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Elephant Care and Research - South Africa

  • Work hands on with elephants
  • Provide care and join an active research team
  • Live in a beautiful 110 hectare park located on the Garden Route
  • Ideally located for free time activities and onwards travel to explore South Africa
Location Western Cape
Start dates First and third Monday of every month
Duration 2 - 12 weeks
Availability Spaces available, limited availability until April 2015
Cost From £725 / $1155 - see pricing table below

How will I make a difference?

Volunteers help the park staff to feed and care for nine elephants which is no small task! Volunteers are an incredibly important part of the park and its research unit. They enable the park to include more individual elephants in their studies and to study these animals for longer periods of time, which allows for greater insight and understanding of this fascinating species.

Having volunteers to assist with the research has allowed the park to include additional projects into their schedule. The knowledge gained from this research adds to the advice they are able to provide for the optimal care and management of captive elephants. This is crucial for the wellbeing of captive elephants around the world as there is a significant lack of research carried out in this field.

There is also a personal satisfaction gained when the elephants start to recognise you and trust you; you will become part of the herd! Volunteers act as ambassadors for the park and its elephants by helping to spread the word about elephants and their research, welfare and conservation issues.

Read what past volunteers have said about this project in our South Africa Elephant Care and Research reviews.

Elephant volunteering in South Africa: What will I be doing?

Volunteers normally work 5 days a week with two days off (Saturday and Sunday), however you may be asked to work over weekends or evenings should the need arise. Generally volunteers start at 6.30am and finish at 5.30pm.

Volunteer jobs are varied but include the following elephant care tasks:

  • Preparing food for the elephants
  • Preparing milk bottles and feeding baby elephants (this will depend on whether there are any babies at the time)
  • General maintenance eg mucking out pens, general cleaning, painting
  • Environmental education including visits to the children's shelter to run eco-educational activities
  • Making elephant enrichments
  • Gardening; growing food for the elephants
  • Dung recycling projects (this helps to raise funds for the research unit)

Volunteers' main activities will be assisting with research, this depends on the research being conducted at the time but could include monitoring behaviour, recording social interactions, night time observations, botanical surveys, studying feeding behaviour, dung, urine and other sampling for analysis, data input and analysis and the compilation of educational presentations.

This creates an awe-inspiring experience as you will be contributing to all aspects of elephant research, education, husbandry and conservation. As you are based in a large park, volunteers are able to get involved in all aspects including research, marketing, functions, maintenance, training, and guiding.

There are usually 7-12 volunteers at the project at any one time, with a maximum of 15.

More about the project

The park began in 1994 when the owner discovered that the population of elephants in the area had plummeted from 400-500 to just 1 elephant cow in 118 years. The aim was to bring elephants back to the area. The park was the first captive elephant operation of its kind in South Africa. The purpose of the park is to provide a home to elephants in need, providing them with an improved environment, which they certainly get; the elephants are free to spend their days roaming within the 110 hectare park!

The park is well respected for its research efforts; it highlighted the serious lack of research done on captive elephants in South Africa, particularly with respect to their welfare and husbandry, within their own unique environments. Consequently, in 2009 the park established the first captive elephant research unit dedicated to captive elephants. The unit aims to conduct and facilitate research studies of elephants at the park and at other parks across South Africa and promotes ethical, non-harmful research of elephants. This research aims to guide management of captive elephants. Information that is also relevant to wild elephants will be used to improve their protection and conservation. The park aims to achieve conservation through education.

Location and free time

You’ll be living in the park which is located near Plettenberg Bay which is on the famous Garden Route (a popular tourist route due to its great beaches and numerous attractions).

During your free time you are encouraged to explore the local area. You may wish to explore the variety of tourist attractions that the Garden Route offers, these include bird sanctuaries, game and nature reserves, Monkeyland, whale watching, bungee jumping, surfing, sky diving and many more. There are discounts available to volunteers for many of these activities.

Volunteer accommodation

The volunteer house is located in the park and contains comfortable dorm style bedrooms. On a quiet night, you will probably be able to hear the elephants snoring from your bed! The rooms may be shared with two or three other volunteers depending on the number of volunteers present at the time. Each bedroom has an en suite bathroom with a toilet and shower. Volunteers have WIFI internet access at the volunteer accommodation. There is a fully equipped kitchen in the house for volunteers to prepare food.

What's included

Before you go On your placement
  • Carefully selected and vetted volunteer project
  • Support from our friendly and highly experienced PoD UK team
  • Single point of contact - Erin is your dedicated placement manager
  • In-depth information booklet on your volunteering placement
  • Travel information - visa, health and safety advice
  • Specialist travel insurance at exclusive rates
  • Recommended travel agency for flights and tours
  • Access to special deals and resources
  • Fundraising guide and support
  • Financial protection for monies paid to PoD
  • Animal research volunteering placement
  • Airport pick up (George) and return transfers
  • Accommodation - a shared room
  • Induction and training
  • T-shirt
  • Support from local team
  • Support from PoD UK office
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Specialist crisis management insurance
On your return
  • Contact from your placement manager
  • Feedback scheme
  • Volunteering certificate (on request)
  • References (on request)
  • Member of the PoD community
Not included: Flights, travel insurance, visa (if required), food. Budgeting guidance is provided in our information booklet which we will email you when you apply.

How volunteer fees are set

PoD is run as a non-profit volunteer organisation. Fee levels are set to match costs and any surplus monies are distributed to the projects we work with via the PoD Charity - for more details click here.


For placements starting before 31st December 2014

2 weeks £725 €860 $1155 $1240
Extra weeks £225 €265 $360 $385

For placements starting from 1st January 2015

2 weeks £725 €860 $1155 $1240
3 weeks £945 €1120 $1505 $1615
4 weeks £1165 €1380 $1850 $1990
Extra weeks £185 €220 $295 $315

Prices in currencies other than GBP are indicative only and volunteers are invoiced in GBP.  For current exchange rates please see www.xe.com


We look forward to receiving your application! There is no commitment by applying and we will send more information


PoD UK Manager



Erin in the PoD UK team has visited this project and is the placement manager so if you apply you will hear from her soon!

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