Namibia: Volunteer With Desert Elephants

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Namibia's desert-dwelling elephants are one of only two populations of elephants in Africa living in a desert environment. Competition with humans over scarce water resources causes conflict, which threatens the elephants’ existence.  Elephant Human Relations Aid enables volunteers to contribute to elephant conservation and reduce conflict between elephants and humans.

The Elephant Conservation Volunteer Project has been in operation for the last six years.  During this time, hundreds of volunteers have made a huge difference to the conservation of the desert elephants and the quality of life for thousands of Namibians.  All types of people from all over the world volunteer in structured two-week rotations.  Groups range in size from 7-14 participants, and are always a mix of ages.

Week One - Building Week

Tuesday morning we travel to the local Namibian farm or homestead where you will spend the week building protective walls around water sources or building alternative water points for the elephants and the area’s newly-released black rhinos. Volunteer teams will be living in mobile base camps in the vicinity of the homesteads and elephants.  Tents are provided this week, and soon you will make the camp home!  All cooking is done over the fire and you’ll take turns being on kitchen duty, which includes providing the first cup of coffee to everyone in bed, to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  We have great recipes, and we can also cater for vegetarians.

You’ll rise early to beat the Namibian heat and then stop around noon to travel back to camp for a traditional African siesta and lunch.  In the afternoons you start work after 2:30 pm and work for a couple of hours, before the time comes to head back to camp in time for the obligatory sundowner. Evenings are spent talking and relaxing around the campfire, listening to the sounds of Africa.

Saturday morning you pack up the camp and travel back to the EHRA Base Camp for a much-deserved shower and relaxation.  The next two days are yours to explore, read, relax, take a swim in the elephant drinking dam, and enjoy yourself!

Week Two - Elephant Patrol

On Monday morning, volunteer teams pack the Land Cruisers and leave on elephant patrol. This is an amazing week where you join the EHRA trackers on a (mostly) vehicle-based patrol to track the local herds of desert elephants.  This week is your reward for all the hard work on building week. The aim of this week is to track the elephants, record data on births, deaths, and new elephants, GPS their positions, and take ID shots and notes about each and every elephant.

EHRA believes that effective conservation management is only possible through knowing each elephant personally -- through its physical features and its personality traits -- as well as having accurate and up-to-date information on numbers and movements. This is particularly important when 'problem' elephants are declared.  The information gathered on patrol is entered onto our online database which maps each herd’s movements on Google Earth.  From this, we can ascertain which farms and homesteads are visited and may require protection walls. The database also holds all ID shots of each elephant.

During patrol, you’ll sleep at a new place every evening, depending on where the day’s tracking takes you.  Sleeping out under the stars is one of the most magical experiences of the project.

It is likely that you will see no other humans the entire week.   Your only company will be the area’s wildlife. Aside from elephants, you can expect to see giraffe, oryx, ostrich, kudu, zebra, springbok, and if you are very lucky, black rhino, as well as hundreds of different birds.

2012 Dates

All projects run from the Monday morning on the starting date, to the Friday afternoon of the finish date.  Participants can book a minimum of one two-week slot, or multiple slots, up to three months (six slots) maximum.

It is advisable to arrive before the departure date and give yourself enough time to reach the airport for your flight out.  Please contact us for advice on this matter.

All accommodation before and after project dates is at additional cost, as is the optional weekend at the end of every two-week slot. 2014 dates:

13 January 24 January
27 January 7 February
10 February 21 February
24 February 7 March
10 March 21 March
24 March 4 April
7 April 18 April
21 April 2 May
5 May 16 May
19 May 30 May
2 June 13 June
16 June 27 June
30 June 11 July
14 July 25 July
28 July 8 August
11 August 22 August
25 August 5 September
8 September 19 September
22 September 3 October
6 October 17 October
20 October 31 October
3 November 14 November
17 November 28 November
1 December 12 December
Location

Namibia is a beautiful part of Africa. Damaraland is probably one of the most stunning areas of the world, and the desert elephants of the area are one of the most special groups of elephants you will ever see.  This project gives EHRA the opportunity to expose dedicated volunteer enthusiasts to the work they do in the field and offer a unique chance to make a personal difference and a real contribution to conservation and biosphere development in Namibia.

This is about real spearhead conservation work in a harsh desert environment where small bands of secretive, desert-adapted elephants roam vast wilderness areas.  Local subsistence farmers eke out an existence and need all the help they can get in their confrontations with the elephants competing for precious water resources.

We hope you will join us in the desert -- the place where your mind has to expand to fill the space!


Meeting point

The meeting point is Swakopmund, and we will happily give you travel advice. We organize your travel arrangements from the airport in Namibia's capital Windhoek and transfer through to Villa Wiese -- the guest house we use in Swakopmund.  On Sunday evening there is a short briefing for all volunteers at Villa Wiese for you to meet the staff and learn what will happen the following day when the program begins.

Swakopmund is a safe town by the sea, surrounded by sand dunes, with lots of activities to keep you entertained -- from skydiving, kayaking, dolphin watching, and sand boarding. There are lots of cafes, interesting shops, restaurants, a few bars, and even a cinema. For anyone traveling onwards through Namibia or Africa, we’d be happy to help plan your trip.

About Desert Elephants

Although not a separate species, and not much different from other savannah elephants, Loxodonata africana africana, Namibia's desert-dwelling elephants are special nonetheless.  They are of high national and international conservation priority and have been designated as top priority for protection by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).  They live in the Kunene Region, encompassing 115,154 square kilometers of mostly sandy desert, rocky mountains, and arid gravel plains in Namibia's northwest.

They have adapted to their dry, semi-desert environment by having a smaller body mass with proportionally longer legs and seemingly larger feet than other elephants. Their physical attributes allow them to cross miles of sand dunes to reach water. They have even been filmed sliding down a dune face to drink at a pool in a desert oasis.

They survive by eating moisture-laden vegetation growing in ephemeral riverbeds and by their ability to go several days without drinking water. Sometimes the elephants must travel long distances to reach a water source. By living in smaller-than-average family units of only two or three animals, they decrease pressure on food and water resources. Researchers have noted that they destroy fewer trees than elephants living in higher rainfall areas in other parts of Africa.

 

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