The Great Elephant Project

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Encounter the beautiful Asiatic elephant deep within the heart of the Sri Lankan jungle!

Based on the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s Wasgamuwa National Park, The Great Elephant Project offers volunteers the opportunity to experience life from within one of the country’s most beautiful natural areas, whilst also working to aid human-animal relations. In the last 100 years, the relationship between elephants and humans has become strained, due in part to a merging of territories. It is thought that approximately 90% of Sri Lanka’s elephant population may have disappeared over this period of time, with their odds of survival not being much greater today: an estimated 200 elephants are killed each year as a result of human-animal conflict, with approximately 80 people losing their lives annually, too.

While human-animal conflict has become a great issue throughout the years, it is still possible for communities and wildlife to live in harmony. The Great Elephant Project has helped to develop sustainable solutions to this issue, through initiatives such as 'Project Orange', which not only aid the conservation of Sri Lanka’s elephants but also provide livelihood opportunities to local communities. Despite such impressive efforts, more work must still be done to maintain a balance between man and animal, and your time spent volunteering will certainly help do just that.

As a volunteer, you will take part in a number of activities designed to better understand the elephant populations around Wasgamuwa National Park and their movements. The use of camera traps, GPS and remote sensors, alongside other traditional methods, will allow you to help contribute to a database of information, which in turn, will enable the project to develop new ways of reducing human-animal conflict.

What’s more, you’ll also spend time alongside the local community, helping to restore areas already damaged by elephants, and educating the younger members of the community. Whether teaching English in the local school or hiding in tree huts as you try to spot elephant herds below, The Great Elephant Project promises to be a volunteer experience you will never forget.

Based on the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s Wasgamuwa National Park, The Great Elephant Project offers volunteers the opportunity to experience life from within one of the country’s most beautiful natural areas, whilst also working to aid human-animal relations. In the last 100 years, the relationship between elephants and humans has become strained, due in part to a merging of territories. It is thought that approximately 90% of Sri Lanka’s elephant population may have disappeared over this period of time, with their odds of survival not being much greater today: an estimated 200 elephants are killed each year as a result of human-animal conflict, with approximately 80 people losing their lives annually, too.

While human-animal conflict has become a great issue throughout the years, it is still possible for communities and wildlife to live in harmony. The Great Elephant Project has helped to develop sustainable solutions to this issue, through initiatives such as 'Project Orange', which not only aid the conservation of Sri Lanka’s elephants but also provide livelihood opportunities to local communities. Despite such impressive efforts, more work must still be done to maintain a balance between man and animal, and your time spent volunteering will certainly help do just that.

As a volunteer, you will take part in a number of activities designed to better understand the elephant populations around Wasgamuwa National Park and their movements. The use of camera traps, GPS and remote sensors, alongside other traditional methods, will allow you to help contribute to a database of information, which in turn, will enable the project to develop new ways of reducing human-animal conflict.

What’s more, you’ll also spend time alongside the local community, helping to restore areas already damaged by elephants, and educating the younger members of the community. Whether teaching English in the local school or hiding in tree huts as you try to spot elephant herds below, The Great Elephant Project promises to be a volunteer experience you will never forget.

The following are some of the activities you may get involved in whilst volunteering with elephants in Wasgamuwa. You may not take part in all of these activities as they are dependant on the requirements of the project at the time you are volunteering, and also on your length of stay. Volunteers joining for 3 weeks or more, will have the opportunity to complete most or all of the activities shown here.

