Elephant Care and Research - Volunteer with Elephants

South Africa

Join an active research team collecting data on African elephants to guide best practice management of captive elephants worldwide. Work hands on with the elephants providing care and enrichment. Live on the famous Garden Route which is ideally located to explore South Africa.


Key Info

key info
  • Location: Western Cape
  • Start dates: Throughout the year
  • Duration: 3 - 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+
  • Availability: Fully booked
  • Cost: From £1095 / €1280 / $1400 - see fees table below

Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

Volunteers contribute to all aspects of elephant research, education and husbandry. 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)

Working days and hours

Volunteers normally work 5 days a week (Monday to Friday) with weekends off. Generally volunteers start at 6.30am and finish at 5.30pm.

Other volunteers

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

Volunteer reviews

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

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.

How is the 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.

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.

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 - Ellie 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

On your placement:

  • 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
  • Incident Management and Emergency Response Plans

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 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
3 weeks £1095 GB Pounds
4 weeks £1395 GB Pounds
Extra weeks £260 GB Pounds

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


hours of research conducted each year

"Pod is a no nonsense volunteer organisation looking to change lives"Cian


Pod UK Specialist

Ellie has visited this 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.



  • 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