Desert Elephant Conservation & Conflict Prevention

Namibia

Volunteer in Namibia, conserve the desert elephant and overcome the human-elephant conflict. A unique chance to monitor the rare desert-adapted elephant and help farmers and communities reduce and repair elephant damage.

A very hands-on programme where you will spend a week working on community building and maintenance projects to provide alternative water sources for elephants, and a week tracking and monitoring these amazing and endangered animals through the stunning Namibian bush.

Volunteer with elephants on this fantastic hands-on conservation project in Namibia, perhaps Africa’s most visually stunning and diverse country. The desert-adapted elephant is found in only two countries in the world, Namibia and Mali, so this is an amazing opportunity to play your part in preserving populations for the future.

Water is a scarce commodity in the Namib Desert, both for humans and elephants, and the damage which elephants can do to irrigation systems, water points and pipes can leave small farmers and rural households without vital access to water. Volunteers live alongside rural communities, helping them to overcome the problems which their large neighbours present. You will construct and repair protection walls around water points allowing the elephants to drink without breaking pipes or damaging pumps. Volunteers also undertake building projects within the rural schools - upgrading classrooms, repairing elephant damage (often with elephants nearby!) and building new facilities.

In order to understand the movements and territories of these elephants, plan which farms and smallholdings may be at risk and identify potential conflict situations, volunteers spend one full week every fortnight out in the bush on elephant patrol to track herds, identify and locate individual elephants and build up a picture for accurate elephant management.

This is a unique opportunity to explore the vast Namib Desert, witness breathtaking landscapes and camp in unspoilt wilderness areas.

Quick Facts

Who can join: Volunteers over the age of 18
How long can I stay for: 2 weeks - 12 weeks
Accommodation: Camping and a Tree House!
Transfer time: 4 hours (Windhoek), 30 minutes (Walvis Bay)
Pick up from: Windhoek or Walvis Bay
Meals: 3 meals a day included
Project numbers: 14
Start dates: Sundays from January - mid December
How much: from £895 (11 nights)

Family Volunteer Programme: Annually in July and August. More details here!

WHY CHOOSE THIS PROJECT

Each volunteer on this programme physically contributes to the conservation of the desert elephants. Volunteers can immediately see the difference that their hard work and funding provides. The volunteer project is the heart of the organisation, it is REAL conservation work at ground level. This is a well-established volunteer project which has taken more than 950 volunteers, constructing over 125 walls in rural communities.

Background

This project was founded in 2003 and is run by a Namibian-registered not-for-profit organisation. The aim of the organisation is to conserve the desert elephant population in Southern Damaraland, Namibia, through anti-conflict measures. During the 1970’s poaching in the region soared and the elephant population was almost totally wiped out. Through ongoing conservation efforts, a small population of elephants returned to the area in the mid 1990’s which although fantastic for conservation, created many problems for the subsistence communities and farmers in the region. Those numbers have increased and today there are over 600 elephants regularly moving around the area.

In their almost constant search for water, elephants damaged many community water points leaving the local Damara and Herero people without access to fresh water for drinking and agriculture. During the 20 year absence of elephants, local knowledge on their behaviour had been lost and communities were fearful of and unfamiliar with living in such close proximity. It was motioned that all the elephants in the region should be removed.

Over the last 10 years and with the help of over 950 volunteers, 125 protection walls have been constructed in Damaraland and new drinking points built to divert elephants away from community areas. In addition, the project has implemented an elephant training programme for local schools and communities to give people the knowledge to enable them to live peacefully alongside the local elephants.

Highlights

  • Help a grass roots organisation overcome the human-elephant conflict
  • Give hands-on assistance to rural communities through building and maintenance projects
  • Educate local communities on elephant action plans, the value of the elephants and measures they can take to live together in harmony
  • Experience the thrill of tracking elephants through the stunning desert landscape and monitoring their behaviour and numbers
  • Carry out essential research for elephant management planning
  • Work alongside dedicated conservation professionals
  • Work as a team on physically demanding projects
  • Camp under the stars in the middle of the desert


The project works in two week blocks so volunteers can stay for a minimum of 2 and maximum of 12 weeks.
Your time on the programme is split into two: the Building Week and the Patrol Week.

Building Week:

Build walls around farms, community water tanks and pumps so that elephants can access the water but not damage the infrastructure. Elephants often pull up the pipes or put their tusks through water tanks to get to the water.

