Why elephants need our help and how you can volunteer abroad with them
The plight of the elephant is tragic. It’s estimated that from 1979 to 1989, half of the world’s elephants were lost to the ivory trade. And between 2002 and 2011, the global elephant population was further reduced by 62 percent. Today, it’s estimated that there are just 415,000 elephants remaining on earth. Something (or some things) must be done to protect these animals.
Such statistics are alarming – and they’re probably motivation for you to get out there and make a difference. But if you’re looking to volunteer during your summer free time or for a gap year, you may encounter sticker shock. Don’t panic, though! Yes, the average price of a volunteer trip is around $3,000, but there are ways you can help out without breaking the bank.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of impactful volunteer programs that make it affordable for you to help save the elephants, from Southeast Asia to Africa. (In fact, Agape Volunteers offers an amazing program in South Africa, including comprehensive travel insurance and much more, making this one of the most affordable volunteer trips to Africa that you can find!) As a volunteer on these programs, you’ll assist with a variety of activities at elephant sanctuaries and wildlife reserves, from feeding, bathing, and medical care to habitat preservation and reintroduction of elephants into the wild. You’ll also get up close and personal with these amazing creatures as you walk them, splash water on them at the watering hole, and help harvest their food.
The intense experiences programs like these deliver are transformative. As one volunteer from Global Vision International said, “The Thailand elephant project was one of the best travel experiences of my life.”
So, take a look at these volunteer opportunities and see which ones fit best with your interests in elephant conservation. Each on of these organizations are doing great work to make sure the elephant – one of the world’s most glorious creatures – continues to roam this wonderful world of ours.
Elephant volunteer abroad programs
The program offered by International Volunteer Headquarters focuses on wildlife preservation in Southern Africa. There is particular focus on Africa’s “Big 5” – the lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and leopard. Volunteers also work on development projects in local communities around Victoria Falls. And if you have some time to give, you’re invited to volunteer for as many as 12 weeks.
Founded in 2011, Plan My Gap Year offers many different opportunities for travelers to volunteer for conservation and wildlife protection in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. With a focus on sustainability and transparency, each of PMGY’s volunteer placements is vetted by their team to make sure that you’ll work with a volunteer project that fits with your background and skills. And having garnered recognition such as the Shell LiveWire Grand Idea Award, Thailand Green Excellence Award, and Special Recognition from the United Nations in Sri Lanka, Plan My Gap Year is a wonderful way to explore the world and make a positive impact.
Travel to the exotic island of Sri Lanka and work—and play—with elephants! These gentle giants need to be fed twice a day, so you’ll volunteer alongside other Plan My Gap Year participants to prepare elephants’ meals, cut fruit and hand-feed elephants. You’ll be guided by the Mahout, an elephant carer who has years’ experience with his animal, learning the unique language the duo share. You’ll also help bathe the elephants twice daily, and have an opportunity to play with the elephants in the stream. In return for this amazing experience, you’ll help to clean and maintain the project site, clean the elephant’s bed, help with composting, and pick the bananas grown onsite. During this trip, you’ll enjoy a safari to Udawalawe National Park, created as a sanctuary for the wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir. The park is home to a herd of 250 elephants, and nearby is an elephant orphanage where you’ll observe the twice-daily feeding of the babies. Program fees start at $375 for one week. Learn more here!
For a unique and wonderful experience, travel with Plan My Gap Year to South Africa, where you will work on a world-class game reserve and get up close and personal with the country’s Big 5 family. Your activities will vary from day to day, but you can expect to take part in monitoring lions, rhinos, and other animals; removing alien vegetation and planting indigenous trees; conducting anti-poaching patrols; feeding and caring for elephants; and much more. Click here to learn more and to sign up!
This volunteer program is designed to help conserve wildlife and the environment in South Africa. Such efforts aim to improve environmental sustainability and enhance living conditions of the country’s most precious animals, including the elephant. Many of GVI’s wildlife conservation efforts in South Africa take place around Limpopo, an area known for its elephants.
If you would like to volunteer in Africa, consider Agape Volunteers, a reputable and affordable volunteer organization that’s also a registered UK charity. Founded in 2011, AV specializes in volunteering, tourism, and development work, with programs available in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania. Participants are covered by the Agape Travel Policy, provided at no extra cost, and there is no registration fee. Accommodations, airport transfers, food, and orientation are included, making Agape Volunteers the most affordable option for those who would like to volunteer in Africa.
