Volunteering in Namibia

“The Desert Elephant Project”

Working from mobile base camps in the vicinity of the Brandberg in the ephemeral Ugab River, the volunteer teams immerse themselves in pioneer conservation work. This project is not for those interested in bottle-feeding cuddly baby elephants.

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.


Free-roaming desert elephants in Namibia, Africa can be destructive in their search for water, and due to the devastating succession of droughts in the region, they are often competing for the same resources as other animals and humans. Desert elephants can drink up to 160 litres of water per day and will travel far in their quest for water. Elephants have an incredible sense of smell – they can smell water from miles away! – and out of desperation, they frequently destroy water pipes or spear their tusks through water tanks to provide water for their herd. This behaviour can leave communities without a local water source for years.

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Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) works directly with local communities to provide hands-on conservation support through the construction of protective walls which allow elephants to drink water, but prevent access to the windmills, water storage tanks or pumps. These protective walls are an immediate solution to the existing conflict and allow humans, livestock and elephants to share waterpoints. Since the start of EHRA in 2003, we have constructed over 220 protection walls with the help from over 3,500 volunteers, and in order to build more walls and provide support to communities, we need your help.


The desert elephant conservation Volunteer Project provides a valuable workforce for the construction of protection walls and also provides the necessary funding to build these walls. Also, the Volunteer Project provides funding for regular vehicle-based patrols of the area where the volunteer groups assist EHRA staff with monitoring the elephants and assessing the status of walls previously built. Volunteers can experience hands-on conservation and have a direct impact on fostering a peaceful relationship between elephants and humans, thereby securing their existence.

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  • Fight the eradication of the free-roaming desert elephant population in Namibia.
  • Find practical solutions to combat elephant-human conflict that exists due to a battle for resources.
  • Experience hands-on conservation by building walls and structures designed to allow elephants to access waterpoints without damaging them.
  • Partake in elephant tracking, monitoring and documenting important updates to their behavioural and movement patterns.
  • Create a difference in the lives of local communities and Namibia’s free-roaming desert elephants.

Quick Facts:

  • All projects run for a minimum slot of two weeks and you can join for multiples of that, up to 12 weeks (six slots).
  • Meet-up the night before departure to discuss the upcoming project and meet the team members. Depart midday on the Monday from Swakopmund for the Base Camp.
  • Projects run continuously throughout the year departing every two weeks. Please refer to our departure dates and choose.
  • Your payment covers all your food, transportation and accommodation during the project. Your funds also contribute towards the project cost.
  • Accommodation in tented and/or outdoors camping.
  • Group size is kept at 14 team members to minimize impact and maximize safety. We can only accept volunteers from 18 years old and above.

Where is the project?

The project takes you to the north-western regions of the Namib Desert, traditionally known as ‘Damaraland’. This tribal wilderness area runs parallel to the Skeleton Coast national park and is home to a small population of desert-dwelling elephants. The first week of the project will see you working with the local subsistence farmers, building protective walls around their water points, or constructing new water points for elephants away from homesteads and farms. The following week is spent assisting the project staff in following and monitoring the movements of the elephants on patrol, camping wild and living close to the earth, elephants and people.

Aims and Objectives:

This project is part of a long-term initiative to find solutions to the ever-growing problem of facilitating the peaceful co-habitation between the subsistence farmers and the desert adapted elephants through:

  • Community Support
  • Track, ID, Monitor
  • Education, training

The project’s emphasis is on the building of protective structures around communal water points, creation of additional water points for elephants, assisting with, and teaching the farmers skills to financially benefit through tourism in the area, researching elephant movements, distribution and compiling identikits on herds and individuals.

We believe that through assisting these communities by constructing protective structures around water points, educating community members about elephant behaviour, creating alternative drinking points for the elephants and promoting tourism in the affected areas, we can assist in alleviating the current pressure facing communal farmers. Thereby helping to promote the future of the desert-dwelling elephants in harmony with the continuous positive development of the conservancies and their ideals.


Everyone makes their way to the pickup point of Swakopmund, we will book your airport transfer and shuttle service through to this interesting coastal town, once we have your flight details. There are scheduled, safe and professional shuttles from Windhoek International Airport and Walvis Bay airport and the drivers will meet you in arrivals with a sign with your name on. On the Monday of the start of the project, the whole team will be transferred to the base camp in the project minibus!

