Elephant Conservation & Community Outreach
2 - 12 weeks
Up to 14 people
2 - 12 weeks NOW OPEN!
Up to 14 people
What's the project about?
On this elephant conservation programme you will work to preserve the desert elephant population in Namibia. This is done through anti-conflict measures, monitoring herds and working in communities. In their constant search for water, elephants cause major damage to water systems, leaving villages without vital access to water. The team, including volunteers, assist with building and repair projects in rural areas, and monitor the movements of elephants to identify potential conflict situations.
How will I be contributing?
This is a unique opportunity to volunteer in Namibia, monitor the rare desert-adapted elephant and work with communities to reduce and repair elephant damage. Spend a week working on community building projects, and a week tracking and monitoring herds of endangered desert elephants through Namibia’s most spectacular scenery. Construct and repair water points, identify and track elephants, and help with elephant education programmes. Volunteer involvement is critical to the long-term success of the project.
What makes this project ethical?
Each volunteer contributes plays an enormous role in the conservation of desert elephants in Namibia. Volunteers can immediately see the positive difference their contribution makes to the human-elephant conflict. This elephant conservation programme is real grass roots conservation work, taking a holistic approach by working directly with communities, to ensure that humans and elephants can live peacefully and successfully together.
This elephant conservation project is very hands-on, focused on conserving the desert-adapted elephant through anti-conflict measures, education programmes and rural infrastructure support and water measures.
The desert-adapted elephant is found in only two countries in the world, Namibia and Mali, making this project an incredible opportunity to play a key role in preserving populations for the future.
Volunteers will work in two week blocks. Each two week block is split into two parts: Building Week and Patrol Week.
Work within rural communities on water measures:
- Construct and repair protection walls around water points
- Dig new water points to divert elephants away from communities
- Build walls around homesteads, farms, crops, water tanks and water pumps
- Complete building and maintenance projects in schools: upgrade classrooms, repair elephant damage and build new facilities (toilets, boreholes etc)
- Live alongside rural communities in the stunning, remote Damaraland desert region
Support elephant education programmes:
- Help with school education programmes on elephant behaviour
- Work in schools teaching about elephant conservation, building a sense of pride in their unique elephant population
- Observe elephants on drives with community members
Head into the vast Damaraland desert region to track the resident herds in the area. The volunteer programme is the only organisation providing data to the Namibian government on elephants in the region.
- Record movement patterns, births, deaths and mating behaviour
- Plot GPS locations of individual elephants and herds
- Collate data to identify at risk farms
For those volunteers completing more than one two week rotation, the programme follows the same routine with a different focus on elephant patrol, ensuring that volunteers experience different elephants, scenery and a variety of areas within Damaraland.
How is the two-week rotation structured?
Sunday (day before your project starts)
On the Sunday evening volunteers will have a project briefing in Swakopmund where you can meet your team mates! You should arrive into Swakopmund on Sunday afternoon at the latest in order to attend the briefing.
Week 1: Monday (project start date)
Depart for base camp, a 4 hour drive north of Swakupmond. Settle into this stunning wilderness camp, before a full safety and project briefing about the work that you will be doing over the next two weeks.
Tuesday – Friday
Pack up and head into the desert to that week’s build site, approximately 1 hour from base camp. Meet local community members, and learn about the issues they have with elephants. Get stuck in to building and maintenance projects and see first-hand the impact of the work that you are doing.
Saturday – Sunday
Return to base camp and spend a relaxing weekend resting and enjoying the endless Namibian sunshine. Accompany staff on a provisioning trip to the local town of Uis, where you will be able to use the internet, visit the swimming pool and go for lunch! Or you can stay at camp and explore the beautiful surrounding area.
On Sunday evening there is a briefing specific to the following week’s elephant patrol – where you will be going, which elephants you need to track, plus a safety briefing on behaviour around elephants.
Week 2: Monday – Friday
Leave early on Monday morning for elephant patrol and spend the week tracking the local herds of elephant. Return to base camp on Thursday and leave for Swakupmond on Friday morning.
