Elephant Sanctuary and Conservation Programs: Volunteer Abroad with Elephants in Thailand, South Africa, Cambodia & Beyond

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Why the world needs elephant conservation volunteers

Updated October 2023: As volunteering abroad continues its rapid comeback following the lifting of COVID-era restrictions, the need for volunteers to help stop the plight of our most precious wildlife is as great as ever. That includes the elephant. This article covers the best elephant sanctuary and conservation volunteer programs around the wold. Read through and see what program catches your eye — and do your part to save the elephant.

The plight of the elephant is tragic.

Such statistics are alarming – and they’re probably motivation for you to get out there and make a difference. Something (or some things) must be done to protect these animals.

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 elephant conservation volunteer programs that make it affordable for you to help save the elephants, from Southeast Asia to Africa. (In fact, Volunteering Solutions offers an amazing elephant sanctuary volunteer program in India that costs just $850 for 2 weeks, with hotel accommodation and airport transfers included in that price).

By joining these elephant conservation volunteer abroad 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 volunteer. 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 Conservation Volunteer Abroad Programs

African Impact: Elephant Conservation Volunteer Programs

 

VolunteerForever

Founded in 2004, African Impact connects international volunteers to life-changing volunteer abroad programs in Africa, including elephant conservation and elephant sanctuary volunteer projects. The organization has over 20 different projects across 7 countries on the continent. To date, African Impact has served more than 35,000 volunteers. 

If you’re looking for a great opportunity to volunteer abroad with elephants, African Impact has lots of impactful programs. Check out these two elephant conservation volunteer programs in Africa:

Wildlife Research Internship in South Africa

Make your way to the Greater Kruger Area, a major area for wildlife conservation. There, you’ll help save the iconic Big 5, which includes the elephant. Your daily tasks will include collecting data during bush walks, setting up observation cameras, removing invasive plants and more. Your research and work will go a long way towards creating elephant conservation strategies that help ensure the animal thrives in the wild. 

This wildlife research internship will show you a lot about elephant conservation, as well as Africa’s other iconic animals. Expect to see lions, elephants, cheetahs and more (oh my!).

Price: $5,795 for 8 weeks; $7,795 for 12 weeks

Interested? Apply here.

Wildlife Conservation: Rescue and Release in South Africa

Head to a wildlife rehabilitation center in South Africa to care for injured, rescued and lost wildlife. Your help goes a long way in ensuring these animals, including lions, cheetahs and elephants, get back to health and can be reentered into the wild. 

If you’re looking for an incredibly impactful elephant sanctuary volunteer program, look no further. You’ll get to save elephants truly in need, and help turn the tides for their species. 

Price: $2,145 for 2 weeks

Interested? Apply here.

Projects Abroad: Elephant Conservation Volunteer Programs

Since 1992, Projects Abroad, a Champion of Responsible Travel, has connected more than 130,000 volunteers to impactful programs since its founding in 1992. All of Projects Abroad’s volunteer projects, including elephant conservation volunteer projects, focus on helping fulfill United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

If you wish to acquire new skills, make friends, and have an impact, consider Projects Abroad’s elephant conservation volunteer programs. Read below.

Africa’s Big 5 and Wilderness Conservation in Botswana

Head to the remote wildness to volunteer with elephants, leopards and the rest of the Big 5. The volunteer work primarily deals with elephants, so this is a great program if you want to help save the elephant. 

Supervised by conservation experts, you’ll help create a space where elephants and other iconic animals can roam freely and thrive. you’ll help us achieve our mission to create a space where animals can roam freely and thrive. Duties include anti-poaching patrol, digging water holes, conducting surveys and more. 

Price: $3,220 for 1 week; only $520 for each additional week

Interested? Apply here.

Volunteering Solutions: Elephant Conservation Volunteer Programs

Founded in 2007, Volunteering Solutions was founded in 2007 and the organization has helped more than 17,000 volunteers make an impact around the world. Known for affordable, high-quality projects, Volunteering Solutions has programs across 27 countries, including elephant conservation volunteer projects.

To learn more about Volunteering Solutions and apply to their program, visit their website here (UK readers, please visit their UK site here). Also, check out the elephant conservation volunteer project below.

Environmental Conservation in Sri Lanka

Habitat destruction is a primary cause of elephant population decline. As an environmental conservation volunteer on this project, you can help restore and protect the elephant’s natural habitat in Sri Lanka. Duties include:

  • Mangrove reforestation
  • Beach and river cleanups
  • Recycling education

All of your volunteer work goes a long way in protecting the local environment. During the project, you’ll get to go on an elephant safari as well!

Price: $900 for 2 weeks; $1,580 for 6 weeks

Interested? Apply here.

Childcare & Elephant Conservation Volunteer Experience in India

Do two types of volunteering in one trip!

As a childcare volunteer, you’ll work with disadvantaged children in Delhi, doing everything from helping with reading to playing games and offering companionship. Before doing elephant conservation volunteer work, you’ll do some sightseeing, including a visit to the Taj Mahal.

As an elephant conservation volunteer, you’ll help prepare food at the elephant sanctuary as well as build enrichment structures, work in the garden, clean the visitor center and more. Your work helps ensure elephants at the sanctuary are in good health and spirits.

Price: $850 for 2 weeks

Interested? Apply here.

GoEco

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).

Thailand – Elephant Forest Refuge

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 an elephant conservation 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.

Kenya – Masai Mara Lion and Wildlife Conservation

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.

South Africa – Wildlife Sanctuary

One of GoEco’s most-loved programs is the Wildlife Sanctuary! Join this program as an elephant conservation volunteer and help take in orphaned and injured African wildlife. Volunteers work to enrich the lives of big cats, elephants and more!

Cambodia – Elephant Sanctuary and Forest Conservation

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!

Global Vision International

Founded in 1997 by Richard Walton, Global Vision International (GVI) is an award-winning organization that provides volunteer and internship opportunities in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. GVI is unique from other volunteer programs in three ways: they operate their own volunteer projects to ensure real, sustainable impact on the ground; they provide 360 degree support before, during, after your placement; and lastly their alumni network provides increased access to higher education and career development opportunities.

GVI has many wildlife conservation programs located in Africa, Latin America, and Asia with a variety of animals ranging from lemurs, lions, to elephants. Check a few of their programs below.

Volunteer with Elephants 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 alongside the mahouts (elephant keepers). 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!

Wildlife Research in South Africa Expedition

Join and live with an international team, including field guides and GVI staff, dedicated to help wildlife conservation in a private reserve and research center in Limpopo, South Africa. The research center is located within 20 thousand acres of savannah and home to the Big 5 (African elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros), as well as hyenas, and cheetahs.

On a daily basis, you will see wildlife roaming in and out of your stay in the farmhouse. You will be trained to track and collect data on predators during daily research drives, and also participate in environmental conservation programs. You can participate for 1 to 12 weeks. Get ready to see the Big 5 here!

International Volunteer Headquarters

Volunteer in Victoria Falls

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.

Plan My Gap Year

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.

Sri Lanka Elephant Experience

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 elephant conservation volunteer 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!

South Africa Big 5 Wildlife Experience

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!

Elephant Sanctuary 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 Elephant Conservation Volunteer Program

The elephant sanctuary 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.

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