Conservation Volunteering

Elephant Research and Community Conservation Project, South Africa

Take part in a life-changing gap year abroad with elephants, and become inspired by these gentle giants. Volunteer in wild national parks and gain conservation experience in an elephant sanctuary.

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£444.00 ⁄ wk

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This volunteer elephant conservation programme is ideal for those in search of a stimulating wildlife volunteer experience. It aims to expose volunteers to all aspects of elephant conservation, allowing them to contribute in the maintenance of a sustainable community project that is directly linked to educating the wider community

Whilst the phrase ‘Elephant Tourism’ may give the impression of exploitation and cruelty to these beautiful animals – it is, in fact a reality in our modern world, and projects like this one are actively involved in ensuring that tourists are educated efficiently. Volunteers will be able to provide hands-on assistance in the maintenance of the parks and reserves.

The project aims to expose volunteers to all aspects of conservation and involves the following elements:

  • Working with members of the Rastafarian community on their "Kayalethu Eco -Trail"
  • Assisting with the "Recycling Swop Shop"
  • Experiencing one of South Africas many national parks
  • Educating the community about conservation and nature
  • Educating yourself about conservation and nature

This volunteer elephant conservation programme will give you a real chance to meet, work, and fall in love with one of the most intelligent animals in the world and contribute to long-term research goals.

Project details

  • What's included?
  • Dates & duration
  • Eligibility
  • Location
  • Project life
  • Accommodation
  • Flights & Visas
  • Insurance

What's included?

  • Pre-departure information and advice
  • In-country assistance and support
  • 24-hour emergency contacts
  • In-country induction or training with elephants
  • Donation to the project
  • Sightseeing activities (these are arranged for you, but not always paid for).
  • Transportation: airport pick-up, travel arrangements to and from the project (on allocated days) project related transport
  • Accommodation: volunteer house
  • Food: all meals included and provided by staff
  • Sim card
  • T-shirt
  • Community and Cultural Tour
  • Post project involvement and updates

What's NOT included?

  • Flights
  • Insurance
  • Visas
  • Monthly stipend

Dates and duration

The Elephant Conservation & Care programme starts throughout the year. Volunteers arrive on a Saturday ready to start work on the Monday. Please exclude Sundays as an arrival option.

Minimum duration of the programme is 2 weeks and you can extend your stay up to a maximum of 12 weeks. Please note that arrival and depature dates are ALWAYS on Saturdays in 2 week blocks.


We are looking for dedicated, mature and motivated volunteers that have a caring attitude towards wildlife and conservation. Volunteers should be of average physical fitness and willing to get their hands dirty.

  • Minimum age 16 yrs
  • For those travelling between the ages of 16-17, you must abide by the new South African immigration regulations that you can find information on here
  • CRB Check required
  • No specific qualifications are necessary for this programme
  • Any experience with animals is beneficial
  • A genuine interest for animal welfare, conservation, nature and wildlife
  • International volunteers welcome
  • Volunteers need to be hard working, mature, motivated and able to show initiative
  • Be in good health and phyiscal fitness
  • Need to be confident in English speaking


Project life

As an Elephant volunteer, you will be learning everything from the anatomy of an elephant, to the complex history that has affected elephant populations in Africa. 

You will also assist with the day-to-day running of an elephant camp that provides a home for rescued elephants, and you'll be able to research elephants in two untouched wild environments – Knysna Forest and Addo Elephant National Park (length of stay dependent).

Volunteers on this project may be involved in the following:

Elephant Sanctuary

  • Stable cleaning
  • Fruit chopping
  • Cleaning the night pen
  • General maintenance
  • Conducting behavioural observations
  • Contributing to long term research goals

Please note: volunteers will have the opportunity to get close to and interact with the elephants, however please be aware that it is not possible for volunteers to be constantly interacting with the elephants due to the fact that constant human contact could lead to difficulties when the elephants are released from the sanctuary.

Kayalethu Eco-Trail

  • Planting indigenous species
  • Removal of alien invasic trees and plants
  • Mending paths and walkways
  • Clearing river debris
  • Helping guides with tourists from aboard and surrounding communities
  • New business plan development
  • Assisting at an Educational Centre

Conservation & Nature Lessons

  • Teaching lessons on elephant conservation & Management
  • Teaching lessons on Biomimicry*

    * Biomimicry is to be inspired by and imitate nature's designs in order to conserve life and create a more sustainable way of life

Recyling Swop Shop
This is an initiative which aims to provide an opportunity for children to gain an understanding of the value of goods and the concept of exchanging work for goods through a recyling exchange incentive scheme. Local children of 18 years and under earn exchange recyclable materials for tokens with which they "buy" donated items such as clothes and toiletries, activities include:

  • Weighing recycling
  • Upkeep of shop
  • Assisting children in the shop
  • Data capture and data entry

Elephant National Park Experience
After a long history of poaching and human encroachment, today the Elephant National Park is home to over 400 elephants in a fenced area of 12,500 hectares, the entire park is over 148,000 hectares. This park has one of the highest concentrations of African elephants in the world! Volunteers will have the opportunity to take part in a 3 day (2 night) excursion to this park where they will have the privilege of camping over night.
Please note this excursion is only guaranteed on a 4 week plus project

The working hours vary but your day may start as early at 6:30-9am and finish at 3-5pm. You will work 5 days a week, leaving you 2 free days to explore the area.

