With two main focuses of protecting the wild desert elephant population and supporting the local communities in the region, this project has been designed to work in two-week blocks. One week will focus on elephant patrols and tracking where you will gather crucial data for the project and Namibian government to utilise, and the other week will focus on construction tasks and working with the community.
You will spend a week tracking the resident herds of desert elephants in the area, recording movement sequences and information such as new births, deaths, and mating patterns. The elephant's movements are recorded through their GPS positions which are then plotted onto online maps on a collective database. This information shows which farms the elephants tend to visit in search of water, and therefore where the project needs to build protection walls. Not only is this a fantastic opportunity to these animals up close, but the data collected here is incredibly important as it is the only data currently being provided to the government with accurate figures on the behaviour patterns of the desert elephants in the area.
As well as tracking and gathering data, you will also go on patrol to be a presence in areas where elephants are under threat and to check that all herds are together and without injuries. As part of these patrols, you will compile identification files of ‘new’ herds of elephants in the northern reaches, where elephants have previously caused a lot of damage to the surrounding farms. On patrols, you will spend time speaking to farmers and communities opening important dialogue and addressing any concerns they may have, as well as assessing any damage or potential conflicts that may arise in the area. This allows the team to be proactive towards potential issues instead of responding where conflict has already arisen.
You will take part in a variety of important construction tasks that physically and immediately contribute to the safety of desert elephants and local communities. These tasks include the building of protection walls around water sources and building alternative water-points for elephants and the area’s newly-released black rhinos. You may also dig new wells for local villages and repair any damage that heavy-footed elephants may have caused. Understandably, this week is fairly exerting but the hard work is extremely rewarding, greatly appreciated, and also a great bonding exercise for you and your fellow volunteers!
The following itinerary is subject to change depending on the needs of the project and what follows is simply a rough guideline. A minimum duration of 2 weeks is required, though durations of up to 12 weeks are available. If joining for longer than 2 weeks, your itinerary will repeat.
Day 1 – Arrival:
After arriving into Swakopmund, you will transfer to your first night’s accommodation. You’ll then have the rest of the day to relax and explore as you wish. Please note that dinner is not included on the first night, so you may want to head into town to find a local restaurant. Rest up for the night, as the real adventure starts tomorrow!
Day 2 – Adventure Begins:
Today, you will be collected from your accommodation at 11am before transferring to base camp (roughly a 4-hour drive). Upon arrival, you’ll have a chance to settle in and meet your fellow volunteers! In the evening, you’ll receive a full health & safety briefing and orientation so you are ready for the week ahead. You’ll spend the night in the tree house before waking early the next day to leave for the build-site.
Day 3-6 – Build Week:
You’ll set up camp for the week before undertaking a series of construction tasks designed to protect the local communities from the frequent elephant herds that come to visit! Build week will provide the perfect opportunity for you to bond with your fellow volunteers and the locals through shared hard work, long lunch breaks and everyday sundowners!
Day 7 – Return to Base Camp:
On Saturday morning, you’ll pack up camp making sure to respect the desert by leaving no trace behind! You’ll then return to base camp where you can enjoy a well-deserved shower and relax for the rest of the day. If you’re lucky, you may even spot Mama Afrika and her herd who frequently visit the waterpoint made by previous volunteers.
Day 8 – Trip to the Local Town:
Today, you’ll have the chance to re-join civilisation by heading into the local town of Uis. Whilst the staff buy food for the week ahead, you’ll be able to spend the day relaxing at Brandberg Rest Camp, complete with a restaurant, swimming pool and Wi-Fi! After a restful day, you’ll head back to base camp for a briefing on the upcoming patrol week.
Day 9-12 – Patrol Week:
Pack up the land cruisers and head out into the desert to track the elephants. You’ll spend the week following the herds and recording data as you go. Each night, you’ll sleep out beneath the stars in a new location depending on where the elephants have led you. Patrol week will take you to parts of the desert that no typical tourists ever get to see! On Thursday afternoon, you’ll head back to base camp for your final night in the desert.
