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 hiding in tree huts as you try to spot elephant herds below, The Great Elephant Project promises to be a volunteer experience you will never forget.
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.
The itinerary below is an example of a two-week stay at The Great Elephant Project, but is subject to change.
To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 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 2017/18, the project 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.
2019 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!Read More
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!Read More
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 to 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.
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 $232 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.
Three fresh meals are provided on each day of the project, and are prepared by members of staff who live in the 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 available and you will also find British-style tea and ground coffee here, as well as a kettle, toaster and fridge-freezer for you to store extra snacks and drinks. 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.
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.
While elephant and other wildlife sightings, and all volunteer activities occur year-round, there are few factors which 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.
Weather-wise, the most pleasant months fall between December and May, with February 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. The Maha monsoon falls between October and November, 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.
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 at 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 have some lunch before taking a bus or car directly to the project site.
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.
The three weeks at the Elephant Project have gone by quickly. What I valued most about the project was the work we did that was geared towards reducing human/elephant conflict. Project Orange Elephant—both planting and monitoring the orange tree saplings—was a rewarding experience. While at times the work was hard, never was I asked to do any more than I could handle and plenty of breaks were allowed during the hot part of the day. Of course, monitoring the elephants in the afternoon and early evening was always a joy. As for the staff they were helpful, friendly and fun all at the same time. Questions about things were handled very well by those in charge. Also, they were very good about looking after our welfare when it came to health issues. The food was adequate as to expectations. The accommodations, while a bit simple, were also adequate to meet my immediate needs for sleep and hygiene. Overall, I met some very nice people, learned a lot about the fauna and culture of Sri Lanka and enjoyed my stay very much.
Todd Soyck, 2019
I learned so much about elephants and noticed how different the Sri Lankan elephants are from African elephants. I really enjoyed all the activities, and the staff on the project were knowledgable and helpful.
Julie Grosso, 2018
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.