Travel to Marakele National Park in South Africa on a wildlife conservation program and help to protect the highveld area that is home to the iconic African elephant. This impactful program also benefits lions, white and black rhinos, leopards, cheetahs, buffalos, and hyenas. Your duties include monitoring the movements and behaviors of animals, and you’ll also take part in anti-poaching activities, such as looking for suspicious tracks. Other tasks include invasive plant removal, road restoration, trash removal, fire control, and bush clearing. You’ll stay in a refurbished farmhouse with dorm-style rooms, and large social areas. Work six days a week, then relax on Sundays. This program cost are £1,530 for two weeks, and you can stay for up to 12 weeks. Sign up today!
Looking to find a reputable organization that’s committed to helping elephants survive and thrive? Look on Abroadly, Volunteer Forever’s booking platform. All programs have been inspected by the team for safety and quality, and you can search based on budget needs and preferences for location, accommodation type, project length, and more. That means it shouldn’t take long to find the right program.
What’s nice is that Abroadly fully refunds you the application fee if you’re not accepted into the elephant conservation program of your choice. Additionally, Abroadly applicants automatically earn the opportunity to win a $500 scholarship and can further reduce trip expenses by using Volunteer Forever’s crowdfunding platform (which they can utilize for free).
Ready to volunteer to help elephants? Search for a program on Abroadly today!
Head to Surin, a province known for its ethical elephant encounters, with Volunteering Solutions. Specifically, you’ll be staying in the village of Tha-Tum, where you’ll be able to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. Your main duties will be helping villagers care for elephants, which can including feeding and walking the animals, bathing them, and planting and harvesting crops with local mahouts. It truly is an incredible experience, and your help and support go a long way in ensuring the elephants can live a healthy, natural life—away from the abuses that too many face in the tourism industry.
When you’re not busy helping the elephants, you can explore natural spots near Surin, like Khao Yai National Park. Also, note that you’ll arrive in Bangkok and will have two days to see the sites there. Interested in this program? Fees begin at $1000 for one week. You can stay up to four weeks. Learn more here.
Country Roads’ Elephant Freedom Project hosts a great program in Surin that’s centered on humane elephant treatment practices. Volunteers work at an elephant sanctuary that’s designed to provide mahouts and their animals with a sustainable alternative to street begging or work in the tourism industry (like elephant rides or circus shows). By helping mahouts cut bamboo, plant grass, prepare food, and build shelters for the elephants, you can provide these wonderful creatures with a healthy living environment and give mahouts the support necessary to live in harmony with their animals. How amazing is that?
During free time, you’re free to explore Surin, a province known for its bustling markets, natural beauty, and Khmer temples. Interested in this program? Fees begin at $499 for one week. Learn more here.
This elephant volunteer program takes place in a traditional Thai community, approximately 37 miles north of Surin city – the “Elephant Capital of Thailand.” Not only will you live among a genuine Thai farming community, but you will also assist with development projects in the village, learn how to cook Thai food, and engage in many other cultural activities. Of course, helping out to make sure the local elephants are healthy and happy is a vital part of the experience, too.
This program takes you right to the heart of the elephant conservation effort. If you join this volunteer abroad program, you’ll be helping elephants that have been rescued from Cambodia’s illegal logging industry. During your stay, you’ll be up close and personal with these elephants. You will also have the chance to stay in Siem Reap and view the legendary site of Angkor Wat.
Since 2006, GoEco has provided volunteer programs and international internships in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Volunteer programs where you can work with elephants include a Big 5 Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa, an Elephant Forest Refuge in Thailand, an African Wildlife Orphanage program in Zimbabwe, and more. With more than 10,000 volunteers placed worldwide in the past 10 years, and another 2,500 expected to sign up this year, GoEco is an excellent organization that has received praise from USA Today, the Today Show, Huffington Post, and many others. During your travels, you’ll have 24-hour support from GoEco, and travel insurance is provided for most projects (this is a special perk that very few volunteer programs offer).
On this program, you will travel to the Surin province of Thailand to volunteer at a sanctuary that supports elephants, preserves their safety and well-being, and prevents their sale to street hawkers for photo opportunities or performances. As a volunteer, you will have the chance to feed, bathe, walk, and train elephants, plus help with small community projects such as paper-making, cutting elephant grass, working in a rice paddy, repairing buildings in the village, and cooking and cleaning at your homestay. In addition to volunteering, you can take a trip to Cambodia, go island hopping, or visit Khao Yai National Park.
