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Desert Elephants Volunteer Project, Namibia

Reference   (Please mention Stopdodo/Environment Jobs in your application)
Sectors Terrestrial / Aquatic Ecology & Conservation
Location Namibia - Africa
Type Temporary / Contract / Seasonal
Status Part Time / Per Day
Level Voluntary & Interns
Deadline 27/02/2016
Company Name WorkingAbroad Projects
Contact Name Vicky McNeil
Telephone 01273 479 047
Email victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com
Website Further Details / Applications
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Also Listing:

Track desert elephants and take part in community development volunteer work in the beautiful Damaraland region of the Namib Desert where the famous desert-adapted elephants roam free. This project is a perfect opportunity for people to really return to basic levels of living, learn simple camp-craft and survival skills and get back in touch with nature; whilst becoming directly involved in spearhead elephant conservation volunteer work.

You can join for 2 weeks up to 12 weeks all year round and we have places all throughout 2013 and 2014 available.

Individuals, groups, families and students doing research all welcome.

The Project

Aim of the Project
This project takes you to the northwestern regions of the Namib Desert, traditionally known as ‘Damaraland’. This harsh tribal wilderness area, runs parallel to the Skeleton Coast National Park, and is home to a small population of desert-adapted elephants.  This project is part of a long-term initiative to find solutions to the ever-growing problem of facilitating the peaceful co-habitation between the subsistence farmers, and the desert adapted elephants.

As a volunteer, you will work with the local subsistence farmers building protective walls around their water points to stop elephants causing damage.  In addition, you will take part in following and monitoring the movements of these elephants on patrol, camping wild and living close to the earth, elephants and people.   

Project Details:

Opportunities to join for 2 weeks up to 12 weeks.  The project takes place in 2 week rotations.

Week 1:
Volunteers will first join a team in building walls around vitally important water sources for Damaraland homesteads. The walls are built to protect water pumping facilities: a borehole, solar panel and pump or windmill. The elephants are given access to the water at certain points, thus preventing them from damaging the pumping mechanics and allowing the farmers use of the clean, fresh water.

You will be camping and all cooking is done over the fire, everybody sharing camp duties. It is extremely intense work in the heat of the African sun doing hard physical labour, but you will undoubtedly finish the week with a great sense of achievement. The weekend is spent relaxing at thebase camp in the Ugab River.
Week 2:
You then head off on patrol for the next week. Patrols are lead by at least one experienced guide on their very specialised 4x4 vehicles, again with minimum of equipment, setting up camp at a different site every evening. You will be experiencing areas of Damaraland and surrounding desert that no safari or overland tour will ever venture into, tracking and observing their local desert-adapted elephant herds. Volunteers will help with herd identification and data collection projects.

This project is a perfect opportunity for people to really return to basic levels of living, learn simple camp-craft and survival skills and get back in touch with nature; whilst becoming directly involved in spearhead elephant conservation volunteer work. It is a chance to experience hard but rewarding work, witness amazing natural phenomena and escape the highly strung world and its day to day routine. 

Induction and TrainingBesides a willing mind, and a strong back, you do not need any special training to work on this project.  During your time spent with there, they would teach you the following:
  • camp craft including cooking over a fire, bush camp setup, safety and hygiene.
  • bush craft like tracking, approaching dangerous animals on foot, animal behavior, bush walking, navigation, map reading, GPS etc.
  • compiling identification kits on elephants.
  • traditional building skills.

A Day as a Volunteer

During the first week you cheat the heat and wake up early, for your first cup of coffee around the campfire. After the team member on duty served breakfast, you head out to your project site for the day. 

It is likely you will be busy constructing large protection walls around farmers waterpoints, often windmills which are suseptable to damage by passing elephants. You will be constructing alternative drinking holes away from homesteads for elephants and also black rhino. You will also work on other projects such as teaching farmers wives to make paper using elephant dung, doing work on the base camp, helping community members build a tourist camp or fix a rural school. 

You head to your camp for lunch and siesta. You could be tasked to update data forms, be on kitchen and camp duty for the day. The evenings are spent around the campfire, eating and talking about the day’s events. You live closely in the desert camp. 

The second week is spent out on elephant patrol. You pack some basic camping equipment in the 4x4, and set off looking for the illusive elephants. On patrol you camp wild, and sleep under the stars. You follow elephants mostly in 4x4s, but also on foot, sometimes for hours under the desert sun, and sit patiently observing from some rocky outcrop whilst they laze away in the shade! This the life few ever have the privilege to live.


Over the past 20 years, the population of desert dwelling elephants in the region has grown from as low as 52 members to a current population of over 600 elephants. As a result, elephants have expanded their range to the south and east into territories they have not occupied for many years. Subsistence farmers husbanding mainly cattle, goats and sheep, traditionally occupy these areas. As a result competition for water and grazing has escalated tremendously causing conflict between farmers and elephants. In their search for the source of water points elephants cause extensive damage to windmills, dams, reservoirs, hand-pumps and wells. As the farmers homesteads are normally located close to the water source, secondary damage is also caused and the lives of humans and livestock are threatened.

Through assisting these communities by constructing protective structures around water points, educating community members about elephant behaviour, creating alternative drinking points for the elephants and promoting tourism in the affected areas, you can assist in alleviating the current pressure facing communal farmers. Thereby helping to promote the future of the desert dwelling elephant in harmony with the continuous positive development of the conservancies and their ideals.

Project Partner
As a volunteer, you will be carrying out elephant conservation volunteer work, alongside a Namibian registered non-profit organisation that strives towards assisting the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and other NGO’s in promoting a mutually beneficial relationship between the humans and the desert adapted elephants of the northwestern regions of the Namib Desert. Working from mobile base camps in the vicinity of the Brandberg in the ephemeral Ugab River, you will immerse yourself in pioneer elephant conservation volunteer work. This project is not for those interested in bottle-feeding cuddly baby elephants.


Additional details

For more information regarding this opportunity, please visit the main project page here, or contact Vicky McNeil here. The application form can be found here, though it is advised that applicants express interest before applying, in order to discuss personal situations.

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