Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Desert Elephants Volunteer Project, Namibia

2 - 12 weeks from

18+ for individuals - families 4+
minimum age

  • Become directly involved in spearhead elephant conservation work
  • Get back in touch with nature and learn camp craft and survival skills in the desert
  • Track and learn about the famous desert adapted elephants in the stunning Damaraland
  • Give back to the local community by taking part in community building projects

"I highly recommend this trip, it was best time of my life and I will certainly be hoping to return in the future"

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This was the trip of a lifetime! It was my first time travelling solo away from home and it was far better than anything I could’ve hoped for. There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t feel safe and comfortable on this trip when we were with the fantastic project staff. From build week and working on the walls to patrol week when we track the elephants, I learnt so much from the people I was with and the people I met. The build week can be challenging in the heat (depending on the time of year you go) but the reward is so worth it, and when you get to meet the people from the local villages you fully see what a difference you are making. Then on patrol week nothing can prepare you for the amazement you’ll feel watching the elephants and seeing them up so close when they walk past the cars! Both weeks were full of so much laughter and Namibia itself is the most stunning country I have ever visited! I highly recommend this trip, it was best time of my life and I will certainly be hoping to return in the future.

"My trip was excellent!"

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My trip was excellent! Two thumps up for the Desert Elephant Project! I will certainly look into more trips with you guys! Thanks so much.

"The staff were very friendly and professional"

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I am pleased to say that the volunteering project went very well, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The staff were very friendly and professional, and I would highly recommend the project to anyone considering joining.

"The sheer beauty of the Namibian desert and wildlife, made the project an opportunity of a lifetime"

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The first week (out of a two-week rotation) is building week and was in my opinion the most educational and rewarding week. All the volunteers were required to work hard to build a wall around a to-be water pump. We did this so as to defend the water pump from prying elephants since they are extremely valuable in an area which sees little to no rainfall all year. I was impressed by the dedication of the volunteers and the instruction of the team.

Overall, the wonderful volunteers and the staff members, along with the sheer beauty of the Namibian desert and wildlife, made the desert elephant project an opportunity of a lifetime. The work is meaningful and the hands-on approach that the project takes makes it easy to see the dangers facing the local wildlife, which is struggling for existence. Christophe, one of the team leaders and our leader for the duration of our stay, deserves a special mention. He is young, but his understanding and knowledge of the desert is incredible. I learnt a lot from him and his passion for the local wildlife is admirable. To prospective volunteers, I would suggest really thinking about the reasons you are choosing to take part on the project. If you embrace hard work and keep an open mind, the reward is un-measurable.

"I enjoyed the experience of sleeping in the treehouse and being open to the stars"

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I had a great time volunteering with the organisation; the volunteers in my group came from a range of countries and covered a broad range of age groups but we gelled together quickly and I think we all had a really good time.

In terms of the activities we undertook, the first week building walls was hard work but enjoyable and very worthwhile, whilst the second week watching the elephants in their natural habitat was a real once in a lifetime experience.

The basecamp accommodation and facilities are basic but reasonably comfortable so long as you are prepared and have a warm sleeping bag. I enjoyed the experience of sleeping in the treehouse and being open to the stars and the sound of the nearby wildlife (esp Baboons) though I can imagine there are some people that wouldn’t. I also really enjoyed sleeping out under the stars when we were out on patrol and on the building projects.

The food was a real surprise, I had expected to be eating out of tins for the two weeks but this wasn’t the case. The dinners were really well planned and really delicious and using fresh or frozen ingredients as far as possible. It really is quite amazing just how good the meals were and I think most of the volunteers took copies of the recipes home with them.

I really can’t recommend this highly enough. Namibia is a wonderful country and the cause is very worthwhile and I hope I have the chance to go back at some point in the future.

"It has been an unforgettable experience"

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We survived build week! The group of excited travellers who hopped around camp on Monday evening hobbled back on Friday like a group of pensioners who had just attempted a marathon – tired, sore BUT very happy and satisfied. For all of our talk and reflection you would think we had just reconstructed the Great Wall of China but, in reality we had put the finishing touches to one walls, built a platform to elevate a water tank and laid the foundations for its protective wall.