Volunteers who are joining the next rotation will be required to report back to the project’s lodge on Sunday night, for a briefing with the next group of volunteers. You will be going to different areas and doing different things for the next Building Week and Patrol Week, so attendance at the briefing is compulsory.
We suggest that volunteers arrange to stay with the group on Sunday night in Swakopmund. We will advise you which lodge the team are staying at upon booking – there will always be a choice of rooms to suit most budgets. We will arrange your booking for you, but you will pay your bill on arrival.
During Build Week, you will live in a mobile camp close to the communities where you will be working. Tents are provided along with bed rolls – which includes a mattress. You will need to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow (a travel pillow is a must!). During warmer weather, most volunteers choose to sleep under the stars, under a tarpaulin, which is one of the highlights of the trip.
This week, there is a long drop toilet, but as you will be out in the rural areas, the washing facilities are limited, so bring wet wipes and hand sanitiser. All cooking is done over a fire, and volunteers will work in pairs on kitchen duty – from the first cup of coffee of the day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. No need to worry about what to serve, as you will be provided with very easy recipes.
At base camp during your changeover weekend, volunteers are accommodated in a permanent campsite, with flushing toilets and showers with hot and cold water. There are two elephant drinking dams in the camp and the elephants often wander through, which is a truly magical experience. There is also a large tree house, where you can choose to sleep on an outdoor platform, another highlight of the project.
During Elephant Patrol Week, mobile camps are basic, as you will be camping wild depending on the elephants location. Camps will always be in the most stunning spot, where you can enjoy the night skies, snug in your sleeping bag.
When can I volunteer?
Project start dates are fixed, with regular start dates through the year. Volunteers should arrive into Swakopmund on the Sunday before the project start date (the day before), to ensure attendance at the Sunday evening briefing. Projects run from Mondays to the following Fridays.
1 rotation (11 nights) – £895
2 rotations (25 nights) – £1,650
3 rotations (39 nights) – £2,350
4 rotations (53 nights) – £2,895
5 rotations (67 nights) – £3,425
6 rotations (81 nights) – £3,895
All prices are in GBP.
2021 project dates:
29th March – 9th April
12th – 23rd April
26th April – 7th May
10th – 21st May
24th May – 4th June
7th – 18th June
21st June – 2nd July
5th – 16th July
19th – 30th July
2nd – 13th August
16th – 27th August
30th August – 10th September
13th – 24th September
27th September – 8th October
11th – 22nd October
25th October – 5th November
8th – 19th November
22nd November – 3rd December
6th – 17th December
What’s included in the cost?
- Project contribution: this goes directly to our project partner and provides funding to ensure the programme can continue to meet its goals. For this project it will cover things like staff costs, equipment purchases, maintenance of buildings, equipment and vehicles, purchase of materials for building projects etc
- Accommodation and three meals per day
- Comprehensive orientation and supervision
- Practical instruction on building techniques and wildlife identification
- Equipment and materials required to do your work
What’s not included?
- Flights or travel to Namibia
- Transfers from Walvis Bay Airport (these can be arranged for an additional N$280 each way)
- Transfers from Windhoek Airport to Swakopmund (these can be arranged for an additional N$580 each way)
- Visa fees (if applicable)
- Travel insurance (compulsory)
- Personal expenses such as souvenirs, drinks, snacks, activities in Swakopmund
- Pre and / or post programme accommodation
- Accommodation in Swakopmund during the break between rotations (if required)
- Additional excursions
- Local SIM card and data / airtime bundles (optional)
- Administration fee (£40)
Please ask for a copy of the project’s current Covid-19 operating policy8
Requirements for entry into Namibia (updated 11th March 2021):
– Negative PCR test (Covid-19) taken in the volunteer’s place of departure – no older than 72 hours on the day and time of arrival in Namibia
– Itinerary and details of accommodation booked in Namibia
– Completed health form from the Namibian Ministry of Health
There are no quarantine requirements upon arrival, however tourists are required to be available for Covid-19 swabbing on the 5th day after their arrival in Namibia, and must be reachable on the 7th day to receive the results of the swabbing.
If the test results reflect a negative result, tourists can continue with their planned itinerary. However, should the test reflect positive, the tourist will be taken to the isolation facilities identified by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and treated at their own cost.
