The Great Elephant Project

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 out in the field monitoring the elephant herds, The Great Elephant Project promises to be a volunteer experience you will never forget.

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Activities

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 the jeep on the lookout for wild elephants. Sitting in the ‘elephant corridor’ waiting for herds of elephants to emerge, and when they do, 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 through interaction and play, they will soon come out of their shells!
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.

Itinerary

The itinerary below is an example of a two-week stay at The Great Elephant Project and is subject to change. Please be advised that although we are able to offer an 8-night option, a minimum duration of 15 nights is recommended for a more in-depth experience. If you take part for only 8 nights, there is no guarantee that you will be involved in all the activities listed.

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins: Upon arrival at Colombo airport, a project representative will collect you and transfer you to a hotel in Ambepussa. Here you'll spend your first night, have a chance to rest and get a good night's sleep before your early pick-up the following day.
Day 2-15 - Project Days: You will be collected by a member of the team from your hotel in Ambepussa at 6am and be transferred to the project site on day 2. Upon arrival, you’ll head straight out in the jeeps hoping to spot wild elephant herds, before later returning for an orientation and evening meal. During the project, your group will be split into two teams, 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 16 - Final Day: After saying goodbye to the project staff and the friends you have made here, it's time to depart. Your departure transfer is not included but the team will assist you with arranging a transfer back to Colombo or to your onward destination if you will be staying in Sri Lanka. Wherever you may be heading, you can be sure to be walking away with unforgettable memories of your conservation adventure!

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

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 $282 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.)


Project Details

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 in Colombo on a Sunday, where you'll be met at the airport and transferred to a hotel in Ambepussa where you'll spend your first night. The following morning (Monday) you will be met at your hotel at 6am by a member of the team and be transferred by a private vehicle to the project site. Please note, departure transfer is not included but can be arranged for an additional fee.

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.


Videos

The Great Elephant Project - Project Video - 2023
Discover The Great Elephant Project

See what your life as a volunteer could be like at The Great Elephant Project in Sri Lanka - A project that works closely with Asian elephants and the local farming community to reduce human-animal conflict around the wildlife-rich Wasgamuwa National Park.

The Great Elephant Project - Project Orange - 2023
Project Orange - Tackling human-elephant conflict

Operations Manager of The Great Elephant Project, Chinthaka, explains how volunteers actively contribute to mitigating human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka and support local communities through the cultivation of orange trees.

The Great Elephant Project - Weekend Activities - 2023
Weekends at The Great Elephant Project

With weekends free, you can explore iconic landmarks in the cultural triangle including Sigiriya Lion Rock, Pidurangala, and the Dambulla Cave Temple.

Filipa's Experience Of 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. 



Reviews

Saeko Nishimura Di Giusto, 2024
         

We’ve stayed 1 week and had amazing meaningful time there. It was for us first Volunteer and was so interesting to learn about the situation between humen and elephants. Specially we are very interested in visiting farmers and talked with them. So that we could see the problem in real-time and understand the situation and think the solution. First day we’ve asked the farmers about orange trees that Project Team has previously planted. Second day we’ve visited farmers to ask when was the last time that elephant came and how many damage have they got. We also did Butterfly Survey which was so fun to learn species of Butterfly. All the activity during the week was so gut organized and we could learn so many things. Staffs in Fieldhouse are very kind and welcomed. We would like to special thanks to Charuga who mostly lead our Team during our stay and taught us nature of elephant, ecosystem, history of this project, but also big thanks for all the Teammember and Chefs who make us so delicious meals! We are very thanksful that we could participate in this project and we hope that we can come back one day!


David Pratt, 2024
         

Are you passionate about Asian elephant conservation? Or perhaps you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track Sri Lankan experience? Then look no further than The Great Elephant Project! I was there for two weeks and had an absolute phenomenal time! The staff were brilliant and my co-volunteers were great! The work routine is very easy to settle into and the tasks themselves weren't very strenuous. I participated in many jobs, including interviewing the local villagers on their human-elephant conflict experiences, exploring the jungle, tracking Asian elephants in their natural habitat (sometimes on foot), and conducting butterfly surveys in the nearby farmland. The work being done at this place is making a huge positive difference towards the preservation of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka and I was really proud to be involved.


Aislinn Currie-Jordan, 2023
         

I had the most amazing time on The Great Elephant Project and got to experience some truly once in a lifetime moments watching wild Asian elephants. During the project, you spend your time working with scientific researchers. All the staff are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and getting to see (and help!) with their research first-hand is truly amazing. From elephant observations to dung washing, the project really has it all. My particular highlight was definitely our trips into Wasgamuwa National Park where you get to observe wild elephants up close and personal in beautiful surroundings whilst having world expert researchers talk you through the biology of the elephants. Additionally, I found the interviews with local people regarding elephant conflict truly fascinating. I was entirely naïve to the continuous pressures these communities face from human-elephant conflict and hearing their stories first-hand was particularly special.



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What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Arrival airport transfer and accommodation in Ambepussa
  • 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
  • Departure airport transfer