The week started following lunch on Tuesday after we had set up the camp. We kicked off with a quick demo on how to make cement by Kabwata (ed. young Matheus) – it really couldn’t be easier: 6 shovels of sand, 3 of cement a bucket of water a couple of stirs and there you have it! A barrow of cement in under 2 minutes – it couldn’t be too much bother to knock up a couple of walls this week!!! We learnt pretty quickly that we aren’t all Kabwata and that this whole business needs a fair bit more skill and strength than I had on day 1! Luckily we had a few strong team members and the expertise and patience of Kavari and Martha to show the rest of us the ropes and soon enough we had a great little production line on the go.

We finished up the wall on Tuesday and moved to our next farm where we built the other structures. The next days passed in a blur of hard work, sweat, camaraderie and learning. Multiple sand and rock runs, loads of rocks and enough cement mixes to give us a few blisters and an impetus to establish a cult to worship at the genius of the man who invented the cement mixer, we headed back to base camp with some new skills and a feeling that we had contributed to something.

Volunteers digging for rocks in NamibiaChallenging through the building week was it was made manageable – there was something we could each do and we learn to complement each other quickly. By the last day the separation of ‘you do dry mix, I’ll do wet’ rotated clearly, and no sooner had wheelbarrows been returned to its spot, then it was refilled with the cement ingredients and a fresh water bucket was lined up.

On top of the rewarding days were the nights. We were all impressed with the camps that materialised on a thorny piece of ground as if from no where and the food that we conjured up on the campfire was better than much of what I cook at home. Lying under the tarpaulin, looking out on landscape lit by the nearly full moon and admiring the (occasionally shooting) stars, it was hard to feel anything other than enormously privileged.

We arrived back to Base Camp on Friday in the spirit of those arriving at a 5* luxury lodge. After a short stop at Khorixas for a much needed coke, it became clear that we were the grubbiest people in Namibia and the showers we enjoyed on our return to camp were blissful. WE have been treated to a very relaxing weekend and we are all looking forward to patrol week and all the new adventures it promises.

Thank you to Kabwata, Kavari, Martha and Chris they have looked after us brilliantly, trained us patiently and kept the ‘craic’ going as we got tired. It has been an unforgettable experience.

"We really enjoyed camping under the Namibian night sky, cooking over a wood fire"

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We are the last volunteers of the year and have an awesome group. We have Simba from Germany who is here for 12 weeks, Sophia and Lukas from Germany doing this for 8 weeks, the Swiss Sylvia and German Jonas for 4 weeks. Then there are the newcomers, two Kiwi sisters Karyn and Sian, the Australians Shane and Derek, the Swiss Stephi, the German Evan, the American Brand and the Scottish Craig.

We are the first group to build a wall in 1 day for a widow and her three daughters, 5 hr drive from base camp on a remote farm. We really enjoyed camping under the Namibian night sky, cooking over a wood fire and drinks with the family. But not so much the scorpions, spiders and a massive Solifuge (Sand Spider) which sent some girls screaming!

Today we started patrol week and we had an amazing day. WE were surrounded by two herds, tracked two bulls. Now we are camping on the slopes of the Brandberg Mountain having spaghetti carbonara.

"A wonderful trip through the ever-changing landscape of Damaraland"

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What a day! 3 elephant bulls, 15000 year old wall painting and a wonderful trip through the ever-changing landscape of Damaraland. It is wonderful to know that you can share an epic time with people that you have met just a few days earlier – maybe a week ago but still sharing laughs, memories and Marshmallows. Having enjoyed a beef curry in the moonlight – one day till full moon – and wondering if we might be visited by elephants tonight are just a few things I’ll fondly look back on when I’m back home remembering the first day of patrol week.

"The volunteer projects help elephants and farmers coexist"

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In June I completed a long awaited volunteer elephant conservation project in Namibia, Africa. Poaching had significantly reduced Namibia’s populations of desert adapted elephants, however, with the government’s increased anti poaching efforts the populations are now on the increase. Water is a precious resource in this dry land for both Namibian farmers and elephants. The volunteer projects help elephants and farmers coexist by building rock walls around water storage tanks protecting them from damage by the elephants. Drinking troughs for livestock and wildlife outside the wall can then be filled from the protected water tanks. After a week spent building the wall the following week is spent on patrol assisting with their ongoing research, protection, and community education about desert elephants.  More photos can be found here: http://www.delicatelightphotography.com/namibian-wildlife.html 

