Elephant Care and Research

South 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 - see role section
  • Duration: 3 - 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (groups also welcome)
  • Availability: Spaces available
  • Cost: From £1195 / €1400 / $1530 - 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 captive 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.

Volunteers learn about elephant welfare, help to collect data to guide best practise management of captive elephants and assist in research for wild elephant management. Working closely with and monitoring the elephants, volunteers examine the behaviour, interactions and relationship of the elephants with the guides and visitors to the park.

Volunteer roles depend on the current research and tasks may include:

  • Monitoring and recording the elephants’ social interactions and feeding behaviour
  • Observing the elephants at night
  • Dung collection and analysis for health checks
  • Preparing food for the elephants
  • Making elephant enrichments to encourage wild foraging behaviour
  • Elephant park maintenance e.g. mucking out pens, cleaning, painting, making improvements
  • Environmental education with the community
  • Data input and analysis
  • Helping to grow food for the elephants
  • Making dung paper for fundraising projects
  • Weekly monitoring of the zebra herd who live in the park

Working days and hours

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

Volunteer reviews

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

Why are volunteers needed?

Volunteers help the local team to feed and care for the elephants which is no small task! Volunteers are an important part of the research unit as they enable them to gain more elephant data which allows for a greater insight and understanding of this fascinating species. One of the most important contributions that volunteers make is through monitoring the interactions between elephants and visitors to the park. These research findings have led to improvements in the recommended management of captive elephants and ensures that a positive and responsible balance is kept with the ongoing tourism activities.
Having volunteers’ assistance has allowed the research team to undertake more studies, including the Elephant Listening project, and assist in research to help reduce human-elephant conflict in wild elephant populations.

Volunteers act as ambassadors for the research team and it’s elephants by helping to spread the word about their elephant research results, welfare and conservation issues.

“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

Start dates


21 Jan, 11 Feb, 4 Mar, 25 Mar, 15 Apr, 6 May, 27 May, 17 Jun, 8 Jul, 29 Jul, 19 Aug, 9 Sep, 30 Sep, 21 Oct, 11 Nov, 2 Dec, 23 Dec


13 Jan, 3 Feb, 24 Feb, 17 Mar, 7 Apr, 28 Apr, 19 May, 9 Jun, 21 Jul, 11 Aug, 1 Sep, 21 Sep, 13 Oct, 3 Nov, 24 Nov, 15 Dec

Location, free time and accommodation

South Africa

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.

Local area 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.

Volunteers have weekends off so you can 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.


The volunteer accommodation is located within the elephant park. Volunteer rooms may be shared with 2-3 volunteers on a same sex basis. Each 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.

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

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 - a 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:

  • Animal research volunteering placement
  • Airport pick up and return transfers (George airport)
  • 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 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), 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 £1195 GB Pounds
4 weeks £1545 GB Pounds
Extra weeks £295 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

"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 Iona 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