Thailand (Elephant volunteering) – The Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai, Thailand is plagued by organizations claiming that they are helping rescue elephants. Many even go as far to say that they are a rehabilitation center and help the Asian Elephant re-enter nature. How does one decide which organization to volunteer with the most or to even go so far as to give financially to? It can be tough, as the number of volunteer organizations grow to tell if you are really making a difference in the lives of the Asian

The Elephant Nature Park ( is the exception. This “park” a wonderful organization located in Northern Thailand, 60 miles north of Chiang Mai. It is a place that accepts volunteers on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. A Thai woman, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, started this organization in the early 1990’s because she saw that these beautiful and large animals were being grossly mistreated since legal logging in Thailand has gone by the wayside. Elephants were being starved because their owners couldn’t provide enough food for these incredible creatures. Elephants were being put to work in shows in the major cities, often times walking around amidst traffic and trash, eating whatever their owners could toss their way. This is was no way for these magnificent animals to live.

Lek founded The Elephant Nature park to provide sanctuary for elephants in Thailand and in neighboring countries. Now, the park has expanded to include wildland and deforestation protection, cultural preservation of the local community so that the surrounding villages can live sustainably, and public elephant and nature education to park visitors and volunteers.

Daily visitors to the park can learn about the elephant and ways in which they can help educate the world and spread the word about the plight of the Asian Elephant. Volunteers can work as little as a week and upwards of a month or two. As a volunteer you work side-by-side the elephant, cleaning and preparing food, bathing the elephant, picking up their excrement, and maintaining the elephant’s facilities and park.

Volunteers at the Park will not be disappointed with their experience as this park does provide real aid to the Asian Elephant. The Elephant Nature Park is not a rehabilitation center with the hopes of releasing the animals into the wild, but a sanctuary where these majestic animals can live out their lives in protection from poaching, deforestation and working in illegal logging camps. The Elephant Nature Park hopes that one day the Asian elephant’s numbers will rise and can officially be removed from the endangered list and with public education and volunteerism, it is the only way for this to happen.

Madagascar (Marine based volunteering) – Blue Ventures

For Madagascar…I did a 6 week expedition with an organization named BlueVentures. I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great bit of fun and adventure, its amazingly beautiful, and it’s an incredible experience to be able to see marine life conservation in the reef vs the Askari land based conservation in the bush (askari always wins though lets be honest). But I had an unforgettable time, Madagascar is a pretty stunningly unique country, not to be missed. Another similar Madagascar NGO that I don’t know too much about (a friend worked with them) is called Reef Doctor, and it’s a bit cheaper. Can’t speak to that one though. We did two dives a day 6 days a week, certainly got my money’s worth. Hope that helps.

Sharing information on Volunteer projects around the world

Our volunteers are often joining Askari as part of a larger trip, maybe alongside additional travel through Africa and other volunteering projects. We are regularly asked by past Askarians about other projects, similar to Askari, that we would recommend. Here at Askari we work on the ethos of strong conservation values. We believe it is likely that if you enjoyed your time at Askari then these same values will be important to you in your next volunteering capacity. We have therefore collated this information, all from past Askari volunteers, and produced a platform on which you can share information and search for other projects around the world that come recommended. Along with this, there are a number of projects that have NOT come RECOMMENDED. While we do not wish to name and shame, we invite you to contact us if you have a particular project you are considering that is not here on this site. It is possible that we do have a (less complimentary) review that we will be happy to share with you confidentially so you can make your own, informed decision. We hold reviews on projects from around the world, not just South Africa, others include turtle conservation work, working with big cats, rehabilitation centres etc; please just drop us an email. We hope you find this resource useful and please help us by adding your feedback if you have a volunteering experience you are willing to share.

NB: Askari cannot take responsibility for opinions given in this section, all information is the personal opinion of the author. Likewise, we cannot definitely recommend a programme, we have not visited ourselves and have no information, this is simply a section to share information.