Arrival into Namibia:
Walvis Bay airport is still not operational so volunteers should plan to arrive into Windhoek.
Volunteers will transfer directly from Windhoek HK Airport to Swakupmond. The transfers services adhere to the guidelines from the Namibian Tourist Board, keeping a space seat between passengers, having a supply of hand sanitiser and masks on board. The driver will advise volunteers to sanitise their hands on every entry and exit to the vehicle.
On arrival at your guesthouse:
Volunteers must complete a medical and travel declaration upon check-in and there will be temperature checks of all volunteers every morning. Sanitiser will be available throughout the accommodation and enhanced cleaning procedures have been put in place. Housekeeping will only clean rooms which are empty.
On the project:
There are two designated staff members who are responsible for implementing and monitoring the project’s Health & Safety Policy. It is compulsory to wear masks when interacting with communities and use hand sanitiser frequently. Close interactions with the local community will be limited. Volunteers will be issued with an eco bag upon arrival which will contain their own plate, cup, bowl and utensils to be used through the duration of their time on the project. This is much easier to manage given the camping nature of the programme.
The project area is very remote and there will be little to no interaction with the local community.
Health and safety protocols:
- Volunteers will have a seat between them when traveling in the minibus to the project area and when on patrol.
- Most volunteers choose to sleep outside without a tent, on a large tarpaulin sheet. Individual tents will be available for all volunteers should they prefer to sleep separate from others.
- All team members have received a two-day Covid-19 training by a professional company and there is a Covid-19 Champion within the volunteering team to ensure all precautions are in place.
- Temperatures will be taken each morning and prior to departing camp by a trained staff member
- Volunteers will be required to sanitise their hands regularly and must wear masks whenever in a closed environment.
- Volunteers are required to bring masks / buffs for the entire stay and adequate supplies of hand sanitiser.
- Game drive vehicles will be cleaned twice a day and be stocked with supplies of hand sanitiser and spare masks.
- Volunteers will choose a seat on the vehicle and keep to this for their entire stay.
What happens if a volunteer shows symptoms for Covid-19 and/or their local test result reflects positive?
Should a volunteer show symptoms, they will be isolated from the rest of the group and taken for testing at a local clinic. Thereafter, one staff member will remain with them and take them back to Base Camp, where they will remain in isolation until the test results come back.
Should the test come back negative and feel healthy, they will be allowed to reconnect with the rest of the group.
If the test result comes back positive, they will be taken to the isolation facilities identified by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and treated at their own cost. The rest of the volunteer group will also be re-tested and follow the same protocol.
Because the project area is extremely remote, isolation will be easy to manage and the risk of community transmission is very slim.
How close is the project area to the nearest health / coronavirus testing facility?
The closest testing facility to Base Camp is in Anixab, 15km away.
What about the required testing on the 5th day? If the volunteer is busy on the project then, how can they get tested?
The project will take the volunteers for the 5th day testing and coordinate with the Ministry. In some cases, a health official may come to the project site to do the testing there. The team will coordinate all efforts and also stay in contact with the Ministry to receive the results
The elephant conservation programme was established to ensure that elephants and humans could successfully live side by side. The goals of the programme are three-fold:
- To support local communities in infrastructure repairs and building projects
This includes constructing new walls around water points, allowing elephants access to water without breaking pipes or damaging pumps; constructing walls around crops and homesteads, upgrading classrooms and building new facilities as required.
- To monitor and report on the Damaraland elephant population
In order to understand the movements and territories of these elephants, plan which farms and smallholdings may be at risk and identify potential conflict situations, volunteers spend one full week every fortnight out in the bush on elephant patrol, to track herds, identify and locate individual elephants and build up a picture for accurate elephant management. These reports also assist in identifying farms and homesteads which are potentially at risk from future elephant conflict.
- To provide ongoing education to communities
In order for future generations to live side-by-side with the growing elephant population, the project implemented an elephant education programme in schools and communities, giving people the knowledge to live safely alongside elephants, to reduce their fear and create a pride in their wildlife heritage.
