The following is a summary of some of the activities that you will be getting involved in whilst volunteering with elephants in Wasgamuwa. Please keep in mind however that this is only a rough guideline, and whether you get to complete every activity will be dependent on: project requirements at the time of your trip and your length of stay. Volunteers staying for three weeks or longer will have the opportunity to complete most or all of the activities here.
Human-Elephant Conflict Observations
This is the signature activity that you will be involved in during your time here. Volunteers spend their afternoons and an evening in a tree hut located within an elephant corridor. Here you will collect data on the spatial and temporal distribution of passing elephants and observe how resident villagers in the area and elephants interact, to spot issues of conflict where they arise. You will also be able to spot other wildlife should it walk past!
This activity involves spending a session walking along a trail and recording dung found alongside the trail. The aim of the trail transect is to investigate Sri Lankan elephant abundance outside the park, how their behaviour changes during different seasons, along with their food and habitat preferences. By understanding these aspects, the project can collect valuable information that indicates the most appropriate way to preserve Asian eles.
Electric Fence Monitoring
Each team will check the state of the solar powered electric fences, which have been erected to stop elephants from entering villages. Once checked, the status of their conditions will then be relayed to the local fence committees, who maintain and operate the fences. This process also enables volunteers and the project staff to see what can go wrong with the fences so that their design and management can be improved.
This part of the project involves checking around irrigation reservoirs situated outside Wasgamuwa National Park for elephant dung or tracks. This is indicative of the sex and abundance of resident eles outside the park, and patterns in their movements and food sources. This aspect of the project is another integral part of reducing human-elephant conflict in the area, as its main restrictions have always been a lack of data regarding elephant ecology and behaviour; the better we understand these animals, the better we can conserve them.
Each team will spend a session out in the field looking for Sri Lankan elephants, observing and photographing them. Elephant identification data sheets will be filled by observing different physical features of individual elephants. The aim of the elephant ID is to build up a catalogue of individuals as a basis for numbers, social organization and movement inside/outside the park. As you observe elephants you may also be able to observe other wildlife present in the area, which includes sloth bears and even leopards!
Sustainable Land Use And Livelihood Project Monitoring
Agriculture is one of the main contributing factors in human–elephant conflicts. This elephant conservation project has established several sustainable land use and livelihood projects with local communities to develop agriculturally based measures that are compatible with the elephants. You will also help to monitor and evaluate landscape management systems designed to help buffer communities from elephant raids, learning the value of community involvement in elephant conservation.
Wildlife Observation and Data Logging
You will spend time in your teams looking for the enchanting Sri Lankan elephants and other wildlife including peacock, mugger crocodiles, water buffalo, macaque monkeys and leopards and the extensive collection of birds within the area. The information collected will then be logged in the system by the volunteers. By assessing the biodiversity present in the area is a great reflection of the overall health of the surrounding ecosystem, and provides a direction for future animal conservation initiatives that are needed.
Camera Traps, Sand Traps And Scat Analysis
You will help to set up camera traps in remote areas to capture more information on the behaviour of the species found here. You will also help to establish 'sand traps' in different parts of the forest, which involves preparing sand beds on the forest floor to collect various pug marks of various species. As part of the carnivore studies you will assist with spotting tracks, scats, scratches burrows, dens and hair samples to gain more knowledge of the species that are resident within the area.
Bird Mapping Surveys
This activity involves studying how habitat selection and different seasons affect the breeding habits of birds in Wasgamuwa and volunteers assist by locating and monitoring bird nests. For the long-term survival of bird species in the area, it is imperative the diversity and abundance of birds present are monitored in different habitat types, as again, ecological and biological data on specific species helps the project to understand what kinds of work needs to be done to their already impressive conservation efforts.
Please note that the itinerary detailed below is only a rough guideline and is subject to change. This is an example of a two week stay at The Great Elephant Project, and longer durations will include more of the activities.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
You will be collected from your hotel in Colombo by the project’s site facilitators who will take you to the Fort Railway Station. You will be collected by 6 am on the day your program starts to catch the train at 7 am. After the train journey, you will arrive at the cultural capital of Kandy. You will have an hour or two to visit Kandy before taking a bus directly to the project site. After you have settled in you will have an orientation and get to know your fellow volunteers. You will then dive straight in and spend the afternoon looking out for wildlife at the water tanks!
Day 2-14 - Project Days:
During these days your group will be split into teams and you will each engage in a wide variety of different wildlife and elephant conservation tasks out in the field, visiting forests and national parks. Here you will partake in the various elephant ID, carnivore, herbivore and bird mapping projects, as well as monitoring plant plots and electric fences already constructed by the project. Additionally, you will also get to visit local villages with project scientists to assess and observe human-elephant conflict in the area. There will also be time off when you can relax or visit cultural sites nearby (such as Sigiriya and the Temple of the Tooth).
Day 15 - Final Day:
Today will be your final day and after saying goodbye to the project staff and the friends you have made here you will be transferred back to Colombo 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 a plethora of unforgettable memories having been enriched with crucial conservation knowledge!
