Encounter the beautiful Asiatic elephant deep within the heart of the Sri Lankan jungle!
This enchanting elephant conservation project, based on the outskirts of the wild Wasgamuwa National Park, is one of Sri Lanka's most exciting animal initiatives to become a part of. As a volunteer on this project, you will spend time conducting daily ecological research on Sri Lankan populations of the mesmerising Asian elephants in the Wasgamuwa Region. The ultimate aim of this inspirational project is to be able to assess and subsequently reduce the conflict between humans and elephants, whilst helping to maintain other wildlife in the area. Ultimately, you will be aiming to save elephants by helping people.
Every year, around 80 people 200 elephants are killed as a direct result of human-elephant conflict, along with the destruction of 3,000 homes and $10 million worth of crop damage. Unfortunately, this type of conflict is a major problem here and is the primary reason for the drastic reduction in Asian elephant populations, from over 20,000 to fewer than 4,000 over the past century. This project aims to tackle the problem head on, and the input of volunteers is integral in making a difference for both the elephants and the local communities whom they come into conflict with. This aspect of this phenomenal conservation project aims to protect not only the elephants, but also improve the lives of its locals and their livelihoods, with volunteers playing a vital role in helping to keep the balance.
This project offers you a once in a lifetime opportunity to partake in true elephant conservation, and what's more, witness these phenomenal animals in the true wild! Here, volunteers have the chance to use a range of fascinating and insightful methods to develop strategies for conserving both animal habitat and local wildlife including, elephants, leopards, sloth bears, various herbivores and a range of bird species. Some of these methods could include GPS, camera, sound and sand traps, remote sensors, bird mapping surveys, along with some more traditional methods, such as tracking trails!
What's more, through this programme, you will also get to experience the colourful culture of the people of the local villages. Your ultimate involvement will help to safeguard the precious wilderness and preserve cultural practices that are thousands of years old in this endearing country. You can be sure to be walking away from this project with a plethora of fond and unforgettable memories, having contributed to sustaining the incredible biodiversity surrounding Wasgamuwa.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
2018 means prosperity for The Great Elephant Project, with an ingenious idea of deterring elephants through the use of orange tree plantations which in turn provides a sustainable livelihood for locals! Check out the blogs below for more information.
If you're looking to volunteer on The Great Elephant Project, take some expert advice from one of our own. Check out The Great Projects’ very own Ellie’s 19 top tips for volunteering on the project which she recommends based on her own trip to Sri Lanka in May!
Back in May, The Great Project's very own marketing team member, Ellie, took a trip to The Great Elephant Project. Check out her experience of travelling there with just a few days notice, as a type 1 diabetic and solo female traveller who had never adventured alone before!
Whilst on the project you will stay in the volunteer field house.
The house can accommodate up to 30 people. It is basic and rustic, but high roofs and partitioned showers and walls add a touch of authenticity to your experience. You really feel like you are in the wilderness! The design of the house is perfect for the climate and surrounding terrain; it helps to keep the house relatively cool during the hot days and nights as its open nature allows a breeze to swirl through, but there is enough shelter to keep dry during the rainy season!
The house covers all basic requirements with modern bathrooms with flush toilets, showers, and sinks shared on a same-sex basis between volunteers. 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 situated around the communal area of the field house. 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 by staff who live in the local villages. Food is prepared in the local style, with a range of spices, but if you are not a fan of heat, there is always a plain option available. Most meals will be vegetarian, consisting of rice, bread and dhal, along with fresh fruit and fish and chicken dishes once or twice a week. British style tea and ground coffee are provided by the project, with a kettle, toaster and fridge-freezer to store extra snacks and drinks.
Alcohol is not permitted during the week as volunteers need to be fighting fit for the day's tasks. However, on a Friday and Saturday night, volunteers are welcome to purchase alcoholic beverages from the local beer shop or liquor store in town to enjoy!
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.
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 the day before your project start date. This is because your transfer to the project site departs at 6am the following day. You will therefore need to book an additional nights accommodation at a hotel in Colombo (we recommend the Shalimar Hotel).
A project facilitator will then collect you in the morning from your hotel of choice at around 6am and take you to the train station. You will then travel by train to the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy, where you will have an hour to have a look around and grab some lunch before taking a bus directly to the project site.
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.
Sri Lanka's currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. Sri Lanka's currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. For up to date exchange rates, please click here. It is a closed currency which means money can only be exchanged upon arrival in-country. There are many currency exchange kiosks at the airport in Colombo for you to do this. We would recommend exchanging either Great British Pounds, US Dollars or the Euro. While there are no ATMs in the local villages, there are some in the nearby town, so we would recommend bringing a debit or credit card for backup. For up to date exchange rates, please click here.
I will never forget waking up from sleeping in the truck and there was an elephant in the road! I was impressed by the level of knowledge those in charge of the project were able to share and the friendliness of all the staff.
Alice Yogasundram, 2018
I have never felt more tranquil or at peace in my life as I sat looking out into the dense jungle and misty mountains each morning which was the view from the accommodation. Seeing wild elephants was completely indescribable and I have learnt a great deal about them. The locals are some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet. I will be back!
One of my favourite experiences here, that may seem somewhat trivial, is just spending time at the field-house with the other volunteers and the staff. The locals have such vibrant and warm personalities that make staying here so much more enjoyable. My time spent working for elephants has been the most memorable, exciting and worthwhile two months of my life. The staff and fellow volunteers have been so welcoming and I immediately felt at home here.
Mary O'Gorman, 2018
My favourite moment was the first time I saw a family of elephants; the parents, children, uncle, aunt and cousins. They adore their families.
Imogen Cauthery, 2016
I volunteered here for three weeks in September, and I had the most amazing time. I learnt immeasurable amounts about the elephants and the relationship between the elephants and the local villagers. We also monitored the use of the elephant corridor, and interacted with the villagers regularly to educate them and try to improve their relationship with the elephants. I wish I could have worked on the project for longer!
It was great to be so immersed in rustic jungle life. We managed to see elephants every day and I really enjoyed volunteering with elephants and tracking them. There is obviously great conflict between people and elephants here, so to be involved with trying to counteract this was an experience I’ll never forget!
Being able to witness and understand the complex and harsh reality of human/elephant conflict whilst seeing herds of elephants nearly every day was absolutely incredible.
If you have any questions about this project or would like help finding the perfect project for you then please feel free to give us a call or send us through your enquiry and we will be happy to help.
Nikita & team.