring at any of our projects includes the ongoing compilation of identification kits which allow us to identify specific individuals by their features (e.g. tears or holes in the ear flaps, whether they are left- or right-tusked, tail hair tufts, etc.). This is essential for recording group dynamics, and it is important to understand this as elephants have a complex social structure.If you want to volunteer with elephants near the South African coastline, you’ll not only be making a difference for elephants, but for other wildlife like rhinos and lions too.  More info.

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