I know I’m not the only one who has a deep-rooted affection for elephants. There’s nothing quite like an up-close encounter with an elephant! They are the moments that I remember most – my ultimate safari experiences. The size, the intelligence, the gracefulness, the playfulness, and the noiseless way they move through their surroundings – there are so many reasons as to why elephants are my favourite animals on safari. That is why, during this unusual period that we’re all going through, I thought I would share my top five elephant experiences during my seven years of travelling to Africa with Safari Consultants.
The waterholes in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe are an incredible hub of elephant activity in the dry season, with hundreds of elephants often gathering to drink. I once stayed at African Bush Camp’s Somalisa Expeditions Camp. After dinner we sat by what used to be the camp’s swimming pool (now very much the elephant’s waterhole) and in the dark night, lit only by the stars above, we were within touching distance of about twenty elephants taking a drink. We could hear every rumble, every tussle and every last drop drained by their trunks. It still gives me goosebumps to think about it now.
Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya, intersected by the Ewaso Nyiro River, is an excellent location for elephant sightings. The arid habitat means that the river is a lifeline. Julia and I spent an amazing morning on the banks of the river, watching hundreds of elephants crossing and coming towards us, with the end result being that we were surrounded by a big herd of very vocal elephants! The trumpeting, and the rumbles (all good natured) completely blew us away as we sat for nearly an hour just listening and watching.
SOUTH LUANGWA, ZAMBIA
I spent a night at the remote Three Rivers Camp in the less-visited southern sector of the South Luangwa National Park. The tents are certainly beautiful inside, but they also have a sleepout deck attached to the exterior of each tent so you can choose whether you want to sleep under canvas or under the night sky. I of course opted for the outside option (make the most of every opportunity!) and fell asleep under the stars. I soon woke to a lot of rustling going on around me. In the nocturnal stillness, every noise was amplified, so I moved as softly as I could to investigate what was going on underneath me where I found an elephant munching away on the branches directly below my deck. He had no idea I was there, so I got to watch him enjoy his midnight snack, completely unseen, and luckily the near full moon lit my whole experience. It wasn’t a good night’s sleep, but it was a memorable one.
THE SHELDRICK ELEPHANT ORPHANGE, KENYA
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, is an absolutely joyful place to visit for anyone, but especially if you love elephants. Not only is the work they do invaluable for conservation and the protection of elephants across Kenya, and well worth supporting, the experience of visiting is incredibly uplifting. If you choose to adopt an orphan you can witness their visible delight as they rush back to the stables for the night. Once they’re all home you then have an hour to spend with them and chat to their keepers, some of whom actually share the stable overnight with the elephants to keep them company. Each orphan has a strong and unique personality – we were thoroughly amused by a young male orphan who insisted on stealing branches from his next-door neighbour, despite having a perfectly good pile in his own stable. If you’re spending any time in Nairobi, it is well worth a visit.
Finding a beautiful herd of elephant in the middle of the barren desert landscape of Damaraland in Namibia was such a special experience. It doesn’t seem like a habitat that can support elephants, but they appeared as if from nowhere, padding through the desert. These desert-adapted elephant have developed smaller bodies, longer legs and broader feet due to the great distances they cover, mostly on sand, and scarcity of water in their surroundings. During our stay at Mowani Mountain camp, we watched a herd choose a remote village’s water source for their morning drink. This is a reality of human and wildlife living side by side – and the deep orange backdrop of the burning desert made it all the more special to see.
THE LIST COULD GO ON!
I’ve been so lucky to have all these experiences during my travels, and while these are some of my favourite memories, there are many other places I haven’t mentioned but are still amazing locations for elephant sightings.
Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, especially in the dry season. A huge number of elephants can be found gathering at the Tarangire River and browsing the swamps. Whilst the draw of the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti attracts the biggest number of tourists in Northern Tanzania, Tarangire is a real gem and extremely rewarding if you have time to include it in your itinerary.
Botswana in general is superb for elephants, but particularly Chobe National Park with huge numbers relying on the Chobe river during the dry season – boat cruises on the river can be particularly enjoyable. Personally, the experience of watching elephants splashing through the waterways of the Okavango Delta whilst sitting silently in a mokoro is one of my ultimate experiences in Africa. Mashatu Game Reserve in the Tuli Block is also a good place to see elephants with the added bonus of an underground photographic hide which allows you to view from eye level as elephants come to drink.
Amboseli National Park in Kenya is another great spot for elephants especially at the end of the dry season, with Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop.
The remote Mana Pools in Zimbabwe is home to a combination of some very experienced walking guides and some very relaxed bull elephants which can result in some exhilarating encounters. As well as this, the seedpods of the albida trees tempt the elephants to stretch up on their hind legs which makes for some perfect photographic opportunities.
Our article on Great Places to see Elephant should also offer some inspiration.