Volunteer with Elephants
Apply to volunteer with elephants in Asia and Africa, we have some fantastic elephant conservation projects in countries like Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. When you think about elephants what do you think? Usually the image of gentle giants with wagging tails. The sad reality is elephants are facing a really difficult future due to poaching, human encroachment onto their land, loss of natural habitat and the now defunct logging industry. With One World 365 you can sign up to work with elephants - this will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life which will provide you with memories to last a lifetime. We have structured programs available year round where you can volunteer with elephants, we also provide information on free and paid positions. View our guide and placements today.
Guide to Volunteering with Elephants
Play a vital role in protecting and caring for elephants and helping them have a better future. Our website includes lots of useful information on working with elephants and also details on how to apply. We connect you to recommend wildlife sanctuaries around the world which accept international participants all year round. You could help hands on actually washing and feeding elephants or contribute in other ways for example creating and running educational and conservation initiatives.
We help various non profit organisations recruit volunteers from around the world and we want more people to take the opportunity to join projects and have the experience of a lifetime. We provide an amazing elephant experiences where you can help and learn about Asian elephants whilst helping to support conservation. Not only are we passionate about helping elephants, we are very keen on making sure you have a good time whilst supporting ethical sanctuaries and we have a number of ways of making sure that happens. Read on for more information.
Why the Need for Assistance
Worldwide there are only around 20,000 elephants living in the wild compared to over 100,000 only 100 years ago and this number if falling all the time. Elephants in the past have been made to work in tourist camps or in the logging industry - some elephants have never had freedom to even live in the wild.
In Asia it is common for elephants being abused for tourist purposes and being forced to perform tricks or provide tourists with rides in the jungle - this is common in places like Chaing Mai in Northern Thailand. Please avoid these unethical experiences, there are lots of amazing santuaries and places where you can see and help elephants.
In Africa poaching is a huge problem, thousands of elephants have been slaughtered in recent years reducing their numbers in the wild. There is a big demand for ivory in developing countries like China and Vietnam which results in hunters killing elephants, cutting off their tusks and then trying to smuggle them to the Far East to be sold for a big profit. This is an absolutely horrendous industry leaving numbers of elephants in countries like Zimbabwe shockingly low.
These animals are facing daily struggles but there are lots of inspirational wildlife conservation organisations and wildlife charities trying to improve the situation.They aim to provide a safe environment, reduce/stop poaching, raise numbers in the wild, help injured elephants back to health and rehabilitating them before being released back into a natural habitat. This is your chance to help these ancient creatures and play a key role in the future of the species.
Tasks & What to Expect
Are you thinking about volunteering with elephants and wondering what you might be doing? When you join a program one of the most exciting things is actually getting to meet the elephants you will be working with, these are huge creatures and very friendly in nature when you see them up close. By volunteering at an elephant sanctuary you could be working with baby elephants or old elephants which have had bad lives in the logging or tourism trade. Some placements can be hands on meaning you will be able to stroke, feed and be close to the elephants in a safe environment - this really depends on the destination though. Generally tasks can include:
There are lots of tasks where you will be able to collect food, usually pineapples and lots of tree leaves - you will be impressed by how much elephants eat which is around 200 - 250 pounds of food per day! They really love to eat throughout the day and its great to watch a hungry herd of elephants in real life and not just on tv.
These creatures need to be clean and you might be involved with washing the elephants, this is usually in the morning when you can use a water hose to wash and clean the elephants or in a lake, pond or river. You might even possibly even get to go swimming with them which can be a scary / exhilarating experience.
You will be able to work alongside local staff with duties like collecting food, cleaning enclosures, creating interactive games to keep the elephants entertained, walking them, constructing new enclosures and seeing the general daily routine runs smoothly.
Education / Conservation Awareness
Educating local people and is also important to raise awareness about the problems elephants face which is so vitally important to their future. You might be able to travel into local villages or schools telling local people about elephants and the need to protect them, sometimes you might work with local staff creating leaflets or working on social media websites to get the messages out. Another aspect of some programmes is guiding visitors around the parks, this could be tourists or local people who are interested in learning more about these creatures.
A day working with elephants is an amazing experience, every sanctuary and organisation offers different programs but generally this is what you can expect to be doing during your average day:
- 7:00am - You might be expected to wake up early because elephants are early risers, usually you have a time which you will meet your fellow participants and collect the elephants for morning activities.