Richard & Anne Wiles – England……click here

Slide1The Askari Wilderness Conservation program provides an excellent opportunity to learn about life in the South African Bush and conservation in practice. The staff (Katie and Ed) make everyone welcome and manage to provide an excellent mix of education, hands on experience and fun during the program. Their enthusiasm is infectious but they combine that with a very healthy respect for the wildlife. They lead by example in terms of the vigilance needed to stay safe while allowing the inhabitants of the Bush priority since they were there first! Everything about this program is well thought through and planned but the flexibility is there as needed to respond to the varying demands of Bush Life. I cannot imagine anyone coming away from this program without gaining a significantly improved understanding of what conservation means in reality and how to contribute to achieving the Askari vision. In addition its great fun.Slide2

Steven Bradburn…..England…click here

steveOur two weeks stay here at Askari has been the most enjoyable experience. You really do feel like you have contributed and helped the programme with everything you do. Katie and Ed are both amazing hosts, very friendly and they will certainly teach you a heck of a lot about the bush. My only regret is having decided to do 2 weeks instead of more – if only money and time was no issue.

Casey Mckeown – England….click here

caseyThis was an absolutely fantastic experience and I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone who loves wildlife and conservation and wants to learn about it. You learn new things everyday. Even the staff do! I thought it was particularly beneficial working on a private reserve because when you see an amazing sighting like an elephant or a cheetah or a lion you don’t have to radio everyone else in the area and then have the rest of the public crowding the area trying to see the same thing, you get this sighting all to yourself. It’s not just what you see though, the work you do there is good, to know that it’s making a difference and that’s a great feeling. Furthermore working with other volunteers is great. You get to meet new people from all over the world and you end up leaving as friends. If you ever get the chance to do a project like Askari then go for it. You will have so many memories to cherish and it is a chance in a lifetime!

Shauna Mckeown – England….click here

shaunaThis has been the best experience! There are no words to describe my time here, you can only know how amazing it is by experiencing it for yourself. I would recommend you stay for as long as possible, we have done 2 weeks and it is nowhere near long enough. Askari definitely gets under your skin and I would love to return in the future.

Sumayah Rahman – USA……click here

I volunteered at Askari for 3 months and it is easily the most amazing experience of my life, and one that I will never forget. 29th Dec - Lions (24) Ed and Katie, the staff, are two of the most incredible people I have ever met. Not only are they great teachers, eager to impart their knowledge of the bush, but they are incredibly nice and caring people, and they made me feel comfortable at all times even in new environments. Everyone at Askari is so friendly and all the volunteer work and duties around the house really make us (the volunteers) feel like a team. Experiencing the wildlife here on Pidwa was amazing and it means even more to me now that I have made a contribution to the conservation work being done. I’ve also enjoyed the dinners out, and the many game nights, sleep outs and parties at Askari. Here at Askari, we work hard and play hard. I am really happy and grateful for my wonderful times at Askari.

Liz McBriar – England….click here

lizIf you’re fascinated by wild animals and Africa, want to learn about life in the bush and want a hands on adventure, don’t hesitate, book to stay Askari. If you want to pet lions and have a relaxing vacation however, this is not the place for you! As impressive as the reserve itself is, it’s the knowledge, passion and friendliness of Katie and Ed (the program managers) who really make Askari what it is. I have rarely met such inspiring people and they made my stay memorable in so many ways. I cannot praise them both highly enough. Be prepared to get stuck in and to deal with the bugs (especially in the summer months) – this is a true volunteer project which depends on everyone participating. I’m scared of everything – bugs, elephants, even long grass – but I survived 4 months at Askari, made some great new friends and have many memories I’ll cherish forever. Everything Katie tells you in the pre-visit emails is accurate. The house is spacious and is kept to a good standard by Maria and Lindiwe – your housekeepers. Don’t expect 5 star luxury but do expect a true African bush experience and the opportunity to participate in activities only a privileged few do. Askari really is an outstanding volunteering project. Believe the reviews!

