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Where to see Elephants in Africa?

One of the greatest pleasures on any safari must be sitting quietly in the presence of Elephants. These iconic giants of the savanna and forests are so gentle and deliberate in their movements that one cannot help but be humbled by the privilege of spending time with them. There is no doubting that their intelligence, emotional range and beauty sets them apart as a particularly special sighting on safari.


Sadly, Elephants are under threat across Africa. As a result of poor management of wildlife areas and growing global demand for ivory products, poaching has increased to unprecedented levels in recent years - and this has extended far closer to the heartlands of the safari industry than many think. In just eight years between 2007 and 2014, the mighty Selous Game Reserve, once home to perhaps the best Elephant viewing on the continent, lost 55,000 Elephants - a barely comprehensible number. Political instability has seen this pattern repeated in other destinations, including Gabon, Chad and the Central African Republic. Make no mistake, both Forest and Bush Elephants are in trouble in Africa.


There is, however, always hope, and excellent work over the past few decades has secured and bolstered numerous Elephant populations. We at Pictus Safaris believe that this management should be rewarded with an influx of ecotourism and, so, we have compiled our 'Top Ten' destinations for viewing wild Elephants in Africa. Take a look, and let us know where is next on your list!



10. Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe


Elephant Population: c.8,200


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 1.43 sq/km


Overview: Here at Pictus Safaris, we can't say enough nice things about Mana Pools. An incredibly beautiful national park with views across the mighty Zambezi to its eponymous escarpment, we'd recommend a visit even were there no wildlife here. But, as luck would have it, this national park can also boast some impressive inhabitants, including African Wild Dog, Lion and Leopard. The stars of the show, though, are definitely the Elephants. There are Ellies throughout the park, with a good population on the floodplains, in the stunning 'Magic Forest' and into the drier interior at Chitake - sightings are essentially guaranteed and many of these animals are so habituated to walking safaris you can approach them on foot (please take a guide if you plan on doing this!).


Mana is even home to some celebrity Elephants, including the world-famous Boswell. As an older bull, Boswell has learnt to access the highest branches of trees to feed by standing on his hind legs - an impressive sight! He'll then break these branches and leave them on the ground once he's had his fill, allowing younger bulls, as well as cows and calves, to feed after him. This behaviour has been learnt by three or four bulls in the national park, and is one of the few parks where this behaviour is frequently observed.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a small-group 'Land of Lycaon' tour to northern Zimbabwe, including Mana Pools, in September 2022. This tour is available for just £3,495 per person sharing for 11 nights.


9. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania


Elephant Population: c.14,300


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 3.54 sq/km


Overview: The 'Southern Circuit' of Tanzania has seen more than its fair share of poaching in recent years, and the Elephant population has really suffered as a result. Whilst we would no longer recommend Selous Game Reserve for those looking for exceptional Elephant sightings, we would still strongly suggest a few days in the vast and remote Ruaha National Park. The sand rivers that snake through Ruaha are a great place for an afternoon's Elephant watching, as herds dig through the sand for a well-deserved drink. All this hard work is often hindered by the rambunctious and playful calves, who make for highly entertaining viewing! Given Ruaha is also home to excellent populations of Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and African Wild Dog, we think that this national park should be on every's Ellie enthusiast's bucket list.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris do not currently operate to the Southern Circuit in Tanzania, but would gladly recommend local and international operators on request. Just reach out by email to contact@pictus-safaris.com.




8. Amboseli National Park, Kenya


Elephant Population: c.1,650


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 3.35 sq/km


Overview: Amboseli is sometimes overlooked by visitors to Kenya, with many tourists focussing on the Masai Mara and its fabulous conservancies. However, this small national park punches well above its weight and, for those willing to make the journey, it has a huge amount to offer. Perhaps the centrepiece of Amboseli is 'the Marsh', a wetland area that attracts large herds of Elephants each dry season, making for exceptional viewing. Lucky visitors may even glimpse one of several big tuskers in the park. Sadly, Tim, the most famous of these tuskers, passed away in 2020, although others including Craig are still roaming the park.


The most iconic view in all of Africa is to be found in Amboseli, with Elephants browsing in the shadow of the mighty Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania. This view alone makes Amboseli a must-visit and this, coupled with high wildlife densities and a comparatively quiet road network, makes Amboseli the highlight of many visits to Africa.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a 'Migration and More' safari to southern Kenya in August 2022, taking in Tsavo, Amboseli and Masai Mara, with our visit timed to coincide with the incredible Great Migration. This special tour is available for just £2,995 per person sharing for seven nights.


7. Zakouma National Park, Chad


Elephant Population: c.550


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 5.82 sq/km


Overview: To paraphrase a famous quote, if you can only visit two national parks in your lifetime, visit Zakouma twice. This gem of a reserve in Central Africa is probably the most exciting safari destination on the continent, filled with game, rare species and incredible birdlife. This unlikely nirvana is also home to the largest single herd of Elephant on the African continent. Sadly, this unusual herding behaviour is a learnt response to extreme poaching pressures over the last few decades. However, the excellent stewardship of African Parks has relieved this pressure, and restored much of the ecosystem to its former glory. Lucky visitors are now able to see over 500 Elephants in a single herd, often with dozens of calves in tow. The Ellies are still, understandably, a little shy, but if you can get a good vantage point, this sight is unparalleled in the natural world.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running several 'Greatest Show on Earth' tours to Zakouma in March 2022, with an excellent chance of encountering this unique herd of Elephants. This incredible tour is available for just £2,995 per person sharing for nine nights.





