March Volunteers Share Their Experiences

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"I have never come so close to elephants and wildlife in my life. I would recommend this program to anyone and I greatly look forward to returning for a longer period of time to continue helping with wildlife conservation." Connor Yakaitis, USA

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Observing elephants in their natural habitat

Penny Webb
Cumbria, England

Sadly I am coming to the end of a super month volunteering with the team at SLWCS. Time has passed so quickly having thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The opportunities have been varied and relevant, helping to ease the pressure between the local farming community and the resident herds of wild elephant. The work of volunteers helps support on going research into behaviour and impact of the elephants whilst also actively assisting with maintaining existing solutions i.e. helping to maintain orange plantations and monitoring and maintaining the electric fences.

Keeping in touch with the wider farming community also provides essential information as to where, when, frequency and impact of ongoing elephant trespass. What the issues are currently and how they might be eased in the future. Other opportunities have included helping with bird surveys visible and audible indicators of the general health or the environment around the field station and the surrounding paddy fields. Assisting with the development of a butterfly garden has also been undertaken. Hard graft but rewarding, seeing the tangible progress of development.

I am going to miss waking to the sound of the magical tropical dawn chorus, bird watching from the deliciously cold showers. Enjoying the first brew of the day looking out over the lake and Peacock Hill. The great food created by Mahinda, sticky coconut rice, honey, spicy sauces and fresh melon, bananas and pineapple and that’s just breakfast. Getting to know the fellow volunteers from all over the world and hearing about their adventures and plans. The dedicated, well motivated, very knowledgeable staff have shared huge insight about the area, the local population and of course the wildlife. They have looked after us all and made us feel very welcome. I would thoroughly recommend spending time at the SLWCS.

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Mandy McCormack

I have spent 2 weeks with the project. It has been a wonderful experience and I have learnt so much from the staff. You all work so hard and are so dedicated to the cause. I came to the project with basic knowledge and now feel I understand their aims to help both elephants and humans.

I have learnt about the importance of studying the elephant dung. I have learnt the importance of the introduction of orange trees planted around the farmers land, which keeps most elephants off their land and farmers can continue to farm. It’s about humans and elephants living in harmony and the SLWCS is certainly doing this. Putting up electric fences has also been another successful deterrent.

Seeing the elephants at the National Park was fantastic….all living the way they should. I loved living in the staff house…and sharing experiences with people from all over the world. Its an experience I wont forget…..Thank you SLWCS

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Gisela Heidi

I came upon this project by happenstance…..i was not sure what it entailed or what I would be doing. From my first evening here, I knew I would love this project. Everyone loves elephants but we forget that we have encroached on their territory and as a result have created a conflict between humans and these great beasts. What SLWCS does is it teaches and enables farmers and others to live in harmony with the elephants.

As a volunteer, I saw first hand the measures taken….with interviews with the farmers, we can see the effectiveness of Project Orange; we participated in the dung analysis which told us which elephants have raided the paddy fields and which were eating the mana and Myla. This is an excellent project -I have learned so much. The staff are wonderful answering the many questions asked and are always willing to accommodate our requests.

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Nicole Yakaitis
Connecticut, USA

It was one of the most incredible weeks of my life! I thought that our week in Kandy was going to be hard to beat but this took the cake. The staff here was absolutely amazing and did everything they could to make us as comfortable as possible.

The projects, though some were hard work, left me with a sense of accomplishment and meaning. The safari left me at a loss for words. I thought it was going to be a set route and if we saw them then we lucked out, but this was over the top! We took whatever route the driver thought would give us the best view of the elephants. It was incredible! This week was one that I will never forget (especially the food!!).

Thank you to the staff for everything they do here!

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Project Orange Elephant

Nina Clara

I spent two weeks in this project. I am really happy to have participated at this amazing project. I learned so many things about the elephant, the villager and the conflict between them. Even if we did not see a lot of elephant, it was really nice because we knew that this project was really for the conservation of the wild elephant who is the most important for me. I would really like to see elephant only if I know that they have a good treatment and they can live their wild life. I also enjoyed all the activities that we did, they was really interesting and variate.

The staff house was also pretty good, the view was amazing and it was really nice to live with all those people from all around the world sharing all our travel experience. I will never forget this experience, thank you so much for everything!