Volunteers work in small groups depending on the needs of the project. You may be working individually on a project too but you will always be surrounded with interesting locals, new people and your project coordinator.

Accommodation and Food

Volunteers at this elephant project are based in a stunning volunteer house (accommodating up to 20 volunteers at a time) in a peaceful hillside area of Knysna. You will be located very close to Knysna town centre, which is a beautiful town that includes numerous amenities from a local cinema, to a shopping centre, ATMs, restaurants, cafes and beaches.

You will live in a comfortable and relaxing modern volunteer house with dorm-style bedrooms.

Facilities include:

  • Hot water showers
  • Electricity
  • Communal kitchen
  • Communal lounge area (complete with a stereo, TV and numerous DVDs)
  • Comfortable dorm style sleeping arrangements
  • Private rooms available on request
  • Family rooms available on request
  • Internet access in the house if you want to bring your own laptop
  • Internet cafes in town

Just so you know, South Africans love a good barbeque (braai) so the volunteer house has outside decks, a garden and the ever-essential braai area!

All your meals will be provided for you whilst you are living at the volunteer house.

  • Breakfast: Light selection of breads, cereals, fruits, tea, coffee and juice
  • Lunch: Sandwiches, salads, bread rolls or wraps 
  • Dinner: A few ready cooked dinners and the rest left to your own tastes. All ingredients and menu plans will be provided

Flights, Transportation & Visas

  • International flights are not included.
  • Please aim to arrive on the Saturday before the project starts. DO NOT arrive on Sundays.
  • Volunteers would have to either fly into George airport via Cape Town or Johannesburg, alternatively take a Baz Bus (only recommended bus provider) direct to Knysna from Cape Town.
  • A representative will collect you from your final destination as pre-arranged, and transport you to the volunteer house. On departure, your project coordinator will transport you to the airport and/ or assist with any further travel arrangements
  • A tourist visa is required for Commonwealth, US and European citizens. In this case, you are able to get a tourist visa upon entry.

NOTE: If you cannot secure a flight to arrive on the Saturday before the project starts, please arrive on the Friday and arrange an overnight stay. A representative will collect you on the Saturday. Please DO NOT arrive later than the Saturday before your project starts.


CIBT Visa advice...

For expert visa advice we advise our volunteer, work placement, and internship participants to get in touch with CIBT - a company that we work in partnership with. Our UK, Canadian, and US travellers can use CIBT for visa advice and to get their visa applications processed - with visas returned within a week.

Canadian citizens should state account number: 57497
US citizens should state account number: 57496

Safety & Insurance

  • All of Twin Work & Volunteer's placements are in partnership with recognised and established local organisations, run by or employing local people. These organisations, depending on the nature of what they do, might be small-scale NGOs, family projects, schools or orphanages, or local initiatives with environmental or social goals.
  • We often use local businesses to provide logistical and support services to volunteers such as transfers, pick-ups, accommodation and so on. In this way, we support the local economy through helping independent local businesses to thrive. We take our partnerships very seriously and work extremely closely with all our partners.
  • We provide 24-hour emergency support from the UK and our partners provide support locally.
  • We have an agreement with the crisis management service Tranquillico, should the very worst situations arise.
  • If any wider safety concerns arise in the destination, such as civil disturbances or natural disasters, we seek advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and implement their recommendations where appropriate.


Insurance options...

Comprehensive insurance is available for all programmes. You have no obligation to take up insurance with any of these companies, but insurance of a suitable sort is mandatory on all our programmes.

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Volunteers will be based no more than 20 minutes drive away from the up-market town of Knysna, which is situated in the beautiful Garden Route region between lush forests.

Knysna has all the necessary amenities for volunteers including ATMs, medical support, shopping malls, cafes and restaurants. There will be plenty of opportunities (at least once a week) for volunteers to spend time shopping and exploring this breathtaking, fast-developing town.


The Garden Route is famous for its diversity and beauty, with a pristine coastline, mountains crowded close to the shoreline, tall indigenous forests, vividly coloured wildlife and flowers, and a unique fynbos flora.

Knysna is one of the Garden Route’s best-known holiday destinations, popular because of its spectacular scenery and low crime rate. The local township consists of a colourful array of culture, including South Africa’s indigenous Zulus, Xhosas, Rastafarians and communities from as far away as Malawi and Somalia.

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