Elephants are intelligent and majestic animals – and unfortunately extremely threatened – found across African and Asian countries, like Tanzania and Thailand. They hold a tremendous appeal for wildlife enthusiasts throughout the world and there are some incredible places to see elephants in the wild. While getting up close and personal is an exhilarating opportunity, navigating the world of elephant tourism is challenging and at times extremely controversial.
As global travelers, the question of how to see elephants in the wild ethically and without suffering is a must. If seeing these breathtaking animals in their natural habitat is on your bucket list, keep reading!
There are some amazing national parks, wildlife reserves, and rehabilitation sanctuaries across Africa and Asia that are dedicated to the protection of elephants. These are the best places to see elephants in the wild. From safaris to rainforest treks, here are the top destinations to catch a glimpse of the world’s largest land mammal.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
The famous Chobe National Park has the largest population of elephants in the whole of Africa. With an astonishing 120,000-130,000 elephants across the country, it’s safe to say you are guaranteed to have a natural and ethical encounter in the Chobe National Park. The dry season is the best time to visit, between June and November.
A water boat safari tour is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with the elephants here. The elephants line the banks of the Chobe River and regularly cross to fresh grazing either side.
This national park is idyllic with breathtaking views across the sweeping plains and picture-perfect lagoons. It’s no wonder why the Chobe National Park is said to be one of the top safari destinations in Africa. Along with the elephants, you can expect to see a whole array of other iconic animals, including zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, lions, leopards and wild dogs.
Other places in Botswana to see elephants in the wild:
- Mashatu Game Reserve
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is the oldest and largest reserve in Malawi, spanning an enormous 1,800 km2. It was once home to over 1,500 elephants, but due to decades of poaching, this number dropped dramatically to as little as 100.
In 2015, the Reserve partnered with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) to take on one of the world’s largest wildlife translocations, bringing life back into the park. In just two years, 500 elephants were reintroduced to the area, as well as other native animals, along with an excellently trained and equipped ranger team and strong community engagement. Now, poaching is a thing of the past.
Visiting the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is a special experience. Not only will you get the chance to see elephants frolicking in the wild, but your money is supporting an incredible conservation effort. Win-win!
Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park works on rehabilitating distressed elephants from circuses and camps across the country. In this nature park, the elephants are allowed to roam free and interact with one another, as they would in the wild.
The park is dedicated to providing elephant-friendly tourism experiences. So not only can you visit and support all their hard work, but you can also get your hands dirty and muck in with one of the volunteer programs available.
The Elephant Nature Park is a popular attraction for visitors to Thailand’s Chiang Mai Province. The park is located 60km north of the city.
Other places in Thailand to see elephants in the wild:
- Kui Buri National Park
- Khao Yai National Park
Sayaboury Elephant Conservation Centre, Laos
The elephant population in Laos is incredibly threatened for a number of reasons. Once known as the ‘land of a million elephants’, Laos now only has approximately 400 living in the wild and 400 living in captivity. Extreme deforestation, poaching, and expanding urban areas have decimated the elephants.
Laos’ Sayaboury Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) is a beacon of hope in this Asian country. The center supports a handful of retired elephants that tourists can meet. They also provide veterinary support and care for the animals.
Periyar National Park, India
South India’s Periyar National Park is one of the most popular reserves in the country. It opened in 1978 as a tiger reserve, but since then has become better known for the Indian elephant population found in the forests. There is also a fantastic array of butterflies and birds, along with the elusive Bengal tigers, sharing the same habitat.
The Periyar forest has a rich biodiversity with surrounding lakes, forests, and mountains. Take a boat trip on Periyar Lake to get up close and personal with the wildlife, this is one of the best places to see elephants in the wild in India.
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is simply breathtaking and by far one of the best places to see elephants in the wild, along with other iconic safari animals. The huge national park measures approximately 400 sq km.
This Kenyan hotspot is extremely popular for visitors and photographers due to the awe-inspiring views of Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the background. It is home to over 1,000 elephants who can be spotted across the wetlands, savannah, and forests of the region.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe has a thriving elephant population at an estimated 45,000 roaming free. These elephants are under the careful watch of an incredible working relationship between conservationists, the camps, and lodges in the park. Chances are, these large herds will continue to thrive.