EHRA Base Camp:

You will arrive at the Base Camp on Monday afternoon. The camp is situated on the northern bank of the Ugab River, which is home to two herds of desert elephants. You will return to the camp after each project section: after Build Week and after Patrol Week. In Base Camp, you will sleep on a big tree platform underneath the stars and listen to the elephants walk past. Although not fenced, the camp is safe and cosy. At Base Camp you will have showers and toilets (long drops)! It is built to be environmentally friendly, which means we only used local materials and blend into the surrounding environment. You will love it!

Back to Basics:

EHRA is one of the only organisations focusing on human-wildlife conflict mitigation, and we believe it is possible for both to coexist amicably. The majority of the work that we do is concentrated in the North West region of Namibia, known as the Southern Kunene region, which is considered one of the most stunning areas in the world. Its free-roaming desert elephants are among the most special wildlife you will ever see, and their ability to survive in the harsh conditions of the Namib Desert showcase nature at its best.

Expect to get sweaty, learn about conservation, make new friends, sleep under the stars and enjoy the natural surroundings. All cooking is done over the fire and we work in groups taking turns to be on kitchen duty, which includes providing ‘coffee-in-bed’ in the mornings, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Build Week:

The team set up a mobile camp at each project site you will work at. They have an enclosed and private long drop toilet, tents for getting changed in, and then everyone normally sleeps under the stars under shade and on a tarpaulin. We provide ‘bed rolls’ which are foam mattresses which roll up. Washing facilities are limited on site and they use wet wipes for cleaning! Meals are prepared on a rotational basis, over the fire and eaten around the campfire together. EHRA pride themselves on providing the most amazing camp meals with adequate vegetarian options. Examples of meals include Spaghetti Bolognese, Thai Curry and Roast Chicken. There is even an Apple Crumble cooked on the fire!

Patrol Week:

Whilst on patrol we sleep wild and under the stars! Toilets and showers are not available during this week.

2021 Project Dates:



4 January 

15 January 

18 January 

29 January 

1 February 

12 February 

15 February 

26 February 

1 March 

12 March 

15 March 

26 March 

29 March 

9 April 

12 April 

23 April 

26 April 

7 May 

10 May 

21 May 

24 May 

4 June 

7 June 

18 June 

21 June 

2 July 

5 July 

16 July 

19 July 

30 July 

2 August 

13 August 

16 August 

27 August 

30 August 

10 September 

13 September 

24 September 

27 September 

8 October 

11 October 

22 October 

25 October 

5 November 

8 November 

19 November 

22 November 

3 December 

6 December 

17 December 

2022 Project Dates:

3 January  14  Jan
17 January 28 Jan
31 January  11 Feb
14 February  25 Feb
28 February  11 March
14 March  25 March
28 March  8 April
11 April  22 April
25 April  6 May
9 May  20 May
23 May  3 June
6 June  17 June
20 June  1 July
4 July  15 July
18 July  29 July
1 August  12 Aug
15 August  26 Aug
29 August  9 Sep
12 September  23 Sep
26 September  7 Oct
10 October  21 Oct
24 October  4 Nov
7 November  18 Nov
21 November  2 Dec
5 December  16 Dec

Duration & Price

  • 12 Nights = £900
  • 24 Nights = £1,750
  • 36 Nights = £2,500
  • 48 Nights = £3,300
  • 60 Nights = £4,000
  • 72 Nights = £4,500

Build Week

  • MONDAY Travel from Swakopmund and arrival at the Base Camp
  • TUESDAY Packing of 4×4 cars and travel to the build site. Set up camp and start to build!
  • WEDNESDAY 8am – 10am Building; Break,
  • THURSDAY 10:30 – 1pm Building; Lunch,
  • FRIDAY 3pm – 5pm Building, cleaning; dinner, campfire time!
  • SATURDAY Finish, pack up and travel back to Base Camp.
  • SUNDAY Restocking with food, leisure time

Build Week is hard and satisfying work. Quickly you don‘t mind being completely covered in cement and dirt. It is fun and a healthy workout! For many, this is the most rewarding part of the project.

