Elephant Care and ResearchSouth Africa

The Elephant Care and Research project studies the biology, behaviour and husbandry of their elephants with the aim of enhancing the welfare of captive and wild elephants throughout South Africa.

Volunteers work closely with the elephant herd who live in the park to provide care and enrichments for them. You will help the team to monitor the elephants throughout the day, gaining important insights into all aspects of the elephant’s life which contributes to vital research for the magnificent species.

Become part of the team to help collect data and care for the elephants.

Live on the famous Garden Route which is ideally located close to the stunning coastline, wildlife reserves and vineyards of South Africa.


Key Info

key info
  • Location: Western Cape
  • Start dates: Throughout the year
  • Duration: 1 - 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (13+ for families or groups)
  • Availability: Spaces available
  • Cost: From £795 / €875 / $985 - see fees table below
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Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

Join the local expert team to care for and research their herd of 10 African elephants, which includes relocated elephants, orphaned calves and elephants rescued from situations such as culls. The elephants live in a 110 hectare park where tourists visit daily to interact with the elephants on educational elephant tours, feeding and walks.

Volunteering offers a unique insight into elephants and the chance to work closely with these magnificent African elephants who are in vital need of conservation. You can learn more about the project here

Volunteers staying 1 week focus on caring for and learning about the elephants, while those staying 3 weeks+ receive additional training and familiarisation on the techniques needed to observe and study the elephants, allowing them to get more involved in their research and welfare.

All volunteers receive elephant information and talks and are involved in a range of tasks, including:

  • Helping look after the elephants - preparing their food, changing their sawdust bedding, and mucking out their living areas
  • Field observations of the elephants - during the day and at night
  • Walking with the elephants
  • Data entry
  • Making elephant enrichments to encourage wild foraging behaviour
  • General maintenance - cleaning of elephant pens, water troughs and other areas, maintenance and painting
  • Making elephant dung paper to sell to raise funds for the project

Volunteers who stay for 3 weeks + may also help with:

  • Monitoring and recording the elephants’ social interactions (how they interact with each other) and behaviour (grazing, drinking, playing, dusting and walking)
  • Monitoring and recording interactions between elephants and tourists
  • Dung collection and analysis for health checks
  • Data analysis
  • Environmental education with the community
  • Helping to grow food for the elephants
  • Weekly monitoring of the zebra herd who live in the park

“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

Typical day

Volunteers normally work 5 days a week with weekends off. Generally volunteers start around 6.30am and finish at 5.30pm with breaks and lunch. In your first few days you will be given an introduction to the volunteer role, research and the elephants.  

Volunteers staying 3 weeks + may also take part in specific wwekend, early morning or night roles, such as night time elephant observations. 

For volunteer staying 1 week on Friday evening they join the team for a traditional South African braai and on Saturday morning, they can participate in a breakfast walk with the elephants. From Friday afternoon to their departure, volunteers can interact with the elephants.

Volunteers live on site which is a short walk from the elephants. There are many exciting free time activities locally including the famous Garden Route.

Other volunteers

There are usually 6-10 volunteers at the project at any one time, with a maximum of 12.

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.

Local support 

You will be working alongside the local team of local and international staff including researchers and guides. Dr Debbie is the Research Unit Director and is responsible for the research that is carried out at the park. There is a volunteer and research coordinator and together they are the first point of contact for volunteers who are located on-site. 


The volunteer accommodation is located within the elephant park. Volunteer rooms are shared with 2-3 volunteers on a same sex basis. Each comfortable shared bedroom has an en-suite bathroom with a toilet and shower. There is a fully equipped kitchen in the house for volunteers to prepare food and there is a dining area, terrace and living room where volunteers can socialise. There is WIFI internet access at the volunteer accommodation.


As meals are not included volunteers buy food from local supermarkets to prepare meals or eat in the on-site restaurant. Here is an example of volunteers typical daily meals:

  • Breakfast – cereal, toast, fruit, porridge 
  • Lunch – sandwiches, salad, pasta 
  • Dinner – pizza, salad, pasta, burger, bbq 

There are vegetarians and vegans meal options are available. 

The water at the park is from a borehole and tap water is safe to drink. 

Location and free time

You’ll be living in the park which is based around 9 kilometres from the popular tourist destination of Plettenberg Bay. You will be located on the famous ‘Garden Route’ which is well known for its beautiful natural diversity including pristine coastline, huge wetlands, salt marshes, rivers, mountains and indigenous forests – so it’s a brilliant location for nature lovers.

For 1 week volunteers, exploring the Garden Route area is a fantastic way to finish up at the project and enjoy this amazing part of the country! Volunteers staying 3 weeks+ can use the weekends to explore much of this area; visit animal and bird sanctuaries and reserves, go whale watching, bungy jumping, sky diving, surfing and much more! 

Free time during the week is spent relaxing on the terrace overlooking the park, playing games, watching TV or reading.

