Elephant Sanctuary - True Volunteer Work

by Ross Ferguson

Although the project is centred around being a halfway home for the elephants, it turns out, the experience for me was all about the staff and sharing their life with them. I fell in love with every single one of them and I've been lucky enough to be able to stay in touch with them since.

Volunteer Project Set Up and Logistics

I volunteered at The Elephant Sanctuary, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa for 4 weeks from the 11th January and organised it directly with them after Google-ing volunteer projects in South Africa.

The accommodation was sufficient and clean, and living separate to but alongside the elephant handlers was an experience I will never forget. I worked alongside one other volunteer and all of the staff embraced me as one of their own, inside and outside of work.

The lunch that is provided varies but generally consists of chicken, vegetables and starch.

In my free time, I was given free access to the neighbouring cat sanctuary and the Worlds Largest Free Flight Aviary (Birds of Eden). Based on the Garden Route, volunteers are given free access to other surrounding projects, including the Zip Line tours and the Worlds Highest Bungee Jump.

The one thing I would like to stress is that so many volunteering projects will charge you to volunteer yet The Elephant Sanctuary actually provides free lunch, accommodation and they even give you a small stipend.

There are not too many of these opportunities around and it's a great way to experience the beauty of Africa's wildlife and its people.

The Work

If you keep an open mind, the jobs provided can be endless. On my first day I was walking trunk-in-hand with the elephants and also riding one of them. You will learn the elephants by name, you will learn their stories.

As a volunteer you will be part of the meet and greet for the guests passing through, as well as reception work, you have the opportunity to assist the elephant handlers and tour guides on the tours and even do the tour yourself if you are brave enough.

If you want to get up early enough, you can help to brush down the elephants and help feed the elephants by collecting branches out in the pick-up.

Typical Day

On a typical day you wake up to the sound of the elephants and also the monkeys and birds from next door. You are living on site so you are seconds away from reception where you will start your day.

Every day is different, depending on what needs doing but in general you will spend time behind reception meeting and greeting guests, taking payment and communicating with the elephant handlers to prepare them for the next tour.

If you assist on the tour, you could be helping explain the stories of the elephants, taking photographs for the guests or even help teach the anatomy class.


I was fortunate to spend my time volunteering during the summer, so when the sun's out it's hot but there were also days where the jeans were on and the raincoats came out.

Tips and Advice

It can be quiet at times so be prepared for some down time but I would go back in a heartbeat. Your spare time can be filled quite easily if you keep an open mind, you will come away with an experience of a lifetime.

Take books and music for your spare time. Obviously take a camera.

Learn the language from them, because although you don't need to, it's an amazing thing to share.

I took my laptop and a few DVD's and most of all, take a diary. (The laptop was my most useful item - for the internet, music, films and diary). I have reminisced numerous times in the last year and will carry on doing so.

Ross' Volunteering Details:

Rating: 9/10

Organisation: The Elephant Sanctuary, South Africa

Date of volunteer work:
11 January for 4 weeks

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  • Comments for Elephant Sanctuary - True Volunteer Work

    Click here to add your own comments

    Volunteer Work
    by: Elephant Sanctuary

    Thank you Ross for this amazing write up about us and our ellies! Our volunteers only visit us for a few weeks but they stay in our hearts forever!!!

    Kruger safari tour
    by: Louise

    A fantastic and brilliant initiative so wonderful to see that people are doing what they can to preserve our beautiful environment.

    vet student
    by: Myriam DENOUAL

    I am a student in my 3rd year in a Veterinary School in France

    I would like to do an internship in a foreign country next summer and I am extremely interested in your volunteer experience in this sanctuary.

    I would like to know who you had contacted in the sanctuary to request to volunteer; or if you had a personnal mail I could use (if you agree)
    I would like to be sure my mail will be read by someone on the sanctuary :)

    Thank you in advance
    Yours sincerely

    by: Ross

    Hi there,

    You can contact them here:

    Elephant Sanctuary

    They have more than one sanctuary, so you are best discussing with them to see what your options are. I know the volunteer experience will be different now to when I was there in 2011 but if they can accommodate you then it will still be a great experience. I went back last year, the management and possibly ownership has changed hands but they are still as friendly and will be willing to help you.

    Good Luck.

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