Encounter the beautiful Asiatic elephant deep within the heart of the Sri Lankan jungle
This elephant conservation project, based on the outskirts of the wild Wasgamuwa National Park, is one of Sri Lanka's most exciting offerings. As a volunteer on this project you will spend time conducting daily ecological research on the Sri Lankan elephant population in the Wasgamuwa Region - the ultimate aim being to assess and subsequently reduce the conflict between humans and elephants.
This type of conflict is a major problem here and is the primary reason for the drastic reduction in Asian elephant populations over the past century. This project aims to tackle the problem head on, and the input of project volunteers is integral in making a difference for both the elephants and the local communities whom they come into conflict with.
This project offers you an opportunity to partake in true elephant conservation, using GPS, camera/sound traps and remote sensors hand in hand with more traditional methods (such as tracking trails and hide observation) to develop strategies in the conservation of both animal habitat and the local wildlife.
What's more, through this programme, you will also get to experience the beautiful culture of the people living here in the local villages. Your ultimate involvement will help to safe guard the wilderness and preserve cultural practices that are thousands of years old.
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 volunteer activities are dependent on the needs of the project:
Please note that the itinerary detailed below is only a rough guideline and is subject to change.
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.
Select a duration below to see the available 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. It is also highly respected, so much so that the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Equator Initiative awarded the project an Equator Prize in 2008. 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).
Despite their importance to the ecosystem, Asian Elephants are endangered for reasons including habitat loss and poaching. That's why the work at The Great Elephant Project is so vital for their preservation, and today we are giving you the chance to meet the newest members across the project's reserves!
Find out the latest from our Great Elephant Project in Sri Lanka!
Whilst on the project you will stay in the volunteer field house, unless there is a group of fourteen participants or more (when the Field Camp will also be used).
The house is very spacious with lots of room and 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 terrain it is situated in and it helps to keep the house relatively cool during the hot days and nights and dry during the rainy season.
The house has two 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 five bedrooms sectioned off for privacy and they are situated around the two communal social areas of the house.
The rooms are very basic and rustic but have comfortable beds. Electric fans, mosquito nets, pillows and clean bedsheets are provided, but please remember to bring your own towel.
Three fresh meals per day are prepared for you at the volunteer house. Food is prepared in the local style, with milder spices if preferred. Most meals will be vegetarian, with egg, fish and soy for protein.
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.
You will need to arrive into Colombo via Bandaranaike International Airport, around twenty kilometres north of the city centre. As you will need to leave for the project at 7am from Colombo's Fort Railway Station, you will need to arrive the day before your project start date and check into a hotel nearby. A project facilitator will then collect you in the morning from your hotel of choice at 6am and take you to the train station. You will then travel by train to the cultural capital of Kandy. You will have an hour to have a look around and then will take a bus directly to the field site.
If you would like help booking your flights, please visit our flights page and fill out the form. A member of our team will get back in touch as soon as possible with a suitable quote.
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. 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).
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.
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.