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The Big Five Series – The Top Five Places to See Elephants In Africa

We continue with our Big Five series this week looking at Real Africa’s pick of the best places to see elephants while on holiday in Africa.


The African elephant is one of the most majestic and beautiful animals in the world and one of the “must see” animals whilst on safari. African elephants live in the southern most regions i.e. sub-Saharan Africa but they can also be found in smaller numbers in the Central and West African rainforests. There are two main types of elephant sub species which is based on where they live. The vast majority of elephants in Africa are savannah elephants. These form the largest elephant subspecies in the world, and they live in the grass plains or savannah and bush in Eastern and Southern Africa. They can be found in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. About a third to a quarter of elephants in Africa are forest elephants, which is a different subspecies altogether. These elephants live in the Congo Basin area, but their population has suffered enormously from poaching and their numbers are rapidly shrinking.

So here we go – our top five places to see elephants in Africa. These are in no particular order just our five favourites.

The Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage, Nairobi, Kenya

This is where the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust bring their orphaned rhinos and elephants to care for. The rhinos and elephants are rescued usually at death’s door as their mother has been killed by poachers. The Wildlife Trust rescues animals and also rehabilitates them so they can return to a normal life back in the wild wherever possible. Visitors can see the keepers feeding and playing with the baby elephants and also make a donation to help with their upkeep and the Trust’s important work.

Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

This is a great place for families to visit as it is an area on the south coast of South Africa that is malaria free. As its name suggests it is also an important wildlife reserve specialising in elephants. There is plenty of accommodation nearby offering a good choice and Addo can be visited as a day trip or as a longer safari destination. It can also be part of a self drive itinerary along the stunningly beautiful Garden Route or combined with a short break to Cape Town.

Amboseli National Park, Kenya

This is a very picturesque national park in Southern Kenya on the border with Tanzania. This place is not as remote as some and can feel busy at times but it is also one of the best places to see elephants in Kenya. Mount Kilimanjaro makes for an awesome backdrop as elephants graze peacefully in the savannahs below. This is one for photographers and elephant fans alike and you are guaranteed to see lots of elephant herds here.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

The Etosha National Park lies in the vast arid space of Northern Namibia.  It offers a different kind of safari and wildlife experience due to its unique landscape. Etosha actually means place of dry water and it is located in a huge, flat pan measuring around5,000kms2. The ‘Pan’ provides a great, parched, silver-white backdrop of shimmering mirages to an area of semi-arid savannah grassland and thorn scrub. The pan itself contains water only after very good rains and sometimes for only a few days each year. Etosha is surprisingly home to many different species including elephants. They are best spotted around the waterholes during the dry months from June to November. It is then that you will see large numbers of elephants congregating in the same place in their search for water.

The Kruger National Park, South Africa

There is a reason why the Kruger National Park is famous and that is because of its sheer abundance of wildlife. It is home to fertile and lush grassland that proves to be a wonderful habitat for many different species of mammals, birds and reptiles as well as a large number of big five game including elephants. You can explore the Kruger National Park yourself on a self drive holiday and drive around the park under your own steam (although you must follow the park rules!). You can also book into a luxury lodge on a private reserve and let them do all the driving on twice daily game drives. Or if you are feeling even lazier you can often just watch elephants visiting the local watering hole whilst you sup your sundowner drinks from your very own viewing deck. Now that experience really is hard to beat!

Posted By Ruth Bolton


Real Africa Charities: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The Sheldrick Trust’s elephant orphanage is located in the south of Nairobi, on the edge of Nairobi National Park. It’s here that baby elephants, usually discovered when their mothers have been killed by poachers, are brought and looked after.

Its a race against the clock. They may have been by themselves for several days, dehydrated and injured. Some have the machete wounds of where the poachers tried to kill them, despite the fact they have no tusks at such a young age. The keepers will travel to where the elephant is and try to get them drinking milk. Often they are flown back to the orphanage where they can be put in a dark stall with a keeper and reassured that they are not going to be harmed.

When they are considered ready, they are introduced to the other orphans, who crowd up to them, both curious about the new arrival and wanting to reassure them. All the orphans are fed milk every few hours, indeed the keepers sleep in their stalls with them so they can be fed throughout the night.

Several days a week, between 11 and 12, the orphanage opens so that visitors can visit and watch the orphans being bottle fed. They come charging out, going straight to their own handlers and drinking the bottles down in seconds. They then play with footballs or in the mud pools, while you are told about the orphanage and the Trust. The rest of the day they are off foraging in the scrub on the edge of the National Park under the watchful eye of their handlers.

On average, the orphans will stay at the centre until they are two, at which point they are moved down to the Rehabilitation Centre in Tsavo National Park. Here the elephants live as a herd, learning to live on the local plants and learning to fend for themselves. As they get older and more confident they tend to leave the herd and join up with herds of wild elephants. The males will join a bull herd and the females a family group.

This completes their journey, as from these elephants they learn the final skills of how to live and survive in the wild. There biggest challenge then is to escape the attention of the poachers – in the first 3 months of 2013 Kenya lost 70 elephants to poaching.

The Real Africa Trust supports the Sheldrick anti-poaching efforts and were in Nairobi in early April to make its annual donation. We were allowed to go behind the scenes at the orphanage, seeing the stalls where the orphans live as well as spending 30 minutes with them as they fed and played in the National Park.

We also saw a tiny elephant – only two or three days old who’d just arrived by plane in the centre. He’d been found lost in Tsavo, most probably after the slaughter of his mother for her tusks. He was being kept in a dark stable, with just his keeper, to whom he was already attached and kept his tiny trunk in the man’s overall pocket for reassurance.