Another wonderful opportunity where you can volunteer with elephants and other animals with GoEco brings you to Masai Mara, Kenya. On this program, you will be involved with three main projects, including wildlife conservation and monitoring, environmental education at a primary school, and developing resources and helping to educate future tour guides. You also can go on optional trips and excursions, including walking safaris, a visit to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, a balloon safari, an overnight stay at Basecamp Wilderness, and much more.
One of GoEco’s most-loved programs is the Wildlife Sanctuary! Join this sanctuary that takes in orphaned and injured African wildlife. Volunteers work to enrich the lives of big cats, elephants and more!
This refuge forest in Cambodia provides a safe haven for elephants that had previously been abused. The large forest terrain allows for a natural habitat, where the elephant can roam and live freely. Join the local team to trek, observe the elephants and plant fruit trees for their food!
Globalteer’s elephant sanctuary programs in Thailand and Cambodia rank highest among their volunteer alumni, with descriptives such as “mesmerizing,” “peaceful” and “relaxing” dotting their reviews. A UK Charity founded in 2006, Globalteer focuses on community projects, schools, and animal rescue and conservation. It does not condone elephant riding or elephant performances, commonplace in touristy areas of Asia – instead, Globalteer participants put the elephants first and to help them have a carefree life, free from captivity and performance.
The elephants’ lives in their sanctuary is vastly different from what they experienced in the past, living for decades chained by the feet, and working in the logging industry where they dragged and moved tons of wood every day. Volunteers assist Mahouts, traditional elephant keepers. Globalteer offers three elephant-related programs: two in Thailand and one in Cambodia.
The Thailand Elephant Rescue Project requires heart, and for that reason it is the most popular of Globalteer’s elephant volunteering programs. Volunteers help staff look after rescued or orphaned elephants, walking the gentle giants into the forests to forage for food, and to bathe. Duties include helping Mahouts wash elephants and keeping the sanctuary in good condition, as well as collecting food for the animals. You’ll work in the beautiful Thai countryside, alongside elephants rescued from hard lives working in the logging industry. At the sanctuary, elephants roam the grounds, relax, bathe, and socialize with each other. This is a perfect option for groups and families, and fees for one week begin at $695.
Trek into the jungle with elephants as they learn to adapt to a life of leisure after decades of hard work. The Elephant Sanctuary in Cambodia sits on 650 hectares of forested, mountain terrain that allows these animals to reside and recuperate in safety. Located near the town of Sen Monorom, the conservation project keeps volunteers busy escorting elephants to the forest to forage for food, helping to improve the living conditions and growing food, maintaining banana plantations, doing light construction, planting seedlings, observing elephants in their natural habitat and generally watching them thrive. This program starts at one week for $680.
The Elephant Village Initiative offered by Global Leadership Adventures is an experience you’ll never forget. Here, you can live at a Thai elephant home with mahouts and directly learn about all the issues associated with elephant eco-tourism. And during your free time, you can enjoy the local Thai cuisine and hike in the picturesque mountains.
The Thailand Elephant Sanctuary is located in Kanchanaburi, roughly 93 miles east of Bangkok. Here, elephants that have previously been forced to work in forests or on the streets can live freely, and they are reintroduced to their original habitats. So, when you volunteer to participate in this awesome program, you have the chance to help these elephants enjoy their natural environment. During downtime, you can also make the trip over to Erawan National Park.
Volunteering Journeys provides access to numerous elephant volunteering opportunities in Thailand. The habitats that are being developed with its help make a point of being animal-centric. The result is a place that considers the happiness of the delightful elephants first – and people second.
Elephant Volunteer Qualifications
For most programs, you need to meet a few basic qualifications: you must be at least 18 years old, though some programs allow high school participants (but may require a guardian to join). You also must get medical/travel insurance protection, and most of these volunteer abroad programs require a background check.
Any necessary training and equipment will be provided by the organization that you’ll volunteer with – this means you will have the opportunity to gain important skills and tools in elephant conservation.
Choosing the Right Program
The elephant volunteer programs we’ve listed here aren’t just great travel opportunities, but they’re also affordable. Availability may be limited on some of these projects, so be sure to research and enroll in advance. Choose the program where you think you can make the biggest difference – because in the end, it’s all about saving some of the world’s greatest creatures from extinction.