- 8:00am - Feed the elephants breakfast
- 9:00am - Observe / bath the herd
- 10:00am - Elephants need lots of exercise and sometime you will take them for a walk or collect food for the day
- 11:00am - Prepare lunch for the herd
- 12:00pm - Eat lunch with your fellow participants and then have a rest
- 1:00pm - Cleaning enclosures and creating a happy environment for elephants to live
- 2:00pm - Take the elephants for a bath / scrub
- 3:00pm - Let the elephants relax and wander around
- 5:00pm - Feed the elephants
- 8:00pm - Elephants usually have early nights falling asleep in the late evening leaving you free time to relax at night
Volunteer with Elephants in Asia
We are one of the best volunteer organisations in the world for helping participants volunteer with elephants in Asia. We help support non profit organizations which help directly help elephants. Below you can read more information on elephant programs in Asia...
Volunteer with Elephants in Thailand
Thailand is one of the worlds most popular travel destination and if you are thinking about visiting then why not combine this experience by helping elephants too. In Thailand elephants are a national symbol of the country but you might be surprised to see how badly these creatures are treated. As is the case in many developing counties, tourism has fast become a lucrative source of income in Thailand. The Thai economy is hugely dependent on the money brought in by tourists. Unfortunately, there are always two sides to every story, and sadly elephant-cruelty makes up that other side. Animal welfare is not always a concern amongst many Thai locals, and because of this lack of awareness, many elephants are exploited and abused.
In Thailand, elephants are often forced to survive in very poor conditions and face torture training methods that include being chained in a cage and deprived of sleep, starved and beaten with sharp objects. Sometimes you can even see elephants being paraded through cities like Bangkok or popular tourist resorts like Phuket where their owners try to get money off tourists wanting pictures. There are some really special local organisations like the Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai and Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) located in Petchabari which are two of the most respected sanctuaries for elephants in this country. They along with other organisations are doing really amazing work to rescue and help protect elephants giving them as normal life as possible in places like Surin. If you apply to work in Thailand with elephants you will be able to help and also meet lots of other international participants too.
It is very easy to apply to volunteer at a Thai elephant sanctuary, you can view placements on our website today. Also if you are planning on visiting Thailand try to avoid riding elephants on trekking tours and trips, usually these elephants working in the tourism trade are kept in horrendous conditions and treated badly.
Elephant Eco-Tourism Project in Jomtien, Pattaya, Thailand
I volunteered for a not-for-profit eco-conservation organisation promoting wildlife and culture throughout Thailand. Based in Jomtien, the company runs numerous volunteer projects and expeditions all over Thailand from a few days to 4 week plus. Volunteer programmes include:
- English Teaching with Karen Hilltribe
- Forest Dusky Langur Conservation
- The Gibbon Project
- The Elephant Project
- Care for Dog Project
The Elephant Project I based in Jomtien, Pattaya. I was originally supposed to the stay at the camp for 2 week as a volunteer, however I enjoyed it so much, I decided to stay and give up the final leg of my around the world trip as I believe this to be such a worthwhile cause and wanted to help inform like minded travelers about the project and try to raise the profile of the camp. The elephant camp was set up in a community with over 28 domestic elephants. Every elephant in the camp has been rescued from a bad situation such as the Tsunami, bad treatment by previous owners, and/or working on the streets.
The Mahouts earn money for their elephants and their families through the volunteer programmes, ensuring the elephants are well cared for and respected. Each volunteer becomes part of this community. Working with their allocated elephant, building up a rapport and trust, clean, wash and feed them during the day. This program has a high educational level, regarding domestic elephants and Thai culture. In the evening volunteers teach english to the families, cook, eat and spend time with the Mahouts.
I realize there are many elephant camps in Thailand, all of which are fundamentally tourist attractions for visitors with shows and photos opportunities. However the elephant sanctuary I volunteered at is different. It is not a show. The elephants live in a more natural environment and volunteers and tourists actually get involved with working with the elephants and are educated. As well as the longer term volunteer programmes, day tourist can also do a trek in the jungle or spend half a day at the project, being shown around by the volunteers, being told about the history of each elephant and taking part in a mini version of the volunteer programme.
All the money raised goes directly back to the elephants for food, and medical supplies. As most elephant sanctuaries are not-for profit organizations it is very difficult for them to keep operating throughout the year due to running costs and the money you pay really helps. I couldn't recommend this experience highly enough.