If he survives the first couple of weeks he’ll be fine and will grow fit and strong under the excellent and expert supervision of the Trust. But how many other baby elephants have to go through this trauma just so some idiot can have ivory door  knobs or trinkets? That is where the problem needs to be solved, by the Governments of the countries where the ivory is in demand doing something about it.

Tanzania’s Elephant Population in Crisis

Here at Real Africa we keep an eye out for stories about poaching and the dangers to local wildlife across Africa. It is an issue that deeply concerns us and has led to us supporting the work at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya who are active conservationists battling on a daily basis against poaching.

The latest news is from Tanzania, where reports indicate that elephant numbers have fallen by as much as 42% over the past 3 years. This is a hugely significant number – almost half the Tanzanian elephant population!  The elephant census was carried out at the Selous Game Reserve and Mikumi National Park both important and protected game reserves in Tanzania. The census revealed elephant numbers had plunged from 74,900 in 2006 down to just 43,552 in 2009.   The census was carried out by the east African country’s wildlife authority who are deeply concerned about the dwindling population and the escalation of poaching.

The rapid fall prompted Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to order an investigation, announced his office last Tuesday. Conservationists estimate Tanzania has a total elephant population of between 110,000 and 140,000, making it one of the largest sanctuaries in Africa. However in recent years, both Tanzania and neighbouring Kenya have suffered a massive rise in poaching as criminal gangs have killed elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns which they then sell throughout Asia. The last Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2007 agreed to a nine-year moratorium on any further trade in ivory, after some 105 tons of elephant ivory had been sold from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to China and Japan. TRAFFIC, a conservation group that tracks trends in wildlife trading, said in a statement last week that 2011 had sadly been a record year for ivory seizure.

Elephants are also under pressure in many parts of Africa from other issues affecting them such as loss of their natural habitat to humans, pollution from developing industry and climate change leading to severe droughts. Recent estimates say that the population has fallen to somewhere around 500,000 from millions just decades ago.

Major Elephant Relocation Programme in Kenya

Real Africa is very proud to support the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. We have adopted a baby black rhino and a baby elephant who are currently doing very well at the Daphne Sheldrick Animal Orphanage in Nairobi. We will be keeping you posted with regular updates on their progress.

However the Wildlife Trust does a lot more than simply operate the orphanage. They do a huge amount of work fighting against poaching, educating the local people about how to preserve their wildlife and working to help endangered species in the area.  We checked in with them recently to find out what they had been up to. And boy have they been busy! Just the small challenge of moving 62 elephants from an area around Narok North into the Masai Mara National Reserve! These elephants were living in an area which was becoming increasingly crowded by development with large scale farms taking over their traditional bush territories. This was bringing them into conflict with the local farmers as they were destroying precious crops. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust stepped in to help in its battle to save the African elephant and offered to relocate the elephants to the reserve where they will be free to roam safely.

Now as you can imagine moving 62 wild elephants is not an easy thing to do. It took weeks of planning and in the actual operation itself. First of all the elephants had to be tracked down from the air, then tranquilised with dart guns before being loaded onto trucks for the trip down to the Masai Mara Reserve. Animals can die when knocked out as their internal organs are often not meant to take the weight when lying down so the vetinary team had to be extra cautious and monitor all the elephants extremely carefully. The elephants were captured and transferred in their natural family groups which could be up to 10 animals at a time.  The relocation was done over a period of two weeks in total as the heat, the terrain and the weather all combined to make this a very tricky operation.

All 62 have now been moved successfully with no complications and are happily adapting to life in their new and much safer home in the Masai Mara. Another success for the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust but just a small victory in the ongoing battle to protect the wildlife of East Africa.

Real Africa adopts African Orphans

It’s amazing that Ishanga is even alive. When she was found caught by a poacher’s snare in the Tsavo West National park, she was thin, dehydrated and bleeding from the wire. She had been by herself for several days. As the de-snaring team approached her she was attacked by a pride of lions drawn by the blood. A lioness grabbed her by the throat and only fled when shots were fired into the air.

She was weak, starving, injured and now terrified. Taken straight to the airstrip, she was flown to the orphanage in Nairobi. She was so traumatised that she refused all milk and water and the rescue team where very worried for her. The next day she finally took some milk but then collapsed, and only dedicated nursing, saline drips and several injections got her back on her feet.

It was decided to introduce her to the other orphans immediately, to let her see and mix with other elephants. Being around a year old she had been used to other elephants and the new company had the desired effect. She immediately settled down and followed the others lead in feeding and playing.

To watch the elephants being fed and Solio having a dustbath please click on the video link.

Now 8 months later she is settled and happy, enjoying her milk (and everybody else’s if she gets the chance..) and causing mischief. We’ll be giving regular updates of her progress as she grows and learns how to be an elephant. We will also follow her as she is eventually relocated back to Tsavo National Park and released back into the wild. It’s going to be a long and dangerous journey but she’s already one of the fortunate ones. Had it not been for the prompt action of the de-snaring team and the expertise of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, she would have been dead a long time ago.

Watching wildlife conservation from a different continent it’s easy to assume that animals in the National Parks are safe. Kenya, with its established parks and wildlife services, is very determined to stamp out poaching. But the truth is that their resources are hopelessly insufficient. At Mount Kenya alone, 26 elephants are known to have been poached already in 2011. What chance do elephants living outside protected parks and reserves have?

As well as following Ishanga, we will be giving updates on the work of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, its orphan programme as well as the other conservation work it does. We will also be following Solio, an 18 month old black rhino, who we’ve also sponsored. More about her soon.