Volunteers are instrumental to the project achieving their goals.
The project was founded in 2003 and is run by a Namibian-registered not-for-profit organisation. The aim of the organisation is to conserve the desert elephant population in Southern Damaraland, Namibia, through anti-conflict measures. During the 1970’s, poaching in the region soared and the elephant population was almost totally wiped out. Through ongoing conservation efforts, a small population of elephants returned to the area in the mid 1990’s which, although fantastic for conservation, created many problems for the subsistence communities and farmers in the region.
In their almost constant search for water, elephants can cause damage to many community water points, leaving the local Damara and Herero people without access to fresh water for drinking and agriculture. During the 20 year absence of elephants, local knowledge on their behaviour had been lost, and communities were fearful of and unfamiliar with living in such close proximity with their large neighbours. It was motioned that all the elephants in the region should be removed, which is where the project stepped in.
Over the last 10 years and with the help of over 1,000 volunteers, 150 protection walls have been constructed in Damaraland, and new drinking points built to divert elephants away from community areas. In addition, the project has implemented an elephant training programme in rural schools and communities, to give people the knowledge to enable them to live peacefully alongside the local elephants.
Elephant numbers have continued to increase, and today there are over 600 elephants regularly moving around the area.
For the latest travel updates, please visit our Namibia destination page.
Who should volunteer on this project?
No wildlife experience is necessary, but a passion for the outdoors, an adventurous spirit and a willingness to work hard and part of team, are absolutely required. You should be able to communicate reasonably well in spoken English.
How fit do I need to be?
A moderate level of fitness and all-round good mobility will make your time more comfortable on Building Week.
How old do I need to be?
The minimum volunteering age for solo travellers is 18 years. There is no upper age limit, but for volunteers aged over 65, we do require your medical form to be signed by a doctor. The project run a separate programme for family volunteers – please visit our Elephant Conservation – Family Programme page for further details.
How many people will there be?
There is a maximum of 14 volunteers at one time, plus staff and volunteer co-ordinator.
When can I join?
The meeting point is in Swakopmund on Sunday evening at 1830. We will advise of the meeting point location once you have made your booking.
When is the best time to come?
During the Namibian summer (October – January) temperatures average 30°C and often reach over 40°C. Summer is the rainy season where short sharp downpours can occur, usually in the afternoons. Average lows are around 17-20°c. Summer is an amazing time of year where you can watch thunderstorms approach from miles away and witness incredible electric storms and light shows!
During winter (April – August) daytime temperatures average 25-27°c with no rainfall at all. Temperatures during the night and in the mornings and evenings regularly go below freezing, so lots of layers are needed!
How long can I volunteer for?
Projects run in multiples of two weeks, up to a maximum stay of 12 weeks.
Do I get some time off?
Saturday and Sunday is leisure time, where you can relax at base camp or join a provisioning trip to the town of Uis, where you can have a meal or visit an internet cafe.
How much spending money should I bring?
We recommend bringing around R1,000 in local currency per rotation to cover personal expenses such as drinks, souvenirs, snacks, tips and internet usage.
Do I need a visa?
Most nationalities including British, Australian, Canadian, American and most EU citizens can get a tourist visa upon arrival into Namibia, valid for stays of up to 90 days. However, it is your responsibility to check your visa eligibility prior to arrival. All nationals must carry proof of onward travel and proof of accommodation. It is important you state you are a tourist on your immigration form.
What animals will I encounter?
Aside from elephants, you can expect to encounter giraffe, oryx (gemsbok), ostrich, kudu, zebra, springbok and, if you are lucky, the elusive desert-adapted rhino – a rare and privileged siting. Namibia is home to Etosha National Park, one of the finest parks in Southern Africa, home to huge numbers of iconic wildlife. We highly recommend you make some time either before or after your project to visit the park. Visit our Etosha tours page for more details.
What vaccinations do I need?
Please consult your GP or travel clinic for detailed medical advice. Malaria – the project is regarded as malaria-free, but please consult your GP for guidance. All volunteers should make sure their Tetanus, Polio and Hepatitis A and B are up to date.
Please visit this UK government website for more details.
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