Desert Elephants in Namibia

Go in search of the stunning desert elephants of the Namib Desert and help reduce human-animal conflict on this incredible volunteer project.

One of only two desert-adapted elephant populations in the world have made the harsh yet stunning drylands of the Namib Desert their home. Sadly, however, they are faced with conflict, not just associated with the scarce vegetation and intense heat from their chosen environment, but from human settlements that have encroached on the land.

Although desert elephants used to roam throughout most of western Namibia, their numbers were severely reduced to just 300 during the 1980s due to rampant poaching. After moving north of the Kunene Region for safety, they started to return to the southern areas in the mid to late 1990s, but upon arrival, they were greeted by a large number of humans and livestock that had settled by the Ugab River. Having no previous experience living alongside wild elephants, conflict arose as they competed for land and water resources, leaving the elephants and villagers in danger. Realising the need for intervention, the project was founded to reduce the challenges faced by both humans and elephants and to find practical solutions that would allow both populations to coexist peacefully.

As a volunteer, you’ll play a vital role in protecting this unique population of desert elephants, by tracking and monitoring the herds on patrol week and providing the Namibian government with movement and impact data that no other organisation is currently collecting. You’ll also assist with the construction of protective walls around water sources in local villages and the building of new water points for the elephants and other visiting wildlife - all of which directly contributes to the safety of both the desert elephants and the local communities they live alongside.

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Lauren Mackinnon

Activities

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.

Elephant Tracking in Namibia
Elephant Tracking 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.
Elephant Patrols in Namibia
Elephant Patrols 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.
Construction on the Desert Elephants in Namibia Project
Construction 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!

Itinerary

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 afternoon to relax and explore as you wish before meeting for a health & safety briefing and orientation at the hotel. Then, 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, and later, enjoy a dinner cooked over the campfire! You’ll spend the night in the tree house and wake 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!

Start Dates & Prices

To secure a place on this project, a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking. The remaining balance is due 60 days before your start date.

Flexible Payment Options: If you select a start date more than 3 months in advance, we offer convenient payment plans, allowing you to pay off your balance in instalments.

Select a duration below to see the available start dates and book your place today!

Duration Price
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Payment breakdown


Accommodation

Accommodation

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!

Your first and final night’s accommodation in Swakopmund is not included and you can book a hotel of your choosing, however, we recommend staying at the A La Mer Hotel, as this is where the briefing is held on the Sunday you arrive, and we can book a room here for you.

Meals & Beverages

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.


Project Details

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).

Getting There

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.

Visa Requirements

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.

Fitness & Skills

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!

Vaccinations

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.



Reviews

Jacqueline Eastridge, 2024
         

Elephants plus Africa plus volunteering equals an unparalleled experience. Six weeks spent volunteering and there was not one boring day in that time. I worked, sweated, laughed, cooked, fell asleep in my sleeping bag pleasantly exhausted each night and woke with a delighted new excitement about what the day would bring. I made so many new friends including the seasoned and young, enthusiastic staff who worked tirelessly to make this experience one that I will want to relive. My time on the project taught me to be more compassionate, patient and open to an all important world which allowed elephants to live a life in tandem with humans. I will return.


Carol Page, 2022
         

I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone interested in wildlife and conservation. This is not a holiday. It is hard work. If you are not a team player or are afraid to get your hands dirty, this is not for you. Everyone has to muck in. We were up at 6.30 every day and the days were long. We were carrying rocks, mixing cement and building a wall. This is Africa. You will get hot, sweaty and dirty. You have to get used to toilets and showers in the Bush. Your hard work is paid off in the second week when you are on patrol and see the elephants. Two weeks was enough for me. Some volunteers stayed longer. It is a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. I only wish I had done it earlier.


George Parkes, 2019
         

One of the most memorable moments for me was when one of the oldest and biggest bulls walked straight towards us in the vehicle and stopped a mere two metres away. My heart stopped as the gentle giant just watched before turning away and continuing to eat. I had a truly wonderful time in such a beautiful surrounding with great people. I only wish I could have stayed longer.



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What's Included

  • Accommodation (except in Swakopmund on the first and final night)
  • 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

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Soft and alcoholic drinks
  • Airport transfers - N$300 each way (approximately $17)