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Stephanie Ruth

Volunteering with the elephant conversation project was not only an incredible learning experience and an amazing opportunity to make a difference in a community, but a very worthwhile chance to get off the beaten track of everyday city life. Spending your time here with like-minded travellers from all over the world was an extra bonus, playing cards into the late hours of the night and planning weekend sight-seeing trips.

If you are interested in elephants, travelling to their natural habitat and studying the impact they have on the people around them, and vice versa, is the most educationally rewarding way of doing so. This is a project that is well worth the long trip to Sri Lanka, and it is the only NGO of its kind that has a volunteer program.

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The road blocked…

Heather Davies
Cardiff, Wales

An incredible and thought provoking experience from start to finish. A wide range of activities giving volunteers the chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and environment. From talking to farmers about their experience with elephants, to painting in the local school, monitoring fences in the jungle and so much more – I have learnt so much in such a relatively short period of time.

This is not a programme dedicated to “lip service” – you really get the chance to contribute in a real way. And doing all this with a fantastic group of co-volunteers and SLWCS staff. Alongside the hard work, there has been lots of laughs and sharing of experiences. Not forgetting the afternoon in Wasgamuwa National Park and being fortunate enough to see elephants just a couple of meters away. Amazing! An unforgettable experience in beautiful Sri Lanka.

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Tonia Di Ponio
Dundee, Scotland

This week has opened my eyes and made me realise how different living situations are compared to my own background and how elephants may affect locals in this area. The research involved and different jobs to be done each day has amazed me, its’ hard work however very rewarding as it does make a difference.

It was interesting to experience working along side great coordinators each day, they are very supportive and provided us with lots of information and guidance. Elephants are happiest wild and free I’m glad to have been part of this amazing programme. Sri Lanka has been amazing it’s a beautiful country!

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A Matriarch showing her displeasure

Kaitlyn Simmons
California, USA

These past couple weeks here have been such an incredible experience and I’ve learned so much from everyone at the society. I immediately felt right at home once I got here being in such a beautiful location with wonderful people and fascinating wildlife. With all the work I’ve done here, I’ve really been able to see how important this society is to the village and the progress you’ve been able to make.

It is really obvious how much the staff here cares about the work they are doing and the passion they have carries onto the volunteers as well. Although it’s been hard and busy work, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about this experience.

I am very grateful this village has you guys so they aren’t fighting these problems alone, and that you allow volunteers like myself to join along and learn about these conflicts. It’s been an unforgettable experience for me, and I hope to come back again in the future. Thank you so much!

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Ruby Lekhi

My time here at the SLWC has been an experience I will never forget. From the staff to the fellow volunteers, the elephants to the food, I could not complain about a single factor. The extent of how much I have learnt is far beyond my expectation, I have found a real passion for conservation, partly thanks to the staff’s contagious and extraordinary efforts and also thanks to simply being in such a beautiful environment surrounded by the beautiful species that is the Asian elephant.

The work here is second to none, you will do hard work, but you immediately will see the benefits and reap the satisfaction in doing something worthwhile. The staff truly care about their work, a care that filters down into the volunteers. By the same token there is a great deal of fun and playfulness at the SLWCS, which too, filters into the volunteers, making my time here feel ultimately both important and thoroughly enjoyable.

My positive account of my time need not be taken with any pinch of salt, though unbelievable I truly have had one of the best experiences of my life here, setting me in good stead to do anything life throws at me.

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Roxane van Vyve

I have been volunteering here for two weeks and I had a really good time. I have learned a lot about the elephants and especially I have found it really interesting to come to understand the conflict between humans and elephants. All the coordinators are very nice and explain everything well, they are really present and take care of us. I have enjoyed the food, the landscapes, the people making this a wonderful experience. I like the fact that we are not doing the same things every day.

We have lots of free time for relaxing in the house and I suppose that everyone has enjoyed the break after the usual hard work in the morning. The tree houses are great and pretty, there you can have a calm moment waiting for elephants. So, I have loved everything and I am really happy that this kind of project exist. Finally, my favourite activity was obviously the safari, it was amazing to see those superb creatures in natural environment. I wish you the best for the future.

