Volunteer with Wild Elephants in Sri Lanka

An opportunity to volunteer or intern with the conservation of wild elephant populations and carnivore research in a vast national park located in the heart of Sri Lanka. Volunteers and interns assist and support the efforts of the conservation project to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the region for the future protection of the Asian elephant and carnivore species, but also the crops and livelihoods of local farmers.

You can join from 1 week to 6 months and we have places available all throughout the year.

Individuals, groups, families and students all welcome.

Cost for food & accommodation during the project, transport, backup and support starts at £761

Volunteers observing elephants in the evening Volunteers assessing damaged cropsElephant observation Volunteers doing a transectVolunteers monitoring electric fenceElephants on the road Volunteer studying elephantsElephants in the wildField briefing of volunteersLake near volunteer house Volunteers marking treesMeal time at volunteer houseMeasuring elephant footprint Volunteers observing elephants from the car

About the Project

Wild elephants in Sri Lanka

The Elephant Conservation volunteer project has been addressing elephant and human conflicts for more than 20 years in Sri Lanka. Elephants cause great damage to the crops and properties of rural farmers, and in retaliation, farmers kill elephants. It is a precarious issue, which the Elephant Conservation project has been trying to discover methods to mitigate and prevent further.

The main threats to wild elephants in Sri Lanka are habitat loss, mega development projects, ivory poaching, illegal capture and retribution killing for raiding crops. Through the Elephants Conservation project, conservationists are striving to make elephants more valuable to the local communities alive rather than dead. This is done by engaging, training and paying locals to be involved in their conservation together with scientists and volunteers, and by developing a sustainable tourism programme in the area.  


Volunteer Activities

Volunteers get to participate in a wide range of different activities relevant to the work of the conservation project. These are some of the activities that you could be part of during the day:

  • Volunteers analysing elephant dungElephant foraging transect (to gather data on plants elephants eat and their impact on various habitats and plant species)
  • Elephant distribution and ranging, composition and population transect (gather indirect data on elephants, i.e. collect data on elephant dung and conduct direct observations of elephants when present).
  • Human-elephant conflict surveys - visit village homes that had been raided by elephants.
  • Carnivore Research - check remote cameras, download data, reload cameras and help set up new cameras.
  • Small animal diversity study - help set up sand traps, monitor and record animal prints to understand the diversity of small animals in the forests.
  • Electric Fence monitoring, repair and maintenance – walk the length of solar powered electric fences erected to protect villages and their fields. 
  • Help farmers to take care of their orange groves, check for diseases and pests, dig holes to plant new orange plants, during the fruiting season help count fruits, harvest and sort them for sale.
  • Assist farmers who have been provided with beehive fences to protect their home gardens.  Help monitor the bee colonies, repair and maintain the beehive fences and if it’s the season help harvest honey.
  • Help in the maintenance of the bird, butterfly and dragonfly sanctuary including pond maintenance.
  • Monitor the Community Bus. Travel in the bus early in the morning and afternoon when school children are transported to school and home through the elephant corridor. Take data on the presence of elephants and their behaviour.    

Evening Activities include elephant observations from the tree huts, conduct observations on human-elephant interactions in the Elephant Corridor, monitor the afternoon travel of the community bus, observe elephant behaviour and conduct identification, and bird diversity study.

The Small Wild Cat Study is an optional night activity, where volunteers collect data using night vision scopes and thermal cameras on Fishing, Jungle and Rusty-spotted cats, which are all small nocturnal wild cat species in Sri Lanka.

The project has more recently started to engage with carnivore species in Sri Lanka, as also these are facing increased threats by urban and agricultural development pressures. The Carnivore project thus gathers information on the status of seven carnivore species, including the sloth bear, leopard, rusty-spotted cat, fishing cat, jungle cat, golden palm civet, and the Sri Lankan jackal to develop measures for their conservation


A Week as a Volunteer

Observing elephant from distance in car

A typical volunteer week starts early around 6AM in the morning doing bird diversity studies in various habitats. Volunteers return around 8-9AM to have breakfast and a briefing on the morning activity. From around 9AM, volunteers could be engaged in one of several activities, which include Elephant foraging transects, human-elephant conflict surveys, carnivore research, small animal diversity study and much more.