Mathias Weigand – Germany….click here

Slide3My girlfriend brought me to Askari after she had been here 3 years ago. Back then she fell in love with Askari and now it happened to me as well after 3 weeks. The reserve has a stunning nature and we had our accommodation in the middle of it. Katie and Ed are amazing and you can tell that they love their work. They involved us in so many different conservation activities that every day was unique and exciting for us. Thank you very much to both of them for the fantastic time.

Martin Borchers – USA….click here

blogAskari is a place that everyone can enjoy, from someone who has seen it all, to someone who is completely new to the scene. If you can only stay for 2 weeks then do so, but I recommend a month or longer. And even staying here for two months there is so much left for me to see. And the orientation passes you into doing everything that we need to do on a reserve. I would recommend Askari to anyone who asks.

James Montgomery – England….click here

Slide2I have always been interested in conservation, wildlife and travelling, but I had never found the right programme or opportunity to explore all three together. Askari provided this opportunity, and has helped transform what was a curiosity into a full-realised passion. The programme is educational, fascinating and – above all – fun! Askari will appeal to many because it offers a rare chance to see wild animals up close and personal and while stumbling across a lioness feeding or watching hyaena cubs play is a truly memorable experience, the most lasting effect of the programme is the importance and need for conservation and wildlife management in this day and age. You will leave the programme not only passionate about the African bush, but with a new-found desire to encourage conservation and getting involved with protecting the natural environment in your corner of the world too. You will meet people from all walks of life. The programme will challenge and inspire you, and you will leave Askari with new friends, far too many photos and an enthusiasm for birding that you never thought humanely possible. Finally, Katie and Ed, who run the Askari programme, deserve the highest possible praise. Their knowledge and passion for the African bush is unmatched and infectious. There’s a reason Askari is so highly regarded – take the trip of a lifetime and find out why.

Boram Noh – South Korea….click here

Slide1I want to remember this time forever. I don’t want to leave here. Every moment was useful and fun. I learned how to love nature, I learned many things from the nature. Thank you Ed & Katie and Askari, I’m going to come back. I’m very proud of me because I chose Askari.

Janan Kothari – Belgium….click here

It’s difficult to describe everything I’ve experienced in the past month, so I’m just going to say that it has been the best trip I’ve ever had. Katie and Ed have been extremely helpful and their enthusiasm is contagious. They answered all my questions and taught me a lot about trees, alien plants, animals and birds. At the start of my trip, I wasn’t a fan of birds, but thanks to them I have a new found appreciation for birds and ended my trip with a bird count of 112. I’ve made a lot of new friends and enjoyed being a part of such a hard working team. The accommodation was homey and comfortable and the activities we undertook like fence clearing and tree protection were demanding but the progress and results were physically evident. I could see the difference our work made. I’ve enjoyed my time so much, I’m already trying to plan my next trip back.

Blaz Blazic – Slovenia….click here

blazMy time at Askari was a life-time experience. All the activities we had were really enjoyable. Some of them were unique like river walk and sleep out for example. The Askari staff was also great. They were really helpful, welcoming, knowledgeable and always provided me with an information that I needed. I learned so many new things during my two weeks stay and I think that my knowledge has really grown a lot. I would recommend the Askari conservation programme to those who are interested in wildlife, nature and it’s conservation, because it’s really a pure and unique experience.

Alice Clark – Scotland….click here

aliceIf you’re interested in studying animal, a career in nature conservation or just fancy taking a break from your day to day life to see what all the fuss is about – Askari is for you. At Askari you learn first hand why conservation is so important in this day and age. Every day is new and exciting – some days we would plan to go fence painting and end up tracking down a lion and its kill! Most nights you can count on lions roaring and elephants walking nearby to be your natural alarm clock! There is no shortage of wildlife here, but rather than sitting idly by, you get to see what really happens behind the scenes of a safari. No experience has ever been more eye-opening for me than this past month. I would do it again in a heartbeat. For me it absolutely confirmed that I wasn’t to pursue this as a career – perhaps it could so the same for you. Nobody wants to leave Askari because we have built life long friendships and accomplished so much to be proud of. If you come to Askari I can promise you one thing: it will be the trip of a lifetime.