Patrol Week

  • MONDAY Pack 4×4 cars and start to track the elephants. Sleep out under the stars!
  • TUESDAY Leave at 8am to continue tracking,
  • WEDNESDAY lunch at 12-1pm. Look for a camping spot at 5pm. Dinner.
  • THURSDAY Track the elephants one more time. Head back to Base Camp around lunch time.
  • FRIDAY Pack the mini bus and head back to Swakopmund. Arrival at approx. 12-13pm. Goodbye dinner at a restaurant in the evening!

Tracking the elusive desert elephants, observing them in their natural habitat, knowing you contributed to their survival, is VERY special. Sleeping wild under the stars is another beautiful experience, that might make you want to come back for more…

Is this for me? Yes if….

  • … you have an open mind, a willing heart and are prepared to put in work for something bigger than yourself.
  • … you are looking for a wilderness adventure and HANDS OFF conservation work. We help and observe elephants from afar. We never touch wildlife!
  • … you speak and understand English. It doesn‘t need to be perfect!
  • … you have an average degree of fitness. A lot of the work is manual, and we could spend a lot of time in high temperatures on foot. A bit of training beforehand would make your time more comfortable.

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Meet likeminded people

The volunteer groups are always a mix of ages and everyone works together as a team doing as much as they are able to. There are jobs for everybody.

This is about true adventure with likeminded people that care. It‘s about teamwork and tolerance. We live close together, close to the ground, and close to the animals.

Those willing to make a personal sacrifice for a belief in the ability of anyone that cares enough to make a difference. That hunger not only for adventure and wisdom, but the satisfaction of giving something back.

This is not a package holiday, or a feel-good charity case. This is real conservation. You will learn to be one with nature, awaken long-lost memories, do hard satisfying work, and walk away with a longing to be back under the desert stars.

What to bring:

EHRA supply all equipment needed whilst on site and we will forward you a detailed personal equipment list upon booking your volunteer trip. The project meeting point is the Namibian coastal town of Swakopmund and we will assist you with arrangements of how to get there including airport transfers. Before you book your flights please contact us for advice. Further information on planning your trip will be found in the document we send you once you have booked.

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At the EHRA base camp everyone sleeps in a large tree on a wooden platform! There are also showers and long-drop toilets here.

You will leave base camp and be camping in the African wilderness for the duration of your time on each project. There are no washing facilities on either build or patrol weeks but you can enjoy a shower at the EHRA base camp when we return for the weekend in between the two weeks. Occasionally, if there is enough water available at the build site, we may set up a basic shower at the build project camp.

Tents can be provided, alternatively we all sleep on mattresses on a large tarpaulin under the stars. As the camp on build week is in the same spot for the duration of the build project, we can set up a private long drop style toilet. However, the camp locations change every night on patrol week – a true wild camping experience using the bush toilet! Your helpful EHRA staff will be sure you are comfortable and will explain how to do this safely and in an eco-friendly way.


Once you have booked your flight, please send us the details and we will book the transfers for you. For both airports you will be met in arrivals by our transfer service and driven to either Desert Sky Backpackers in Swakopmund or to your accommodation of choice. Airport transfers and accommodation in Swakopmund are at your own cost.

Your transfer from Walvis Bay Airport to Swakopmund is 250 Namibian Dollars (one-way) or 540 Namibian Dollars from Windhoek Airport. Please pay the driver in cash.

Dietary requirements:

Please let us know if you have any particular dietary requirements including food sensitivities. We can accommodate varying needs including vegetarians and gluten or lactose intolerance.


You have the choice of two airports to fly into. Windhoek International Airport in Namibia’s capital city or Walvis Bay Airport on the coast.

Windhoek is a five-hour drive from Swakopmund, so please land by 12 noon at the latest on the Sunday; so that you can catch the scheduled shuttle service through to Swakopmund on the same day.

Walvis Bay is just a 30 minute transfer to Swakopmund. This is a much easier journey although flights are often cheaper into Windhoek.

When booking a return flight from Windhoek please ensure that you are not flying any earlier than 2pm on the Saturday following the end of your volunteer project. This will allow you time to get the shuttle from Swakopmund to Windhoek airport to catch your flight.

Want to combine this with a safari in Namibia?

You’ve come to the right place! We can easily organize a safari either before or after your time with EHRA and provide you with a complete package with all logistics taken care of. Please get in touch!