Volunteer with elephants in South Africa
Work closely with rescued elephants, the animal that they say will “never forget”. Become part of a remarkable volunteer journey to research, rehabilitate and conserve these gentle giants, helping them to lead the life that they deserve.
The number of elephants in South Africa is dwindling. The combined threat from poaching and habitat loss means that, in parts of the country where elephants used to thrive, they are now all but extinct. Oyster is working closely with a team of committed researchers and conservationists whose aim is to reintroduce elephants to one such area, contributing to the reversal of this tragic trend.
As a volunteer, you will join the experts to care for 10 resident rescued elephants. These elephants come from difficult backgrounds, such as circuses and hunting farms, but happily they are now able to roam in freedom and safety in the 110 hectare site.
Your most important volunteer task at the park is elephant research and monitoring. Volunteers help to gain an understanding of the elephants’ behaviour and well-being, which is then used to ensure their best possible care. This is the first elephant research centre in the world that is dedicated to optimising the welfare of captive elephants, and the lessons learned here are expected to be spread around Africa.
What will I be doing?
Working with elephants first-hand, you will be examining their behaviour, interactions and relationship with humans. The elephants graze as they please in this controlled free-range park, under the careful eye of experienced guides and volunteers, and the data is collected at intervals throughout the day. In this time you can form a very real bond with these magnificent creatures. The elephants are never asked to perform tricks or behave in a manner that is not natural to them.
As a volunteer at the park, you help out in a whole host of conservation jobs, which may include but are not limited to:
- Preparing food for the ellies – they eat 5% of their body weight each day, so there is a lot of munching going on!
- Bringing the ellies their morning breakfast of branches and greenery
- Creating and implementing enrichments to encourage wild behaviour
- Helping with educational work
- Monitoring elephant behaviour and interaction as they roam
- Helping to make dung paper for fundraising initiatives
- Growing nutritious elephant food
- Inputting the research collected into a large database
- Dung collection and analysis (useful to check the health of the ellies)
- Conducting night time research, gaining an insight into what goes on when the lights go out!
- Wildlife conservation projects- helping to maintain the park and improve the elephants’ home
Other highlights include spending real quality time with the ellies on sunrise walks through the fields and helping with their night time enrichment. People staying 4 weeks or more are rewarded with a night in the elephant lodge, right next to where the elephants sleep themselves!
The great thing about this project is that you get close to the elephants in a way that you would never be able to experience on safari. You get to know them and, incredibly, find that they also get to know and trust you as well. It is perfect for anyone who has a passion for elephants.
Accommodation and Food
Your accommodation is right at the heart of the park, sharing with other volunteers and staff. There is a large terrace that overlooks the park, as well as a comfortable living and dining area. There are laundry facilities and wifi is available.
Each bedroom accommodates 2 – 3 volunteers and has an en-suite toilet and shower room. Lockers are provided for the safekeeping of belongings.
Food is not included but there is a well-equipped kitchen for you and other volunteers to cook in. You can get most western foodstuffs in the supermarkets here. The nearest supermarket is 8 km away and there are weekly shopping trips to town so that everyone can re-stock on supplies.
When should I book?
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
- Work alongside a team of conservationists as you conduct important research and monitoring to help protect Africa’s magnificent elephants.
- Interact closely with the elephants, and gain an understanding of their extraordinary intelligence, as you get to know them and start to win their trust.
- Accompany the elephants on sunrise walks and watch them roam freely as the sun rises above the mountains.
- If you stay for a month or more, spend your final night ‘sleeping with the elephants’ in a five star lodge.
- Get to know the elephant guides and their families as they welcome you into life in South Africa.
- Fantastic opportunities for your free time – visit the famous beaches, go surfing, whale watching, and enjoy great beer and food.
Whyshould I do this?
Across Africa, with the reduction of wild habitats, elephants are increasingly being looked after in private reserves. The research that is conducted on this project aims to create a standard to ensure that all elephants in care are being correctly handled and treated. Through close interaction with the ellies and their careful monitoring, they are establishing how best to look after these gentle giants.
Not only will you get to know the elephants personally, but you will also be contributing to the welfare of elephants across the African continent. This is a fantastic opportunity to work with animals and learn about the complexities of conservation work.
Finally, spending some of your gap year in Africa is a fantastic way of learning more about this incredibly diverse continent.
Fly in to George (GRJ), a quick connection away from Johnnanesburg (JNB) or Cape Town (CPT). From George you will be met from your flight and driven along the stunning Garden Route to reach the elephant park. The journey takes about 1 hour.
Our team of volunteer coordinators on the ground at the park will pick you up from the airport, help you settle in and get you trained up on the project. They are your main support network whilst you are in South Africa and can offer a great insight into the ellies – as well as some good tips on things to do in your spare time.
What is provided
- Before booking: Dedicated period of time on the phone or in person to discuss the project, answer any questions that you might have and find out more about you
- Access to your personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the programme and manage your booking.
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and project advice
- Advice on visa requirements
- Help and advice from our UK office before departure and whilst away
- Pre-arranged voluntary work at the park with accommodation.
- A warm meet and greet at George airport and transfer to accommodation
- Accommodation with ensuite facilities, kitchen/lounge and internet access
- Project training
- Return transport to the airport
- Weekly shopping trips to top up on supplies
- Last night of your stay in a luxury lodge overlooking the elephants for those who stay 4 weeks or more
- Oyster will prepare you thoroughly before you leave and support you while you are out there
- ATOL financial protection (if Oyster books your flight)
- Transport to town on a weekly basis to buy food (approx £30 per week)
- Oyster Worldwide volunteer t-shirt
- Oyster luggage tag
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
What do I need
- A passport valid for a minimum of 30 days after your return
- Insurance – we can introduce you to a policy
- Flights to George (GRJ). We can help organise these for you
- Pocket money – food, eating out etc – recommend £300 per month
- Warm outdoor clothing for the evenings
- Funds for any independent travel
- A passion for elephants and the outdoors!