Travelling in South Africa before or after your placement

South Africa is situated at the southern tip of Africa and ranges from desert to sub-tropical. With dramatic landscapes, amazing wildlife and a rich and diverse culture and interesting history, South Africa has something for everyone. Popular activities in South Africa include:

  • Spotting the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) on safari
  • Travelling the Garden Route
  • Visiting Cape Town and sampling some of the local wines

To find out more, see the Lonely Planet South Africa.

Dates - 1 week placements

2019: 30 Jun, 11 Aug, 22 Sep, 13 Oct, 3 Nov

2020: 16 Feb, 8 Mar, 29 Mar, 19 Apr, 10 May, 31 May, 21 Jun, 12 Jul, 2 Aug, 23 Aug, 13 Sep, 4 Oct, 25 Oct, 15 Nov, 6 Dec, 27 Dec

Dates - 3 week+ placements

2019: 17 Jun, 8 Jul, 29 Jul, 19 Aug, 9 Sep, 30 Sep, 21 Oct, 11 Nov, 2 Dec, 23 Dec

2020: 13 Jan, 3 Feb, 24 Feb, 16 Mar, 6 Apr, 27 Apr, 18 May, 8 Jun, 29 Jun, 20 Jul, 10 Aug, 31 Aug, 21 Sep, 12 Oct, 2 Nov, 23 Nov, 14 Dec

What's Included


  • Dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist to support you
  • Airport pick up (George airport) and return transfers
  • Accommodation - a shared room
  • Induction
  • T-shirt and travel mug
  • Support from the local team
  • Support from the Pod Volunteer UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Volunteering certificate and reference (on request)

Not included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations and medication
  • Living costs - food, snacks, drinks, laundry
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
1 week - 2019 £795 GB Pounds
1 week - 2020 £845 GB Pounds
3 weeks £1245 GB Pounds
4 weeks £1595 GB Pounds
Extra weeks £295 GB Pounds


  • £75 discount for every additional project you book as part of the same trip
  • £100 discount for any family members who are under 18
  • £75 discount if you have previously volunteered with Pod Volunteer 

Where the money goes - financial transparency

Your fee covers the overseas costs of volunteering and the costs of running our organisation in the UK, on a non-profit basis.  For more details and a breakdown of our costs please click here.

Book with confidence - financial protection

All monies paid to us are financially protected through The Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited (ABTOT). 


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

Read volunteer reviews from the Elephant Care and Research project


“Really enjoyed the project. I loved the elephants they are such amazing and interesting animals. The project in South Africa was interesting and very useful in collecting data on the elephants. South Africa is a beautiful country and all the people the volunteers dealt with were very kind, helpful and professional. Of course the elephants were outstanding and wonderful animals. They all have different personalities and look different from one another. It was truly the best thing to be able to interact with them. We were able to help them with enrichments, food and other assignments to benefit their lives at the sanctuary. I feel extremely lucky to have gotten this chance to be around these majestic animals.”


“Volunteering with the elephant research project was a truly wonderful experience. The staff were so supportive as we learned to identify the individual elephants and to record the observation data and while very professional, they were great fun as well - much laughter and good times! The elephants themselves were magnificent creatures and it was a joy to get to know them as individuals. I don’t think any of us volunteers ever tired of watching them and would use our free time on the weekends to go out to the field and just spend time with them. Special treats are when they decide to go swimming or to indulge in a mud bath! The guides are wonderful with the elephants and I so enjoyed watching their relationships. Overall, it was an incredible experience with memories to last a lifetime.”


“This trip was the best experience of my life. The scenic walk from the lodging to the elephants every morning was peaceful and beautiful. Being among these amazing creatures was a dream come true. You might think that being with the elephants all day could become boring - but they are magnificent, charismatic and fascinating - and the research you are doing makes the day go by too fast.”


“It’s an absolutely incredible experience and one that I would definitely recommend to anyone considering doing one of these projects. It was such an honour to have the opportunity to work with elephants and to have helped with the research that will hopefully go on to make their lives a lot better. Going on this trip was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and my only regret was that I couldn’t stay longer”

Read more reviews


hours of research conducted each year

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


Pod UK Specialist

Apply and you'll hear from Bee soon!

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



  • South Africa Elephant Care and Research volunteer – Anthony

    “I had an awesome time and will definitely come back - the local people, guides, staff and fellow volunteers were all amazing. One of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences I've ever undertaken.”

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • South Africa Elephant Care and Research volunteer – Bastiaan

    “Having been able to contribute in the research and care of these magnificent animals fills me with pride and working together with other volunteers has been a tremendous joy. The weeks truly flew by.”

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • South Africa Elephant Care and Research volunteer – Kirsten

    “This trip was, amazing! Every one of my expectations were exceeded, and I can see now how others who have volunteered on this project fell so hard in love with the people, the environment and of course the Elephants.”

    Read more volunteer reviews


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  • 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