Elephants in Wasgamuwa National Park
Elephant Observation & Data Logging
Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of your time on the project will be the afternoons and evenings spent in tree huts, as you keep a look-out for wild elephants. Sitting up in the trees, you will look down upon an ‘elephant corridor’ in wait of herds of elephants. Once they emerge, you will gather data on their size, sex, and other significant physical features. The data will then be used to help the project monitor Asian elephant populations in the surrounding areas, allowing them to assess any potential risk of human-elephant conflict.
Elephants in Wasgamuwa National Park
A Trip To Wasgamuwa National Park
During your time on the project, you will take a trip to the nearby Wasgamuwa National Park, a species-rich location which is also home to a number of wild elephants. This is an incredible opportunity for you to witness a range of animals in their natural habitat, from bird species to boars, sloth bears and even leopards! You will definitely want to take a camera with you on this part of the project, as it really is the perfect opportunity to capture some amazing moments.
Leopard Camera Trap Image
Species Monitoring & Data Gathering
Your mornings will be spent completing a range of activities, including data collection. You will use various research methods designed to indicate the overall health of the forest and its inhabitants; methods include collecting data from camera traps, noting down the presence of pug marks from species such as leopards, boars, deer, and of course elephants and completing bird-mapping surveys, to name but a few.
Trail Transects on The Great Elephant Project
Trail Transects
Another important activity during your time on the project will be to embark on trail transects in search of elephant dung. While not the most glamorous of activities, it certainly is an important one, as their dung can tell us a lot about their ecology. It can indicate the age, size and gender of an elephant, and also gives an insight into their eating patterns. This information, in addition to the location of the dung along the trail, can give an insight into their movement and help the team to predict any potential areas of human-elephant conflict.
Electric Fence Monitoring
Electric Fence Monitoring
Rather than fencing the elephants in to avoid conflict (and therefore impeding their freedom), the project has helped to establish electric fences around the local villages. These fences were erected to dissuade elephants from entering and causing damage to the villages, and as a volunteer, you will help to check on the state of these solar-powered structures. Information on the condition of the fences will be relayed to the local fence committees who maintain and operate them, which will help them determine if their design and management is in need of improvement.
Working with Local People on The Great Elephant Project
Human-Elephant Conflict Resolutions
Every year, human-elephant conflict sees around 3000 local homes damaged or destroyed. When members of the local communities are not able to repair these themselves, the project provides monetary donations and also volunteer manpower to assist. Therefore, you may get involved with minor construction work to help repair houses, wells, food stores and more. In addition to property damage, human-elephant conflict has caused transportation issues for children walking to school, so the project came up with the idea of the Elebus: a free, safe way to transfer the children through an elephant corridor to their destination. Why not hop aboard and help out with the school run?
Reforestation at The Great Elephant Project
Sustainable Land Use & Livelihood Project Monitoring
Agriculture is a primary factor in human-elephant conflict, with millions of pounds worth of crops being damaged by elephants each year. The project has therefore established several sustainable projects designed to create harmony between humans and elephants. An example of this is ‘Project Orange’, whereby orange trees were planted around a village to deter elephants from coming in and causing damage as they do not like citrus. Not only did this help reduce human-elephant conflict, but it also meant the villagers were able to harvest and sell the oranges, creating an income for the residents. You will help to monitor and evaluate similar systems put in place to protect the local communities from elephant raids, and will also learn the value of community involvement in elephant conservation.
Teaching English At The Local Schools
Teaching English At The Local Schools
Every morning, three volunteers will be selected to travel to one of the nearby schools to help teach English. You’ll work with children ranging from early primary school age right through to teenagers, helping them not only to learn a new language but to grasp an understanding of the elephants’ value in the ecosystem and to Sri Lanka’s history as well. The children may seem shy at first, but will open up when it comes to taking selfies and using Snapchat filters!
Free Time
Free Time
Weekends are free for you to spend as you wish, and depending on the length of your stay, you may wish to explore more of what Sri Lanka has to offer. Consider the ‘cultural triangle’, situated within the centre of the country and consisting of numerous ancient or World Heritage sites across Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla. Alternatively, you may wish to relax at the volunteer site itself, taking in its stunning surroundings and getting some much-needed rest.

The itinerary below is an example of a two-week stay at The Great Elephant Project, but is subject to change.

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Prepare for an early start, as you will be collected by a member of the team from your hotel in Ambepussa at 6am and be transferred in a private car to the project site. Upon arrival, you’ll head straight to the tree huts in an attempt to spot wild elephant herds, before later returning for an orientation and evening meal.
Day 2-14 - Project Days:
During these days, your group will be split out into two teams, with each engaging in a wide variety of elephant conservation tasks out in the field. You’ll trek through the jungle on the lookout for signs of wildlife, such as pug marks and dung, aid a number of projects in the local communities and enjoy a safari through Wasgamuwa National Park. Weekends will be spent at leisure, where you are free to explore more of what Sri Lanka has to offer or to simply unwind at the field house.
Day 15 - Final Day:
After saying goodbye to the project staff and the friends you have made here, you will be accompanied back to Kandy. From here, you will make your own way back to Colombo by train for your returning flight or to commence your independent travel plans. Wherever you may be heading, you can be sure to be walking away with unforgettable memories of your conservation adventure!

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.

Please be advised, although we are able to offer a 7-night option, a minimum duration of 14 nights is recommended for a more in-depth experience. If taking part for only 7 nights there is no guarantee that you will be involved in all the activities listed.

Select a duration below to see the project start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project!