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Julia Zeisig

I volunteered here for 2 weeks full of nature and sports. There were different days and jobs, some were hard work in the sun, I never have sweated so much before in my life, it was a nice workout and it gives a good feeling to help. Between the activities we had some time for a nap, reading and chilling or something like that. The accommodation was interesting for me, for example, while having shower you can see the forest, hear the birds and in the evening you can see the moon.

The house isn’t completely closed, so at night it’s fresh and comfortable to sleep. I love the nature and the beautiful animals in Sri Lanka. The fireflies at night in the trees are romantic, some birds make funny noises, the cute geckos all around the house are not to forget, and to have luck and see the amazing wild elephants. All together I am happy with my experience. PEACE, LOVE & HARMONY 🙂

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Isabelle Cardoen

Volunteering in the jungle, getting over my fear of spiders and bugs. It has been an adventure where we learned about elephants, the culture and about ourselves. The different activities trying to help with the human elephant conflict have been equality interesting as fun. It has been a time to reflect and connect with nature. Standing still in a busy world can be hard but here it came naturally. Seeing the wild elephants has changed my view and I want to keep helping them to stay wild.

My favourite part of this organization is that they really see what the people and elephants need the most. And jump to help whenever and wherever it is needed the most. Coming from a world with high standards but low morals, I rather prefer living in the jungle and be happy.

My favourite part of this trip has been one day 21/03, a house was broken down, a crop raider had broken it down to steal the rice. We had to rebuild it, it had been a long time since I felt I had a purpose and doing something that matters. After we went on the safari and we where so blessed. We saw so many elephants, interacting, playing, eating, they got us surrounded, it was one of the best moments/feeling in my life. Also the small things really matter here, a sunrise/sunset, a red moon, the cats playing around, kicking a spider out of your bed (getting over fears).

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Kristy Ingebo and Jim Biancone

My husband Jim and I have had the most amazing experiences here at SLWCS…. We will never forget being surrounded by elephants in our jeep and helping these wonderful animals to live their lives by helping the villagers to cope with elephants trying to eat their rice crops.

We did so many rewarding activities such as clearing jungle to grow orange trees to keep the villagers houses safe and repairing homes damaged by the elephants in search of food. We also got to track jungle and fishing cats footprints and analyze areas where elephants live to see what they are eating. The people who run this organization are amazing and so is the staff, they are all so friendly and helpful. We learned a lot and got to be with other great people volunteering here. Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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Up close and personal

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Julia Thomas

This is a genuinely worthwhile project where volunteers can muck-in and get their hands dirty, working on various tasks aimed at helping reduce the conflict between humans and elephants. It is located in a beautiful natural setting on the edge of Wasgamuwa National Park – wildlife is all around – the area is especially rich in birdlife with Hornbills, Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Sunbirds just a few of many species easily spotted around the Field House.

Volunteers ranging from 18-80 years old and from all around the world quickly bond while working on a common goal – helping people and thereby helping the elephants. The food is healthy, delicious and caters for vegetarians and vegans. The staff are friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable and passionate about wildlife conservation, as well as being very informed about local tourist destinations and public transport.

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Blue-tailed bee-eater


Malabar Pied Hornbill

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White-throated Kingfisher

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Manuela Garcia

My experience here has exceeded my expectations to 1000%. The staff is so caring and are always trying to be as helpful as possible, in the end they become like your family. The different morning activities and projects are a lot of manual labor but they are very gratifying to do, they make you feel important and part of something bigger.

The activities are well planned and safe. The rest of the activities are also very interesting, I loved bird watching, going up peacock hill to see the sunrise, visiting the Buddhist temple during full moon, helping with rebuilding a house, teaching in the school, the documentaries, the talks you give and last but not least elephant watching. I absolutely love that you have so many different things to do around and that you teach the volunteers as much as you can during our brief time here.

Thank you for always having such an amazing attitude and for always answering all my questions (even if they were travel related :P).The field house is amazing, you feel as if you were part of nature, its nothing fancy but that is not why I came here for. The bedrooms are basic but just what anyone needs, the house in general is kept very clean. The food is delicious. I would love it if after the meals (lunch or dinner) you could offer a small sweet. I love the cold showers, they are perfect for the weather. I also love that we can drink as much water as we want. I also really like the cats around the house, and that they are vaccinated and taken care of.