The Building Week is physically challenging but builds teamwork - volunteers need only do what they are capable and comfortable doing. Get to know and bond with your fellow volunteers as you work together under the Namibian sun and adapt to bush life!

This week is very satisfying as you survey the results of your work and see first-hand the impact that you have on the local communities.

Elephant Patrol Week:

Track the various resident herds in the area to record movement patterns and information on new births, deaths and mating behaviour. The elephant's movements are recorded through their GPS positions which are then plotted onto on line maps. This information shows which farms the elephants visit to drink water and therefore where volunteers need to build protection walls. Data on elephant numbers is incredibly important as you are part of the only organisation providing figures to the government on elephants in this area.

For those completing more than one two week rotation, the programme follows the same routine with a different focus on elephant patrol, so that volunteers experience different elephants, scenery and areas of Damaraland.


The project focuses on three main areas:

Elephant monitoring

  • Collect data on movements and herd numbers
  • Determine which farms need protection
  • Facilitate research on elephant behaviour and personalities

Water measures

  • Build walls around water points and protect vulnerable structures
  • Dig new water points to divert elephants away from communities and farms
  • Travel around local communities and experience desert life

Education

  • Educate communities and schoolchildren about elephant behaviour to minimalise their fears
  • Work in local schools to build a sense of pride in their elephant population
  • Spend time observing elephants with community members and learn more about elephant behaviour
  • Rebuild classrooms, toilets and showers or building new classrooms or school facilities

Details

A full information pack with all details of kit required, information on visas, currency, weather and reading material will be provided once your booking has been made.


How is the programme structured?

Structure of the 2 week project:
On the Sunday evening volunteers will have a briefing on the project and get to meet your team mates! Have an early night as there will be an early start on Monday morning.

On Monday depart for base camp, a 4 hour drive north of Swakupmond. Settle into this stunning wilderness camp before a full safety and project briefing about your once-in-a-lifetime experience and the work that you will be doing over the next two weeks.

On Tuesday you will pack up and leave to that weeks build site, approximately 1 hour from base camp. Meet local communities and learn about the issues they have with elephants. Get stuck in to building and maintenance projects and see first-hand the impact of the work that you are doing.

On Saturday you will return to base camp and spend a relaxing weekend resting and enjoying the endless Namibian sunshine. Accompany staff on a provisioning trip to the local town of Uis where you will be able to use the internet, visit the swimming pool and go for lunch! Or stay at camp and explore the beautiful surrounding area.

On Sunday evening there is a briefing specific to the following week’s patrol - where you will be going, which elephants you need to track and there will be a safety briefing on behaviour around elephants. Leave early on Sunday morning for elephant patrol and spend the week tracking the local herds of elephant. Return to base camp on Thursday and leave for Swakupmond on Friday morning.

Volunteers who are joining the next rotation will be required to report back to Villa Weise on Sunday night for a briefing with the next group of volunteers as you will be going to different areas and doing different things for the next Building Week and Patrol Week.

Do I need any experience to volunteer on this programme?

No experience is required just a willingness to work hard and get involved! An ability to communicate in English is an advantage and you should be of reasonable mobility and fitness as there is some walking and foot-based tracking involved in the project.All volunteers arerequired to complete a medical form and for volunteers aged over 65 a doctor must sign the form.

How do I get to the project?

Volunteers meet at the coastal town of Swakopmund.Volunteers can fly into Walvis Bay or Windhoek International Airport. Walvis Bay is just 30 mins from Swakopmund whereas Windhoek is a 4 hour drive in a safe and reliable modern minibus. We will arrange collection from either Walvis Bay or Windhoek and transfer you to your first night’s accommodation where you will meet the other volunteers on your rotation.

Transfers from Windhoek International Airport will attract a small additional surcharge.

Rates & Dates

When can I volunteer?

Volunteers should arrive in Walvis Bay or Swakopmund on the Sunday prior to the project start date for an evening briefing at the volunteer accommodation, Amanpuri Lodge. The project is closed from mid December - early January each year.

The project runs from the Monday of the start date to the Friday afternoon of the finish date. Accommodation after the finish date is at your own cost - for volunteers staying for additional rotations, note that the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights accommodation, food and activities will be your own cost.