For the most impressive wildlife viewings, you need to visit this National Park between July and October. You can expect to see large numbers of buffalo, lions, and one of Africa’s largest populations of wild dogs. The legendary Victoria Falls are also only a short drive from here.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve is a staggering 50,000 km2 space that is relatively undisturbed by humans. A large number of elephants, black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles live side by side in this breathtaking reserve. The Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa.
One of the key management issues that need to be addressed across Tanzania is the control of the poaching of elephants. The Selous Game Reserve works constantly at the protection of all the animals found in the reserve.
Unfortunately, the Selous World Heritage site has lost 90% of its elephants to ivory poaching. The work done by rangers and conservationists is crucial to keep elephants in the Selous Game Reserve.
Other places in Tanzania to see elephants in the wild:
- Katavi National Park
Kinabatangan River, Borneo
Borneo’s rainforests are some of the oldest in the world and are teeming of life. From exotic flora and fauna to canopy walkways and mysterious cave systems, this is a magical landscape. Beautiful pygmy elephants frequently visit the banks of the Kinabatangan River that carves through the rainforest.
This tiny species of elephant co-habitat the river banks with orangutans, macaques, and monitor lizards. Spotting pygmy elephant families is relatively easy as the herds can be up to an amazing 70 individuals. Accessing the Kinabatangan River can be by foot on jungle walks or by boat on safari cruises.
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
The Addo Elephant National Park is 70km away from Port Elizabeth on the eastern cape of South Africa. This conservation effort was set up with the mission to save the local elephant population that was near extinction.
In 1931, there were only 11 were left in this region. That was when the park was established. Now, there are more than 600 elephants stomping through the Addo Elephant National Park.
Exploring this national park by horseback is a unique and thrilling experience. They also offer traditional Wrangler safaris and walking safaris. The Addo Elephant National Park is also home to lions, leopards, black rhinos, spotted hyenas, buffaloes, and zebras – all of which can be encountered throughout the safari tours.
Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home, Sri Lanka
The Udawalawe National Park is home to one of the most admirable efforts in the world of elephant conservation effort. The Elephant Transit Home is located at the heart of the national park and focuses on caring for baby elephants who are injured or orphaned. Once they are strong enough and old enough, these young elephants are then released into the main national park.
You can visit this elephant orphanage throughout the day for the feeding times: 6.00 am, 9.00 am, 12.00 pm, 3.00 pm, and 6.00 pm. Watching the stamping and trumpeting of impatience is a beautiful and warming sight to be seen.
Minneriya National Park is nearby and a popular place in Sri Lanka to jump on a safari to encounter the beautiful native wildlife. Between August and September, migratory herds of elephants gather near the Minneriya reservoir.
Other places in Sri Lanka to see elephants in the wild:
- Minneriya National Park
How To See Elephants In The Wild Ethically
Unfortunately, a huge population of the world’s elephants lives in captivity, mostly in South East Asia. Thailand, for example, has approximately 3,800 individuals involved in alarming elephant tourism experiences. This includes rides, bathing, and shows. Many of these elephants are treated poorly, keep in low-standard conditions, and are trained using fear.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Many people are working hard to improve how the tourism industry can be more elephant-friendly.
Top Tips For Elephant Sightings
- Visit establishments or centers that openly promote rescuing elephants. These places are likely to be genuine and have the best interests at heart for the elephants.
- Avoid places that offer interaction with the elephants. Elephants should be roaming free, not close enough for you to touch them.
- Listen for the sound of cracking branches as the elephants move through vegetation, rainforests, and so on.
- Keep an ear open for soft rumbles and loud bellows as the elephants communicate with each other.
Why is elephant tourism bad?
Some organizations are heavily criticized for the treatment of elephants behind closed doors. To achieve submissive and quiet behavior from an elephant, some of those involved in elephant tourism have been known to use traumatic abuse and training methods. The safety and welfare of the animal are not considerations.