From around 12-3PM volunteers get to relax and have a lunch break. Then from 3-7PM, volunteers will be engaged on evening activities, which usually include observing elephant behaviour, conduct elephant identification and alike. After finishing the evening activities, volunteers return to the house to have dinner and relax. It is after this optional for volunteers, if they want to take part in a wild cat study of small nocturnal cats found in Sri Lanka lasting for a few hours till midnight.


Long-term Internship Programme

The project also offers students the chance to do research as an intern. Interns will assist with data entering/sorting, volunteer coordination, data analysis and much more. The key subjects for research can be elephants and other mammals such as predators, insects, reptiles and amphibians, birds and botanical research.

Individual interns need to join for min. 3 months and max. 6 months. If you are a university group, then it would be possible to join an intensive 4-week programme. Please reach out to charlotte@workingabroad.com if you want a more detailed description of the long-term internship research opportunities.

Dates & Costs 

Volunteers observing elephants

4th February to 17th February 2019
18th February to 3rd March 2019
4th March to 17th March 2019
18th March to 31st March 2019
1st April to 14th April 2019
15th April to 28th April 2019
29th April to 12th May 2019
13th May to 26th May 2019
27th May to 9th June 2019
10th June to 23rd June 2019
24th June to 7th July 2019
8th July to 21st July 2019
22nd July to 4th August 2019
5th August to 18th August 2019
19th August to 1st September 2019
2nd September to 15th September 2019
16th September to 29th September 2019
30th September to 13th October 2019
14th October to 27th October 2019
28th October to 10th November 2019
11th November to 24th November 2019
25th November to 8th December 2019
9th December to 22nd December 2019

Please note that the above dates are flexible, and you can join the project starting on any Monday throughout the year. The minimum duration is 1 week, and volunteers should arrive in Colombo at least one day before starting on the project.

The price as a volunteer for 1 week is £761, 2 weeks is £900, 3 weeks is £1205 and 4 weeks is £1377. It is then £155 in addition for every extra week after 4 weeks. This covers all your food, water and accommodation at the project, pick up from hotel in Colombo, transport from Colombo to project site, return transport from project site to Kandy, project training and supervision and WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support. As an intern, you can join from 3-6 months, and costs start at £2915 for 3 months. 

Your airfare to and from Sri Lanka, travel/medical insurance, first night in Colombo, visa fee and personal expenses are not included within this price. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project. Airport drop-off is not included, which means that you’ll be transferred to a location in Kandy from which you need to arrange your own further transport.

For more details on the costs for staying longer than 4 weeks, or if wanting to join as a family or group, then please contact charlotte@workingabroad.com

Lodging & Travel 


Accommodation & Food 

Volunteer rooms

The volunteer house and its facilities are very basic but spacious. It can accommodate up to 30 people, and volunteers will stay in gender based shared rooms (2-10 people per room) sectioned off for privacy. There are several modern bathrooms that have flush toilets, sinks and cold-water showers. Electric fans, mosquito nets, pillows and clean bed sheets are provided. The design of the house is ideal for the climate and terrain it is situated. It is very open to the outdoors, which helps to keep the house relatively cool during the hot days/nights and dry during the rainy season. Volunteers are expected to help with general base duties, including cleaning and other chores. Laundry is done by hand.

Volunteer house Sri LankaMeals are prepared for volunteers every day at the house in local style. Most meals will be vegetarian, with egg, fish and soy for protein. Vegan food can also be provided. Western foods and snacks are not available locally and can be expensive. Safe drinking water is always available.  