Project pricing 2019 (all prices are in GBP):

1 rotation (11 nights) - £895
2 rotations (25 nights) - £1,595
3 rotations (39 nights) - £2,295
4 rotations (53 nights) - £2,995
5 rotations (67 nights) - £3,595
6 rotations (81 nights) - £3,995

Project dates 2019:

START

FINISH

 

START

FINISH

7th January

18th January

 

24th June

5th July

21st January

1st February

 

8th July 

19th July

4th February

15th February

 

22nd July

2nd August

18th February

1st March

 

5th August

16th August

4th March

15th March

 

19th August

30th August

18th March

29th March

 

2nd September

13th September

1st April

12th April

 

16th September

27th September

15th April

26th April

 

30th September

11th October

29th April

10th May

 

14th October

25th October

13th May

24th May

 

28th October

8th November

3rd September

14th September

 

11th November

22nd November

27th May

7th June

 

25th November

6th December

10th June

21st June

 

 

 

Family Project 2019: 12th - 21st August. More details

What does the cost include?

  • Programme fee - financing which goes back into the programme your are involved with; this includes funding for equipment, supplies, vehicles and foodstuffs etc
  • Transfers to and from Swakopmund or Walvis Bay at the scheduled date and time
  • Full board and lodging for the duration of your programme including laundry (exc. alcoholic and fizzy drinks)
  • Practical instruction on building and maintenance techniques and wildlife identification as well as spoors, tracking and animal behaviour
  • All programme-related transport and equipment required to do your work
  • 24 hour support and guidance from the volunteer programme staff

The programme cost excludes:

  • Transport by air or bus to Namibia
  • Transfers from Windhoek Airport to Windhoek - these can be arranged for an additional $30 each way
  • Transfers from Windhoek to Swakopmund - these can be arranged for an additional N$250 each way
  • Visas
  • Any expenses prior to your programme start date including accommodation
  • Accommodation in Swakopmund during the break between projects
  • Any personal items such as alcoholic drinks, snacks, additional food or souvenirs
  • Personal medical and travel insurance, which must cover the entire duration of your programme and should include cover for repatriation, air evacuation and any activities you may undertake or plan to undertake
  • Any additional trips outside the volunteer programme
  • Telephone calls and internet

View our booking terms and conditions

Accommodation

For your first night accommodation in Swakupmond volunteers should arrange to stay at Amanpuri Lodge. We can arrange your booking for you, but you will pay your bill on arrival.

There is a choice of a dormitory, single or twin / double rooms available:

Dormitory: N$200
Single room: N$450
Twin room: N$700

During your Building Week, volunteers are provided with bed rolls, which includes a mattress, but you will need to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow (a travel pillow is a must!). During the rainy and colder season we provide two man tents and otherwise volunteers sleep under the stars under a tarpaulin which is one of the highlights of the trip.

During Build Week there is a long drop toilet provided but as you will be out in the rural areas the washing facilities are limited, so volunteers are advised to bring wet wipes and hand sanitiser. During Elephant Patrol camps are basic as you will be camping wild depending on the elephants location. Your camp will always be in the most stunning spot where you can enjoy the night skies snug in your sleeping bag.

At base camp during your middle weekend volunteers are accommodated in a tree! This is a very large platform within a huge Ana Tree and is wonderful! There are two elephant drinking dams in the camp and the elephants often wander through - a truly magical experience. The base camp is fully equipped with toilets and showers with hot water.

Reviews

Hard to believe that not so long ago, we were huddled up in our sleeping bags at base campwatching the incredible star show that is the Namibian sky during the night!
Enjoying this view while trying to digest the previous 9 days of our time spent building an Elephant-proof garden fence, sharing work, meals and kitchen duties with new friends and families from far away homes, going on patrol in search of the desert elephants, hearing and seeing new sights and sounds along with the lessons learned from our intrepid, soulful and knowledgeable guide Hendrick was a bit "heady" to say the least!

Back at home now and gradually re-entering our daily lives and routines, it all seems like awonderful dream from which you hope never to wake in fear of forgetting it all. Such are thethoughts and feelings that won't leave me alone.

As we move forward in the days and years ahead, I will hold on to the belief that journeys of the type we shared as a family here in Namibia leave marks within and upon us as humans that will help us to better appreciate this planet we call home and for the people and creatures that have and will cross our path in our ongoing travels. To have this experience with my family is a gift that I will hold dear for the remainder of my life.