"I feel privileged to have been part of it"

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One of the most striking things about being out here is the change in my perception of time. Coming from the never ending hustle of London, where every minute has infinite possibilities to be crammed with chores, activities and motion –the quietude and solace that I’ve encountered here has been like a breath of fresh air. A new opening to a realm of peace and relaxation. What amazes me most is that although each day here is far from dull – between shovelling mountains of sand, heaving ever – heavier rocks with macho determination, gazing through binoculars, intent on spotting the moving rock on the horizon, of practising mental trickery through a tense game of cards, the itinerary is endless – the seconds, minutes, hours seem to flow by in an unhurried steam. Never stressful, never ever – crammed, simply a fluid blur of moments and experiences that seem to converge into one calm continuum. And in a blink, 2 weeks are over.

This is something that I have definitely begun to feel most keenly as the days trickle through my last cycle on the project after 8 weeks. No matter how hard I try, time overtakes me, and I know that these two weeks will end before they’ve really begun. However, despite the inevitable a sadness I will feel when, upon leaving the happy cocoon that is with the Desert Elephant Project, I will leave with the warming sense of comfort that this short flash of time on the project has not been insignificant but one of the most important periods of my life so far. The people I’ve met, the incredible things I’ve seen, the amazing work and dedication of everyone and how it has confirmed my own certainty that I would love to work in conservation.

Now I know that time should be valued not by quantity, but by every moment, every memory that goes by. It’s been such an opportunity and I feel privileged to have been put on it. 2 months can be just as valuable as 12 – it is just what you make of it that makes the difference.

"I would recommend this trip to anyone who has a love for wildlife in their hearts"

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My first trip to Namibia and a wonderful experience. Build week was challenging but fun, my favourite job was the rock run though I don’t think I could ever compete with Mattias in a rock lifting competition. Everybody worked hard and we got as much of the wall build as possible hopefully the next group will finish it. Whilst I enjoyed build week the real highlight of the trip for me was patrol week, following the elephants and at times having them very close to the vehicles checking us out was one of the best experiences of my life, they are without doubt one of the most intelligent species on earth, but someone needs to tell Voortrekker to stop showing off.

I would recommend this trip to anyone who has a love for wildlife in their hearts. All the guys who work on the project are fantastic and have an in-depth knowledge of the Namibian wildlife and the issues they face.

The project is run by wonderful people and I hope they are around for a long time to help conserve one of planet earth’s most iconic species.

Staying up every night to watch the stars in the sky, it was truly magical

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Where do I start? It has been an amazing two weeks and I wish it wasn’t coming to an end. Build week was hard work but a great learning experience. We started building a new water point wall for a farmer that had been “visited” often by elephants. We all worked within our own abilities and everyone – staff and volunteers – helped each other out. Duties ranged from mixing cement, sand and aggregate (to make concrete) to collecting rocks for the wall to stacking the rocks and concrete up to form the wall. In the evenings we took turns cooking. I was a little worried about food, being a vegetarian, but realized quickly that I had no need to be – between Thai green curry, veggie potjie, (veg) spaghetti Bolognese etc. It was quite luxurious, I must say. The volunteers ranged from students to accountants to graphic designers, from different countries and across all age groups. It was a great mix and everyone was really friendly. It was a great chance to interact with people from all walks of life.

During patrol week, we spent the week following the elephant herds to observe them and collect pictures and data for the project’s records. I found out that staff on the project share the information with the Namibian government so it’s really valuable work being done to protect the species. The highlight of patrol week for me was when three elephants came right up to our jeep, looked at us, sniffed the jeep with their trunks and walked on. Such a special moment I’ll never forget.

Special thanks to Chris, Mattias and Marius for making this such a wonderful trip for us all. Between Chris’ insight and enthusiasm, Mattias’ brilliant sense of humour and Marius’ extensive knowledge on everything under the sun, it really was the perfect combination. Thanks, guys-you were truly fantastic!

All-in-one, a very insightful trip. I’ve learnt a lot about nature, Namibia, elephants and discovered so much about myself. The best moment for me? Staying up every night to watch the stars in the sky, it was truly magical. One fine night I saw a shooting star for the first time. And I made a wish.

This was a life-changing experience. My only regret is not staying longer.

Desert Elephants Volunteer Project, Namibia

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