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Volunteer Accommodation

Whilst on the project, you will stay in a rustic field house which can accommodate up to 30 people. The accommodation is basic yet authentic, offering views of the surrounding area through partitioned walls and a high roof. The design of the house is ideal for Sri Lanka’s climate, allowing air to pass through and keep the building cool, whilst still keeping you sheltered in the event of rain.

There are several rooms which are shared amongst volunteers on a same-sex basis, with enough bunk-beds in each room to accommodate between 8-16 volunteers at a time. Rooms are complete with electric fans, mosquito nets, pillows and clean bed sheets, while the bathrooms, which are also split by gender, have western-style toilets and cold showers. The water pipes are exposed to the sun during the day, so showers may at times run warm, but please do not arrive with this expectation.

Accommodation Upgrade

Should you wish to upgrade your accommodation, you may be able to book a private, air-conditioned room in a cottage located less than 5 minutes’ walk from the volunteer field house. The cost for an upgrade is an additional $222 per week, based on a twin-share room. You will also have access to a private bathroom, complete with a western toilet and showers. Please contact a member of the travel team if you wish to upgrade, and we will be happy to check the room's availability for you.

Meals & Beverages

Three fresh meals are provided on each day of the project and are prepared by members of staff who live in nearby villages. Food is prepared in the local style, using a range of spices, but if you would prefer a little less heat there is always a plain option available. Most meals will be vegetarian, consisting of rice, bread and dhal, while fish and chicken dinners are available once or twice per week. Fruit is also available and you will find British-style tea and ground coffee here too. A kettle, toaster and fridge-freezer will be available for you to store extra snacks and drinks in. (Please note, while alcohol is not permitted during the working week, you are welcome to purchase alcoholic beverages from the local shop or liquor store to enjoy on a Friday or Saturday evening.)

When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?

While elephant and other wildlife sightings, and all volunteer activities occur year-round, there are a few factors that may guide your choice of which month to travel.

November to March sees the bird migration period, so those who wish to spot some of Sri Lanka’s incredible bird species may wish to volunteer then. If it’s culture you’re after, then April to September is an excellent time to visit due to the Sinhala New Year taking place (April) and two of the largest Buddhist festivals, the Wesak and Poson festivals, happening in May. The Esala Perahera (the Temple of the Tooth celebration festival) falls in August and can be observed in nearby Kandy.

As for the weather, the most pleasant months fall between January and May, with January being the coolest month of the year and April the warmest. There are two annual monsoons in Sri Lanka, with the Yala monsoon bringing rains between May and August, though this is mostly in the southwest of Sri Lanka. The Maha monsoon falls between October and November and affects most of Sri Lanka, with October being the wettest month of all. That said, volunteer activities will take place come rain or shine, and some fantastic sightings still take place during the monsoon season.

Average Monthly Weather in Wasgamuwa National Park, Sri Lanka

Getting There

You will need to arrive into Colombo the day before your project start date (Sunday), and book to spend a night at a hotel in Ambepussa, as the following morning (Monday) you will be met at your hotel at 6am by a member of the team and be transferred in a private vehicle to the project site.

You will therefore need to book an additional night’s accommodation at a hotel in Ambepussa for the Sunday night (we recommend the Heritage Ambepussa Hotel).

Visa Requirements

All visitors to Sri Lanka require a visa. Short-stay visas of up to thirty days can be obtained online via the Electronic Travel Authority, and can be extended for up to three months at the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Sri Lanka. Please note, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date you arrive into Sri Lanka.

Fitness & Skills

This project does not involve much in the way of physical labour, but you will usually be working in fairly humid conditions. Therefore, all volunteers should have a basic level of fitness when taking part. 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, and to bring an upbeat, positive attitude to the endeavour as a whole.

Vaccinations

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.

Discover The Great Elephant Project!

See how you can aid the conservation of the stunning Asian elephant in the wild Sri Lankan jungle when you volunteer on The Great Elephant Project!

Filipa's Experience Of The Great Elephant Project!

Check out how Filipa found her experience of volunteering on The Great Elephant Project! From wild elephants to lifelong friends, see it all here. 

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What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Transfer from Ambepussa to the project site
  • Three meals per day
  • Full orientation and support from the project managers
  • A contribution to the project

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Travel Insurance
  • Arrival airport transfer to Ambepussa
  • Departure airport transfer
Where you can go
Contact Info
UK Office
The Great Traveller Ltd,
3 Dairy Yard
Star Street
Ware, Hertfordshire
SG12 7DX
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
   Mon-Fri 8:30am–5:30pm
   Sat 10am-4pm

T: +44(0) 208 885 4987