Wondering where you can see elephants in the wild? Discover where's best to spot elephants in national parks and rehabilitation sanctuaries around the world...
Botswana's famous Chobe National Park has the largest population of elephants in the whole of Africa. With an estimated population of between 120,000-130,000 in the country, a safari here is guaranteed to feature large numbers of these wonderful animals.
Sightings are best in the dry season (June-November), when the elephants line the banks of the river and regularly cross in search of fresh grazing. Probably the best way to view them is on a boating safari, as you can cruise up close and get fantastic photographs.
But it’s not only elephants you’ll see here; large herds of buffalo are present, alongside other herbivores, such as zebra, wildebeest and giraffe. Predator sightings are also common, with lion, leopard and wild dogs spotted on the plains.
The Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai Province makes for a pretty unique experience of elephants.
This elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre can be found 60km from the city and operates as a a sanctuary for dozens of distressed elephants who have been rescued from circuses or camps from across the country. Here the elephants are free to interact and roam in their natural surroundings as they would in the wild.
The park’s mission is to promote sustainable elephant-friendly tourism, and avisit here means not only can you contribute to the rescue work itdoes but also the chance to ‘roll up your sleeves’and take part in its volunteer programme too.
Prince Harry famously lent his efforts to the ‘500 Elephants’ initiative undertaken by African Parks in Malawi, in what has proved to one of the largest and most significant elephant translocations in human history.
Once a near-empty forest, the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve has come back to life with more than 520 elephants and 2,000 other animals moved from Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park to the reserve. It’s an incredible story and one that you can be a part of too, for when you pay a visit here not only will get the chance to see these animals frolicking in the wild but you know they’re there as a result of a great conservation effort.
Laos was once known as the ‘land of a million elephants.’ Sadly, that’s not the case today; deforestation, poaching and expanding urban areas means there’s now only an estimated 400 elephants left in the wild and 400 still in captivity. It’s thought, if the problems aren’t solved, Laos’ elephant population could disappear entirely in the coming decades.
Seeking to try and turn the tide is Sayaboury's Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC). The centre supports a handful of retired elephants that travellers can meet, as well as providing veterinary support and care for the animals and employment for the former Mahouts who worked with them.
Hwange National Park is something of a happy oddity; while many places in Africa have seen elephant populations dwindling, the opposite is happening in Hwange, which now has 45,000 elephants.
Currently, this population is doing stable and doing well, with a good working relationship between conservationists, the camps and lodges in the park and the local San population, which means the chances are high that the population will continue to thrive.
Game viewing in the park is impressive, particularly during the dry season (July to October), with large numbers of buffalo. Lions are also commonly seen and the park also has one of the largest populations of wild dog in Africa. There are over 100 species of mammals and over 400 birds in total recorded here. The majestic Victoria Falls is only a short drive away too.
Designated a tiger reserve in 1978, the Periyar National Park is one of South India's most popular reserves and is, oddly enough, best known for its elephants. Visitors to the park also have the chance to view barking deer, wild dogs, bison, sambar, mouse deer and the elusive Bengal tiger, as well as extensive bird and butterfly life.
Located in the steamy southern region of Kerala and close to the plantation town of Kumily, Periyar is rich in biodiversity and scenic charm, encompassing lakes, forests and mountains. One of the highlights of the park is to enjoy a boat trip on Periyar Lake, which also provides fantastic wildlife watching opportunities.
The Elephant Transit Home is an admirable initiative, sponsored by the Born Free Foundation, which sees baby elephants who are injured or orphaned in the wild brought into the centre, where they are cared for and rehabilitated in a natural setting. Once the elephants are old enough and strong enough, they are radio-collared and released into Udawalawe National Park in small groups.
You might also wish to take a jeep safari in Minneriya National Park - close to the famous Sigiriya Rock in central Sri Lanka - famous for its migratory herd of approximately 300 elephants, that 'gather' in the midst of the dry season (between August-September) around the Minneriya reservoir. Whilst exploring the park Sri Lankan junglefowl (the national bird of Sri Lanka) and small crocodiles can also be spotted.
Set within the Sundays River region of South Africa's Eastern Cape, around 70 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, the Addo Elephant National Park was set up to save the local elephants, whose populations were close to extinction. Only 11 were left in 1931, when the park was established. Today, there are more than 600 stomping in South Africa’s third largest national park, which covers a massive 1,640 square kilometres.
As well as elephants, the park is home to lions, leopards, black rhinos, spotted hyenas, buffaloes and zebras, which all can be spotted on jeep safaris, walking safaris and from horseback. It’s also possible to see ancient rock art in the surrounding area.
Malaysian Borneo has some of the world’s oldest rainforests, teeming with exotic flora and fauna, as well as canopy walkways and mysterious cave systems. But it’s the Kinabatangan River, Sabah's longest river, you’ll want to make your way to for a chance to spot wild pygmy elephants.
This bio-diverse environment is one of the best places to see these little elephants in the wild, as they live along and around the river, alongside orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques and monitor lizards.
The Kinabatangan River is accessible on foot on jungle walks or by river cruise, and the animals can often be seen walking in open areas or traversing the river. Pygmy elephant families can number up to 70 animals, so spotting them should be relatively easy.
During the rainy season, Katavi National Park in remote western Tanzania is a mass of lush greenery and waterways, but it’s during the dry season, when the water retreats, that the park really comes into its own. The Katuma River forms one of the only drinking sources for miles around, attracting astonishing amounts of wildlife, particularly elephants, together with buffalo, zebra, giraffes and impala, which in turn attracts numerous prides of lions and hyenas.
Not only is this a great place to spot large numbers of wildlife, but the park's remote and wild setting means a visit here is like stepping back in time. Bush walks are a great way to explore the area at the animals’ level, or opt for a guided excursion down the river for a chance to see colourful birds, hippos and crocs.
More widely, late 2019 saw a large-scale 20-day wildlife survey of Tanzania’s Katavi-Rukwa and Ruaha-Rungwa landscapes take place that counted more than 20,000 elephants. This encouraging number points to an elephant recovery across the area and helps to make these regions among some of the most important in Africa for elephants outside of Zimbabwe and Botswana.
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