This volunteer experience takes you to the northwestern regions of the Namib Desert, traditionally known as ‘Damaraland’.
This harsh tribal wilderness area, runs parallel to the skeleton coast national park, and is home to a small population of desert-adapted 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 staff of EHRA in following, and monitoring the movements of these elephants on patrol, camping wild and living close to the earth, elephants and people.
Damaraland is vast, scarcely populated communal trust land. As it is a transitional zone between the high rainfall area in the east, and the Skeleton coast in the west, it is regarded as un-farmable on a commercial basis. Therefore it has become a natural, unfenced refuge for desert adapted animals such as; black rhino, oryx, giraffe, springbuck, kudu, steenbok, baboon, lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, brown hyena, black backed jackal and more.
These areas used to be inhabited by nomadic bushman hunter-gatherers, of whom there is lots of evidence in the form of thousands of rock paintings and engravings. Now, beyond the fringe of permanent settlements, only nomadic pastoral farmers, and tourists venture.
This area is still regarded as one of the last true wilderness areas left on earth!
“Thank you so much everything you did in order to get us there. The last two weeks we have had the most unforgettable time and it has been an experience that will stay with us forever.”
– Jacob Stockton and Madeline Carr, Australia, January 2018
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:
This project is real spearhead conservation work. It is not about cuddling baby animals, or being an observer of conservation from the comfort of a game drive vehicle.
You need to have an open mind, a willing heart and be prepared to put in work for something bigger than yourself.
This is about true adventure with likeminded people that care. This is about teamwork and tolerance. We live close together, close to the ground, and close to the animals.
Your project managers are there to make your time in the bush educational and safe, but it is up to you to make a success of the expedition. We ensure that you have the means to be comfortable and well fed, and will teach you how to be that!
You need to have an average degree of fitness, as 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.
But don’t worry, anyone is capable, and we would be there for you every step of the way. The volunteer groups are always a mix of ages and everyone works together as a team doing as much as they are able
You need to be able to speak and understand English.
We set up our mobile base camp at each project site, which we try and make as comfortable as possible! You will be accommodated in two man tents or you can choose to sleep under the stars. Washing facilities are limited but a ‘bushman’ shower may be made available if there is a water dam at the site. Toilet facilities will be in the form of long drops (enclosed and private).
Volunteers are provided with bed rolls, which includes a mattress but volunteers need to bring their own sleeping bags and pillows. During the rainy and colder season we provide 2 man tents on build week and space allowing on patrol. Otherwise volunteers sleep under the stars under a tarpaulin. At base camp volunteers are accommodated in a tree! This is a very large platform within a huge Ana Tree and is wonderful! There are two elephant drinking dams in the camp and the elephants often wonder through!
During build week there is a long drop toilet provided. There are no washing facilities this week, so volunteers are advised to bring wet wipes. At base camp we have toilets and showers which have hot water. During patrol our camps are very basic, we camp wild every night depending on the elephants locations and always find a stunning spot to camp for the night. Whilst on patrol, we camp wild, and sleep under the stars on our bedrolls with mosquito nets. Toilets or showers are not available this week.
Meals are prepared on a rotational basis, over the open fire, and eaten around the campfire together. We supply really good food with adequate vegetarian options, examples would be Spaghetti Bolognese, Roast Chicken or Thai Curry.
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.
Besides a willing mind, and a strong back, you do not need any special training to work on this project. During your time on the project you will learn the following:
Camp craft including cooking over a fire, bush camp setup, safety and hygiene.
Bush craft, such as approaching dangerous animals on foot, animal behavior, bush walking, navigation, map reading, GPS etc.
Compiling identification kits on elephants.
Traditional building skills. During the first week we cheat the heat and wake up early, for our first cup of coffee around the campfire. After the team member on duty served breakfast, we head out to our project site for the day.
In the main volunteer projects involving building large walls around farmers waterpoints, although we also work on other projects such as constructing alternative water points specifically for elephant and rhino, clearing areas of old fencing wire in elephant habitat, working on the base camp water points or working at the local rural school.
The second week is spent out on elephant patrol. We pack some basic camping equipment in the 4×4, and set off looking for the illusive elephants. On patrol we camp wild, and sleep under the stars. We follow elephants on foot, sometimes for hours under the desert sun, and sit patiently observing from some rocky outcrop whilst they laze away in the shade!
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