Elephants are without doubt one of the most interesting species to watch on safari. Family herds are dominated by a matriarch and their social interactions can easily be seen (and heard) as they move their huge grey frames quietly and gracefully through the bush. Whilst they can be seen throughout the safari regions of Africa, the following areas should be considered if you wish elephants to be your focus:
Chobe National Park, Botswana – The Chobe should be on top of your list if you are an elephant lover. It has one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Africa and the size of the herds are some of the largest you’ll come across, especially in the dry season (June-October). The Chobe River frontage and Savuti regions are key areas within the park. The Chobe River section is also well known for sightings of elephants swimming. (for those who are looking for more personal contact with elephant, you might also consider Abu Camp or the Grey Matters experience within the Okavango Delta.)
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe – Located in the south-west of Zimbabwe and with easy access from Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park is the country’s largest park. It is particularly well known for having one of the largest elephant populations in the world, with estimates ranging from thirty to forty thousand and possibly upwards. At the end of the dry season (September and October) these numbers increase as elephants roam in from Botswana in search for water. This water is managed through a series of pumped boreholes which can cause serious elephant overcrowding. Amboseli National Park, Kenya – Set under towering Mt. Kilimanjaro, Amboseli has been famous for elephants ever since it was gazetted a National Park in 1974. Elephant research has been carried out here for many years, most famously by Cynthia Moss, so most of the herds are well known and documented. With spectacular views of the mountain in the background, a sighting of a large herd is breath-taking.
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania – Tarangire is often unfairly overlooked by the package safaris doing the ‘northern circuit’ in Tanzania. This is especially the case during the dry season when it is full to the brim with elephants that rely on the waters of the Tarangire River and the swamp area for their daily consumption. Large herds are common. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania – Ruaha offers fantastic general game viewing, varied landscapes and low visitor numbers, a combination that is increasingly more difficult to find these days. Elephants are abundant and they are common visitors to many of the unfenced camps. In the dry season when the wildlife is forced to gather around the water sources, the elephants are frequently seen along the sand rivers digging for water and opening up waterholes for other species.
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe – Mana Pools is a beautiful area in northern Zimbabwe, on the southern banks of the great Zambezi River. The old floodplains are wooded with acacia and mahogany trees and they teem with wildlife. The park is well known for elephants balancing on their hind legs and reaching up into the albida trees in search of tasty pods. Mana is also well known for having fairly relaxed bull elephants that, with the right specialist guide, can be approached on foot.
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana – Located in eastern Botswana, in the wedge historically known as the Tuli enclave, Mashatu is the largest privately owned game reserve in southern Africa. The beautiful varied terrain is home to over 600 elephant, the largest population on private land in the world. Visit the underground ‘elephant-proof’ photographic hide based at a waterhole which allows up close wildlife viewing from a ground level perspective. Luangwa Valley, Zambia – The Luangwa Valley forms the southern end of the Great Rift Valley is one of our favourite safari destinations. It is traditionally home of the walking safari and the wildlife viewing is some of the finest in Africa. The Luangwa River, the lifeline during the dry season from May to October, draws in large numbers of elephant and other the wildlife from the surrounding area.
Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya – The rugged Samburu, lying on the edge of Kenya’s northern frontier, is an ideal area to see elephants as they are drawn to the waters of the Ewaso Ngiro River. The other big game is impressive too, with lion, leopard, and cheetah commonly seen alongside species more adapted to this drier habitat – Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, oryx and the reticulated giraffe.
Katavi National Park, Tanzania – Katavi is a remote national park located in south-western Tanzania, a wild and isolated area outside of the mainstream tourist destinations. With limited access, Katavi allows for a fantastic game viewing experience, away from the crowds. During the dry season, large numbers of elephant can be spotted drinking and cooling off in the Katuma River and surrounding floodplains.
Linyanti Region, Botswana – To the north of the Okavango Delta and the west of Chobe National Park, the Linyanti Region is a game rich, unspoilt region of Botswana. Made up of three private concessions and the Chobe Enclave, it is often less crowded than the national parks. Although also well known for excellent wild dog sightings, elephants are superb in this region, particularly in the dry season when they are reliant on the Kwando and Linyanti river systems.
Liwonde National Park, Malawi – Malawi is not usually considered a top-class game viewing destination but for a gentle safari option, Liwonde offers good elephant and hippo viewing alongside its impressive list of bird species. South of Lake Malawi, on the banks of the Shire River, the small park packs a punch. Most game viewing takes place along the riverine woodland.