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.
Rates & Dates
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) – £900
2 rotations (25 nights) – £1,750
3 rotations (39 nights) – £2,500
4 rotations (53 nights) – £3,100
5 rotations (67 nights) – £3,695
6 rotations (81 nights) – £4,195
All prices are in GBP.
2023 project dates:
January 2nd – 13th
January 16th – 27th
January 30th – February 10th
February 13th – 24th
February 27th – March 10th
March 13th – 24th
March 27th – April 7th
April 10th – 21st
April 24th – May 5th
May 8th – 19th
May 22nd – June 2nd
June 5th – 16th
June 19th – 30th
July 3rd – 14th
July 17th – 28th
July 31st – August 11th
August 14th – 25th
August 28th – September 8th
September 11th – 22nd
September 25th – October 6th
October 9th – 20th
October 23rd – November 3rd
November 6th – 17th
November 20th – December 1st
December 4th – 15th
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)
View our booking terms and conditions. **March 2021 UPDATE: view our updated cancellation policy**
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.
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.