I want to congratulate you all for the amazing job you are doing and the beautiful projects that you are carrying out in this place and I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to come here for a month to learn from you guys. I am sure that this place will always stay in my heart and I hope that I have a place in yours as well!

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Jade Hume

This experience has been more and better than I could have ever expected. I’m so glad to have been able to spend a month here and feel I have learnt a lot about elephants, the conflict and how this impacts everyone; as well as learning about Sri Lanka in general.

I like the variety of morning activities which are often hard work but also leave you feeling like you’ve accomplished something every day from weeding to house repairs to teaching in the local school and can be very interesting – especially the surveys with the villagers. Throughout the rest of the day you’re kept occupied with going to look for elephants, documentaries and being shown the maps/camera traps.

The visit to the national park is also fantastic! The field house is basic but its’ always kept tidy, the cold showers are great after hard work out in the sun. The food provided is delicious and caters to vegetarians; there is always water available which is lovely. The staff are all so welcoming and are like one big family; if you go away for the weekend then it quickly feels like coming home.

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Dominic Le Page

The elephant volunteering experience is one of the best experiences I have had whilst I have been travelling. It is fantastic to see what a great job the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society are doing and it’s even better being a part of that work. It definitely feels like I have made a difference, and that I am doing this for a good cause.

The field house is fantastic, it is simple but it has everything that is needed and is very clean and tidy. The food is amazing, usually vegetarian and the chef can cater to other dietary requirements too. You will definitely get enough food here, that’s for certain! The staff is again amazing and the Field House really does feel like home – all the staff are very welcoming and kind. You will never be bored, there are always things to do and in free time you can relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the field house.

We recently helped to rebuild a farmers’ house that had been damaged by an elephant, which was very good to be involved in. I will 100% be back and would recommend this experience to anyone.

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Maya Rajah

This experience has surpassed my expectations on so many levels. Within the short span of one week, I have acquired a deep and comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by both the elephants and humans that occupy this beautiful region of the world.

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Jamie Trudeau

I had a wonderful experience here. I loved learning about the elephants of Sri Lanka and participating in gathering research to help in the ongoing conservation efforts. It would be great to have more learning opportunities and/or educational lectures, however I understand that the heat of the day limits activities. Thank you for your hospitality and caring for these beautiful creatures!

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Lisa Breitenbach

Thank you for the amazing experiences that I could make in this project! I really enjoyed the time in this project and find it amazing, that this project is helping the people around here in so many different ways: building a class room, planting and caring for orange trees as bio fences against elephants, bringing the idea of sustainability closer to the kids with the butterfly garden as a home for the regional butterfly species, observing the behavior of the elephants with a daily watching from tree huts, evaluating camera trap pictures or analysing dung, providing a school bus, building up houses that got broken by elephants, monitoring the electric fence and giving the people around here a voice for their problems with elephants.

For me it all started with carrying trees in the butterfly garden, which was something like my hidden favourite activity. Not only because of the activity itself, but also because of the good mood the staff of the project spread. That mood led us through the whole project and was the most important reason, why we all enjoyed our time here and shared this mood ourselves. I think you do great work, not only with helping the local people but also with giving the volunteers valuable experiences that are so different from their lives back home and teach them something about sustainability, serenity and the value of (hard) work which is actually helping people and animals.

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Connor Yakaitis

This was by far the best trip I have ever been on. Sri Lanka is absolutely beautiful and the people are the friendliest I have ever met while traveling. The best part about my stay has been the week I spent here at the elephant conservation center. The staff was beyond friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable about every aspect of the region when it comes to elephant conservation.

They took every opportunity to provide us with hands on learning experiences and I have never come so close to elephants and wildlife in my life. I would recommend this program to anyone and I greatly look forward to returning for a longer period of time to continue helping with wildlife conservation. Thank you so much!

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An annoyed matriarch

Big, rumbling thanks to our Corporate Partners for their kind support and to everyone who has donated and supported our wildlife conservation efforts!

Photo Credits:

Chathuranga Dharmarathne/SLWCS
Chandima Fernando/SLWCS
Nisali Wijesinghe/SLWCS
Ravi Corea/SLWCS

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