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.
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 kind of work needs to be done to their already impressive conservation efforts.
Human-Elephant Conflict Observations
This is the signature activity that you will be involved in during your time here. Volunteers spend their afternoons in a tree hut located within an area known as 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 on past!
This activity involves spending a session walking along a trail and recording dung found alongside. 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 elephants.
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 them. This process also enables volunteers and the project staff to see what issues can arise regarding 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 elephants 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 and observing and photographing them. Elephant identification data sheets will be filled out 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 and 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, leopards and the extensive collection of birds within the area. The information collected will then be logged in the system by the volunteers. 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.
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:
Today (Monday) you will begin your journey to the project site. You will be collected from your hotel by 6am and be taken to the Fort Railway Station to catch the train at 7am. 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 reservoirs!
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 which have already been put in place 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 accompanied back to Kandy. Here you will make your own way back to Colombo via 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!
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.
Please be advised, although we are able to offer a 6 night option, a minimum duration of 13 nights is recommended for a more in depth experience. If taking part for only 6 nights there is no guarantee that you will be involved in all the activities listed.
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.
Back in March, we brought you the story of a unique initiative designed to prevent issues relating to the Human-Elephant Conflict in and around Wasgamuwa National Park. The staff and volunteers at The Great Elephant Project have carried on working hard, and as of March 31st, another momentous day took place!
Staff at The Great Elephant Project have been working on a fascinating initiative to help mitigate human-elephant-conflict in the surrounding areas of Wasgamuwa National Park for the past twelve years - and it involves oranges! Last month, they reached a major milestone that has proven this initiative to be successful!
Join some of The Great Elephant Project's past volunteers as they reflect on their time spent volunteering with elephants in Sri Lanka! From witnessing the majesty of the animals here, to enjoying the company of new friends made on the project. Want to experience the project for yourself? Read on to find out more!
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 surrounding terrain 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 basic 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 by staff. Food is prepared in the local style, with milder spices if preferred. Most meals will be vegetarian, with egg, fish and soy for protein.
In addition, upon arrival into Kandy, and during your last leg of the journey to the project site, you will be provided with breakfast and other refreshments!
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 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.
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.