Why the Need for Help
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 as a result of the now defunct logging industry. Worldwide there are only around 2,000 elephants living in the wild compared to over 100,000 only 100 years ago and this number if falling all the time. A lot of the elephants in the past have been working in tourist camps or in the logging industry but are now no longer needed - 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 whilst 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.
What to Expect
Are you thinking about volunteering with elephants and wondering what you might be doing? 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. 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.
Feeding - 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.
Washing - 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.
General Assistance - 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.
Educational / 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.
Medical - If you have any previous skills or expertise in the veterinary field you might get to work hands on caring and monitoring these animals. Sometimes you might get to help local vets with operations. Paid/voluntary positions are available.
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
Below we provide more information on some of the most rewarding destinations where you can apply.
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. 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 Mahouts who are local people who live and care for the animals which is their full time job, you will also usually meet and work with lots of other international participants too. It is very easy 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.
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 but there is a lot of good work going on which you can get involved with. You can work to help elephants in locations like beautiful Jaipur in Rajasthan, Northern India where there has been a 30 hectre site set up for elephants to roam freely.
In Sri Lanka 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.
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. 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.
Another destination you might want to consider is Namibia, 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.
In Zimbabwe there are now special conservation areas set up for animals like elephants and rhinos to live in the Zambezi Valley.
whilst in Kenya you can also work to help long term conservation efforts and protect elephants from poachers.
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. This 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. Also the higher the price you pay doesn't necessarily mean a better experience, always try to check past feedback on websites like Facebook to see what past participants have said.
Cost can depend on where you choose to participate and how long for but please note this is not the case for all organisations, there are free and low cost opportunities and you can find these by searching our advanced organisation search. There are paid positions working with elephants available but usually you will have to be in a skilled profession e.g. veterinary or apply for a supervisor role at a sanctuary.
When 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. 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 most sanctuaries and help on a day trip and some also run special 3 day programmes. If you have lots of free time 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
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 disappointing, 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.
How to Apply
You can apply to work with elephants on our website today. Our website acts as a guide and connects you to worldwide organisations, we recommend you research all placements as all are different. You can view our featured programmes which are all highly recommended or use our advanced search to find local organisations around the world. Contact us direct if you need any specific help or if you have any questions. There is no best time to apply, placements are available all year round. 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.