The African elephant is a true continental icon and embodies the spirit of Africa’s last, truly wild places. And, perhaps more than any other animal, it is incredible to behold in its natural habitat.
So, where is it best in Africa to view this most noble of creatures? If “ellies” are what you want more than anything else, where’s the place to go? There are several elephant hot-spots in Africa, so let’s take a look at some of the best:
- Botswana: This land-locked neighbour of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe is renowned the world over as “elephant central” because of one park in particular – which curiously is reputed to have “too many” elephants – Chobe.
With the river after which it is named as its northern border, Chobe covers a huge area of more than 11,000 square kilometres spreading to the edge of the Okavango Delta, the Moremi game reserve and Savute channel. The park boasts in excess of 120,000 elephants - one of the densest populations left in Africa.
The Okavango Delta itself is another elephant hot spot, with huge breeding herds covering its 16,000 square kilometres during the annual floods which take place in April/May each year. This network of channels and lagoons dotted with palm-covered islands is often likened to paradise and is perhaps one of the best big game destinations in Africa.
- Kenya: If you think of elephants in Kenya, the image that instantly springs to mind is of huge tuskers on vast grassy plains with the majestic snows of Kilimanjaro towering over them. All of which equates to one place – Amboseli National Park.
Although only small in size (around 400 sq km) the park is bordered by vast Maasai grazing lands spreading east to the Chiyulu hills and Tsavo National Park beyond them. With no fences preventing movement, Amboseli’s elephants have free range through this vast corridor, moving from water source to water source.
They are always present in Amboseli due to two springs located in the heart of the park which are fed by the icy melt waters of Kilimanjaro and give rise to a perpetually rich and green oasis in the middle of the otherwise parched and dusty plains. This is where to go if you want to see some of the last great tuskers left in Africa – there are some truly magnificent bulls still proudly roaming this region.
- South Africa: The elephant capital of South Africa is undoubtedly the Kruger National Park. With almost 2-million hectares, there is absolutely no way to ever get tired of the legend that is the Kruger Park.
Run by South African National Parks, with accommodation options to suit all budgets, from campsites to luxury 5-star lodges, this is where the bulk of South Africa’s elephant population is to be found. Whether it’s in the lusher, greener southern part of the park, the mopane woodlands of the middle section or rocky outcrops of the far north, there is never a shortage of elephants in this park.
Whether it’s huge breeding herds or small bachelor groups, elephant spotting in the Kruger Park is largely easy, thanks to permanent water sources and the well-maintained camp network which keeps a record of all sightings.
Another great South African destination for elephant lovers is the Addo Elephant National Park in the eastern cape region. It’s now the third largest national park in SA and a tribute to conservation efforts - having been reduced to a mere 16 elephants in 1931 it now boasts more than 550 today.
- Zambia: The Lower Zambezi valley is perhaps one of the best places in Southern Africa when it comes to elephant spotting. And certainly one of the most beautiful! Home of the Lower Zambezi National Park and the ground-breaking Chiawa Partnership Park which borders it, the Zambezi river itself is central to all things elephant.
Huge breeding herds regularly go to the river to drink, and often cross over to neighbouring Zimbabwe, literally across the river, and the Mana Pools National Park. In addition, you frequently find herds, lone bulls and bachelor groups on the lush islands in the middle of the river, which in places is more than a kilometer wide here.
Add to this the network of channels and smaller rivers and backwaters, like the Chongwe, which feed the Zambezi, and you’ll sometimes get the feeling that there are literally elephants everywhere! A true elephant paradise on earth!