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.

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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. There is a volunteer and research coordinator and together they are the first point of contact for volunteers who are located on-site. 

Accommodation

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.

Volunteer accomondation in South Africa 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.

Volunteer accomondation living room in South Africa

Meals

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.

Plettenberg BayFor 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

For more information on South Africa and some of the things we loved when we visited there please see our South Africa country page. This also features all our other South Africa volunteering projects as you might like to consider combining this project with one of the others we offer to make a trip of a lifetime!

Volunteers in the back of a Toyota pick up truck driving on path in South Africa

Climate

The project is located in the Western Cape, where the warmest months are usually December through to March at around 28 degrees Celsius during the day. ‘Winter’ runs from June to August when daytime temperatures are usually around 20 degrees Celsius (though it can feel much colder than this with the wind!) and night-times fall to around 10 degrees. The wettest months are June July and October but there can be showers throughout the year.

Dates - 1 week placements

2019: 13 Oct, 3 Nov

2020: 5 Jan, 26 Jan,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

2021: 17 Jan, 7 Feb, 28 Feb, 21 Mar, 11 Apr, 2 May, 23 May, 13 Jun, 4 Jul, 25 Jul, 15 Aug, 5 Sep, 26 Sep, 17 Oct, 7 Nov, 28 Nov, 19 Dec

Dates - 3 week+ placements

2019: 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

2021: 4 Jan, 25 Jan, 15 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

What's Included

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

Discounts

  • £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). 

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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

Read volunteer reviews from the Elephant Care and Research project

Isabelle - 2019

“My volunteering experience with Elephant Care and Research project was incredible. As someone who plans to work in animal protection, you learn so much about elephants and their care over the weeks that you stay. 

This volunteering project stands out as one in which the presence of volunteers has a genuine real impact on the progress of the elephant research centre. Because you are there volunteering, the elephant research can be conducted to the highest quality, and the centre can conduct certain observations and research tasks that would not be able to be done if there were not volunteers present to help."

Diana - 2019

"Having the opportunity to be part of the Elephant Care and Research team, to work with the team members, as well as with all the other wonderful volunteers, was one of the most amazing things I've done in my life.

The whole time I felt that I wouldn’t trade this experience for any other thing or place in the world. Nothing I have lived so far was more fulfilling, inspiring or gratifying than leaving my mark in the world of the most complex animals that ever walked the earth.

I am grateful for the trust and responsibility that I have been given, and I definitely plan to go back and experience more beautiful things in the very near future."

Carol - 2018

"Volunteering with the 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 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! Overall, it was an incredible experience with memories to last a lifetime."

Chris - 2017

"If you are like me and love Elephants, then I strongly encourage volunteering at the Elephant Care and Research project. You will not regret meeting these beautiful creatures and the people that work on the park day in and day out. 

If you are still having your doubts about getting to South Africa or how you're going to go about the volunteering process, Pod Volunteer is here to make your trip and the process a breeze. Everything about this trip, the elephants, the people I met, and the beautiful country of South Africa will stay with me forever."

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2000+

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

Bee

Pod UK Specialist

Bee 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.

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VOLUNTEER REVIEWS

  • 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.”

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  • 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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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