6. Tsavo West & Tsavo East National Parks, Kenya


Elephant Population: c.11,100


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 3.73 sq/km


Overview: Another Kenyan wilderness area that is often overlooked, Tsavo West and Tsavo East are absolutely worth a visit. This huge ecosystem supports healthy populations of Leopard, Lion, Cheetah, African Wild Dog and much more - there's even the chance of the rare Hirola in Tsavo East. The highlight, though, has to be the numerous herds of Elephant roaming this ancient landscape. We recommend visiting only Tsavo West if you're pushed for time, with this park being much quieter than its eastern neighbour. The Elephants of this area are often a deep shade of red after bathing in the area's thick dust, giving them and their surrounds a beautiful and unusual hue.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a 'Migration and More' safari to southern Kenya in August 2022, taking in Tsavo, Amboseli and Masai Mara, with our visit timed to coincide with the incredible Great Migration. This special tour is available for just £2,995 per person sharing for seven nights.


5. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe


Elephant Population: c.45,850


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 0.33 sq/km


Overview: Hwange is absolutely stuffed full of Elephants. Nearly 50,000 of them to be exact. This is reflected in Hwange's landscape, with trees scattered across the savanna and waterholes never full for very long. With a density of over three elephants per square kilometre, it's no wonder that droughts take a severe toll on this population as competition for resources increases in the dry season. Despite these challenges, the population here is relatively stable and has to be seen to be believed. With Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and African Wild Dogs also encountered regularly, we cannot recommend a visit to Hwange highly enough.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a small-group 'Land of Lycaon' tour to northern Zimbabwe, including Hwange, in September 2022. This tour is available for just £3,495 per person sharing for 11 nights.





4. Etosha National Park, Namibia


Elephant Population: c.2,900


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 6.37 sq/km


Overview: Etosha has long been a staple of the safari circuit. Whilst it is fenced, and you're unlikely to have many sightings to yourself, this vast salt pan is definitely worth an extended visit. The pan is dotted with waterholes which attract wildlife en masse, including Lion, Brown Hyena and Cheetah. Elephants are often the stars though, descending on these water sources multiple times per day to sate their thirst. They are often coated in a thin layer of white dust, giving them a ghostly quality that makes for extraordinary photographs. If lucky, visitors may witness the Ellies running into the healthy prides of Lion that stake out these waterholes - good luck keeping track of the chaos that ensues!


We recommend the quieter western side of Etosha for prolonged sightings with Elephants. Several bulls frequent the Olifantsrus campsite - be sure to spend the night in the hide here for intimate sightings of Elephants and more.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will shortly be offering an excellent tour of Namibia in September 2022, taking in Etosha as well as the wilderness areas of Damaraland, Khaudum NP and Bwabwata NP. Contact us at contact@pictus-safaris.com to secure your place on the waitlist for this sensational trip.


3. Tarangire National Park, Tanzania


Elephant Population: c.4,100


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 4.00 sq/km


Overview: Whilst the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem just missed out on this list, there is no way we could omit Tarangire. A part of Tanzania's famous 'Northern Circuit', used by most tourists en route to witness the Great Migration in the Serengeti, Tarangire deserves more than a few days stay in its own right. With a surprising population of Lion and Leopard, what stands out most are the massive herds of Elephant that congregate here in the dry season. Drawn in by fresh water, the Tarangire vista filled with these pachyderms is quite remarkable. We recommend spending time in the quieter southern end of the park, where sightings are generally more relaxed and photographic opportunities can be better enjoyed.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris offers a 'Beyond the Serengeti' tour to Northern Tanzania in September 2022, available for just £4,395 for 11 nights, which will take in Tarangire as well as the Great Migration in the Serengeti. There is also an optional extension to Zanzibar available if desired.




2. Okavango Delta, Botswana


Elephant Population: c.130,000


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 0.76 sq/km


Overview: The Delta is synonymous with incredible wildlife, and Elephants are no exception. Poor management of wilderness areas in neighbouring countries have driven the population of Ellies in northern Botswana to unsustainably high levels, which makes a safari in this area an incredible experience. Our favourite areas for Elephant sightings are Chobe Waterfront, where densities are extremely high, the now-dry Savuti Marsh, and Khwai in Moremi Game Reserve. In Chobe, we recommend taking to the water by mokoro or boat to witness the Elephants swimming and grazing in the river. These gentle giants are surprisingly adept swimmers, although the calves don't always like getting out of their depth!


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris do not offer safaris to northern Botswana, due to the presence of numerous excellent local and international operators here. If you would like our recommendation for operators in this area, don't hesitate to reach out to us at contact@pictus-safaris.com.


1. Dzanga-Sangha National Park, Central African Republic


Elephant Population: c.630


Elephant Density: 1 elephant per 6.12 sq/km


Overview: So what could possibly beat the Okavango Delta? In our opinion, Dzanga-Sangha just beats out the Delta as the premier Elephant viewing location in Africa. Located in the far south-western corner of the Central African Republic, this densely forested area supports one of the largest remaining populations of Forest Elephants, a distinct species from those Bush Elephants commonly seen on the savanna. This species is smaller in build than their Savanna cousins, but no less beautiful. Finding them in dense forest is nigh-on impossible but, luckily, the forest is dotted with open areas known as 'bais', where minerals leech to the surface, attracting all manner of wildlife.


Dzanga Bai is perhaps the most famous of these areas, featured in numerous nature documentaries, and it is an incredible location. Forest Elephants arrive here in their dozens, flanked by Bongo, Sitatunga, Red River Hog and much more. Sitting and watching these gentle creatures feed and play in the depths of the jungle is a humbling and magical experience.


How to Get There: We do not currently operate to Dzanga-Sangha, but we recommend the excellent Sangha Lodge for any visits to Dzanga-Sangha.


Do you agree with our 'Top Ten' destinations for Elephant sightings? Where have your best sightings been? Where on our list would you love to go next? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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