You should have no problem spotting elephants in most of Africa's major national parks, but some places are definitely better than others for sheer numbers. If you only visit Botswana on safari you may be hard-pressed to understand that elephants are dwindling in numbers at a very rapid rate. Here are the top National Parks and Conservancies where you have an excellent chance of seeing large herds of elephant, one of Africa's "Big Five." Also discover where you can interact with elephants in a relatively "natural" way, for that special one-on-one experience.
Chobe National Park in the northwest region of Botswana is renowned for its very high density of elephants. They swim across the Chobe River at sunset, prod their little ones forward on a march through the dry landscape, and casually strip bark from whatever trees they had not yet destroyed. The adjacent wildlife areas: Savute and Linyanti are also high-density regions for elephant. During the dry season, in particular, elephants come to visit from neighboring Zimbabwe and Namibia. Many lodges and camps in this area overlook rivers, channels or waterholes and you'll likely see elephants coming to drink or cool themselves down right from camp. Enjoy Savute Safari Lodge during the dry season, where a dinner is accompanied by dozens of elephant just feet away.
Located in the south of Kenya, Amboseli lies on the Tanzanian border, in the shadows of Mount Kilimanjaro. Amboseli attracts visitors primarily because of its huge herds of elephant. But the park is also home to many predators like lion, cheetah, and leopard. A natural swamp, fed by the melting snows of Kilimanjaro makes it attractive for elephants to stay in this area year round. It also attracts the older males with huge tusks, that need to feed on softer grasses as their teeth wear down. This is where world-renowned conservationist Cynthia Moss runs her highly regarded Amboseli Trust for Elephants.
The Okavango river cuts through the center of Botswana's Kalahari Desert, creating a unique inland water system that gives life to a huge variety of birds and mammals, including large herds of elephant. Most of the land-based camps in the area offer excellent elephant sightings. If you want a truly special elephant experience you should head to either Abu Camp in the Jao concession or one of the two Sanctuary camps (Baines or Stanley's) for the unparalleled "living with elephants experience." Here you will get to meet habituated elephants where you can touch, smell and physically interact with these beautiful animals while learning all about them.
With a population of around 7,000 elephants, in the Serengeti/Mara ecosystem, the Serengeti is a good bet for elephant enthusiasts. The number of elephants has greatly increased in the past decade, but a worrying trend of increased poaching in the past two years has conservationists on edge. An easy add-on for more elephant viewing in the area is the Ngorongoro Crater, where the steep slopes into the crater offer the best mud-slide fun an elephant can have!
The concentration of elephant around the Zambezi River is impressive and there's nowhere better to enjoy them than in the Lower Zambezi National Park. Many of the camps and lodges located on the banks of the river afford guests wonderful opportunities to see large herds of elephant at play, right from their rooms, canoes, fishing boats, and communal camp areas.
South Luangwa is also a stellar place to view elephants along the riverfront and in the bush.
There is a very healthy population of elephants in the Greater Kruger area, more than 10,000 individuals call it home. You can see elephants in the national park, as well as the private concessions bordering the National Park, they include Sabi Sand Reserve, Manyaleti, and Timbavati.
Close Encounters With Elephants
Elephants are such incredible, intelligent, gentle, and communicative animals, they have inspired enormous respect and trust among those who have taken care of them. There are many elephant orphans that have needed rescuing as a direct result of poaching. Some of these rescued elephants and their dedicated caretakers allow lucky guests to truly get close and personal with the elephants. It's a very special experience.
Here are some highly recommended experiences for elephant-lovers: Abu Camp, and Walking with Elephants Sanctuary, both in Botswana; Elephant Whispers, and Camp Jabulani, in South Africa; and Dame Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya.