African elephants are about the most recognisable animals on the planet, and as the biggest of the so-called 'Big Five' (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard) it's arguable that no safari would be truly complete without witnessing these iconic creatures. When you do see them, it will be as solitary mature bulls, or in herds of females and youngsters led by a matriarch. Watching them interacting up close is something you are unlikely ever to forget.
Elephants Never Forget
And on the subject of forgetting, elephants are emotional creatures with excellent memories and a strongly defined capacity for empathy. It's not uncommon to see an elephant affectionately picking up the bones of their deceased relatives with their trunks in an apparent act of remembrance.
Hard Tusk Master
Like humans, elephants have a dominant side of the body. Researchers noticed this after realising that elephants often have a defined groove in the tusk on their dominant side, created over years of using the so-called 'master tusk' as a lever when lifting and snapping branches with their trunks.
Aside from the human brain, an elephant's trunk is probably the most ingenious and adaptable organ in the animal world. Part nose, part lips, the trunk is used to smell, pinch, suck and squirt water, touch, comfort young, pull, push, lift, snorkel and more.
It's no secret that elephants are one of the most sought after animals for poachers. The going rate for a pound of ivory is around $1,500, and an estimated 104 African elephants are poached every single day. That said, some great work is being done by conservationists to ensure that number drops dramatically, and we work with many private reserves who fund their own expert anti-poaching units.
Where To See Them
For the best chance of seeing these animals up close, our top destination recommendations are Mashatu Game Reserve or Chobe National Park in Botswana, Etosha National Park in Namibia, or Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. One of the most spectacular ways to see these majestic mammals is on a river cruise, with Chobe National Park being our top pick for this experience.
Charlotte Cox, Africa Specialist
Tarangire National Park is my favourite place for elephants as you can see huge herds of up to 600 during the elephant migration. I love the way they use their trunks to hug and reassure each other.
- 22 months - The gestation period of an elephant
- 60 years - The average lifespan of an elephant
- 6 tonnes - The average weight of a male elephant