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>  Volunteer Projects Asia  >  Elephant Project Srilanka

Join other volunteers to encounter the beautiful asian elephants and experience Sri Lankan culture from £895/ per person for 2 weeks

This project in the beautiful Sri Lankan jungle provides a real in the field experience of ecological research on elephants, and involvement in assessing and reducing human-elephant conflict. This type of conflict is the primary reason for the drastic reduction in Asian elephant populations over the past century and the projects' volunteers input really makes a difference for both local people and elephants in a sustainable manner within a localised context.

The research on The Great Elephant Project is conducted to meet rigorous scientific standards. It is an opportunity to partake in true wildlife conservation, learning about, assisting with and implementing initiatives using modern technology such as GPS and remote sensing to develop strategies to help conserve animal habitat and wildlife. Of course, more traditional techniques such as observation from treehouse hides and following trails are also still used!

Though this may sound daunting, no previous experience or knowledge is necessary. The process to integrate new volunteers into the research work will be done during the first two days at the field site. On the first day at the field base during the orientation we make sure the volunteers are thoroughly briefed on each activity, what it entails, why we are doing it and what we hope to understand from the data gathered from these activities.

The people of Sri Lanka have had a long tradition of living in harmony with nature since the cultural fabric of the country is deeply imbedded in the concepts of Buddhism which advocates Ahimsa (non-violence). This volunteer programme is geared not only toward elephants, but also to provide these insights to visitors who participate in the project.

The project offers volunteers a unique way to step into the cultural milieu that makes Sri Lanka so special. Through this program volunteers not only experience the wilderness and get to contribute to field research and environmental protection in meaningful ways, but also get to experience Sri Lankan culture. Your involvement will help to safe guard the wilderness and promote cultural practices that are thousands of years old.

Project Summary:

Focus: Asia Elephant and Human Conflict

Duration: 2-12 weeks

Project Start Date: The first or third Mondays of the month

Location: Wasgamuwa National Park, Central Sri Lanka. Asia

Minimum age: 18




Day 1: Pick up from airport or from rendezvous hotel and travel to the field site, followed by lunch and orientation.
After your orientation you will spend the afternoon in your teams either at the Tree Hut or at the water tank where you can look for elephants and other wildlife.
In the evening you will return for dinner and then you will have free time to log your data from the day’s activities and socialise. Each evening you will also be given the opportunity to watch various wildlife documentaries about the project.
Day 2: After breakfast both teams will depart on two separate jungle treks where they will be on the lookout for signs of elephants, leopards and other wildlife. You will then return to the site for lunch.

Day 3: Another morning of birding and observing nature around camp in the morning.
After breakfast both teams will monitor two electric fences erected to stop elephants from raiding crops and village homes.
After lunch and some relaxation time both groups will split again to observe the water tank and the tree hut. You will then return to have dinner and log the data collected that afternoon.
Day 4: Both teams leave for a safari in the national park with packed breakfast and lunch. This is a whole day activity.
You will then spend the evening data inputting, having discussions, social time and listening to stories of villagers’ harrowing experiences living in the jungle with wild animals – especially wild elephants.

Day 5: Today the teams will switch and leave on the Jungle Treks – You will spend the morning observing wildlife and various habitats, and visit forest hermitages. You will then return to camp to relax and have lunch.
The afternoon will be spent in your two teams at either the tree hut or at the tank, after which you will return to camp and log your data.
Day 6: In the morning both teams will leave to go on a Sunrise Hike along the lakeshore - observe local wildlife and birds, afterwards you will leave for Weheragalagama Village to observe a human-elephant conflict resolution project and have a traditional breakfast in the village.

The morning will give you the opportunity to meet with Community Leaders/members, observe electric fence & eleAlert Systems and talk to villagers. You will then leave to monitor a community-based land use and livelihood development project.
After your morning activities you will return to camp, have your lunch and then set off for your usual afternoon activities at either the tree hut or the water tank.
Day 7: The volunteers have the day off to relax and catch up on personal matters, visit around the project area or they can travel to cultural sites nearby which would cost additional
The activities will commence again from Day 8 until Day 14 when the volunteers will pack and depart to either the airport or to a hotel prior to catching their departing flights. If volunteers are staying longer than 2 weeks they will continue to work on the activities and will also get to help set up new activities based on research and conservation priorities at the time.


