Volunteer with elephants in South Africa

“Working with elephants for three weeks – a dream come true. On an established conservation project near Plettenberg Bay on Garden Route. Sleep in shared self catering accommodation. ”


Elephant conservation volunteering | Close to Plettenberg Bay | Garden Route | Elephant research work | Feeding elephants | Maintenance work around elephant conservation park | Nearby beaches for leisure time

Description of Volunteer with elephants in South Africa

They say an elephant never forgets… volunteer on this elephant conservation project and we guarantee it will be an experience that will leave you with life-long memories.

Working hands on with these gentle giants is a real privilege. You will be based in a conservation park on the famous Garden Route that is dedicated to the care of elephants, both young and old, which have been rescued from the hands of humans and natural disasters. With important research taking place to further the understanding of this fascinating species, as well as lots of hand-on care, you have the unique opportunity for close elephant encounters on a daily basis.

About the elephant park

The elephants are able to roam freely and safely in the extensive park, recovering from any stress or trauma they may have suffered in their previous lives. This allows volunteers to monitor and research their behaviour, which is vital in allowing experts to learn more about a species that is sadly in rapid decline in South Africa. Through educational tours, the park also aims to raise public awareness about the potential loss of this species and expose the threats they are facing from poachers and loss of habitat. This is your chance to make a valuable contribution to the survival of these vast yet vulnerable creatures. The project is perfect for anyone who has a keen interest in elephants and wants to help safeguard their future. You will get close to elephants in a way that you would never experience on safari and will gain excellent first hand knowledge and skills while you are there. There is no elephant back riding allowed here.

What will I be doing?

This is a wonderful opportunity get up close to elephants and gain an understanding of their behaviour. You will become an important member of the team, assisting with all aspects of the work that takes place including elephant care, education and research and the daily running of the park. Tasks will include:
- Participating in valuable research projects, following and observing the elephants, making notes and taking samples
- Preparing food and enrichments
- Monitoring the elephants to ensure their welfare and health
- Helping with maintenance work around the park
- Helping with fundraising ideas to help the park to give the best possible care to these amazing creatures

Where will I be based?
You will live on site, sleeping literally yards from the elephants, but you’ll be safely tucked away in comfortable, self-catering accommodation sharing rooms with other volunteers. The park is located just 15 minutes from Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s famous Garden Route making it an ideal location from which to explore. During your weekends, if you can tear yourselves away from your new giant friends, there is plenty to do. Visit the nearby coastal resort and enjoy excellent beaches, restaurants and nightlife. Try your hand at bungee jumping, surfing or sky diving, or explore local game and nature reserves.

Hello. If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

01273 823 700

Departure information

Departures can be arranged at anytime to suit you, all year round
We are committed to taking care of the environment, both in our office in the UK and on our projects around the world. We are proud to say that we are working hard to eliminate the use of single use plastics on our elephant research project in South Africa.
Volunteers are encouraged to use re-usable cloth shopping bags, rather than getting new plastic ones, and if plastic was given, to re-use it. Cloth bags are provided at the accommodation for volunteer use to make it even easier to say no to plastic.
This is a self-catered project. During the orientation, volunteers are shown where they can buy produce that avoids single use plastics, such as fresh produce markets. The accommodation provides jars and tupperware for storage and we no longer provide cling film or sandwich bags in the accommodation.
All cleaning products, soaps and washing up liquids are topped up when empty, rather than buying new bottles.
We ask all volunteers to bring their own water bottles from home, to discourage the buying of bottled water on a daily basis. We request that volunteers do not buy single plastic water bottles. This is communicated pre-departure and once in-country. Clean drinking water is provided in the taps at the project. Volunteers can top up their water bottles from the tap before departure if they choose to leave the project site. We also encourage them to fill up their bottles at the airport before travelling to the accommodation. 
Our project partners are in the process of becoming an ambassador for the campaign Renew Able Plett, which encourages businesses, schools and other entities to reduce their landfill waste by using reusable items, reducing, and recycling.
As a result of this campaign led by Responsible Travel, we got in touch with the supplier who handles our t-shirt distribution to talk about packaging. They used to send out all our T-shirts in a plastic envelope - upon our suggestion they have agreed to stop putting the t-shirts in plastic wallets and now use paper envelopes instead.
Holiday type

Volunteer travel - what's it all about

Are you looking for an adventurous trip with a purpose, or on a gap year or career break? If you want to make a difference in some of the world’s most important conservation areas - and in community projects - then volunteer trips are for you! Volunteers tend to have a sense of adventure, and come from a range of different backgrounds and from all over the world.
Edward Abbey said 'sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul'.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Volunteer with elephants in South Africa


Our projects are designed to immerse you in a different culture, living and working with local people. There’s plenty to gain personally from this. But we make sure that the project directly benefits local people and wildlife too.

Animal welfare
This research and care programme has been running since 2010. It is overseen by an experienced and well-regarded team. Although the elephants do have contact with humans, they are helped and encouraged to live as naturally as possible, roaming freely across the park in a matriarchal herd. As well as protecting individual elephants the organisation aims to improve public awareness about safeguarding their environment.