Sarah Cleave – England….click here

sarahIt was a privilege to be part of the team (even for a short time). Everyone was very friendly, welcoming and helpful. I learnt a lot and made some good friends.

Peter Slatinsek – Slovenia….click here

peterThe 2 week stay at Askari was everything I hoped it to be. Seeing different mammals in their natural environment was breathtaking. Being one of the volunteers and helping out at the conservation program was one of the best experiences in my life.

Jenny Milson – Canada…click here

jennyThe Askari program is an excellent way to learn about the South African wilderness while helping to ensure its conservation. I had an amazing experience.

Nadia Skokun – Canada… here

nadiaMy 4 week stay at Askari was the most amazing time of my life. Learning about South Africa along with doing activities that will help towards conservation was an absolutely amazing experience. Thank you Ed and Katie for being amazing leaders and teachers. You guys have the most amazing job ever! You even made me fall in love with birds

Monique Steenwinkel – The Netherlands….click here

Slide5My time here at Askari has been amazing! It’s unbelievable how much you can learn in 4 weeks. The long days, hard work, the staff, the other volunteers and all the wild animals – this all made it a lifetime experience. I will miss the lions roaring at night, the dogs waiting at the gate, the bird sounds, the good food, counting herbivores and doing my duties. I really hope I will be back one day.

Samantha Purton – England… here

There is one word I’d use to describe my time at Askari: unforgettable. I’ve enjoyed every moment – from sensitive tree protection to road maintenance to prickly pears to walking Safiya. But my favourite part has definitely got to be seeing the animals in their natural habitat, it’s indescribable. I’ve learnt so much over the past 2 weeks and have acquired knowledge that will benefit me not just throughout uni but also throughout life. I’ve always wanted to come to Africa and I’m eternally grateful to Askari for making that dream a reality and for making my stay so amazing. I would definitely recommend Askari to anyone who loves wildlife and having fun at Askari you really feel like you are part of something and that your work there is vital and really makes a difference. Thank you Askari for such a breath taking experience that I will never forget and will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Tamara Van der sluis – The Netherlands… here

Presentation1 I’m really glad that I found my way back to Askari! And Ed you did a really good job for your first month, I enjoyed your work. Thanks for everything, it was amazing.

Marcel Nieuwenhuis – The Netherlands… here

Slide3Askari offers a great chance to work in the nature and the reserve shows you how wilderness should be. It really opens your eyes and is a great learning moment.

Marie Vincendon-McQuade – France… here

It was an amazing experience which I would strongly recommend. Katie and Ed are genuinely nature lovers and know how to share their passion with you. Everything is well organised and you feel safe even so close to wild animals. I would love to take my inner city pupils here, there is so much to discover! Thank you Katie and Ed for making this stay exceptional.

Sophie Papp – Canada….click here

Slide2My stay here was absolutely amazing. I’m going to miss everyone here and am already wanting to come back. Thank you so much. Good job on the birds and tree knowledge.

Mandy Li – Australia… here

Slide1Askari is the best place on EARTH! This has been the best 4 weeks ever! Katie, Ed and Joe were amazing.

Brown hyaena local to Askari

Since its start in 2011, ‘Project Impisi’ has been an amazing success. Following translocation from farm land, 4 of our 5 brown hyaenas were recorded to survive, establish and reproduce here on Pidwa. 3 years further on and we have confirmed 3 sets of cubs. As their population grows, the hyaenas are starting to spread further afield and cover new areas of the reserve in order to meet their needs.

