Best places to see Africa’s elephants
Capable of living in any habitat with a plentiful supply of food and water, the elephant is native to 37 African countries. Although most of their range is in protected land, habitat loss and poaching pose long term threats, and with numbers currently around 415,000 the species is on the endangered list. For the time being though, there are some wonderful opportunities throughout Southern and East Africa to spend time watching these magnificent animals.
Kenya offers some particularly good options for interesting viewing.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Many Aardvark Safaris’ clients passing through Nairobi will visit the elephant orphanage founded by Daphne, David’s widow. Daphne died in 2018 but her tremendous work carries on, and the orphanage, whose aim is to release elephants back into the wild, is just one of the projects run by the trust which also supports anti-poaching units, mobile vets, habitat rescue, conservation initiatives and community outreach. If you foster an elephant (approximately £35) you can visit by appointment at 5pm when the elephants return to the stockades for the night.
Samburu National Park
With the headquarters for Save the Elephants in the park, researchers are with elephants most of the day, and they have become familiar with vehicles. As a result, guests can experience an amazing encounter with these impressive animals which tend to be found here in big breeding herds. Elephant Watch Camp, run by the Douglas-Hamiltons, including Iain whose life’s work has been around elephants and their conservation, and Saba, TV star of the BBC’s This Wild Life and a well-respected conservationist in her own right, is a great spot. When the acacia trees fruit after the rain you don’t even need to leave your room to spot elephant as they wander through camp picking the fallen delicacies.
A more recent addition to Kenya’s elephant conservation programmes is Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the remote Mathews Mountains in Kenya’s Northern Province. Opened in 2016 the sanctuary rescues orphaned and abandoned elephant calves whilst creating much needed benefits to the local people that live alongside them. All the keepers are from the local community and they have perfected the skill of returning lost calves back to their family herds. It’s a wonderful place to visit and easily accessible from camps such as Sarara and Reteti House.
Lesser known perhaps is Tarangire National Park which, with good year round water, attracts elephant in the dry season from across the Masai Steppe and as far afield as Amboseli in Kenya, some 100 miles away. They congregate in the acacia woodlands surrounding the extensive swamps along the course of the Tarangire River, taking advantage of the good sources of food and water on offer. Once the rains begin in November, their need for space and fresh food supplies drives them to leave the park and dissipate across the Masai Steppe once more. Oliver’s Camp and Kuro Tarangire are both near to the watercourse and as such provide excellent elephant viewing.
ZIMBABWE AND BOTSWANA
The elephant population in Zimbabwe and northern Botswana is one of the largest anywhere, numbering more than 100,000, and there is a gentle migration between the arid Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and the Chobe River in Botswana. It’s a gradual drift of animals rather than a mass migration, with bulls always on the move and family groups searching for food and water when the land dries out.
Somalisa Camp in Hwange is famous for the elephants that come to drink from its dedicated ‘elephant swimming pool’, and Chobe Under Canvas in Botswana is a great base from those hoping to see elephants in Botswana. Other interesting spots are Goliath Safaris in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools where individual elephant are so well known to the guiding team encounters can be heart thumpingly close.
There are plenty of elephant in South Africa, with good opportunities to see them in the Kruger National Park, the surrounding private reserves, and Madkiwe Game Reserve in particular. If you are keen for a real hands-on experience, then Phinda Private Game Reserve’s elephant conservation experience is something to consider. Depending on which research activity is available at the time of your stay, you will have the opportunity to participate in either an elephant contraception (not to reduce numbers but to help manage population growth to an appropriate level) or elephant collaring which assists in monitoring and tracking movements.
Despite their need for a plentiful supply of water, elephant have adapted to life in the intense heat and low rainfall of Namibia’s vast Namib Desert. Aptly named desert elephant these hardy beasts walk huge distances in search of seasonal rivers, browsing on sparse vegetation as they go. It’s possible to track these rare elephants at Onduli Ridge, Hoanib Valley Camp and Damaraland Camp.
We would be delighted to help with planning your a safari holiday to include the best places to see Africa’s elephants. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean and can offer expert advice. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.