The elephants at the park are the main priority; their conservation, their care and their rehabilitation. Education on elephants, habitat destruction, the illegal ivory trade and exploiting elephants is also hugely important. Visitors come to the park and are given a presentation and a tour, meet the elephants and learn all about their backgrounds.

The main backbone of the volunteer programme is research and conservation. This is led by a qualified and experienced team, who have been working with these elephants for years. Many of the elephants come to the park in a distressed state, needing care and time to recover from their trauma.

There is no elephant back riding allowed at the park.

Pre-departure briefing
All of our participants receive comprehensive pre-departure briefing. This covers topics on how to be culturally sensitive, how to best look after the environment when in the country and how to stay safe as well as up to date information on the political situation. They are also briefed on how to dispose of waste properly and where possible, to avoid using plastic water bottles as these are not easy to dispose of environmentally.

Our company is an environmentally responsible one that operates recycling and reusing of waste products. We also offset carbon emissions in our office (gas,electricity, business mileage) and encourage all participants to offset their flight emissions via a carbon offset scheme run in conjunction with Tree Aid.

Participants are advised to use hand wash gel that does not require water. We also advise, during our pre departure course, to take care with water. In many of our destinations, water is precious and expensive.


Meeting local needs
The park also plays an important role in protecting the local economy. The ‘big five’ wild animals are a key source of tourist income for South Africa and protection of these species is vital for some rural areas, who rely on responsible tourism to sustain them. By volunteering at the park, you will be helping to meet an important local need. You will also contribute directly to the area’s economy, creating jobs for domestic staff at the park, eating locally-sourced food and making use of shops and leisure facilities in the town. You will not be taking jobs away from local people.The organisation employs as many local staff as it can afford, but relies on volunteers to support them.

Cultural sensitivity
We emphasise the importance of showing respect for local people and their customs in our briefing material. Participants will work alongside permanent staff, forming close bonds and getting an insight into real life in rural South Africa.

5 Reviews of Volunteer with elephants in South Africa

4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 07 Sep 2014 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The elephants. The whole experience was very good (the organisation of the trip,
the travelling itself, the people...) but of course being able to spend time with
these amazing animals was the highlight of the holiday and possibly of my last
few years as well.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Do as you're told by the operator! They know what they're doing and all their advice is helpful and useful. Even if it may not make sense at the time of the booking.
Just do it :).

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I hope it did.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Reviewed on 07 Aug 2014 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meting the elephants for the first time

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Go for it. I was a bit worried at first; I could foresee all sorts of problems. e.g. would I be physically able for the work? Would I cope with travelling so far alone? Could I afford it?
But when I got there it was brilliant and we were assured that we didn't have to do anything we found too difficult. One of our duties was filling hay bags which caused me to get hayfever. The following week I was allowed to do other tasks that didn't involve hay.
There were so many people at the elephant park it was impossible to get lonely. There was so much to do in the general area that even if one was on a tight budget they'd have plenty to do so money was not an issue. Also volunteers hung out together which saved on taxi fares. I felt that Plettingburg was very safe.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. The work with the elephants was invaluable. I do feel though that my trip benefitted local people; our lovely taxidriver Johann, the many restaurants and bars, the other tourist attractions in the area. Most of the other volunteers like myself spent an extra few days in the country.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Most exciting holiday ever

Reviewed on 18 Nov 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I was very lucky to have worked closely with a baby elephant whilst volunteering for a month. Unfortunately her mother rejected her at birth so staff and volunteers looked after her every day.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared to be overwhelmed!:-) you will learn so much and will find it so hard to leave.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I believe it did. Everyday tasks really helped the parks conservation. We also visited a school once a week nearby to help out for an hour and to show our passion about wildlife and ellies!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Amazing! It was my dream to work with elephants. It really was a trip of a lifetime. I learnt so much and made a few great friends out there which I still keep in contact with now.

Reviewed on 08 Jan 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Getting the chance to spend time with the elephants both observing them and helping out with their daily care. It was a real privilege to be able to interact with these magnificent creatures and gain an insight into their lives.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If going in winter remember to take lots of layers and wellies, although a hassle to pack, were very useful! Also do as much as you can with your free time as this is a wonderful part of the world and there is so much to see and do.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The research we undertook as part of the project will hopefully help elephants who for various reasons cannot live in the wild.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The holiday was the most amazing experience and I would definitely recommend it. I had an incredible time working with the elephants, the staff at the Park and the other volunteers. I also had the opportunity to do some fantastic trips and excursions in my free time culminating in a tandem skydive which was amazing!

Reviewed on 29 Jun 2012 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Having the opportunity to interact with the elephants.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Bring warm clothing!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Most of the people employed there were locals. This project was all about researching captive elephant behaviour thereby supporting conservation, as much of it is applicable to wild elephants and helps with management.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I very much enjoyed the project, it was incredible being able to get to know the elephants as individuals through interaction and observation.

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