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Posted on: Wednesday, 19 March 2014

10 best places to see elephants in South Africa

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The African elephant, the world’s largest terrestrial animal, is under threat…

Scientists revealed in 2013 that we have overestimated the number of elephants that remain in the wild; that we lost 62 percent of African forest elephants between 2002 and 2011, and that the forest elephant population is now less than 10 percent of its potential size. Admittedly the elephants of South Africa are not forest elephants. These are found mainly in equatorial forests in central and western Africa.

South Africa is, instead, home to the savanna elephant – found on grassy plains and in bushveld. According to WWF their populations are strong and their numbers increasing, even if their confined and protected areas are a fraction of the range they should be. This may well be. But it is thought that between three and five million African elephants once ranged across Africa in the 1930s and 1940s. Today’s population doesn’t even come close to this.


Photograph: Elephants at Addo Elephant National Park

It is not surprising then that seeing elephants is on the average tourist’s bucket list when they arrive in South Africa. Just how up-close-and-personal you want to get to an elephant will depend on your needs. Some people want only to see them in the wild, in their natural habitat. Others want to be able to touch or even ride them.

Here is where you can see elephants in South Africa …

Addo Elephant Park

South Africa’s third largest reserve, in the Sundays River Valley in  Greater Addo, has one of the densest African elephant populations on Earth. Once in the reserve you do not have to look far to see them. The main waterholes of the reserve are pivotal to the elephants’ survival as they need roughly 190 litres a day, and they provide excellent viewing areas. Guided game drives at sunrise, sunset and in the evenings offer excellent sightings.

Adventures with Elephants in Bela Bela

Interact with, ride or even swim with elephants. This organisation is dedicated to improving and securing the well being of elephants in Africa, and educating people about elephants. The wildlife reserve is just an hour’s drive north of Pretoria. Visitors describe it as mind-blowing.


Elephants in Bela Bela
Photograph: Adventures with Elephants taken at Zebula Golf Estate

Elephant back game viewing in the Pilanesberg

Elephant back safaris are scheduled daily at the Letsatsing Reserve at Sun City. Ride on the backs of Cikwenya, Sharu, Mana, Michael, Tidimalo an Ngwedi along ancient game trails. Sighting game takes a back seat to the experience of being on the back of an elephant, and the rich rewards of watching the social bonds and intelligence of these giants.

Elephant back safari and interaction at Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve

Participate in this hands-on learning experience with elephants, in a one-on-one interaction, at Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve. You do not have to be a guest of the private reserve. Day visitors can take part in both elephant interaction sessions, and elephant back safaris.


Inkwenkwezi Elephant
Photograph: Elephant at Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve

Elephant back safari at Kapama Private Game Reserve

Twelve fully trained African elephants arrived at Kapama in 2002, relocated from Zimbabwe where their safety was in jeopardy. Today they take visitors on comfortable game rides, single file through the bush, their silence only adding to the momorable experience.

Elephant Whispers, Hazyview

Get to know, touch and appreciate elephants with this organisation in Hazyview who help save elephants and promote their protection. Feel the skin, trunk and even under the soles of these gentle, rescued elephants, and enjoy a ride on their backs. The Sundowner tour goes one step further and provides one-on-one time with both the elephants and their trainers.

Knysna Elephant Park

The elusive and mythical Knysna elephants continue to roam the Tsitsikamma Forest in vastly smaller numbers than before (exact numbers remain open to dispute, but one has been photographed as recently as January 2014, and Gareth Patterson’s research reveals as many as 10 or 11 may exist). Knysna Elephant Park is not their home, although you will find out more about them. The elephants that live here are instead all orphans rescued from cullings at Kruger National Park. One of them was born here. Visit to see, touch and interact with them.


Elephants at Knysna
Photograph: Seeing Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Kruger National Park

One of the largest game reserves in Africa, sightings of the African elephant in Kruger are plentiful. Elephants range in large herds (some say, in fact, that there is an elephant overpopulation in Kruger), easily visible at larger waterholes and often across roads. They are wild animals and deserve the necessary respect so that they do not become alarmed.

Tembe Elephant Park, KwaZulu-Natal

Tembe boasts the largest elephant herd in KwaZulu-Natal –  the remains of what used to be South Africa’s last free-ranging herd that had taken refuge in the dense sand forests of Tembe. The adults are physically the biggest elephants in South Africa. See them at close quarters from game drive vehicles in sand forest, woodland, grassland and swampland, or at hides overlooking watering holes.

The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

This is the only operation in the country to supply a halfway house for young elephants in need of a temporary home – they are released back into the wild when older and no longer in need of special care. Numbers of visitors are kept deliberately low to allow for maximum elephant interaction. Learn about, walk with, touch, and feed elephants in Plett.


Elephant back safari
Photograph: Adventures with Elephants at Zebula


Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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