Day 13 – Transfer back to Swakopmund:
Today you’ll say your goodbyes to base camp before transferring back to your final night’s accommodation in Swakopmund, where you will enjoy a farewell dinner with the team before departing the next day.
Day 14 – Final Day:
Sadly, today will be your final day where you’ll head to the airport for your return flight home or commence your independent travel plans. You’ll certainly leave knowing you made a lasting legacy for the desert elephants and local communities of Namibia!
Dates, Availability & Price
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!
Updates & Outcomes
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.
The Desert Elephants in Namibia team had an alarming call this week, a baby elephant had been spotted with a snare wire around its trunk and a collaborate effort ensued to save the desert calf. This unfortunate incident has highlighted the real concern of snare use in Namibia and the importance of wildlife monitoring and conservation.
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Is this trip for you?
On your first and last night in Swakopmund, you will be accommodated in a local hostel in a shared dormitory. You are able to upgrade to stay in a single room (for an additional $21 per night) or double/twin room (for an additional $28 per night) should you prefer. There is also an option to upgrade to a lovely hotel very close to the beach.
Your time spent in the desert will see you truly immersed in the Namibian wilderness as you camp beneath the stars! Whilst at base camp, you’ll be staying in a treetop platform, and there are toilets and hot showers available. 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 set up a more permanent camp where you’ll return each day after your construction tasks, and if there is enough water available, a basic shower may be set up for use. On patrol week, however, you will set up a new camp each night depending on where the elephants decide to lead you, making for a truly wild camping experience!
Whilst on the project, three meals will be provided each day which will all be cooked over the open campfire. You will be split into small groups, and each day a different group will use the recipes provided to cook for the rest of the team. You can expect to enjoy a variety of different meals varying from local cuisine to some western-style meals. Food items are purchased each week when the team travel to the town of Uis, so special dietary requirements such as vegetarian and vegan diets can be catered for. You can also purchase additional snacks and drinks when you visit Uis during your stay.
The construction tasks undertaken on this project involve long hours of physically demanding work, often in high temperatures. Therefore, a moderate to high level of fitness is required to take part. There are no specific skills or experience required, just a commitment to the project, a passion for elephants and a willingness to work as part of a team!
There are no specific vaccination or medical requirements needed to join this project. The vaccinations required will depend on the individual medical history of each volunteer. We recommend that you consult with your doctor/GP regarding your own vaccination needs as this will ensure you are protected and prepared to travel. In conjunction with this, we also recommend that you take a look at the Fit for Travel website for more helpful information on how best to prepare for your experience.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
There are 2 seasons here which offer very different but incredible experiences:
January – May: This is the summer, and during these months you can expect temperatures of around 30°C (86°F) in the day and 17°C (63°F) in the evening. This is also the 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 tend to move closer to the farms at this point which can cause a lot more conflict meaning more patrols and meetings with farmers.
June – December: During these months, the elephants go back to the riverbeds until the rains start again in January. This means patrols are mostly in this beautiful area. It must be noted that whilst daytime temperatures are still hot, the night can get rather cold, falling to around 7°C (45°F).
You will need to arrive into Swakopmund on your project start date (Sunday) and there are 2 options to do so; you can either arrive into Walvis Bay Airport and take a 20-minute transfer to your accommodation, or you can arrive into Windhoek International Airport and take a 4-hour overland transfer. If you plan to arrive into Windhoek Airport, please ensure your flight lands no later than 11:30am to ensure you have time to take the transfer to Swakopmund. Transfers from either airport are not included but can be arranged for you and be paid for on arrival.
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.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Accommodation (including in Swakopmund)
- Three meals per day
- Return transfers between Swakopmund and the project site
- Full orientation and support from the project managers
- A monetary contribution to the project itself
What's not included?
- Soft and alcoholic drinks
- Airport transfers - N$250 each way (approximately $17)