Pod Volunteer

Home  Where Can I Volunteer?  South Africa  Elephant Care & Research

Elephant Care & Research – South Africa

  • Join an active team researching African elephants
  • Work hands on with the elephants providing care and enrichment
  • Collect data to guide best practice management of captive elephants worldwide
  • Live on the Garden Route; ideally located to explore South Africa
Location Western Cape
Start dates Start dates throughout the year (see below for dates)
Duration 3 - 12 weeks
Age requirement 18 +
Availability Spaces available from 3 Oct, limited until 2017
Cost From £995 / €1285 / $1580 - see fees table below

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

Volunteers contribute to all aspects of elephant research, education, husbandry and conservation, this creates an awe-inspiring experience. Volunteers' main activities will be assisting with research, this depends on the research being conducted at the time but could include:

  • Monitoring and recording behaviour; including social interactions and feeding behaviour
  • Night time observations
  • Botanical surveys
  • Dung, urine and other sampling for analysis
  • Data input and analysis

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

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

Volunteers normally work 5 days a week with two days off (Saturday and Sunday). Generally volunteers start at 6.30am and finish at 5.30pm.

There are usually 8-12 volunteers at the project at any one time, with a maximum of 12.

Hear from past South Africa Elephant Care and Research volunteers

Read about volunteer experiences and challenges in our South Africa Elephant Care and Research reviews.



view photo album | view video


How is the South Africa Elephant Care and Research project making a difference?

The park began work in 1994 aiming to bring elephants back to the area after numbers had plummeted from 400-500 down to just 1. The park was the first captive elephant operation of its kind in South Africa.

The park provides a home to elephants in need, providing them with an improved environment, healthy diet, enrichment and access to veterinary care. The elephants are free to spend their days roaming within the 110 hectare park!

They 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 conducts and facilitates research studies and promotes ethical, non-harmful research of the elephants on site and at other parks across South Africa. This research aims to guide management of captive elephants to promote the best possible care. 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.

Why are volunteers needed?

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.

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.

“Without volunteers, many of our research projects and husbandry duties like providing enrichment for the elephants wouldn’t be accomplished. By having trained volunteers in the field monitoring them we can see on a daily basis the changes in behaviour and even spot medical issues before they become problematic. They also show that people all around the world want to care and protect elephants.”
Abi, Volunteer Coordinator at the project

Where will I be living?

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).

The volunteer house is on site and contains comfortable dorm style bedrooms. The rooms may be shared with two or three other volunteers on a same sex basis. 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 and there is a dining area a living room where volunteers can socialise.

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.




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 Volunteering Guide on your volunteering placement
  • Travel information - visa, health and safety advice
  • Access to 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
  • Onsite support from local team
  • Support from Pod UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Crisis management plans and 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 Volunteering Guide which we will email you when you apply.

Pod volunteer fees

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.

3 weeks £995 €1285 $1580 $1850
4 weeks £1295 €1670 $2060 $2410
Extra weeks £225 €290 $360 $420

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

Start Dates


3 Oct, 24 Oct, 5 Dec, 26 Dec


16 Jan, 6 Feb, 27 Feb, 20 Mar, 10 Apr, 1 May, 22 May, 12 Jun, 3 Jul, 24 Jul, 14 Aug, 4 Sep, 25 Sep, 16 Oct, 6 Nov, 27 Nov, 18 Dec


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!

Other projects you can help....

CAElephantThumbnail Elephant Conservation - Cambodia THElephantThumbnail

Elephant Care - Thailand

Combine this project with....

South Africa cheetahs TN Cheetah Reintroduction - South Africa SouthAfricachildcare2TN Children's Day Care - South Africa

You can combine any of our projects to make the volunteering trip of a lifetime!