Elephant Research at Orphan Release Site


Elephant Research at Orphan Release Site

As a research volunteer your main task will be helping us study the elephants in the release herd through our Behavioural Observational Study. This helps us detect potential medical issues, as well as teaching us about their relationships and interactions between each other. You will be joining the elephants out in the bush every day – many volunteers in the past have described their time out there as magical!

The Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) is caring for orphaned elephants from around Zambia and releasing them back out into the wild when they are able to look after themselves. The smallest orphans stay at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery while the larger orphans join the release herd in Kafue National Park. The elephants learn about life in the wild from each other, the keepers, and from trial-and-error – often hugely amusing and entertaining.

As a research volunteer with the EOP your main task will be helping us study the elephants in the release herd through our Behavioural Observational Study (BOS). Elephants are prey animals, so they hide any illnesses they might have. BOS helps us detect potential medical issues, as well as teaching us about their relationships and interactions between each other. You will be joining the elephants out in the bush every day – many volunteers in the past have described their time out there as magical! In between studying the elephants, you will be entering the data collected as well as generally helping out with the day-to-day running of the Release Facility, such as cleaning the stable, collecting browsing and help with ‘play-ideas’ for when the elephants are in their stable at night time. We are also developing a field guide and ID kit of the wild elephants in the area. For this we are tracking collared elephants with radio telemetry and use camera traps.

In order to promote the successful release of the orphaned elephants back into the wild, it is important to keep the contact with humans to a minimum. There will therefore be no direct contact with the elephants, we ask that everybody keep a 10-metre distance, except for the keepers who care for the elephant orphans around the clock and form close family-like bonds with the elephants which is essential to their emotional recovery from their initial traumas.



  • See the older released elephants come to meet the release herd in mornings – a beautiful sight.

  • Lots of laughter when the elephant orphans are playing around, always hugely amusing!

  • Learn about the elephants, the special problems they face as orphans, both medical and emotionally.

  • Get to know each individual elephant and their personalities.

  • Learn to use camera traps and radio telemetry.

  • The enjoyment of camp life and campfire cook-outs, and lots of football matches with the keepers.

  • The main task is assisting in our behavioural studies on the elephant orphans in the release herd, and enter the data collected in our database.

  • Literature searches and assist in report writing.

  • Assist in enrichment/play ideas for when the orphans are in their stable.

  • Use camera traps to develop a field guide for the area as well as creating an ID kit for the wild elephants in the area.

  • Track collared elephants using radio telemetry.

Field conditions

Volunteers will be staying in our tented camp along the riverfront. Usually each volunteer gets their own tent but might have to share if the need arises. The camp is basic but well established with some home comforts, like a seated toilet and a hot bush shower – which really makes a difference after a long hot day in the bush. There is a small kitchen where volunteers can cook their food over a gas cooker and sometimes there will be cook outs around the campfire. Refrigeration is limited so the diet is predominantly vegetarian. The project provides food for three meals per day, but the volunteers are welcome to supplement with some comfort foods like chocolate and crisps. Clean drinking water is available unlimited.

We use solar power to charge phones, laptops and torches. However, our solar system is not extensive so charging facilities are limited (particularly in cloudy weather) and will prioritise the project communications and work necessities. We employ full-time staff in all the camps in various capacities, including for security, so the camps are never unattended.

As we are in the African bush there is always the possibility of encountering wildlife, both big or small. On arrival all volunteers are given clear safety briefings to minimise any dangers. All management staff have basic first aid qualifications and the camp has a fully comprehensive medical first aid kit.

Languages: English

Age range: 18-99 years. We do allow in certain cases 17-year olds with parental consent.

Group size: Max 2 volunteers per month (plus one Media & Marketing volunteer based at Kafue Release Facility as well)

Camp Phoenix at Kafue Release Facility inside Kafue National Park, Zambia.

All volunteers start and end their stay with us at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery at the outskirt of Lusaka, Zambia.

The cost to participate in this project is USD $2,500 for the 22 days. This will be used to cover the costs of the volunteers during their stay and the remainder will be donated to the project.

Orphan Elephant Research Dates

The volunteer season runs from April to November (as we do not have volunteers at the Release Facility during the rainy season) so the available dates for 2019 are:

2 – 23 April

30 April – 21 May

28 May – 18 June

25 June – 16 July

23 July – 13 August

3-24 September

1-22 October

29 October – 19 November

What’s included

  • All project-related transport
  • Accommodation at our tented camps at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery and Mukambi Camp.
  • Three meals a day (the volunteers help prepare the meals)
  • Experienced staff support, training and supervision
  • The documentation required to apply for a work visa (usually obtained on arrival at the airport)
  • Two working t-shirts per volunteer
  • National Park Entry Fees for Kafue National Park
  • Local staff whom prepare volunteer accommodations, maintain the grounds, and secure the property is safe and secure.

What’s not included

  • Plane tickets to Zambia
  • Travel insurance
  • Business visa ($50 – we will provide the necessary documents to obtain the visa)

How to get to the project?

  • We will pick you up at the airport or hotel within Lusaka on the project start date.

Are the dates set or flexible?

  • In order for the volunteer supervisors to be able to plan their time we do try to stick with the set dates, though we can be a bit flexible in certain cases.

Is it always 22 days or can it be shorter/longer?

  • This is a set programme of 22 days and is difficult to make shorter. The programme is incorporating all three departments of the organisation, it therefore is a packed programme which is difficult to cut down into fewer days. In certain cases we do accept shorter-time volunteers and the cost is calculated accordingly.
  • Longer term volunteers are easier to plan for, however as a business visa to Zambia is only 30 days that is the maximum amount of days we can do.

$2500 seems like a lot of money – why is it so expensive?

  • Yes, $2500 is a lot of money but it also covers a long period of time, 22 days. Most holiday destinations would cost a lot more for the same time period for accommodation plus food – and with us you get an amazing experience, you get to make a real difference, plus you learn a lot about elephants, wildlife conservation, and so much more.

    I loved every single moment of my time at the Kafue Release Facility where the opportunity to learn so deeply about, and co-exist, with these amazing creatures has truly been a once in a life time experience. I was very moved by the incredibly selfless commitment of the keepers, scouts and researchers who dedicate so much time and effort into rehabilitating the orphans and the welcoming, friendly nature of all the staff made me feel completely at home. I will dearly miss the daily afternoon games of soccer, the enduring comradery around camp and, of course, the 12 incredible elephants who have inspired me to be a conservationist for many years to come.” – Hamish Stewart, July 2018 Volunteer.

    Working at this project has been an amazing experience for me as it is what I love to do, and I have gained so much knowledge from being at the Kafue Release Facility especially about elephants, which are incredible animals. I have also found that all the keepers, scouts, and staff are really welcoming and have made my time at the KRF even more incredible. I am extremely happy to be a part of the team and to have gotten the opportunity to come and work with such an amazing organization. I hope to come back in the future once I have finished my degree because I will really miss it.” – Kelly McDonald, August 2018 Volunteer.

    Elephant Orphanage and Community Outreach


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