What to Expect from a Volunteering with Elephants in Chiang Mai
I was picked up at 6:30am the next morning to visit an Elephant sanctuary along with the other members of my group that day. It takes about one - two hours to get there and the guide in the car makes that time pass quickly by giving you a very interesting background chat on elephants and park itself. He also allowed us some nap time. It filled me a sort of giddy excitement and confidence that again, I was going to see these animals in a very natural environment and not under any cruel circumstances.
Arriving at the elephant park we pull into the car park, the place is immaculate. We get taken into a large open seated area where we are told we can have our fill of free fruit and tea/coffee. No need to tell me twice. I grab a banana and a long black and take a seat. I almost spat a little hot coffee out when I focused my eyes to the view just adjacent from the benches. Elephants were stomping around and playing in the dusty field and I could hear them trumpeting to one another.
We are given our overalls for the day. This is for two main reasons. One being that the elephants are comfortable being around visiting tourists if they all look the same and wear a familiar attire. It puts them at ease. The second is because we are undoubtingly going to get filthy. After a quick briefing we are taking into the dust field and we are within feet of these massive creatures. They look excited, but are being patient. It was then revealed to us that we were going to feed these elephants, by hand, with bunches of bananas and sugar cane. You had to show them a huge amount of respect, and so I did.
All the elephants had their own personality. Some are clearly more cheeky than others; trying to use their trunks to quickly snatch the food from your hand as you walk by. One elephant wraps it trunk around my arm and pulls me towards it, breaking my flip flop. I couldn't have cared less about the flip flop because I had clearly made a friend. I fed him all the food I had and once I was complete he wrapped his truck around me and gave me a big wet elephant suction kiss on the cheek.
After the feeding was over we went to another field and met the elephants we would be spending the rest of the day with. We were given a background on the elephants themselves and got to make acquaintance with them. We were taught how to talk to them in Burmese so that we could: get them to kneel down so we could climb on, walk forward, turn left and right and finally (and most importantly) to stop. We got to practice getting on and off the elephant and riding him around the flat dusty field for a while. It was so incredibly mind blowing to be up on one of these massive beasts. Not in a horrible cruel wooden seat, but actually on its back, my legs behind his ears and my hands on his head to let him know I was there. Just me and the elephant, nothing in the way.
There was this one elephant I could see off in the distance. It was only a baby and it was dancing, almost like in a trace. The same little dance over and over. I decided to ask why the elephant was doing this and it turned out that the little elephant had been rescued from a circus and it was doing that dance to attract people over to feed it. Assuming that it was never fed unless it worked for it. It was hard to take in, and very sad to see but at least this elephant was now in a place where it could be looked after. I hope it broke that habit eventually.
We spend the next hours walking around with the elephants. It was now I realised that I had the naughty one who liked to walk off the beaten track when some food caught its eye. This just made the whole experience a little more special as this guy was obviously a character. The time came to say goodbye to our elephants with a bath. They walk into a lake and roll over onto their sides and we get some brushes and buckets to give them a good old scrub and clean. It isn't long before the elephants are sucking up large amounts of water with their trunks and blasting us with water. The water fight lasts about twenty minutes. We loose, badly.
Back in the city that night it took a while for the last two days to sink in. I can't help but have a massive stupid grin on my face all night and the next day. It was probably two of the best experiences of my life.
By Jack Boad
Volunteer with Elephants in India
India is a worldwide famous destinations which is known for their exotic wildlife. Unfortunately elephants are facing a difficult future, they are no longer needed from the logging industry and are often used in circuses and in cities for the pleasure of tourists. Elephants also face threats from poachers and some are forcd to work at camps which take tourists around popular sights in places like Jaipur. There is a lot of good work going on which you can get involved with though where you will be based in locations like beautiful Jaipur in Rajasthan, Northern India.
In the Amber village which is also known as the 'Elephant Village' where elephants are still unfortunately put to work at the world famous royal Amber Fort. There have been projects set up in recent years though to help care for the elephants and provide better attention / living conditions. You will get to work with local mahouts working throughout the day usually around 9:00am - 7:00pm (don't worry there will be lots of breaks too) and also weekends free. You will help the local mahouts, tasks can include bathing, cleaning and preparing food, caring for baby elephants, providing water and making sure the elephants are healthy. Although we don't support the use of elephants for tourism purposes, these projects in India are at least a step in the right direction.
Volunteer with Elephants in Laos
The main goal of new elephant projects in Laos is to promote sustainable elephant-based tourism, which allows the population to maintain one of its main sources of income and improve the life of these gentle giants. For now, the projects we promote are focused on low-volume, maximising the value given, and the duration is structured around a 1-week+ placement duration. So that volunteers can fully maximise their experience in Laos.