This is why we were so excited by our most recent findings on a bush walk close to the house, here at Askari this week. We have been seeing hyaenaSlide3 tracks fairly regularly – yet even the trained eye will struggle to tell the difference between those belonging to a brown and those from a spotted hyaena. Hopeful that they belonged to one of our browns, further confirmation came with the discovery of not 1, not 2 but 3 fresh anal pastings!
Slide1The anal paste smells about as bad as you might imagine a substance would when secreted from the anal gland of a hyaena! It is a form of scent-marking that can be found on grass stalks around two thirds of the way up (perfect nose height for a hyaena!). Not only does it communicate information to fellow clan members but also to those of rival clans. The bottom mark is initially white which turns caramel and then brown over time. It is long lasting and presumed to be territorial warning intruders (hyaneas from other clans) that they are trespassing. The top mark is a message to fellow clan members to say that the area has been foraged recently and to move on somewhere else; it is brown in colour and lasts only a few days.

A little further on in our walk and we came across a hyaena scat, right next to an old wildebeest carcass which has been completely cleared. The Slide2scat is easily characterised by the shape, content, and size. The green-creamy colour seen here indicates the freshness of the scat.
It’s exciting to think that a brown hyaena may be establishing its home range right here around the Askari house.

In the coming weeks we will place camera traps to try and catch a glimpse of the hyaena and work out if it is one of our original adults or a young one moving into the area. We will keep you posted but in the meantime these photos come from a camera trap set at the den of our second pair of adults who are busy rearing 2 cubs.

Kensi van Rijswijk – The Netherlands……click here

Askari is so much more than just a volunteer project or a holiday. It is an eye opener, a once in a lifetime opportunity. The whole experience of working in the bush and helping out is amazing! And the people who really make it special are Katie, Joe and Ed, without them Askari wouldn’t be the same. Thank you.

Annie Fletcher – Australia….click here

annieI had the experience of a lifetime during my month as Askari. We were lucky enough to participate in a range of exciting and worthwhile activities during our stay including a Sable darting and receiving a delivery of zebra and buffalo! The volunteer house and food were amazing, as were Katie and Joe who were the most knowledgeable, fun and patient guides ever! I highly recommend this programme to anyone who wants to learn about and contribute to wilderness conservation in South Africa.

Jake Grifith – England (2nd stay)… here

Slide1Things change every day in the bush, and certainly there are some big changes underway at Askari right now, but the constant is an outstanding passion for wildlife and conservation shown by Joe and Katie. Perhaps more importantly their personal excitement is accompanied by an ability to instill a certain degree of passion into every one of the volunteers here and this I think is what makes Askari truly special. There is not a single thing that I would change about the activities or the lifestyle, no day here us the same and that is the magic of the place. Last time I came ot Askari I felt 2 weeks wasn’t enough, well now I fell like a month isn’t enough. IT is only now that I am coming to the end of my time here that I can begin to understand how much I am going to miss this place. In part this is down to the ever-changing nature of the bush and a personal love of wildlife, but mostly it is testament to the ability of Joe and Katie and all of the staff here to make you feel at home. There is nothing else to say but thank you for an amazing month and I hope I can make it back here as soon as possible.

Greg Sollis – Australia….click here

Slide3Askari is in the enviable position of being a large scale conservation reserve with a secure, foreseeably long-term backing. As such, throughout the entire volunteer experience all efforts were able to be focused on important conservation work without any distractions or conditions. It is clear that the Askari programme has been running for a long enough time that it has managed to evolve through several iterations into the well-structured, highly organised experience it is today. All activities have a specific purpose, they are each an authentic insight into the workings of a reserve, giving the volunteers a feeling of belonging and contribution, and everything is cleverly tied back to the obvious goal of the reserve: conserving South Africa’s native wildlife. The passion of the Askari and Pidwa staff is obvious and infectious. There is a constant warm, welcoming felling in the house, and every effort by the staff has been made to ensure the comfort and enjoyment for each volunteer. It will certainly be difficult to say goodbye.

