Botswana is a bucket-list safari destination in anyone’s book. And if you love elephants, there is no destination quite like it on earth.
It’s estimated that of the continent’s 400,000 elephants, 130,000 are found within Botswana’s borders – making it home to the world’s largest elephant population, and one of the last strongholds for African elephants.
In fact, if you were in Chobe National Park, close to where Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia meet, watching one of the region’s mega-herds cross the Chobe River, it would be impossible to understand the enormity of the threat posed to elephants today.
Elephants are now at number 10 on the world’s most endangered list, and according to the organisation How Many Elephants, 96 elephants are poached in Africa every single day. If it continues, elephants will be extinct in the wild within the next decade.
A devastating thought for anyone involved in African conservation – and inconceivable for operators, guides and lodges within Chobe and beyond.
“Save the Elephant Day is observed on 16 April each year,” says Kate Powell, General Manager, Sales & Marketing for the Zambezi Queen Collection. “It’s a platform to raise awareness, encourage action and educate people about the threats facing elephants today, including poaching, human-wildlife conflict, and climate change.”
The Zambezi Queen Collection, a fleet of luxury houseboats on the Chobe River, offers visitors a unique safari experience – and perhaps the best opportunity to view African elephants in their natural habitat.
“Our water-based safaris allow you to get up close and personal with huge herds of elephant plus buffalo, lion, crocodile, zebra and more that are drawn to the water,” says Powell. “Often you can see elephants from the comfort of the deck – or your suite – otherwise our silent tender boats get you close to the action without ever disturbing the herd.”
And this, for Powell, is an important way visitors can help conserve and protect African elephants.
“Monetary contributions to elephant conservation organisations go a long way,” says Powell. “But it’s equally important to spend your safari dollars well, and that means identifying responsible operators who will facilitate Big 5 game viewing safaris in the most sustainable, most conscious and least intrusive way possible.”
Founder and Executive Chairman of the GILTEDGE Travel Group, Sean Kritzinger, agrees.
“There are some incredible places in Southern Africa to see elephant, including Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, which is known for its large bull elephants, and northern Namibia, home to one of only two populations of desert-adapted elephants in the world. But without the commitment of governments, NGOs, local communities and visitors, elephants could disappear from the wild within a single generation. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure it doesn’t happen.”
GILTEDGE works with Community Conservation Fund Africa, which in turn works closely with communities in areas neighbouring national parks and conservancies in Southern Africa to create employment, provide training on conservation, support human-elephant co-existence, and develop a conservation-based economy that benefits all stakeholders while restoring natural and social resources.
Kritzinger says that by travelling to Africa, international visitors are already making a difference by supporting local economies. “It’s important, however, to do a little research before you come. Make sure you can get behind projects you are passionate about, and make sure you explore the continent in a way that benefits both wildlife and local communities.”
Like the Zambezi Queen Collection, offers a range of different ways to view – and fall in love with – Africa’s elephants.
“Whether you’re on a walking safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, which is still one of the most untouched, pristine regions in Africa, or on a canoe safari on the Zambezi River, spotting elephants is always incredibly special.”
For Powell, a safe, quiet, relaxed and completely “unrushed” elephant encounter is life-changing.
“I can’t imagine anyone returns from a Chobe River safari quite the same,” says Powell. “Every generation should get the chance to experience it at least once in their lifetime.”
You can help by supporting organisations like Save the Elephants, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the International Elephant Foundation, How Many Elephants and Community Conservation Fund Africa. Raise awareness on social media with #SaveTheElelphantDay]