How to Watch African Elephants, in the Company of Experts

3 Score & More is pleased to present guest blogger Delta Willis, Africa travel specialist, conservationist, author, and journalist. Her expertise gleaned from working in and traveling across Africa, often in the company of elephants, spans some forty  years.  Herewith, she paints a picture that will have you packing your bags to discover the unique African elephant culture.  I’ve got 2017 in my sights…..

The cathedrals I relish most are full of grass stretching as far as the eye can see. There might be a few trees, elegant acacias with their flat shapes as high as a giraffe can reach to feed. There are no walls, but there is music, as uplifting as any. At dawn, there is birdsong, a splendid symphony that ceases as the sun rises. You may hear a lion’s roar, the sexiest sound in the world (because how can you sleep alone with such a primeval resonance!).  But the rumble that will enhance your religious experience comes from deep within an elephant, a pachyderm purr. From time to time, I return to Africa to watch elephants, to listen to their contentment to find my own.

“Come in February,” Cynthia Moss said; “That’s when I tell filmmakers to come because you can see Kilimanjaro.”

Dr. Moss, founder of the Amboseli Research Project, is best known to PBS viewers for Echo the ElephantHer books include Elephant Memories, and her discoveries, an astonishing array of social bonds, intelligence, and  matriarchal wisdom. Old friends, we find peace in the company of elephants.

So it was in February of 2015 that I enjoyed an excellent view of Africa’s tallest mountain from beautiful Tortilis Camp. With luxurious large tents and en suite bathrooms, Tortilis has exceptional Italian cuisine, plus guides who know the elephants of Amboseli and where to find them. 

Wildlife and colorful birds thrive on swamps fed by the snows of Kilimanjaro. In the center of this oasis of palms is a small research camp where Dr. Moss 5b95240d-61cc-4593-a6bd-049752166c69 (1)leads the longest running study of elephants in the world. Much of what we know about wild elephants comes from her and her team, taking notes on behavior, discovering modes of communication.

In 2015 Dr. Moss received A Lifetime Achievement Award at a special Elephant Summit in Jackson Hole. She was honored alongside Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, whose work inspired her to leave her job at Newsweek in New York in 1967. She’s never looked back.


Amboseli is one of the top places to see elephants in Kenya, along with Samburu, home to the Douglas-Hamilton Elephant Watch Camp, and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, near Mt. Kenya.

Because elephants of Amboseli enjoy better protection than most, they are not skittish of humans who remain in vehicles. Keep your voices down, and you can watch them behave naturally. See how big sisters protect calves, and how males greet each other.

f9d50489-12b2-4938-9eb1-897574ced0efIf you want to go to Kenya, I suggest you visit Amboseli, Samburu and Lewa, plus the David Sheldrick Orphanage near Nairobi National Park. Botswana is also an ideal country for seeing plenty of elephants, especially in the Okavango Delta which I visited in April of 2016. It was a joy to glide along the clear waters that bring life to the Kalahari, and provide a safe haven for the hippo that chortle and yawn. Birdlife is bountiful and, because there is no hunting, you can get relatively close to cheetah and leopard. But the true joy was sitting in our vehicle as a herd of elephant quietly paraded to a watering hole. We sat in the shade of a tree while a young calf was ushered along and helped by the adults, and great sprays of water shot out of trunks. Then there was a billowing trumpet, as the matriarch signaled it was time to move on.  They disappeared into the bush as quietly as they had arrived. I invite you to witness such a rare spectacle. The rest of your life will be changed forever by the experience.

82d1bb59-eede-41af-82db-45508467dd01Working with Pulse Africa based in Johannesburg, Delta Willis designs photo safaris to East and Southern Africa, as well as islands of the Indian Ocean, including the Seychelles. To discuss your own elephant safari, please contact Delta Willis

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