Volunteers are based in the village of Pussellayaya (the Matale District) and working in the countryside and communities around the southern part of Wasgamuwa National Park. There is good mobile cellphone coverage, and volunteers are advised to purchase SIM cards from local service providers with data for internet access. Facilities to charge electronic equipment is available throughout the house.


Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers should be min 18 years, able to speak English fluently and be moderately fit. Anyone with an interest in nature and loves the outdoors and want to contribute positively to making a difference and enjoys meeting people from different parts of the world is welcome. 


Visa to Sri Lanka

Volunteers should apply for a tourist visa before travelling to Sri Lanka. This allows volunteers to stay in the country for 30 days and can be done easily for most nationalities online. The visa can be extended once in Sri Lanka for those wanting to volunteer longer, however, this would need to be done at the office in Colombo and at own costs of the volunteer. The passport should be valid for at least 6 months after the planned exit date.


How to get there

View from volunteer house Sri Lanka

Volunteers needs to travel to the city Colombo, most arriving to Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB). Volunteers should arrive at least one day before starting on the project. We can recommend a hotel in Colombo, and volunteers need to be ready 6AM on Monday morning to head for the project.

If you are staying in a hotel outside Colombo, you will have to arrange your own transport to arrive at the Fort Railway Station by 6AM of your programme start date. From there, volunteers will be going by train to Kandy, have breakfast upon arrival and then head on the bus for the last bit of the journey to the project site.

At the end of the stay, volunteers will be transferred to Kandy early on a Sunday. From here volunteers can arrange their onward travel or go to the airport. It is recommended to keep plans flexible or allow a day after the programme ends to catch a flight. Volunteers have the option of requesting a private vehicle transfer from the project site to their next destination, but this will cost additionally and should be arranged directly with our project partner once booked on the programme.


Health Information 

Sri Lanka was declared a malaria-free zone in 2016, but outbreaks of Dengue fever have occurred. It is therefore recommended to protect yourself from biting  insects. It is best to consult your own GP to find out about recommended vaccinations and treatments.

Map & Background 

 

About the Region 


Wasgamuwa National Park

Field house of volunteers

Wasgamuwa National Park is a natural park in Sri Lanka situated in the Matale and Polonnaruwa Districts. It was declared to protect and to make a refuge for the displaced wild animals in the 1980s. Originally it was designated as a nature reserve in 1938, and then in the early 1970s the area was re-graded as a strict nature reserve. Wasgamuwa is one of protected areas where Sri Lankan Elephants can be seen in large herds, and is also one of the Important bird areas in Sri Lanka.

The volunteer field house is situated on a hill by the south-eastern boundary of the Pussellayaya village in Wasgamuwa in the Central Province of Sri Lanka and overlooks an incredibly scenic and dynamic tapestry of rural and remote Sri Lanka. To the south along the far horizon stand the most significant and one of the most distinguishing geographic features of the Central Province, the Knuckles Mountain Range. Looming over the landscape the imposing and distinctly knuckle-shaped mountain ridge is unmistakable.


Weather

Sri Lanka is a tropical country, and rain can be expected anytime of the year in different parts of the country. However, the two major rainy seasons are North-East monsoon (October to January) predominantly affecting the east coast and South-West monsoon (May to July) which predominantly affects the west and south coast of Sri Lanka. The climate of Sri Lanka changes dramatically from central highlands to the coastal belt. For example, at Nuwara Eliya, in the hills of Central Sri Lanka, has a temperature around 5-20°C throughout the year, whereas Hambanthota, located in the dry zone, has a temperature consistently around 30-35°C.

Some text taken from Wikipedia. Read more at: https://wikitravel.org/en/Sri_Lanka

Volunteer Testimonials 


Sies & Janne Lamoral from Belgium joined the project in May 2018: 

The experience was amazing, however, we often heard extreme stories about the local human elephant conflict which goes on in this small village and hear how people are forced to scare them away. We were able to understand both sides of the story. We listened to how the elephants crop raid and damage houses, often scaring or killing people and were also able to witness captive elephants in the streets. This was hard to witness and often found it a struggle to understand, we were often left feeling sad and angry, but feel like the Elephant Conservation project is really making a difference and felt that we were helping to contribute to the ongoing problem.

