- posted on 16/07/2018
- by Leanne Sturrock
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Search for and see the desert elephants on this incredible elephant volunteer programme in the beautiful Namibian Desert.
This award-winning project exists with the sole purpose of protecting the Namibian population of desert elephants and ensuring the safety and security for communities who live alongside these herds.
Namibia's desert-dwelling elephants are facing serious threats, both nationally and internationally. They are one of only two populations of elephants in Africa living in a desert environment and threats to their livelihood include human – elephant conflict. Elephant living space is decreasing due to large numbers of humans and livestock settling in their formerly vast range-areas.
Although desert elephants used to roam throughout most of western Namibia, their numbers were reduced to fewer than 300 by the early 1990s due to rampant poaching. Since then, protected under new Namibian law and merging conservation organisations, they have expanded their range from the north as far south as the Erongo Region, as well as east onto commercial farmland. Many of the Damara and Herero people who moved into the arid homelands of northwest Namibia are not familiar with desert elephants, and often don’t know how to react to them.
Volunteers on this project join the staff in the vast, beautiful Namibian wilderness and help aid elephant conservation with activities such as tracking and monitoring, constructing walls to protect valuable water sources and taking part in the education of locals as to the value of elephant conservation.
The project works in two-week blocks and you are able to stay for a minimum of two or a maximum of 12 weeks.
Please note that you need to arrive in Swakopmund the day before the project start date and will be picked up from your accommodation the next morning to start your volunteer placement. Itineraries are subject to change and what follows is simply a rough guideline.
The group is transported between the project site and Swakopmund after every 11 nights, so if booking for a longer duration, volunteers will need to book additional nights in Swakopmund from Friday until they return to the project the following Monday. A night in the dorm of Desert Sky Guesthouse costs N$200 (approximately $13), but if you wish to spend the weekend exploring Swakopmund and would prefer to stay elsewhere that is not a problem!
To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.
Select a duration below to see the available start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project!
Tracking and monitoring the desert elephants is a vital activity the project performs with the help of the volunteers, enabling staff to compile identikits of all desert elephants and to map their movement patterns. Data is then entered into the online database which links GPS positions to Google Earth maps. From this information, staff can ascertain which farms and homesteads require protection and where the desert elephants roam during different seasons.
Accurate data on desert elephant numbers and movements, the ability to identify each elephant, and knowledge of individual elephant personalities are paramount to effective elephant conservation management in Namibia. Data on desert elephant numbers is incredibly important as this project is the only organisation providing accurate figures to the government on the elephants in this area!
What's more, in their search for water, desert elephants can cause extensive damage to valuable water sources, often rendering communities in Namibia without access to these sources for quite some time. The volunteers partaking in this project provide valuable manpower for the construction of protection-walls and also generate funding for twice monthly patrols of the area.
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Sue recently visited the vast wilderness of the Namibian Desert, where she and her daughter volunteered with the endangered populations of elephants. She had a truly unforgettable experience and wanted to tell us all about it, from brilliant full moons glowing in a star scattered sky, to locking eyes with a bull who came to pay them a visit in the night...Read More
On this project, you will have the chance to truly immerse yourself in the beauty and vastness of the Namibian wilderness as you sleep beneath the stars! When you are at base camp you will be staying on a large platform whilst scaling the heights of a beautiful Ana tree! There are toilets at base camp and showers that have hot water. There are also two elephant drinking dams on this campsite, and the elephants often wander past so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for this.
During build week you will be sleeping outside beneath a tarpaulin, and you will be provided with a bed-roll (including a mattress), but you will need to bring your own sleeping bag and pillows. During the rainy and colder seasons, two-man tents are provided so you won’t have to worry about getting wet. This week there is a long-drop toilet provided, but please note there are no washing facilities so you are advised to bring wet wipes.
Whilst on the project you will have three meals provided for you each day, which will be cooked over the open campfire. Food runs will be made in the local town called Uis, where there is a small supermarket. You will enjoy a variety of different meals varying from local cuisine to some western-style meals. Most dietary requirements can be catered for if we are notified in advance.
The construction work undertaken on this project involves long hours of physical labour, often in high temperatures, and as so requires a moderately high level of fitness. In terms of skills, no specific skills or experience are required, just commitment to the project and its aims. You must be prepared to work alongside other members of the team, often for long hours in the hot, Namibian sun.
The vaccinations required will depend on your medical history. We recommend that you consult with your GP regarding your own immunisation needs. In conjunction with this, we would also recommend that you check Fit for Travel’s website.
There are 2 seasons here which offer very different experiences, with both offering fascinating experiences.
January – May: This is the summer and as such the temperatures can be around 30°C (86°F) in the day and 17°C (63°F) in the evening. This is also rainy season which is a wonderful experience in the desert as rivers can flash flood and you can see how the desert changes overnight. The elephants, however, do tend to move to the farms at this point which can cause a lot more conflict meaning more patrols and meetings with farmers.
June – December: At this time the elephants go back to the river beds until the rain starts again in January. This means patrols are mostly in this beautiful area. It must be noted that whilst day time temperatures are still hot, the night can get rather cold, decreasing to around 7°C (45°F).
You will need to arrive into Swakopmund the day before your project start date and book an additional night's accommodation. You will then be picked up at 11am on your start date and transferred to the project site. To get to Swakopmund there are 2 options; you can either arrive into Walvis Bay Airport and take a transfer to your accommodation, or you can arrive into Windhoek International Airport and then take a 4-hour overland transfer. If you plan to arrive into Windhoek Airport, please ensure your flight lands at 11:30am at the latest to ensure you have time to take the transfer to Swakopmund.
Transfers from either airport are not included and neither is your accommodation in Swakopmund for the night before your project start date, but we can book this for you. We recommend booking the Desert Sky Backpackers in Swakopmund, as this is where you will meet on your start date to transfer to the project site. Room rates are also very reasonable and there are dormitory (N$200 per night), single (N$450 per night) and double rooms (N$600 per night) available. If you would prefer to stay at an alternative accommodation in Swakopmund then we can arrange for you to be pickeed up from there on your start date.
After your time on the project, we recommend spending an additional night in Swakopmund so you can enjoy a farewell dinner with your group before heading home. If you would like this extra night to be booked at Desert Sky for you, then please let us know well in advance to avoid availability issues!
If you would like help booking your flights please feel free to contact our flight partners via our flights page.
Citizens of most countries, including the UK, Germany, USA, Canada, Australia and most of those within the EU, do not need to obtain a visa to enter Namibia and are granted entry for up to 90 days upon arrival. You will, however, need at least 2 blank pages in your passport for the immigration officials to use and your passport must be valid for a period of at least 6 months from your date of entry.
If you are unsure of your individual visa requirements, we recommend speaking to your local Namibian embassy at least 2 months prior to travel.
The currency in Namibia is the Namibian Dollar, but South African Rand is also accepted. The exchange rate is around 1 NAD = 0.06 GBP, 0.1 USD, 0.07 EUR. Please note exchange rates are subject to change.
My favourite moment was our first night in Base Camp when a herd of elephants came into camp and we watched them by moonlight. I would add nothing to the itinerary, it was perfect as it was.
Mairi Hutchinson, 2018
Ensuring that the farmer and his family could peacefully coexist with the elephants was incredibly rewarding and I will never forget the sight of the herds of elephants along the riverbed. Camping out under the stars in the Namibian desert was so special. I have never seen so many stars, shooting stars and satellites. I would thoroughly recommend this trip!
Susan Hampson, 2017
My favourite moment was on the last day: the elephants came into camp and we were drinking champagne at sunset watching them walk in!
Paula Titheradge, 2017