Claire Godfrey – Scotland……click here

Slide2This was my first time at Askari and before I arrived I wondered if my 4 week stay would be a bit too long. We are now in the last morning waiting to leave to the airport and honestly I feel like I could stay here forever. I came to Askari with little to no knowledge about the bush and I am leaving with a wealth of knowledge and a passion to spread it. In my 4 weeks here I feel like we have all become a family and I will never forget each and every person at Askari. I will most definitely be back – but next time for a lot longer – prepare yourselves!

Neil Cowper – Scotland… here

Slide2Never want to leave

Merric Fletcher – Australia… here

Slide1Staying 4 weeks at Askari was the best experience I’ve had on holidays. The program was amazing and I had so much fun while learning so much. The staff are fantastic and so welcoming. I would definitely come back, 4 weeks was barely enough.

Rosalie Hayes – England (2nd stay)… here

Lots of people questioned me when I said I was not only going back to SA, but returning to the same project. I’d left a few months earlier. But for me it was an easy decision to make, and I’m so glad I could spend another month here. Askari is a very special programme and stands head and shoulders above its competitors. It manages to strike the perfect balance between truly looking after its volunteers and helping them to understand the bush and experience magical sightings, and entrusting the volunteers with genuine responsibilities that actually do make a difference to the conservation of the reserve. As a volunteer, you see first hand how the actions of humans can help to return land back to its natural wilderness, and you learn so much about the animals, birds and plants of the South African bushveld along the way. On top of that, Katie and Joe are simply brilliant at what they do, and make every day at Askari one to remember. thank you for everything.

Victoria Hartley-Cox – Canada… here

As a first time traveller I was nervous at first, being so far from home and not knowing anyone. But from the moment I stepped off the plane I was welcomed. Askari felt like a little bit of home in the middle of the African bush.

Bradley Reynolds – Australia… here

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Askari for many different reasons. The managers Katie & Joe are very down to earth and keep everything you do light hearted and fun. the activities you do are hands on and you do feel like you are making a contribution to the reserve. Lastly, you can’t beat life out in the African bush where anything from elephants browsing outside the house to a pack of lions disrupting your activities can happen. It’s well worth the trip.

Elizabeth Lee – South Korea… here

There is no place I would have rather gone for my gap semester. Every aspect of the program was very systematic and well-planned. It was very apparent that all experience and feedback from past volunteers were seriously considered and incorporated into the program. The conservation activities were very fulfilling. The detailed processes and objectives of all activities were thoroughly explained to volunteers beforehand by managers who are more than over qualified. The Askari Wilderness Conservation programme will surely fulfil (and most likely exceed) anyone’s expectations of conservation projects.

Natalie Durant – England… here

Slide6I feel so lucky to have found and spent a month at Askari.  Having never volunteered (or even been to Africa!) I was nervous but Katie, Joe and previous volunteers immediately made me feel comfortable.  Learning about the reserve conservation projects and general safety in our orientation week really helped me to see how our efforts as volunteers were valuable and made a difference for the vegetation and wildlife on the reserve.  There was a fantastic mix of volunteers from many different backgrounds, countries and all at different stages in their lives.  I learnt a lot from all of them, made some great friends and had so much fun along the way.  The house was really comfortable with nice bedrooms, bathrooms, (with hot water horray), a good kitchen (always lots of food and snacks) and there were always things to do at the weekends or in our breaks such as hanging out in the pool, the volleyball court, darts, and I loved being able to go for runs too.

The work involved a diverse set of activities from tree protection, herbivore drives and sable monitoring to helping with the vet visit.  Each day brought new exciting sightings and we weren’t hidden from what was really happening on the reserve.  The organisation of the programme was fantastic and made sure it ran smoothly each day.  I learnt so much in just a month and didn’t expect to fall in love with Africa quite so quickly but I am now counting down the days until I can go back again!  I cannot thank all the staff at Askari and Pidwa enough for sharing all their knowledge, their dedication and all of the fantastic braai’s, sleep outs and leaving parties.

1 2 3 4 5 7 8