This project has been in operation for the last 6 years and during this time hundreds of volunteers have made a huge difference to the conservation of the desert elephants and the quality of thousands of Namibians lives. The volunteer conservation project is the pinnacle of the organisations existence, and volunteers provide the manpower and funding for the conflict prevention programme. All types of people from all over the world volunteer at this project and the groups, which in size range from around 7-14 participants, are always a mix of ages.
The desert elephants are one of the most special groups of elephants you will ever see. This project gives volunteers the opportunity to be exposed to the work they do in the field and 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. Where subsistence farmers eke out an existence and need all the help they can get in their confrontation with the elephants competing for precious water resources.
Week One - Building Week
Tuesday morning we travel to the local Namibian farm or homestead where you will spend building week, building protection walls around water sources or building alternative water points for the elephants and even the areas 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 work in pairs taking it in turn to be on kitchen duty, which includes providing the first cup of coffee to everyone in bed, to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
You rise early to beat the Namibian heat and then stop around 12H00 to travel back to camp for a traditional African siesta and lunch. In the afternoons you start work after 14H30 and work for a couple of hours, before the time comes to head back to camp in time for the obligatory sundowners’. Evenings are spent talking and relaxing around the camp fire, listening to the sounds of Africa. Building walls is sweaty, hard work but each volunteer does what they are capable of, and you work as a team to complete the project.
Saturday morning you pack up the camp and travel back to 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 yourselves!
Week 2 - 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 trackers on a (mostly) vehicle based patrol where you travel through the area 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.
Desert Elephant believes effect 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 to Google Earth. From this we can ascertain which farms and homesteads are visited and therefore may require protection walls. The database also holds all ID shots of each and every elephant.
During patrol you sleep at a new place every evening, depending on where the days’ tracking has taken you. You sleep out, under the stars and for many volunteers this is one of the most magical experiences of the project and indeed their gap year or career break! 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 the hundreds of different birds.
On Thursday afternoon after spending 4 days and 3 nights out, you travel back to base camp to spend what could be your last night in the desert.
Friday morning you say your goodbyes and climb in the Land Cruiser for the journey back to Swakopmund. Friday nights are always a fun night out where we all eat together in one of the local restaurants.