Park ID: The team will spend a session in a vehicle in the National Park looking for elephants and then observing and photographing them. The aim of the elephant ID is to build up a catalogue of individuals as a basis for numbers, social organization and movement inside/outside the Park. As we drive through the National Park you will observe other wildlife and also learn about the different vegetation types and their importance. You will visit sites of ancient battles and search for herds of elephants while looking for the elusive leopard and sloth bear.

Electric Fence Monitoring: The team will check the state of solar powered electric fences erected to stop elephants from entering villages so that this information can be relayed to the local fence committees, who maintain and operate the fences. It also enables us to see what goes wrong with fences so that their design and management can be improved. 
Elephant & Human Elephant Conflict Observations:The team will spend an evening in a tree hut located in an elephant corridor waiting for and recording elephants that pass nearby to it and how the villagers and elephants interact as they both use the area. The aim is to collect data on the spatial and temporal distribution of the elephants in this area and to record the intensity of human-elephant interactions.

Community-based Sustainable Land use and Livelihood Project Monitoring: Agriculture is one of the main contributing factors to human-elephant conflicts. The project has established several sustainable land use and livelihood projects to develop agriculture based measures that are compatible to sharing land with elephants. You will learn how important the involvement of communities is for sustainable conservation. You will help to monitor and evaluate innovative landscape management systems designed by us to buffer communities economically from elephant raids and to minimize such raids.

Tank Monitoring: The team will check around tanks (irrigation reservoirs) situated outside the National Park for elephant dung. The aim is to find out whether there are single males and/or herds present outside the Park, what their dispersal patterns might be and what kind of food they eat (for example crops or native plants). 


This Project is the first participatory community-based Asian elephant research and human-elephant conflict resolution project in the world. The UNDP Equator Initiative awarded the project an Equator Prize in 2008. Volunteers will get to experience a number of field research and conservation activities to develop measures for elephant conservation, sustainable land use and to mitigate human-elephant conflicts.

The monetary contributions of the volunteers is what makes it possible for the wildlife research, conservation and community development programs of this project to sustain themselves over the long term. These funds make it possible to conduct research, maintain field equipment, pay salaries of field staff, hire local youths to work on projects, help to maintain electric fences, and provide villagers with innovative land use measures to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation by minimizing their impact on the environment. 

What is the climate of the project site?
The climate ranges from a low of 14oC in the wet zone mountains to a high of 34oC in the dry zone jungles, where the average temperature will be in the region of 25oC-32oC. Expect hot and dry weather during the expedition with the occasional shower or humid day. Insects could be a problem in the night when they are attracted to the camp lights. During the monsoon season (Dec-Feb) conditions will be wet and there are frequent thunderstorms both day and night. However, our research is continuous because valuable data can be obtained during these times since it is essential to know the movement of animals both in the wet and dry seasons to understand their ecology as well as establish proper management practices. 

How do I get to the project?

Volunteers must be at the Goldi Sands Hotel in Negombo (about 30 minute drive from Colombo international airport) by 0700 hours on day one. Participants will be returned to Negombo at the end of their stay. Website:

Do I need to have any specific Training/Qualifications?
No previous experience or knowledge is necessary. The process to integrate new volunteers to the research work will be done on the first two days at the field site. On the first day at the field base during the orientation we make sure the volunteers are thoroughly briefed on each activity, what it entails, why we are doing it and what we hope to understand from the data gathered from these activities. 


Are there any special skills required?
No specific skills are required, but volunteers should be prepared for the heat and high humidity of tropical jungles and be able to participate in treks. The volunteers will be trained in the skills they need to conduct the fieldwork. The project staff will prepare each group for their fieldwork. They will explain the research methods and the goals of the research. 

Will my mobile phone work in the area?

Most GSM phones with Dialog and Mobitel Sri Lanka service providers will work around the project base camp. There is also Dialog and Celltel GSM coverage at certain points in the camp site property. Pre-paid SIM cards can be bought in Sri Lanka for Rs.2000 (~US$20) and calls to UK, USA, etc., cost about Rs.15/min.

What inoculations will I need for this project?
For information regarding vaccinations please check

What is the currency?
The currency is the Sri Lankan rupee 

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