Desert Elephant Conservation

Namibia

Our award winning African conservation team work to help protect and research desert elephants in Namibia.

Volunteers build walls to protect farmers’ water points and construct drinking points for the elephants to reduce the conflict between people and elephants. The project team conducts vital research by tracking and recording data on the local elephant population. The aim is to develop a greater understanding of the elephant herds as well as creating a positive relationship between community and desert elephants, enabling them to live together in harmony.

Camp out under the stars and experience life in the beautiful Namibian desert. Relax by the pool or explore the popular coastal city of Swakopmund at weekends.

Help the Desert Elephant Conservation team protect these beautiful elephants’ futures.

Apply

Key Info

key info
  • Location: North West Namibia
  • Start dates: Throughout the year
  • Duration: 2 – 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (15+ for families or groups)
  • Availability: Spaces available
  • Cost: From £995 / €1165 / $1275 - see fees table below

Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

Volunteers are part of the Desert Elephant Conservation team who strive to create a positive relationship between the subsistence farmers and desert elephants in the harsh Namib Desert.

The volunteer role which is based in the stunning Namibian desert rotates weekly, the first role is based at a community building project and the second involves researching the elephant population out in the desert.

Community building

In this area of Namibia the natural water table has fallen due to increased human use and droughts. Consequently elephants are increasingly relying on drinking from man-made water points, and often cause damage to farms when searching for water.

During the first week, the team work with the farmers to help reduce the conflict between the elephants and the farmers by building protective walls around their water points, or constructing new water points for elephants away from the farms.

Volunteers are taught traditional building skills and may be involved in:

  • Digging foundations
  • Collecting rocks
  • Mixing cement
  • Building walls
  • Maintenance and repairs of previous projects

Elephant research

The research project gives volunteers the opportunity to learn how to track elephants and assist the research staff in monitoring the movements of elephants in the region. On the elephant tracking drive volunteers join the local team in the 4x4 vehicle driving along the desert and river looking for signs that elephants have been in the area recently.

Volunteers may assist the research team in:

  • Recording elephant movement patterns using GPS positions
  • Compiling and updating the herds’ identification notes
  • Documenting new births, deaths and other important events such as mating
  • Collecting elephant dung for DNA sampling
  • Noting any issues relating to the elephants’ health and well-being

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.

Working days and hours

During the community building role volunteers work each day generally between 9am-12pm and 2pm-5pm, with a two hour lunch break in between.

During the elephant research and tracking role, after breakfast, the team follow and monitor the elephants, stopping for lunch before normally setting up a new camp location in the late afternoon.

Volunteers will rotate between the main base, building site and elephant tracking camp site. Every two weeks volunteers will head back to Swakopmund on Friday. You can spend your free time relaxing and taking part in some of the amazing free time activities that Namibia has to offer.

Other volunteers

There are usually 3-8 volunteers, with a maximum of 14.

Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) award

This placement has been approved by the DofE as meeting the requirements for the Residential section of the Gold Award.

Volunteer reviews

Read about volunteer experiences and challenges in our Namibia Elephant Conservation reviews.

Why are volunteers needed?

With the help and support of volunteers since 2003, 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.

Volunteers support the research team to monitor the elephants and compile identification lists on each elephant.

“The project could not function without the volunteer teams. Our aim is to help people live peacefully with elephants and this means we can conserve this special, small population of desert elephants. The volunteers can see the difference their hard work and effort immediately makes, this is a practical, realistic project which solves a huge problem.”
Rachel, Manager

Start dates

2017: 29 Oct, 26 Nov

2018: 7 Jan, 21 Jan, 4 Feb, 18 Feb, 4 Mar, 18 Mar, 1 Apr, 15 Apr, 29 Apr, 13 May, 27 May, 10 Jun, 24 Jun, 8 Jul, 22 Jul, 5 Aug, 19 Aug, 2 Sep, 16 Sep, 30 Sep, 14 Oct, 28 Oct, 11 Nov, 25 Nov

2019: 6 Jan, 20 Jan, 3 Feb, 17 Feb, 3 Mar, 17 Mar, 31 Mar, 14 Apr, 28 Apr, 12 May, 26 May, 9 Jun, 23 Jun, 7 Jul, 21 Jul, 4 Aug, 18 Aug, 1 Sep, 15 Sep, 29 Sep, 13 Oct, 27 Oct, 10 Nov, 24 Nov

Closure dates

Closed from 9 Dec 2017 to 7 Jan 2018 and from 8 Dec 2018 to 6 Jan 2019

Location, free time and accommodation

Namibia

Namibia is next door to South Africa and is an extraordinary destination distinguished by dramatic desert landscapes and endless horizons. It has been described as “Africa for beginners” and a brilliant place to see African wildlife including elephants, rhino and cheetah. Popular activities in Namibia include:

  • Taking a safari drive around Etosha National Park
  • Exploring the sand dunes by the Skeleton coast
  • Kayaking among hundreds of seals at the Pelican Point seal colony

To find out more see: Lonely Planet Namibia

Local area and free time

The project is located in the Namib Desert, traditionally knowns as Damaraland.

During the weekend between the building and elephant tracking camp, volunteers can visit the nearby town which has a café, lodge with swimming pool and internet access, restaurant and small supermarket.