Volunteers measuring pug marks We feel the project's motto “saving elephants by helping people” is a great way to summarise the project. We are very proud to have come here and been part of the amazing team, coming here felt welcoming like being at home. We also loved the daily activities and interacting with the staff, it often felt like being part of a huge family, this included waking up and having breakfast together, driving in the cars, swimming and always joking with Asitha and Syria. The language barrier wasn’t an issue, we were always able to enjoy the food prepared by Swarna and Lelia and laugh along the way. We will be very sad to leave the field house, we have made great memories and learnt so much along the way, although we are sad we are happy to share our knowledge and experiences with our friends and family. Thank you for everything, we would love to come back again


Maja Melze, from Germany, joined the project for two weeks in March 2018: 

Volunteers

My Name is Maja and I’m 18 years old and I’ve been here for two weeks and I had an amazing time in the field house. I met so many nice and approachable people and also the stuff people and very friendly. I really liked all the activities and it was very interesting to learn quiet a lot about the human elephant conflict.
For me the most interesting thing was going to the Sri Lankan people homes and talk to them. They were so hospitable, and they have told us about their experiences with the elephants and what the elephants have destroyed. It’s unbelievable to see that the people are so afraid of the elephants, but the other way around too. I also really enjoyed the afternoons in the tree hut, when we were in the nature and that close to the elephants. All in all, I had an amazing time with the project and highly recommend it to everyone.


Sherry, from China, joined the project in March 2018:

This is the first time that I join a volunteer program like this. Although the weather is so hot, I still enjoy the elephant observation activities and talking with the local people. It’s a great opportunity for me to get close to the wild elephant and understand the human elephant conflict situation here, and also bring me close to the local people and know more about their life. Besides, the staff here are very kind and helpful, and the other volunteers I met are very nice too. It’s definitely a wonderful experience!!


Sophie May Watts, from the USA, joined as an intern from February to March 2018:

Volunteer in the field

I’ve been so busy at the field house that my time has flown by. As part of the Carnivore Project, I worked on organizing and initial analysis of the camera trap images obtained from outside the National Park area. I was amazed by the diversity caught on cameras, quite literally images of sambar deer followed by small Indian civets followed by sloth bears. Specifically I also created an identification guide and database for each individual leopard caught on camera, by highlighting unique and noticeable spot patterns.

When I wasn’t in the office I joined with the other volunteer activities to get a feel for the wider aims of the project. I particularly enjoyed planting orange trees as it was nice to see the immediate benefits to our hard work. One of the highlights of my trip saved itself to the end, when the BBC Natural History Unit came to film footage of human-elephant conflict in the area.

Living in this rural part of Sri Lanka is a rare experience, and something I relished as I saw over twenty new species of birds and got to enjoy the view of the Knuckles daily. I’m grateful to have seen elephants so close in Wasgamuwa National Park and will treasure the memory forever.


Blake Bowen, from Australia, joined the project in February 2018: 

After this experience I have an even more positive outlook on a career in Ecology. I found that I really enjoyed working in the outdoor environment, and working with amazing creatures like elephants and leopards, despite the challenging aspects of the location. The pros definitely outweighed the cons.

The staff members were cheerful, helpful and seemed to all be really passionate about their work. I enjoyed working with them and the volunteers and it was great to work surrounded by people as enthusiastic about wildlife conservation as I am. I gained confidence in my own abilities to problem solve and learned some great technical skills that I’m sure will be useful in a career in ecology and wildlife conservation. Before starting this internship, I had an interest in following a career in this field, but now I am convinced that this is the avenue that I wish to pursue.

