Southern Africa’s National Parks systems make it possible, and quite smooth, for visitors to travel by themselves and experience the fullness of Africa and its wildlife at their own pace and budget. This ease of access result in a lot of visitors often opting to explore these wilderness areas without local guides, figuring it out as they go.

There is a lot of field guides and reading material available online to prepare oneself for a self-drive safari to Africa. Still, all the theory in the world can’t ready you for what you may encounter practically in the African bush. 


It’s your first time in Africa, and you decided that Kruger National Park would be your safari destination of choice. Early on the first morning, you head out, the sun glaring through the Acacia trees, Turtle Doves declaring their presence and the fresh morning air blowing through the window of your 4×4. Shortly after leaving camp, you see an Elephant approaching the road up ahead, and your excitement is sparking. The adrenaline starts pumping, you start guessing what the Elephant is going to do and you also wonder how close you can get to it. As you reduce speed and creep ever closer, the Elephant, who was crossing the road, now turns to face you, flaps his ears at you and starts heading in your direction. So what do you do?

Facing Elephants in the wild can sometimes be an intimidating experience, but with a few essential guidelines, one can enjoy them safely and with vast amounts of excitement and wonder! 

Here are some of those guidelines:


When you encounter an elephant, especially if it’s close to the road, make sure you have a look around for other elephants nearby. Few situations have made me as nervous as being stuck in the middle of a breeding herd of Elephant. Keep your distance, scan for other potential elephants and if you are sure you won’t end up in the middle of a breeding herd, go in for a closer look, always looking around for other elephants.


Upon first sight of the Elephant, first, keep your distance to scan the surrounding area safely, and pick up on the mood, and behaviour, of the Elephant. If you encounter a herd, it’s better to keep a safe distance, especially if the surrounding area is covered in thick bush, and allow them to go about their business. If you do move in for a closer look, do so slowly and only go as close as you’re comfortable too. 


If the Elephant is feeding, it’s at its most relaxed state. Animals only feed when they feel there is no danger to their immediate area, even when they know of your presence. They may sometimes pick up their trunks and point them in your direction to give you a smell, and then go about their business. If the Elephant is slowly feeding in your path, or even just moving towards you, just back away slowly and make sure you give it enough space to move around you. Don’t block its route.



If the Elephant has its head raised, ears spread out wide and tail erect, it means it’s agitated and stressed. From this position, either the Elephant may approach to investigate and see your reaction, or it may move away rapidly, once the Elephant starts showing this behaviour, back away slowly, giving it more space to get comfortable again. If you find yourself only a few feet from the Elephant and it starts showing any of the signs mentioned above, sit still, don’t make a sound and give the elephant time to relax and move away. A sudden start of the car or movement could envoke a charge and a less than ideal situation. In most cases, the Elephant will move off without actually doing anything to you or your vehicle.


It is important to remember that the elephants spread out over Southern Africa’s National Parks are entirely wild and shouldn’t be tested or played with. Be on the safe side and keep a comfortable distance and whatever you do, don’t get out of your car.


This is good advice for any wild animal and just for life in general. If you keep a safe distance and don’t provoke the elephants to agitated behaviour, they will reciprocate and allow you a fantastic sighting on your safari experience.

Enjoy your time in Africa! Travel safely! And if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments or send me an email.