More details about the project
The Desert Elephant Conservation was established in 2001 and the project aims to help conserve the desert elephant population by conducting research on the wild elephants and ensuring the peaceful co-habitation between local farmers and the elephants.
With the help and support of volunteers the team has built over 170 protection walls and alternative drinking points for the elephants. Without the protection walls, the elephants could cause great damage to farmers’ water sources, leading them to be unable to grow crops and the community to become angry with the elephant population. Without the funding and support from volunteers, the vital building work would not be possible. The local community often join in and help the team complete the daily tasks.
This is the only project that researches these desert elephant herds, therefore the data collected on the elephant tracking safaris is vital and is shared with the government to give accurate findings on the behaviour of the desert elephants in the area. Volunteers support the research team to monitor the elephants and compile identification lists on each elephant.
Prior to the 1900s elephants lived in the region, but left due to over-hunting and were reduced to small separated populations in the north western regions of Namibia. Therefore, when the first elephant herd returned to the region in 1995, the local communities were not used to living alongside elephants. This resulted in conflict as the elephants caused damage to their property in search of water. Many families in the desert rely on farming to survive and they need reliable water for their crops and to drink.
Volunteers who join have an incredible opportunity help to conserve the special African elephants who have adapted to live in the harsh desert environments.
The elephants are specially adapted to living in the desert and are of a high national and international conservation priority, and have been designated as top priority for protection by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). They live in Namibia’s North West Kunene Region, encompassing 115,154 km2 of mostly sandy desert, rocky mountains and arid gravel plains.
Although the desert elephants are not a separate species from savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana Africana) Namibia’s desert-dwelling elephants have specially adapted to their dry, semi-desert environment. They have adapted by having a smaller body mass with proportionally longer legs and seemingly larger feet than other elephants. These physical attributes allow them to cross miles of sand dunes to reach water.
The elephants survive by eating moisture-laden vegetation growing in ephemeral riverbeds and can go several days without drinking water. Volunteers during the elephant patrol help the research team take note of the elephants activity, to help gain a greater understanding of their nutrition and drinking patterns.
When Gemma, the Pod Volunteer Specialist for Desert Elephant Conservation in Namibia, visited the project she was lucky to see one of the elephants dig a hole in the dry river bed to access underground water. Studies in the region have been published on this unusual behaviour.
Elephants are known for their long lifespans, intelligence, memory and a special family structure. A full-grown male elephant is known as a bull elephant and can weigh up to 6 tons (around 6000 kg) and be 4 metres high at the shoulder. Females are usually a little more than half that weight. It is amazing to be able to see these huge magnificent animals in the wild, and the team play a vital role in the continuous research and monitoring on these elephants.
Volunteers can often observe the elephants bathing, using dust and mud to coat their skin as this helps to protect them against the strong African sun and biting insects.
There are several young elephants in the herds which the team may see while on patrol week and volunteers can often watch the youngsters play in the mud while their family herd closely watch from the shade of nearby trees.
This is the volunteer schedule for the standard volunteer role and does not apply to the special family volunteering trip:
Sunday - Meet the team in Swakopmund and receive an introduction to the project.
Monday - Travel by project vehicle to Base Camp
Tuesday to Friday - You will take part in the building project and stay at the building camp site
Saturday to Sunday - Relax over weekend at Base Camp
Monday to Thursday - Work with the elephant tracking and research team, staying at the elephant track camp
On Friday, you will finish the elephant tracking work and then travel with the team back to Swakopmund, before departing / travelling on the next day.
Volunteers joining for more than 2 weeks stay Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in Swakopmund before travelling back to Base Camp on the Monday.