About The Volunteer Program

Working with elephants is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. As a volunteer you will contribute to all aspects of elephant research, education, husbandry, and conservation practices. We ask all our volunteers to be enthusiastic, dedicated, willing, able, and keen to get involved with anything.


The participation of dedicated and hard-working volunteers is integral to AERU’s success, and their contribution is invaluable – we could not do the research we do without them! AERU welcomes volunteers from all over the world. There are no prior qualifications needed to volunteer other than a love of animals and a desire to help.

Walking With Giants Programme (3 week+)

Our main programme is designed for volunteers staying at least 3 weeks, as there is a large amount of training and familiarisation that goes into teaching volunteers the techniques needed to observe and study the elephants for research and welfare purposes. Through this programme, our volunteers are directly involved in elephant research and aid in providing information that relates directly to the welfare and management of captive elephants in South Africa. There is no maximum length of stay with the Walking with Giants programme.

Everything Elephant Programme (1 week)

Our shorter Everything Elephant Programme runs over 1 week, and was created to provide an experience for volunteers, who would love to dedicate their time and energy to our elephant family, but simply do not have the time to take 3 weeks away from their jobs and responsibilities. Although this programme cannot go into the same depth, it still offers shorter-term volunteers valuable insight into elephants research and care; introducing all the key elements of our base line studies.

The elephant herd you will be working most closely with resides on Knysna Elephant Park. You will also live on-site at the Knysna Elephant Park during your stay, fully immersed in a life among our elephants. We provide on-site training for our elephant research projects. By the end of your stay, you will have learned a significant amount about elephant biology, relationships, behaviour, husbandry, and welfare, and how research practices are conducted, and most likely will have fallen in love with our herd!


Additional tasks volunteers are asked to help with include the following:


  • Elephant husbandry: This can include preparing their food, changing their sawdust bedding, and cleaning out their overnight boma areas including chewed branches and dung.
  • Nursery project: Animals depend on their natural habitats for survival. This project focusses on growing plants to maintain indigenous biodiversity and eliminating alien invasive species that threaten it. The Nursery is also used for growing plants for community support.
  • AERU Shop production: Help make items which are then sold to raise money for the various AERU research and enrichment projects.
  • Elephant enrichments: Set up intriguing enrichments, stimulating their minds and taste buds!
  • Camera Trap setup: The Park has many less obvious residents, this project discreetly monitors wild animal species living in the forest areas on-site, helping us understand our resident fauna biodiversity.
  • Environmental education: Preparing information to share with school groups or children, guiding their appreciation for nature and the importance of co-existence.
Volunteers are intrinsically involved in the monitoring of elephant welfare and behaviour through different research projects. Longer staying volunteers are exposed to deeper depth of research training:
  • Monitoring elephant behaviour – Following and observing elephants in the field, recording behaviours such as grazing, drinking, playing, dusting, and walking.
  • Recording social interactions between elephants – how they relate to, and communicate with, each other using their trunks and bodies.
  • Night-time observations of elephant behaviour – what is a good night’s sleep for an elephant?
  • Recording and monitoring interactions between elephants and tourists
  • Botanical surveys of the park – relating plant diversity to grazing patterns and elephant distribution
  • Studies of feeding behaviour and plants eaten by the elephants
  • Collection of dung and other samples for physiological analysis
  • AERU laboratory work – processing of dung samples
  • Data input and analysis
Many of these projects involve long hours of data collecting in the field and the project is not for the faint-hearted. However, one is well rewarded, especially if the elephants begin to recognise you and trust you over time, becoming part of the herd! The data collected by volunteers contributes to the research projects being conducted on site and guides the elephant management of KEP.
Booking your spot is essential. Volunteers are required to book according to the programme of their interest (1 week only or 3 weeks plus). There is no maximum length of stay. This will determine the starting dates available. A 50% deposit will secure your booking.


Included in your volunteer package with AERU is your on-site accommodation, bedding, airport transfers (specific dates and times), weekly shopping trips, AERU related outings, kitchen facilities, AERU T-shirt, fleece and cap as uniform.

It does not include your food and weekend or after-hour activities costs. On- site laundry facilities are also available at your own cost.

The cost per week is reduced for longer term volunteers. Please contact us for availability and prices.

  • Volunteers for the Walking with Giants programme are to arrive on MONDAYS.
  • Airport pickups (George Airport) are from 12h00 to 15h00 on stipulated dates.
  • Volunteers who arrive earlier will need to wait till 12h00.
  • If volunteers arrive after 15h00 or have missed their flight it is their responsibility to be in contact with AERU to help arrange alternative taxi transport at their own cost. This will need to be paid in cash upon pickup.
  • Volunteers on the 1-week programme, arrive on SUNDAYS and are responsible for their own transport from the airport. AERU can help arrange the transfer service on their behalf upon request.
  • Bus services are also available between Cape Town and Plettenberg Bay. These can be booked online. Please book according to our arrival dates and times.
  • Our proximity to Plettenberg Bay lends itself to collection in town (only by prior arrangement).
  • Longer term volunteers may depart on MONDAYS via AERU transfer, leaving the park at 09h30. All flights should therefore be booked from 12h00 onwards as check in requires one hour prior to departure and the airport is 95km away.
  • Volunteers requiring alternative departures will be responsible for their own transfer costs but can ask AERU to help them make the arrangements.
  • Volunteers staying for one week may depart on SATURDAYS or SUNDAYS and are responsible for their own transport to the airport. AERU can assist in arranging the transfer upon request.

Please contact volunteer@aeru.co.za for more information

Volunteers are representing AERU and are required to be respectful and professional towards tourists and KEP staff. We require all volunteers to sign a code of conduct and are clearly briefed by AERU, so each new team member is aware of what is expected during their stay.

Volunteers are expected to be tidy, presentable, and in AERU uniform (provided) during work hours. Basic rain jackets are available to borrow during wetter weather.
Click here to read about what to bring…

When on duty in the field, we ask that volunteers remain focussed on the task at hand, observing only, so that our research does not interfere with the guides’ tours and the elephants. Ample time is provided for volunteers to interact and spend time with the elephants on their own free time.

Some important aspects to be aware of when volunteering with AERU:


  • Neutral coloured pants (black, khaki, brown, olive or dark blue) of an appropriate working style, are to be worn while on duty.
  • You must always be accompanied by a member of staff whenever interacting with the elephants.
  • Although social interactions are welcome, but no loud parties are permitted on site.
  • The responsible consumption of alcohol is permitted after work hours. 

Please Note: It is important to know that the Knysna Elephant Park is open to the public for feeding interactions and elephant walks (sunrise and sunset). Volunteers are representing the research unit in front of the public so must be respectful of tourists and Knysna Elephant Park staff.

One of the most important contributions that volunteers help us with is monitoring these interactions through research, and consequently improving elephant welfare and how to maintain a positive and responsible balance with the ongoing tourism activities.

Shopping Cart