During your weekend in Swakopmund, you can arrange trips to explore the sand dunes, relax at one of the many cafes or visit the seal colony. These activities should be booked in when you arrive in Swakopmund.

Accommodation

On the first night at the project and during desert weekends the team will stay at the base camp which includes a kitchen area.

During the building week and elephant tracking week you will live at a basic camp site in the desert. You will be sleeping on a mattress in an open area surrounded by vehicles and it’s an amazing experience to fall asleep in the desert under the stars.

Volunteers have access to the internet at weekends.

Read volunteer reviews from the Desert Elephant Conservation project

Mark

“I found the whole experience to be fantastic and can’t thank them enough for making my time in Namibia both useful and rewarding. Chris and the team made us feel very welcome and safe throughout the whole time!

One of my most memorable experiences was during patrol week whilst sleeping under the stars and watching the space station flying overhead and seeing shooting stars. It was breathtaking. Our time out on build week was amazing and it was so rewarding after 4 days of hard work when the farmer came out and was genuinely grateful for all our hard work. This alone made the trip and hard work worthwhile. I would thoroughly recommend volunteering and wish them lots of luck in the future.”

Simone

“Truly once in a lifetime experience! If you want to give back to conservation and do things you never would as a regular tourist then these are the people to book your experience with. The memories I take with me are of being privileged to be in such close proximity to the wild desert elephants in their natural habitat.

Meeting such great people from different countries and our wonderful guides! Sleeping under the stars, cooking on an open fire, building vital walls, playing with the kids, laughing. Astonishing to see what a small group of 10 people could accomplish in such a small amount of time!”

Peter

“Our 2 week stint was completely fantastic. The best to way to describe our experience was this, National Geographic meets Outward Bound! The combination of community water point support and then going on patrol was absolutely stunning. Being able to be physically active, help communities and at the same time live in wild the beauty that is Namibia was transformative for us.

Namibia is a rare gem and to be able to live on the land for 2 weeks was a distinct privilege. As well, we got to meet some great volunteers, made new friends, ate great food and felt completely comfortable with the excellent staff. And of course we got to experience very close encounters with real ambassadors of the Namibian wilderness, the Desert Elephant. One can never tire of witnessing these marvellous creatures.”

Liann

“Volunteering was the best thing I’ve ever done. My first trip was a life changing experience, hard but amazing in the same time. As soon as I got home I started planning my return. There are so many good times, building retaining walls for the farmers water pumps, connecting with local people, making new friends from all over the world.

Sleeping in a tree looking up at the sky filled with millions of stars without any light pollution is breathtaking, Watching the sun rise and set over the desert is beautiful and the best of it all, the amazing desert the project is working so hard to protect. To be given the opportunity to follow the herds, learn about each animal from the fantastic guides, watch and study them for hours at end is truly the best.”

Read more reviews

What's Included?

Before you go:

  • Carefully selected and vetted volunteer project
  • Support from our friendly and highly experienced Pod UK team
  • Single point of contact - Gemma is your dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist
  • In-depth volunteering and planning your trip guides
  • 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

On your placement:

  • Conservation volunteering placement
  • Transfers from Swakopmund city
  • Accommodation - open air camping
  • Food - all main meals when at project
  • Induction and training
  • Onsite support from local team
  • Support from Pod UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Incident Management and Emergency Response Plans

On your return:

  • Contact from your Pod Volunteer Specialist
  • Feedback scheme
  • Volunteering certificate (on request)
  • References (on request)
  • Member of the Pod community

Not included: Flights, travel insurance, visa (if required), accommodation and meals in Swakopmund, airport transfers. Budgeting guidance is provided in our Volunteering Guide which we will email you when you apply.

Pod Volunteer is run as a non-profit organisation. Fee levels are set to match costs and any surplus monies are distributed to the projects we work with via the Pod Charity.
Price table
2 weeks £995 GB Pounds
4 weeks £1725 GB Pounds
6 weeks £2295 GB Pounds
Extra fortnights £450 GB Pounds
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Fees in currencies other than GBP are indicative only and volunteers are invoiced in GBP. For current exchange rates please see www.xe.com

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protection walls and elephant drinking points built by volunteers

"It was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever! Pod Volunteer provided the ideal amount of support and guidance"Satvinder

Gemma

Pod UK Specialist

Gemma has visited the project, apply and you'll hear from her soon!

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

Apply

VOLUNTEER REVIEWS

  • Namibia Elephant Conservation volunteer - Andrea

    "Being a part of the conservation effort to help these elephants retain their rightful home is a meaningful experience that I can only hope to repeat someday. You will not regret signing up for this!"

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • Namibia Elephant Conservation volunteer - Jessica

    "There was so much fun and laughter and you meet so many amazing people. As for the Namibian desert and the elephants, they are the most beautiful things you can experience."

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • Namibia Elephant Conservation volunteer - Stefie

    "It was a rewarding and life changing experience that I would recommend to anyone of any age. I miss sleeping under the stars."

    Read more volunteer reviews

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AWARDS AND ACCREDITATIONS

  • Tourism Concern
  • Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust
  • Right Tourism
  • DOFE
  • theguardian
  • the independent
  • Sunday Times
  • Year Out Group
  • Best Volunteering Organisation
  • Wall Street Journal