While safaris are packed with game-watching, clients often ask us about opportunities to interact with animals while on safari. Elephants always seem to be at the top of that list, so we pulled together a few of our favorite opportunities for elephant interactions in East and Southern Africa. While opportunities to interact with elephants are more common in Southern Africa, there are a handful of great opportunities to interact with elephants or learn about ongoing elephant research at properties in Kenya as well.
We always recommend a visit to the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage for travelers spending a full day in Nairobi. The center is a nursery and rehabilitation center for infant elephants who have lost their families. Visitors are welcome to the 11am feeding for just a few dollars but if you "adopt" an elephant then you are entitled to a more exclusive visit at 5pm daily where you can actually interact with the baby elephants. A totally private visit is also possible for a price!
Samburu National Park is home to the Save the Elephants research station. Save the Elephants was founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the world's leading elephant researchers. You will not see any elephants while at the research station, but you will see lots while on safari in Samburu! Instead, this is a chance to visit an active research station, talk to the staff and learn about the project. The research station is closely affiliated with Elephant Watch Camp, which is owned and managed by the Douglas-Hamiltons, but anyone staying in Samburu can pay $50 per person to visit the station.
Your best option for an elephant interaction on the Livingstone side of Victoria Falls is with Zambezi Elephant Trails. The trail begins at Thorntree River Lodge, but you do not need to be a guest of Thorntree to do the activity. The trail follows the Zambezi River and you will be able to ride or walk with the six members of the herd, watching them feed, play, socialize and swim. You will also learn about their individual personalities and the training process from expert guides and handlers. The training techniques used by Zambezi Elephant Trails are based on positive reinforcement, as opposed to controversial discipline and submission techniques.
Elephant Camp is a gorgeous camp located about 15 minutes from downtown Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It is home to 12 beautiful tented suites, a cheetah named Sylvester and the Wild Horizons elephants. Enjoy sunrise bush walks traversing through the Zambezi gorges and the grasslands of Victoria Falls National Park followed by a full English breakfast.
Stanley's Camp offers probably one of the most wild and unique elephant interactions in Africa. Guests accompany three orphaned elephants-Marula, Thembe and Jabu-on a walk through the bush. The three elephants were brought up in the area by their guardians Doug and Sandi Groves and every morning a few lucky guests join on them a walk as the forage for food, followed by a picnic lunch.
6. Abu Camp - Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Abu Camp herd offers an incomparable opportunity to intimately engage and interact with elephants through a variety of activities. Guests have the opportunity to do everything from observing, to walking with, to riding, to learning about elephant conservation and care from expert guides and local researchers. Abu's Camp also offers traditional game-drives and the property itself is one of our favorites!
7. Camp Jabulani - Kruger, South Africa
Camp Jabulani is a luxury safari lodge in the private Kapama Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. The members of the camp's elephant herd are a close-knit family rescued overtime by the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center. Visitors to Jabulani have the opportunity to observe and interact with the elephants. Guests of other properties in the Kapama Reserve have access to Jabulani and the elephants at 11:30 a.m. daily, but for the rest of the day access is limited to Jabulani's guests.