Family volunteering - Desert Elephant Conservation


A unique chance for families to volunteer in Namibia, conserve the desert elephant and overcome the human-elephant conflict. Monitor the rare desert-adapted elephant and help farmers reduce and repair elephant damage.

A very hands-on programme where you and your family will spend a week working on building and school projects within rural communities and a week tracking and monitoring herds of rare desert-adapted elephants through the stunning Namibian bush.

Join this well-established programme and volunteer with elephants on this fantastic hands-on conservation project in Namibia, perhaps Africa’s most visually stunning and diverse country. The desert 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 the populations for the future.

Namibia is a beautiful, safe and friendly country, with excellent infrastructure and easy access to self-drive safaris and organised tours, which many families opt to experience once the programme has finished. This project is run by the team behind the Desert Elephant Conservation programme, which has been slightly adapted to accommodate children and teenagers. 

This family volunteer programme is a unique opportunity to explore the vast Namib Desert, witness breathtaking landscapes and camp in unspoilt wilderness areas. It allows your children to get involved with conservation activities and understand the importance of preserving iconic African animals.

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Quick Facts

Who can join: Families with children over the age of 8 years
Programme dates: 12th - 21st August 2019
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
How much: £895 per person

Sample itinerary

Day 1

Transfer from your overnight accommodation in Swakopmund to our base camp (4 hours) on the banks of the Ugab River. You are a short walk away from the local primary school, where you will be working for the next few days. You will arrive in camp arond 4pm, unpack and get settled in. After dinner you will have a  briefing about the week ahead and health and safety precautions out in the bush. Families will take it in turns helping to cook for the rest of the group - learn how to cook over an open fire and use a bush kitchen!

Accommodation - camping on the Ugab River

Days 2 - 4

Early in the morning you will go to the school to participate in the morning’s assembly and meet the teachers and pupils. You will assist the school by repainting dormitories and classrooms. There will be the opportunity to participate in lessons and interact with pupils in sports and crafts. 

This village and school is unique in terms of how closely they have to live with elephants. Thanks to the projects at the school and the surrounding farms there has been a big shift in attitudes towards the elephants, which are now very positive.

The main reason you are involved with the school is to highlight the importance of protecting elephants and to help the children and their families to see the benefits which elephants can bring. You will help in the programmes educational project which teaches children how to behave when elephants are close by and how to stay safe. This means communities are empowered with the skills and knowledge to live safely alongside the elephants, that they understand them and accept that they move freely through their lands. This in turn reduces the declarations of 'problem animals' which can have tragic consequences for elephants and also reduces the incidences of poaching.

The day is split into two. The work begins after morning assembly and will break for a long lunch during the heat of the day. Work will then start again from around 2pm - 4.30pm. 

Throughout the week there will be a chance to meet local people and to really understand how Namibian’s live, from what they eat, to how they make their houses and what their daily life entails.

Every day a family will be on kitchen duty together which involves waking up first to make the morning coffee, tea and breakfast, to the sandwiches for lunch and the big dinner in the evening. Each evening we prepare a big healthy meal over the fire, ranging from roast chickens, spaghetti bolognese, lamb tagine and Thai curry to name but a few! We can cater for vegetarians as well.

Everyone gets to do washing up!

Day 5

Today you will have a day to relax and explore the area around base camp. In the afternoon your guide will take those who are interested on a short nature walk (around 3 kms) where you will learn about different survival skills and edible plants from the desert. Today’s challenge is to make a chocolate cake – cooked on the fire!

In the evening you will have a group briefing on elephant patrol, which covers the aim of the next few days - which elephants need to be tracked and specific instructions on safety whilst in close proximity to elephants.

Each patrol has a different aim. The first is to have a human presence in the areas where elephants are under threat and check that all the herds are together and without injuries. Secondly you will help compile identification files of new herds of elephants in the far north of the project area, where elephants are causing a lot of farm damage. You will get to meet farmers and community members to find out what problems the elephants cause to their livelihoods.

Day 6 - 9

Pack the patrol vehicles and head out early. During patrol week you will sleep under the stars which is an amazing experience!

On each day of patrol you will have the opportinuty to get out of the vehicles and do some foot-based tracking so the children (and adults!) don’t get bored in the cars! If you go into the wetland areas of the river system you may have a (highly competitive) fishing competition! You will learn how to track elephants and your new skills will be put to the test!

For bird enthusiasts, the wetlands, river system and desert are home to amazing birdlife including Hornbills, Love Birds, Egyptian Geese, Rollers, Owls, Eagles and other raptors.

Throughout the week you can expect to see other wildlife besides elephant, including the desert-adapted black rhino which is rare, but there is a small population in the area which are often spotted. You will also get to see springbok, oryx (gemsbok), kudu, giraffe and zebra.

After lunch on your final patrol day you will head back to the base camp for yet another shower in the rocks and the last night spent in the tree house!

Day 10

After a leisurely breakfast you will pack up the vehicle and head back to Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast. We will aim to be back around lunch time, leaving plenty of time for you to enjoy activities including sandboarding, quad biking, desert and dune tours, dolphin cruises, sea fishing and kayaking.


For your first night accommodation in Swakupmond volunteers usually Amanpuri Lodge, but you are free to stay at any of the excellent accommodation in Swakopmund - please ask us for other recommendations according to your budget.

During your Building Week, 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. Your bedding is provided, but please provide a sleeping bag and your own pillow. 

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. We highly recommend a good supply of hand sanitiser and wet wipes!


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

About Namibia

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.

Car hire is very affordable and the road network throughout the country is excellent. Most car hire firms have the option to add a roof-top tent and a fridge to your vehicle, giving you the opportunity to travel around the country, taking advantage of amazing and affordable campsites, most of which have hot and cold running water and excellent facilities. If you would prefer to take advantage of the some of the most beautiful lodges in Southern Africa, we are happy to make some recommendations! Please enquire if you would like some ideas for extensions to your volunteer experience.

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 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 night-time camping with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and loose light clothing for daytime.

Project Gallery - Family volunteering - Desert Elephant Conservation

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