Desert Elephant Project

  • The best price guaranteed– starts at $1185.
  • Pay your fees directly to the project.
  • Help preserve the Big 5 wild animals of Africa.
  • Immerse in authentic local culture, travel and get an experience of a lifetime.

Desert Elephants are one of the rarest and distinct species of African bush elephants that dwell in deserts and have made the deserts their home. These elephants migrate from one water hole to another and are found only in Namibia and Mali. Their existence is threatened by poaching and increase in human intervention in the desert lands.

The Desert Elephant Project is a project that has been in operation since the last 6 years. Hundreds of volunteers have made a huge impact on the conservation of desert elephants and the quality of thousands of Namibian lives. This project gives volunteers the opportunity to be get hands on exposure in the field and a unique chance to make a personal difference and a real contribution to conservation and biosphere development in Namibia.

Goal of the Project

The aim of this project is to provide a long lasting sufficient solution that will nurture the desert elephants; at the same time, one of the goals of this project is to provide a beneficial relationship between the desert elephants and the existing communities in this place.

Through research and extensive development, it was found out that establishing various water points in the desert where the elephants traverse is essential to their nourishment. Hence, volunteers should be committed to help build water points for elephants. In the spirit of establishing mutualism between the communities and the elephants, this project also endeavors to teach members of the community how to financially benefit through popular tourism in the area.

Volunteer Involvement and Activities

Tuesday morning, volunteers travel to the local Namibian farm or homestead where they will spend the week, building protection walls around water sources or building alternative water points for the elephants and even the in areas where black rhinos have been recently released. Volunteer teams will be living in mobile base camps in the vicinity of the homesteads and elephants. Tents are provided to the volunteers and al the cooking is done over the fire. Volunteers will be working in pairs taking turns to be on kitchen duty and other necessary duties.

Volunteers will rise early to beat the Namibian heat and then stop around 12H00 to travel back to camp for a traditional African siesta and lunch. In the afternoons, volunteers start work after 14H30 and work for a couple of hours, before heading back to camp in time for the obligatory sundowners’. Evenings are spent talking and relaxing around the camp fire, listening to the sounds of Africa. Building walls is sweaty and requires a lot of hard work but each volunteer does what they are capable of, working as a team to complete the project.

Volunteers will pack up the camp on Saturday morning and travel back to Base Camp for a much deserved shower and relaxation. The next two days will be free for volunteers to explore, read, relax, take a swim in the elephant drinking dam and enjoy.

Week Two - Elephant Patrol

On Monday morning, volunteer teams pack the Land Cruisers and leave on Elephant Patrol. This is an amazing week where volunteer will join the trackers on a (mostly) vehicle based patrol where you travel through the area to track the local herds of desert elephants. This week is your reward for all the hard work on building week. The whole week will be dedicated to tracking the elephants, recording data on births, deaths and new elephants, taking GPS of their positions and taking ID shots and notes about each and every elephant.

The project encourages volunteers to know each elephant personally, through its physical features and its personality traits, as well as having accurate and up to date information on numbers and movements. This is particularly important when 'problem' elephants are declared. The information gathered on the patrol is entered onto our online database which maps each herd’s movements to Google Earth. From this we can ascertain which farms and homesteads are visited and therefore may require protection walls. The database also holds all ID shots of each and every elephant.

During patrols volunteers will sleep at a new place every evening, depending on where the days’ tracking has taken them. They sleep out, under the stars and for many volunteers this is one of the most magical experiences of the project and indeed their gap year or career break! It is likely that volunteers will get to see no other humans the entire week. Aside from elephants, volunteers can expect to see giraffes, oryx, ostrich, kudu, zebra, and springbok and, if lucky, black rhino, as well as the hundreds of different birds.

On Thursday afternoon after spending 4 days and 3 nights out, volunteers travel back to base camp to spend what could be their last night in the desert.

Friday morning volunteers will make their way back to Swakopmund. Friday nights are always a fun night out where all volunteers eat together in one of the local restaurants.

Fees and Dates

Except our registration fee of $299, our fees are as affordable as $1185. The detailed fee structure of Desert Elephant Project is as follows:

Duration Projects
1 Week N/A
2 Wks $1185
3 Wks N/A
4 Wks $2150
5 Wks N/A
6 Wks $3050
7 Wks N/A
8 Wks $3915
Additional Per Week $855
Click here for the available dates for 2017:
Start Date End Date
  • 8 January
  • 22 January
  • 5 February
  • 19 February
  • 5 March
  • 19 March
  • 2 April
  • 16 April
  • 30 April
  • 14 May
  • 28 May
  • 11 June
  • 25 June
  • 9 July
  • 23 July
  • 6 August
  • 20 August
  • 3 September
  • 17 September
  • 1 October
  • 15 October
  • 29 October
  • 12 November
  • 26 November
  • 19 January
  • 2 February
  • 16 February
  • 2 March
  • 16 March
  • 30 March
  • 13 April
  • 27 April
  • 11 May
  • 25 May
  • 8 June
  • 22 June
  • 6 July
  • 20 July
  • 3 August
  • 17 August
  • 31 August
  • 14 September
  • 28 September
  • 12 October
  • 26 October
  • 9 November
  • 23 November
  • 7 December

Remember that volunteers need to be in Swakopmund the day before the transfer to the project (i.e. latest by the Sunday), and should book their departure flight for the day after the transfer back to Swakopmund (i.e. a Saturday) onwards.