Dates, Availability & Price
To secure a place on this project a deposit of £195 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
This project is the first participatory community-based Asian elephant research and human-elephant conflict resolution project in the world and is highly respected. Volunteers here will get to experience a number of field research and conservation activities designed to help develop measures for elephant conservation, sustainable land use, and to mitigate human-elephant conflicts.
The monetary contributions of the volunteers is what makes it possible for the wildlife research, elephant conservation, and community development programs of this project to sustain themselves over the long term. These funds make it possible to conduct research, maintain field equipment, pay salaries of field staff, hire local youths to work on projects, help maintain electric fences, and provide villagers with innovative land use measures which help to alleviate the human/wildlife conflict.
The project also offers an excellent location for special elephant conservation programmes and studies (particularly for university dissertations and other research projects).
In 2017, the project has expanded its elephant identifying and research to a range of other National Parks in Sri Lanka that volunteers could visit, including: Minneriya National Park, Knuckles Mountain Range and Maduruoya National Park. You will also assist with conducting carnivore and herbivore research involving camera and sand traps, as well as monitoring the breeding and nesting habits and the abundance of bird species in these areas.
In an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint, the project now organises volunteer transfers from the airport to the project site using only public transport. This also reduces expenses for project staff and allows them to put extra funds where it is needed most, whilst simultaneously reducing pollution of the surrounding environment.
- posted on Aug 12, 2017
- by Joshua McGill
The glorious day of August 12th 2017 marks World Elephant Day. Both African elephants and Asian elephants are endangered, so today is the perfect opportunity to spread awareness for the plight of these stunning mammals who unfortunately, are exploited in many ways by humans, Find out how you can help!
Enjoying your summer so far? We hope so! But it’s never too early to start planning for your next adventure! Luckily for you, we’ve put together a list of the best projects to visit in 2018 – so consider taking a holiday with a difference, and see which of our conservation projects you could be joining next year!
Meet Lorna, the adorable new addition to The Great Elephant Project family! Read about this new-born calf, as well as the struggles she may face over the coming months.
Is this trip for you?
Whilst on the project you will stay in the volunteer field house.
The house is very spacious with lots of room and can accommodate up to 30 people. It has a high roof to catch the cooling breezes from the lake. You really feel like you are in the wilderness! The design of the house is perfect for the climate and terrain it is situated in and it helps to keep the house relatively cool during the hot days and nights and dry during the rainy season.
The house has five modern bathrooms with flush toilets, showers, and sinks. However, there is only cold water (though this isn’t much of an issue as the water pipes will have been warmed in the sun most of the day). There are seven bedrooms sectioned off for privacy and they are situated around the two communal social areas of the house.
The rooms are very basic and rustic but have comfortable beds. Electric fans, mosquito nets, pillows and clean bed sheets are provided, but please remember to bring your own towel.
Three fresh meals per day are prepared for you at the volunteer house. Food is prepared in the local style, with milder spices if preferred. Most meals will be vegetarian, with egg, fish and soy for protein.
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.
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.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
For this project there is not a stand out best time to volunteer, however, if weather is a factor for you then February to September is certainly drier. Wildlife sightings of elephants and leopards occur all year round, and you can still have some fantastic sightings even in the monsoon season.
If you are interested in birding the best time would be from November to March as this is the migration period and you can see the resident and migrant birds.
To experience both culture and nature the best time would be from April through to September. This is because in April there is the Sinhala New Year followed in May by the two largest Buddhist festivals: The Wesak and Poson festivals and in August, there is the Esala Perahera, better known as the Kandy Temple of the Tooth celebration festival.
With regards to volunteer activities, they are all permanent and ongoing field research initiatives that are not affected by season or weather, and therefore they are conducted all year round.
You will need to arrive into Colombo via Bandaranaike International Airport, around twenty kilometres north of the city centre. As you will need to leave for the project at 7am from Colombo's Fort Railway Station, you will need to arrive the day before your project start date and check into a hotel nearby. A project facilitator will then collect you in the morning from your hotel of choice at 6am and take you to the train station. You will then travel by train to the cultural capital of Kandy, where you will have an hour to have a look around and grab some lunch before taking a bus directly to the field site.
Please bear in mind the overall journey from Colombo the project site can be up to nine hours long, so if your flight is long, it is not recommended to arrive in Colombo in the early hours of Monday morning as some flight plans permit. If
you would like help booking your flights, please visit our flights page and fill out the form. A member of our team
will get back in touch as soon as possible with a suitable quote.
You will need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. Short stay visas of thirty days can be obtained online via the Electronic Travel Authority, found here. These can be extended for up to three months once in Sri Lanka from the Department of Immigration & Emigration. However, it is advisable to contact the Sri Lankan High Commission in your country of origin at least one month before travel. Please note that your passport must be valid for at least six months before travel.
Currency, Exchange Rates and ATMs
Sri Lanka's currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. For up to date exchange rates, please click here. There are no ATMs in Wasgamuwa National Park or in the immediate surrounding area. We recommend you bring cash with you (and a debit/credit card as a backup).
What's included in the price of the project?
- A contribution to the project
- Transfers between Colombo and the project site.
- Full orientation and support from the project managers
- Accommodation and all meals
What's not included?
- Travel Insurance
- Expenses of a personal nature (soap, laundry, snacks etc.)
- The first night's stay in a Colombo hotel.