Volunteer with Elephants in Sri Lanka
Volunteering woth elephants in Sri Lanka gives you a hands-on experience in the beautiful country of Sri Lanka. As well as helping elephant conservation. Each day you will work with and learn about these magnificent yet endangered animals.
There are sancutaries in rural areas around 90km from the capital Colombo. Helping is a great way to see more of this beautiful country, learn about the local people and also contribute to conservation efforts. Sri Lanka is a unique country and you will get to integrate into the culture, get to know local people and learn some new things e.g. cooking like a local. On placements in this country you will get to help Asian elephants and support conservation efforts with daily tasks. You will learn a lot about these animals and the country.
Some programs also allow you to help manage eco sanctuaries and farms where you can help care for chickens, cows, paddy field and vegetable garden and also spend time with disadvantaged local children. By the end of your stay you will be able to read elephant body language, identify health and sickness signs in elephants, single handedly take your elephant to the river for a bath and have made friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
Volunteer with Elephants in Africa
Poaching is a huge problem, around 25,000 elephants were killed last year and its vital educational projects working with local communities are successful to provide elephants with a better future. African elephants are the largest living land animals on earth and there are National Parks and Game Reserves where elephants roam free and where you can help. You will be able to educate visitors on the decline in African elephant numbers due primarily to the destruction of their habitat and the poaching of elephant ivory tusks. There are skilled placements for vets which are popular with students undertaking veterinary and animal courses at university. In Africa there are vet volunteer programs where you will be trained to take care of animals for example elephants at national parks. The Addo Elephant National Park, The Amakhala Game Reserve and The Shamwari Game Reserve located in the Eastern Cape in South Africa all accept volunteer vets year round. You can work at endangered species rehabilitation centres in Africa which play a crucial role in conserving many endangered wildlife species.
Below are the most popular places to volunteer with elephants in Africa...
Volunteer with Elephants in South Africa
In Africa you could help elephants in places like South Africa, there are wildlife nature parks all around the country in beautiful places like Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal and Grahamstown. The nature parks provide a safe environment for elephants to roam far away from poachers, it is a magical site to see elephants walking free in the wild. Being able to help elephants will only add to the true authentic African experience you will receieve. We also highly recommend visiting the Addo Elephant National Park where there are hundreds of elephants roaming free - this is a popular stop off on the Garden Route and you won't regret visiting if you are passionate about wildlife conservation.
Volunteer with Elephants in Namibia & Botswana
A couple more countries you might want to consider are Botswana and Namibia in Southern Africa, there are conservation efforts in the Southern Kunene Region of the country where in the 1980's elephants were wiped out of existence. It is only recently herds from other areas have returned to the area and now there are over 600 elephants living here. You can apply to help local organisations with their long term aims of providing a safe and sustainable way for elephants to live without the fear of poaching.
Volunteer with Elephants in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe there are now special conservation areas set up for animals like elephants and rhinos to live in the Zambezi Valley. For decades the declining wildlife numbers in this country were a real problem but since the intervention of local NGO's and international conservation charities the situation is slowing improving. You will play a significant role at the reserve and get involved with a whole host of conservation activities, your itinerary will vary according to what the reserve and its residents need as wildlife don’t do too well with schedules! Help out with a range of activities including; feeding, looking after and learning all about elephants, caring for lions and their cubs when there are any, assisting with releasing lions into game reserves if this happens while you’re there, and maintaining the reserve through bush clearing, fencing and landscaping. Your time at the project will give you inside knowledge on African wildlife, ecology, conservation and an insight into the local culture. Zimbabwe is also a safer destination than you might think.
Volunteer with Elephants in Kenya
Reserve in Kenya have a dedicated wildlife centre staffed by veterinarians, ecologists and environmentalists. They also feature breeding centres, a wildlife rehabilitation centres, animal hospitals, education centres and an anti-poaching units. Projects and reserves have received many awards and offers volunteers a wonderful experience. Some programs are divided into two parts and operates on a two week rotation, there is a Olowaru Bush Project and a Oloibor Elephant Project. These have a focus on gaining an understanding of a previously unstudied population of elephants.