Room and Foods

Volunteers will be accommodated in the project sites during their stay. The mobile base camps in these project sites have 2 main tents; however, volunteers also have the option to spend their nights camping under the stars. There are mosquito nets and bed rolls available. During the elephant patrol however, volunteers will be sleeping camping style underneath the stars; so be prepared to last several days without a shower or toilets during the elephant patrol. Meals will be cooked during camp fires; a great moment to bond not only with nature but also with your fellow volunteers.

The project will have a “bushman” shower available should volunteers prefer it, depending on the availability of water supply in the camp. As to the lavatory, long drops are adapted; don’t worry, it’s enclosed and private.

The project makes sure that there is balance meal options complete with meals for vegetarians as well. Some of these meals include (but are not limited to) the following set:

For breakfast, you have healthy cereals consisting of oats or porridge; there are toasts and fruits as well. For lunch, something hearty like pasta, complete with bread and fruit serving. For dinner, a selection of roast chicken or Thai curry is served. It will all depend on the availability of ingredients within the camp.

Free time

The remoteness of the area is a perfect way to bond with new people and have self-reflection. Most of the time volunteers spend their free time attending to their personal needs like washing clothes or engaging in simple leisure activities like learning or listening to African music. Volunteers may want to bring a book or iPod players to pass the time. Swakopmund offers a lot of group or individual activities which a volunteer may choose to do, even after his volunteer work is over.

Major FAQ's

  • What are my air flight details?
  • Option 1: Volunteers may want to take the air flight route to Walvis Bay either through Johannesburg or Cape Town. From those points, a connecting shuttle is available to take you to Swakopmund.

    Option 2: Volunteers may fly to Hosea Kutako International Airport located in Windhoek; from there, you can take a shuttle or bus going to Swakopmund.

    Volunteers are advised to be physically present in Swakopmund by the latest Sunday of the date they are about to start their volunteer work. They will then spend a day overnight in Swakopmund before heading out to their assigned project Monday around 12 noon.

  • When does the project begin?
  • Every project is set to begin every 2nd Monday of the scheduled volunteer work schedule. Every volunteers leaving Swakopmund will be under the supervision of experienced project managers with a provided transportation from the project management. The journey to the camp is more or less 3 hours drive. By the end of the wee, approximately Friday, volunteers will be returning to Swakopmund.

  • What vaccinations do I need?
  • Malaria is not a problem when you’re within the project site. However, since you’ll be exposed to places outside the project site, you’ll need to be vaccinated with anti-malaria shots. Consult your physician about the scheduling of the shots before you travel into Namibia.

  • How can I communicate with family?
  • Internet is not a problem in Swakopmund since there are internet cafes as well as reliable mobile phone connection in the area; there are locally produced sim cards in the camp which you can use. It’s highly advisable to let your family and friends know about your trip schedule when heading out from the camp as well as the date when you’ll be coming back. Note that outside the base camp, communication is not constant.

  • How safe is the project?
  • The project organizers, staff, and officers put safety as the primary consideration. However, volunteers are still advised to take extreme caution on their personal belonging when travelling around the town. Always to bring essential travelling documents like passports or plane tickets with you at all times.

  • Will there be someone to guide/supervise us?
  • Volunteers need not worry because the managers are 100% available to assist them in all their concerns. Project managers and staff ensure that volunteers are adequately provisioned with meals, accommodation essentials, and other things that would make a volunteer’s time with the project comfortable.

  • Will there be other volunteers?
  • This is project composed of volunteers; so expect that you’ll be meeting 2 to 14 volunteers in the camp.

  • Any other important information to consider?
  • Since majority of the volunteer work involves manual labor, volunteers are expected to have the required stamina and fitness to cope up with the tasks as well as the scorching heat of the desert. This doesn’t mean however that a volunteers need to be muscular or super buff; as long as he/she is capable and willing, he/she can apply. Since this project is a team effort, there will be a mixed crowd of volunteers varying in race and ages. Because of the diversity in culture or nationality, a volunteer must be learned in English to be able to communicate effectively.

    The project staff and officers work on a tight schedule; hence, volunteers have to be in Swakopmund at the latest Sunday because the day after (Monday) is their scheduled date to depart for the project site. One of the options available to volunteers is to fly out to Walvis Bay; upon arriving, a connecting shuttle is available to drop you off to the backpackers lodge located in Swakopmund. As an alternative option, volunteers can fly out to Windhoek; from there, a shuttle or bus is available to drop you off to Swakopmund. Take note of the schedule of the shuttle stationed at Windhoek which departs to Swakopmund around 13H30. For volunteers who will be arriving later than the departure time, they would need to stay overnight in Windhoek to catch the next schedule of the shuttle. Take note that traveling via Windhoek is cheaper; but if you want to get to camp fast, take the Walvis Bay option. With regard to your return trip if coming from Swakopmund, take note you’ll be returning to Swakopmund from your last volunteer work at around 14H00 on a Friday afternoon; hence, you may want to arrange your flight schedule coordinately for your trip back. It’s highly recommended that volunteers plan their return trip on a Saturday for convenience to avoid rushing out of the project site; take note that the shuttle from Swakopmund leaves on the dot around 07H00. At the end of the volunteer work, the volunteers are rewarded with a Friday night out before returning to their homeland.

NOTE:  Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is derived from generic information about the country, and should not be used as a definitive travel guide. Travel information and situations abroad change constantly, and the information contained here may not be up to date. Participants should consult Helping Abroad staff or travel advisors to verify this information