How to ethically volunteer with elephants
Elephant tourism has been a booming industry for many years. Tourists from all around the world flock to places like Thailand, India, and Cambodia to ride elephants, watch them perform tricks, or take selfies with them. Unfortunately, most of these elephants are not treated ethically, and their living conditions are far from humane. Many of these animals are subjected to abuse and neglect, working long hours, carrying heavy loads, and being beaten. As a responsible tourist, it is important to understand the impact of our choices and decide whether we want to contribute to this unethical industry or not.
The good news is that there are ethical ways to help these animals, and that’s by volunteering at an elephant sanctuary. These sanctuaries provide a safe haven for elephants who have been mistreated, abused, or are no longer wanted by their owners. Here, they can live in a natural environment and receive the care and attention they need.
Elephant sanctuaries vs Elephant conservation volunteer programs
There are different types of volunteer programs available, and the most common one is hands-on work with the elephants. This may include feeding them, walking with them, bathing them, and assisting with their medical care. Another type of program is conservation work, which involves planting trees, maintaining the habitat, and other tasks that contribute to the well-being of the elephants and their environment. Additionally, some programs focus on education and outreach, where volunteers work with local communities to raise awareness about elephant welfare and conservation.
It is important to choose a program that is committed to the welfare of the elephants, rather than using them for profit. When selecting a volunteer program, it is important to consider several factors. Firstly, the program should be transparent about their mission and goals. Secondly, they should prioritize the welfare of the elephants over the needs of the volunteers or tourists. Thirdly, the program should provide proper training and supervision to ensure the safety of both the elephants and the volunteers. Fourthly, the program should have a clear code of conduct and ethical guidelines for all volunteers to follow.
Recommended Volunteer Programs
Volunteer with elephants in Africa
Projects Abroad’s Wildlife Conservation Program in Botswana is a unique opportunity to help protect endangered elephants and other wildlife. While living at the Wild at Tuli reserve by the Limpopo River, volunteers work alongside experienced staff to conduct elephant research by collecting data on elephant populations, behaviour, and habitat use. They will also help to protect elephants from poachers by working with rangers to track down and remove snares, and to patrol the area to deter poachers. Lastly, they help build and repair waterholes, which are essential for providing a reliable source of water for elephants and other wildlife. The program is open to volunteers aged 16 and over from all backgrounds. Some notable details for this program:
- Support and learn from conservation experts. A great experience if you are thinking of working in conservation
- You will likely see leopards, lions, and other wildlife!
- Enjoy the natural habitat after 5-6 hours of work daily divided into morning and late afternoon tasks
This conservation project from African Impact focuses on monitoring and protecting the endangered black rhino and elephant populations in the Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe. Volunteers will have the opportunity to participate in activities such as tracking and monitoring the animals, collecting data, and removing snares and traps. Some notable details of the program:
- Some tasks include clean elephant beds and watch their family dynamics and interactions
- Get to interact with the local community by helping local children and f families with school or gardening and beekeeping
- Go on game drives through the reserve to find other wildlife or go on a horseback safari
Volunteer with elephants in Thailand
Another highly recommended elephant sanctuary volunteer program is the Elephant Forest Refuge program offered by GoEco, located in a rural town of Phetchaburi, Thailand. The program focuses on the welfare and rehabilitation of elephants that have been rescued from the tourism industry or have been orphaned. Besides assisting the mahouts (elephant caregivers) with feeding, cleaning, and bathing the elephants, volunteers are able to observe and document elephants’ behaviors for research purposes. In addition, you will have the chance to work with the local community and educate them on the importance of elephant conservation. The program has a minimum commitment of two weeks and provides comprehensive training and support for volunteers throughout their stay.
- Opportunity to observe the elephants in a near natural jungle environment
- Help the elephant handlers with daily elephant care including walking them to forage natural food
- On days off, explore the beaches of Cha-am or Hua-Hin and cities nearby south of Bangkok
Another notable elephant volunteer program is with Volunteer Solutions located in Surin, Thailand, which is also called the “Elephant Capital” because it is home to many elephants. This project is focused on caring for elephants that have been rescued from the tourism and logging industries to provide them a safe and natural environment. Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist with feeding, bathing, and walking the elephants, as well as other tasks such as planting crops and building shelters. Some notable details:
- Immerse in Thai culture by spending four nights each week living in the home of one of the village elders to see how life operates on a day-to-day basis
- Work alongside the elephant handles with planting and harvesting crops
- Learn to use elephant dung to make paper!
Elephant Nature Park, located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is another great ethical sanctuary to volunteer. As a non-profit organization, it is home to 100 elephants that have been rescued from the tourism industry, logging, and other forms of exploitation. The elephants are free to roam and forage, and they are provided with a variety of enrichment activities. They have weekly volunteer programs doing hands-on work for conservation projects for their environment. Besides that, volunteers help with preparing the elephants’ food, feeding them, and walking them. You will improve their lives, while learning the problems they are facing in Thailand.
If you’d like to visit Asia, GVI has an amazing opportunity right now in Thailand to volunteer with elephants that have been rescued from working in the tourist industry. Although volunteers are not allowed to directly handle the elephants due to ethical conservation guidelines, you will help in conservation research by observing and recording their behaviors, assist in fieldwork and biodiversity surveys, and check for physical illnesses. The research center is located in a mountainous village in Chiang Mai. Your accommodation will be provided by a local host family in the Karen community so you will be able to immerse and interact with the local community. For costs and other details, visit GVI’s site!
Volunteer with elephants in Nepal
Although lesser known, Nepal does have elephant sanctuaries. This elephant Conservation program offered by IVHQ is located in Chitwan, Nepal. This program cares for elephants that have medical problems, managed by a veterinarian. Volunteers will help caretakers and veterinarians care for old, rescued, neglected, and sick elephants. It is a great opportunity for veterinary students to gain experience while helping with medical treatments. Other tasks include helping clean the elephants’ environments, preparing their food, and building projects. Other notable details:
- Have the opportunity to see and help the local staff go with elephants to graze and eat in the jungle
- Hands on experience with veterinarian care
- Immerse in Nepalese culture and communities by providing assistance with a wide range of activities
Make an Ethical Choice when volunteering with Elephants
It is important to note that volunteering with elephants is not a holiday or a tourist activity. It requires a significant commitment of time and effort. Most programs require a minimum commitment of one week, and some may require a longer stay. Volunteers should be prepared to work in hot and humid conditions and be physically fit enough to handle the demands of the work.
Volunteering with elephants can be a rewarding and meaningful experience for those who are passionate about animal welfare and conservation. However, it is crucial to do your research and choose an ethical and reputable program. Before signing up for any volunteer program, it is important to do your research and make sure that the program is reputable and ethical. By volunteering at a sanctuary, you can help provide a safe and happy home for these magnificent animals, and contribute to their welfare and conservation.