I was very impressed by efforts to simultaneously improve the lives of the local wildlife and the community through their projects.. I am both humbled and satisfied by this amazing experience and the opportunity it gave me to help elephants and humans live in harmony.


Nicola Phillips, from New Zealand, joined for 2 weeks in February 2018: 

I had a fantastic time volunteering. The staff, volunteers, activities and amazing food all made it an adventure worth remembering! A massive highlight for me was the beautiful welcoming nature of the Sri Lankan staff, you don’t always have to speak the same language to show warmth and kindness.
The activities were interesting and diverse, I enjoyed them all for different reasons but over all I loved the fact that we got to visit the villages and really get a full understanding of the Human Elephant Conflict and how it affects others. I have learnt a lot in my short 2 weeks here and I only have positive things to say. I hope to one day return and volunteer in the future, I will miss everyone here hugely!


Bethany Standish, from England, joined as a volunteer for 2 weeks in January 2018:Volunteer in Sri Lanka

I have spent two wonderful weeks at the Elephant Conservation project! This was my first experience volunteering at a conservation project and really feel like the organisation and staff involved are making a difference in the community, with both the elephants and the people.

I felt very much at home at the field house and this is due to the lovely staff, great food and the friendly atmosphere. I have learnt a lot about the elephant and human conflict in Sri Lanka and will make sure I make people aware of the problems when I return home. I also had the opportunity to teach English in the local school which was a great experience and would recommend it to anyone!


Lisa Messemaker, from the Netherlands, spent 3 weeks as a volunteer in January 2018: 

When I came I knew already what the program was going to look like, but it gave me more than I had expected. I’ve met nice people, and I enjoyed working together with the local people in the village. I feel like I really contributed something to something important, for example by planting orange trees in farmers’ gardens, and I would recommend the program at home. I regret that I did not stay a week longer, because it took me a week to settle. Furthermore, I got the rare opportunity to see wild elephants in their natural habitat, and I will remember this for the rest of my life.


Linn Mansson, from Sweden, joined the project in December 2017:

Volunteers in tree hut

Today I had my last day here at the project and I could not have had a better last day. We saw like 20 elephants and they were all so close. Amazing! I have now been here for three weeks (okay a little bit shorter since I went to The Maldives for Christmas) and I have had an amazing time here. This is such a great project with really determined people who wants to make a change and preserve the elephants and their habitat.

The whole project is very complex and covers a lot of things. When I first got here I thought we would mostly observe elephants, but I love how that was not the case. Talking with farmers about the damage elephants have done, make them feel heard, coming up with solutions such as bio fences, all to protect the elephants. Also analyzing dung to learn where the elephants have been, what they have been eating and other interesting things. The sand traps and camera traps were also very interesting! The project is covering almost the whole problem which is superb!

I also want to say a big thank you to Rashika for being a fantastic person and teaching us so much about elephants, birds, farmers, everything. She is the best! So yes, I really enjoyed my stay here! You guys are the best! 


Rebecca Morgante, from Italy, joined as a volunteer for 3 weeks in December 2017: Volunteer in field

I have spent 3 weeks volunteering with the Elephant Conservation project, it has been an amazing time. I have learned a lot about elephants in general and other species, like birds, that live in Sri lanka, and I got aware of the elephant human conflicts. I had the chance to observe elephants in the wild in a beautiful environment. I had the chance to get in contact with local people, getting to learn more about their habits than what a normal tourist does.
The conservation work we had to do every day is very interesting, the locations are stunning. The people that work together with the volunteers are really nice and helpful. The field house is placed in a wonderful spot, so the view is amazing as well as the surroundings, and although very basic, it is comfortable enough to live in.So, thank you for the beautiful experience.

How to Join 

Volunteers observing elephants

To secure your placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £180. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However, for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay the final balance 2 months before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive an information package on the programme, the work you will do, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc.
 

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