Intelligent, highly sociable and playful, elephants are among the most entertaining animals to observe for extended periods. They are also perhaps the most physically intimidating of living creatures, on account of their immense bulk, fierce trumpeting call and an unpredictable temperament. If you want to see nature's giant, these are the best places to go:
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Hwange ranks among the top national parks in Africa in terms of size, along with excellent viewing and accommodation facilities © Paula French, Shutterstock
Hwange National Park boasts the highest diversity of mammals of any national park in the world, including one of the largest elephant populations on Earth, which numbers anywhere between 20,000 and 75,000 in the peak dry season.
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
African elephants are an incredibly common sight in Ruaha National Park towards the end of the dry season © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Ruaha National Park has the largest elephant population of any Tanzanian national park, despite heavy poaching having reduced numbers within the Greater Ruaha ecosystem from around 70,000 in 1970 to 7,000 in 1990. Today, around 15,000 elephants are thought to migrate through the ecosystem, and sightings are as good as certain, especially in the late dry season, when hundreds of elephants congregate daily along the stretch of river between Ruaha River Camp and the Mwagusi confluence.
Loango National Park, Gabon
Elephants in Loango National Park © Beat Germann, Dreamstime
Gabon is not yet a mainstream destination and therefore is one of Africa’s best places to access wildlife. Loango National Park is the jewel in the crown of Gabon’s 13 parks and offers one of the world’s most exhilarating safari experiences, thanks to its irresistible combination of scenery and wildlife. Loango’s endless beach is one of the few places in the world where buffalo and forest elephants still have access to the sea. Most chances to see elephants wandering the white-sand beaches are during the rainy season from October to April.
The Chobe River, Botswana
Boat trips on the Chobe give visitors the chance to witness large family groups of elephants trooping down to the river to drink and bathe © Peek Creative Collective, Shutterstock
One of the main attractions of the boat trips on the Chobe River is the large family groups of elephants that troop down to the river to drink and bathe, affording spectacular viewing and photography. You’ll find these here at any time of day, but they’re especially common in the late afternoon, just before sunset.
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Mana Pools National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and regarded by locals as the finest wilderness area in the country © Shutterstock, EcoPrint
Mana Pools National Park is famous for its magnificent elephants that return year after year to the same places. Some of these ‘personalities’ are regular visitors to camps and provide guests with a real Jungle Book experience.
Majete Reserve, Malawi
This once-obscure reserve is now one of the country’s best wildlife-viewing areas © pigmy, Shutterstock
Gazetted in 1955 and neglected by almost everybody except poachers for its first half-century of existence, Majete Wildlife Reserve is in the midst of a dramatic and encouraging resurgence. In 2003, the non-profit African Parks Foundation took over the management of the reserve, and in 2017 they began one of the largest elephant relocations in history, with 500 creatures being brought to the reserve.
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
The park is best known for its year-round proliferation of elephants © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Although it doesn't have the same numbers of elephant as its southern counterpart, Ruaha, Tarangire National Park is also justifiably famous for the prolific elephant herds that congregate along the river during the dry season. In peak times, it is no exaggeration to say that you might see 500 elephants over the course of a day here.
The Kunene Region incorporates one of Africa’s last wildernesses © Namibia Tourism
Namibia’s least-inhabited area, stretching from the coastal desert plain in the northwest and rises slowly into a wild and rugged landscape. Here slow-growing trees cling to rocky mountains, while wild grass seeds wait dormant on the dust plains for showers of rain. It is also home to the famous desert elephants. Some naturalists have cited their apparently long legs and proven ability to withstand drought as evidence that they are actually a subspecies of the African elephant. Though this is not now thought to be the case, these remarkable animals are certainly adept at surviving in the driest of areas, using their amazing knowledge of the few water sources that do exist.
Udawalawe and Minneriya, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan elephants are significantly different from their African counterparts and are sometimes even regarded as a distinct subspecies © Pavelk, Shutterstock
Sri Lanka is an important stronghold for the world’s second-largest land mammal. Sri Lankan elephants, though appreciably smaller than their African counterparts, tend to be slightly larger and somewhat darker than those found on mainland Asia, and less than 5% of the population (mostly males) bear tusks, which reduces their vulnerability to ivory poaching. Elephants can be seen in most Sri Lankan national parks, with Udawalawe being the most reliable year-round destination, though it is outranked in the dry season by Minneriya, where several hundred individuals gather to drink every evening, with numbers usually peaking over August–September.
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