Johannes, Hendrick, Mateus, Adolf and Darren along with the desert elephant, the children at the primary school and the rugged and awesome natural beauty of Namibia and its people, along with your collective passion and commitment to maintain a sense of balance between it all..... is a part of us now, and we are infinitely richer in mind, body and spirit for it.

With gratitude, admiration and respect, thank you!

Bill Sparks, Family Volunteer
Desert Elephant Conservation

My volunteer trip to Namibia was one of the best experiences I have had in my life and the memories will stay with me for a very long time. There were so many elements that made it so amazing:
The volunteers: The volunteer group was 14 in total; 8 girls and 6 boys ranging from 18 – 53 representing 6 different countries. Really diverse and with no wi-fi, internet, phone or TV we actually had to talk to each other! And talk we did. Fantastic conversations around the camp fire, during walk, under stars or on the 4x4s. There was enough time to explore subjects and change my own perspectives and opinions.
The environment: Before coming, I thought that Namibia was going to be mainly desert. I was wrong and the arid areas were stunningly beautiful. Namibia really is an unspoilt wilderness and the view from the kopjes were breath-taking – you can literally see for hundreds of miles. It is so nice to see so few humans around and just letting nature take its course.
Build week: During build week we were lucky enough to build a wall at a primary school. 270 kids fascinated by us and also getting in the way. They had very little in the way of material possessions but were very happy – good example for all of us from the western culture.
The elephants: I was knocked out when I saw my first elephant in the wild. It is only when you see them in the flesh that you realise how huge a 6 tonne animal is. Yet at the same time they appear calm and gentle. Their power is incredible yet you get to see and understand the herd’s hierarchy and how much they look after their young.

Overall an amazing experience for only 2 weeks away. Certainly felt like we made a difference and were building a wall and bridges with the local community. I also felt I learnt a lot about myself as well and plan to make a few changes when I get back to the UK. Cannot recommend this experience highly enough and for those of you unsure about whether to sign up; go for it, you will not regret it at all.

Mike Essex
Desert Elephant Conservation

It's hard for me to put into words how amazing my two weeks volunteering with desert elephantswere. From the moment we met up as a group until I left (very reluctantly) for the airport, it was an incredible experience. Our group was made up of people from all across the globe, so it was fun to get to know everyone and share stories and laugh (a lot).

Build week was physically and mentally challenging, but we all helped and cheered each other on, and it was so rewarding to see the result of our efforts. Gathering around the fire every night for food, conversation and, yes, laughs, was another highlight. Chris and Mattias made sure we were well looked after and shared their immense knowledge with us - I'll never look at the stars the same again (granted, it'll be difficult, since you can see so much more when you're in the middle of the desert).

Track week was a blast; it's hard to describe the feeling when you first come upon the elephants, and are able to just sit there and watch them. We also tracked other animals by their prints in the sand - again, it's difficult to imagine how much knowledge Chris and Mattias have between them, but having the opportunity to learn from them around the fire isn't one I'll soon forget.

What more can I say about base camp other than we got to sleep in a tree house?! Everyone was just the best and it really was the best two weeks of my life thus far. I can't wait to go back.

Rachelle Douillard-Proulx, USA
Desert Elephant Conservation

Destination

Volunteering in Namibia

Namibia is one of the most visually diverse countries in Africa; from never-ending red sand dunes to deep mysterious canyons, spectacular sunsets and dry desert landscapes, the country has something to intrigue and excite every visitor. View immense herds of elephant and buffalo in Etosha National Park, sand-board down the dunes in Swakopmund or visit ancient rock paintings - there’s plenty to entertain volunteers to Namibia who are looking for something different to do once their volunteer programme is over.

Sossusvlei Dunes are home to the highest sand dunes in the world and Namibia’s most outstanding scenic attraction. Part of the Namib Desert, these dunes have developed over millions of years, the wind continuously shifting the sand further and further inland, reshaping patterns in distinctive warm tints. Climbing to the top of one of these dunes provides breathtaking views of the whole area, including Deadvlei, a large ghostly expanse of dried white clay punctuated by skeletons of ancient camelthorn trees, carbon dated between 500-600 years old.

Etosha National Park is Namibia’s first conservation area, designated in 1907. Undoubtedly one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth and one of Africa’s best game reserves, Etosha is home to huge herds of elephant, black-maned lions, cheetah and the world’s largest population of the rare black rhino.  Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast shallow depression of approximately 1,930 square miles which forms the heart of the park. This white, chalky expanse colours the park, and with the waterholes, creates the characteristic atmosphere of the Etosha of today.

For the greater part of the year (the dry season) Etosha’s animals and birds are dependent on about 30 springs and waterholes. These provide incredible game viewing and photographic opportunities.

To the west of Khorixas in North-West Namibia is Twyfelfontein, a massive open-air art gallery with paintings carved into red rock by ancient Bushmen overlooking an expansive valley below. The engravings, some estimated to be 6,000 years old, record the wildlife seen in area - giraffe, rhino, elephants, ostrich and even a lion. The area has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2008.

The Fish River Canyon is Africa’s deepest gorge and second largest in the world - with a 500m vertical drop. The canyon is a spectacular natural phenomenon; a harsh dusty plain dotted with distinctive Quiver trees.

Swakopmund is Namibia’s playground - a holiday haven away from the dusty heat of the interior. While there is plenty to do within the city, the real action takes place in the desert surrounding the town. Quad-biking, sand-boarding, sand-skiing, parasailing and other adrenaline actives are available from any of the adventure operators in the area. Visit Walvis Bay and join a dolphin cruise or explore the lagoon on a kayak.

What will the weather be like?

During the Namibian summer (November - January) temperatures average 30°c and often go to over 40°c. Volunteers should bring light cotton clothing, a wide-brimmed hat or cap, polarised sunglasses, a water bottle, plenty of high factor sunscreen (and after-sun!), strong mosquito spray and closed shoes. A light waterproof jacket is also essential for sudden downpours! Average lows are around 17-20°c. Summer is an amazing time of year where you can watch thunderstorms approach from miles away and witness incredible electric storms and light shows!

During winter (April - August) daytime temperatures average 25-27°c with no rainfall at all. Temperatures during the night and in the mornings and evenings regularly go below 0°c and volunteers are advised to bring lots of layers including fleeces and a warm hat for nighttime camping with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and loose light clothing for daytime.

Excursions

Do I get some time off?

Volunteers have the middle Saturday and Sunday between Build Week and Patrol Week off to enjoy some down time at base camp. The area around the camp is stunning and there is plenty of exploring to be done. You can join staff on a provisioning trip to the town of Uis where there will opportunities to visit the local pool, go for a meal in a restaurant or use the internet.

Volunteers doing two or more rotations will have two days free time in Swakopmund at the end of each two week project where you can enjoy all the adventure activities in the area. Sand-boading and a trip to Walvis Bay is a definite must!

Combination projects

Why not combine this project with another volunteer programme or a tour, and explore Namibia further. Projects which work well with this programme include:

Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, Namibia

Volunteer in Namibia at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary and help enrich the lives of a huge variety of orphaned and rescued animals, including primates, cheetah, wild dog, antelopes, meerkats and lions. The centre provides a refuge for all sorts of wildlife and releases as many as possible into safe areas around Namibia.

Cheetah & Carnivore Conservation, Namibia

Explore another remote part of Namibia as you move south to the beautiful Namib-Naaukluft National Park, home to released populations of cheetah and hyena. You are responsible for monitoring the progress of these released animals, as well as using GPS and trail cameras to establish populations of all small and large carnivores in the area.

Namibia Tours

Why not explore Namibia on one of our scheduled tours, or have a self-drive adventure in this beautiful, wild country. Visit the vast salt pans of Etosha National Park, home to populations of rhino, elephants, lions and leopard; marvel at the immense red sand dunes of Sossusvlei or the rocky moonscapes of Damarland; and track cheetah and wild dog at the Afric-Cat Foundation. 

Project Gallery - Desert Elephant Conservation & Conflict Prevention

Testimonials

Desert Elephant Conservation & Conflict Prevention Hard to believe that not so long ago, we were huddled up in our sleeping bags at base camp watching the incredible star show that is the Namibian sky during the night! Enjoying this view while trying to digest the previous 9 days of our time spent building an Elephant-proof garden fence, sharing work, meals and kitchen duties with new friends and families from far away homes, going on patrol in search of the desert elephants, ... Bill Sparks, Family Volunteer Read More

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