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.
Elephant Observation & Data Logging
Perhaps one of the most exciting activities of your trip will be late afternoons and evenings spent in tree huts situated along an elephant corridor on the look-out for wild elephants. During this time, you will climb up into the trees and sit quietly waiting for the elephants to come by. In the magical moment that they do, you will gather data on their size, sex and any other significant physical features. This enables the project to monitor Asian elephant populations in the area and to assess the risk of the occurrence of human-elephant conflict.
A Trip To Wasgamuwa National Park
Included in the price of your project is a trip to the wildlife-rich Wasgamuwa National Park. This is yet another incredible opportunity to witness elephants in their natural wild habitat along with countless other species. Here you can spot more species of bird than you could imagine, such as peacocks, herons, pelicans and more, along with sloth bears, wild hares, boars, spotted deer, crocodiles and, if you’re lucky, leopards! We would highly recommend keeping your camera rolling throughout your safari, as you never know what could emerge from the trees!
Species Monitoring & Data Gathering
Your mornings will be spent completing a range of different activities, and some of these involve collecting data using various research methods which indicate the overall health of the forest and its inhabitants. Methods include: collecting results from camera traps, which volunteers will also help to establish in various parts of the forest; noting down the presence of pug marks of species such as carnivores, boars, deer and of course, elephants found within the sand traps set on the forest floor; and completing bird-mapping surveys which indicate habitat selection during different seasons, such as the breeding season.
Another morning activity you may be involved with is walking along a trail transect through the jungle searching for elephant dung. While this may not sound like the most pleasant activity, the analysis of elephant dung is extremely insightful of their ecology. Dung can indicate the age, size, sex and eating patterns of an animal, which is all crucial information for understanding them and their interaction with their jungle homes. In addition to helping understand elephant ecology, the dung also shows where the elephants are passing through, illustrating the extent of the risk of human-elephant conflict in the area.
Electric Fence Monitoring
Rather than fencing the elephants in to avoid conflict, this project helped to establish electric fences around the local villages. These fences were erected to try and stop wild elephants from entering the villages and causing damage. You and your fellow volunteers will be split into groups, with each team checking on the state of the solar-powered electric fences. Information on 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.
Human-Elephant Conflict Resolutions
In the event of human-elephant conflict, much damage can be inflicted onto the property of local villagers who have no means to make repairs themselves. Monetary donations and the physical presence of volunteers allows the project to step in to try and solve this issue. These tasks can vary, and volunteers will complete such activities as and when they are needed, but they may involve construction work to repair houses, wells, food stores and more. You could even jump on board the morning school run on the elebus: a free service which transports children safely to school through an elephant corridor.
Sustainable Land Use & 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.
Teaching English At The Local Schools
Each morning, three volunteers will be selected to travel to one of the local schools in the area to help teach English. You will work with children ranging from early primary school years right through to teenagers. During this time, you also have the opportunity to help educate them about the value of elephants to the ecosystem and as a legacy of Sri Lanka, and also how they can help to care for them. The children may seem shy at first, but they open up when it comes to taking selfies and Snapchat filters!
Depending on the length of your stay, there are various cultural gems waiting to be discovered in the beautiful country of Sri Lanka. On offer is the cultural triangle, compiled of an array of wildlife, rocks and ancient ruins that stretch across 3 locations: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla. Many volunteers enjoy a change of scenery during their weekends! Alternatively, volunteers are also welcome to relax at the volunteer house with its stunning surroundings to get some much-needed rest.
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, where you will be met by project staff and transported either by bus or car to the volunteer field house. Should you wish, volunteers may explore Kandy for a short time for something to eat or drink before you depart. Upon arrival, you will dive straight in and head to the tree huts to start looking for the elephants! You will also complete an orientation in the evening.
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 elephant conservation tasks out in the field. You will trek through the jungle, on the lookout for signs of wildlife such as pug marks and dung, visit communities to teach the children English or assist with their sustainable land use projects which aim to alleviate human-elephant conflict in the area, and also you will enjoy a safari through Wasgamuwa National Park! Weekends will be at your leisure, where you can either jet off to explore more of Sri Lanka’s stunning cultural gems, or simply kick back and relax at the volunteer field house.
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 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!
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.
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!
Human-Elephant Conflict is the leading reason for the decline in the population of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka, and also has devastating effects on local communities. Check out how The Great Elephant Project works to help alleviate this issue with a mission of saving elephants by helping people!
Is this trip for you?
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.
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. 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.
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.