The aim of the projects is to monitor the predator-prey relationships of the animal populations, and establish the effect of the human/wildlife conflict on the lion population. You will set off with the Researcher and a local Masai guide surveying species and collecting data, recovering fresh scat and making casts of prints. The information you help to gather will form an essential part of assessing the conservation needs of the lions and making sure they are met. In your spare time you might want to visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage which takes in orphanged wildlife like elephants and rhinos
Volunteer with Elephants in Tanzania
In Tanzania you can also work to help long term conservation efforts and protect elephants from poachers. Your main role as a volunteer will be to help with monitoring elephant herd activity between Tsavo East National Park and the Tanzania border near Oloibor, whilst at the project your activities may include:
- Tracking and recording elephant evidence and movements
- Data collection with our Research Project Leaders
- Recording animal numbers of other large mammals in the vicinity
- Individual identification and family group research
- Counting and recording elephant numbers, group make up and location using GPS equipment
- Habitat and human population surveys within the elephant range
Free Programs & Paid Work with Elephants
If you have any previous skills or expertise in fields like veterinary there are opportunities to find paid gands on work caring for elephants. You will usually be working in teams of vetinerary professionals or work alongside local staff with operations. Paid/free positions are available but usually you will need to commit for long term periods. If you are just looking to turn up and help elephants do not expect to get paid or receive a wage for the work you do, the reality is in contrast to this, some placements will require you to pay a fee to participate, this can be the case if you apply through a large international sending agency and also direct to a local sanctuary.
Past Participant Feedback
"It had always been my dream to visit Thailand and help elephants but I was shocked by some of the fee's, some companies charging literally hundreds of pounds to participate. I volunteer with a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand, it was one of the cheapest I found with elephants at around £200 per week and I signed up. Before going the cost was a nagging feeling with me thinking how expensive this seemed when it should be free, even my family and friends were very negative about me paying. But when I arrived I saw first hand the inspiration work in rescuing and helping wildlife throughout South-East Asia I was amazed. They rely solely on donations and also volunteers who give up their time to help and without the money raised from donations and volunteers there would be no operation running."
Eligibility & Requirements
- All Nationalities are welcome to apply but you will need to check to see if you are eligible for a tourist visa for your country of choice
- Most organisations will require you to be aged 18+ but sometimes there are special trips for 15-17 year olds and some places offer specific placements for families
- You might be required to have travel insurance
- If you have no previous experience doing something like this in the past do not worry, most organisations offer full training on arrival where you will learn about the types of tasks you will be asked to do
- Most organisations will require you to participate for a minimum of 2 weeks or longer but if you are on a short time scale you can usually visit some sanctuaries and help on a day trip or join special short term programs. We recommend you stay for at least 3 weeks just to get used to your tasks and really get to know your fellow staff
What to Consider Before Applying
Sometimes elephant sanctuaries are located in very rural areas miles away from the nearest town / city, if you are looking for a wild experience partying every night then working at a sanctuary might not be for you. At a lot of centres you might find there is no wifi or phone connection but this on the other hand allows you to get away from normal life and do something totally different. Also consider the time you want to participate, if this is your first time doing something like this then maybe you are best staying for a short period e.g. 2 weeks to see how you find it and if you enjoy the experience extend your stay once at the project - this is usually easy to do.
If you are expecting to ride elephants you might be disappointed, most centres focus on conservation and allowing elephants to live in a natural environment. Most projects will require you to be aged 18 and over although some organisations accept families but some restrictions apply. If you are planning a holiday and you would like to join a taster trip e.g. a one day visit with hands on interaction familes are eligible and the price is cheaper for children. Also you will need to check your destination to see if any inoculations or vaccinations are needed and to apply you will also need to be in good health. A positive attitude, the ability to be adaptable / flexible will also really help.
Cost & Why You Might Need to Pay a Fee
Organisations usually charge a fee to participate on programs with elephants, they offer structured placements which usually include: placements, training, meals, drinks, accommodation and also most importantly a donation. Most wildlife sanctuaries which care for elephants are operated on tiny budgets and the donation you pay helps to pay to keep the organisations running throughout the year. Operational costs for an average sanctuary can be around $250,000+ per year. Cost can depend on where you choose to participate and how long for but please note this is not the case for all organisations.
How to Apply
There is no best time to apply and positions are open all year round. Some times of the year are usually more popular than others e.g. summer so apply early to secure a spot, these programmes are some of the most popular voluntourism placements in the world. There is no best time to apply, placements are available all year round. View our featured programs above or use our advanced search to find local local wildlife sanctuarys and organisations around the world. Please contact us direct if you need any specific help arranging a placement.
- Wildlife Volunteering Programs
- Volunteer in Africa
- Volunteer in Asia
- Volunteer in Sri Lanka
- Volunteer in Thailand
- Volunteer in South Africa