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The Biggest of Africa’s Big 5: Elephant

September 18, 2017  By: Gretchen

Africa’s famous ‘Big 5’ species are made up of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo, and the term came about during the colonial period to refer to the five animals that were considered the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. Now, seeing Africa’s ‘Big 5’ is one of the main goals for many photographic safari enthusiasts.

Check Out Our Big 5 Safari Itineraries!

elephant in water

Join us as we dig a bit deeper into the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant. Weighing up to 14,000 lbs, these extraordinary, charismatic animals are on the wish list of most safari-goers! Some amazing elephant facts:

  • Elephants eat up to 600 lbs of food every day, and wash it down with up to 50 gallons of water.
  • Elephant pregnancies are the longest of any species – 22 months.
  • An elephant’s average lifespan in the wild is 70 years.
  • Female elephants live in groups, all related and led by a matriarch, usually the oldest in the group. She oversees the group’s movement and rest, day-to-day and season-to-season.
  • Male elephants are forced to leave the matriarch groups between ages 12 and 15. They live in all-male groups known as ‘bachelor herds, or on their own when they are older.
  • Elephants can communicate over large distances using ultrasound. Research into this phenomenon is ongoing.
  • An elephant’s trunk is very strong. It can pick up small and large objects, and is used for feeding, drinking, smelling, breathing and fighting.
  • Elephants use their large ear flaps to help stay cool.
  • Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror.
elephants by game drive vehicle

The Best Places to See Elephants in Africa from AAC Founder Kent Redding

Top Honors

Tarangire, Tanzania: This is where I’ve had my very best elephant sightings. They have masses come in during the dry season (3,000+) and I’ve seen herds of 100-300 at times. I’ve seen sets of (very rare) twin elephant calves, elephants standing on their hind legs to reach baobab flowers and fruits and big males wrestling. I’ve been charged by bull elephants in musth and by a mean old lady named Tuskless. She would charge even if you were hundreds of yards away. Overall, it’s a great place to see elephants. A few of my favorite camps include Oliver’s Camp (which I managed before founding AAC), remote and luxurious Swala Camp and Tarangire Safari Lodge, a modest family-friendly camp with the best view in the park, if not the entire region.

Honorable Mentions

Chobe, Botswana: This area is great because it is home to a tremendous number of elephants, and because you tend to spend some time on the river and can watch the elephants come down to drink or swim while you are on the water. Many of the accommodations here are large, but a few of my favorites include Chobe Game Lodge, Ghoha Hills, Savute Elephant Camp, Chobe Chilwero and Savute Safari Lodge.

Linyanti, Botswana: This is near Chobe, but more exclusive. I love King’s Pool and Duma Tau, and my favorite time to visit is June to October.

Hwange, Zimbabwe: Hwange is great because the elephant numbers are huge (40,000+). My favorite sightings include viewing them at the park’s water holes, and even better – seeing elephants on walking safaris! Somalisa is one of the best camps here, along with Linkwasha, Little Makalolo, Bomani and Camp Hwange.

Selous, Tanzania: This area was long known as a fantastic place to see lots of elephants, but sadly the government did not protect them from poaching. The reserve seems to be on the upswing though. Favorite camps include Sand Rivers and Roho Ya Selous.

Okvango Delta, Botswana: This is a great place to see elephants in the water – especially exciting if you are on a mokoro (dugout canoe) yourself. On my last trip there while staying at Machaba Camp, I had nice views of elephants crossing the river from my outdoor tub! There are many other wonderful camps here including Mombo Camp, Shinde, Vumbura Plains, Zarafa Camp and Jacana Camp.

Damaraland, Namibia: It’s quite a thrill to see the desert-adapted elephants searching for water and plucking leaves off trees without knocking them over in order to preserve future food sources. Wonderful camps here include community-owned Damaraland Camp and Mowani Mountain Lodge, which has fantastic sunset views.

Want to see elephants on your safari?