You can view African elephants easily in almost all wildlife parks and private game ranches in South Africa. Kruger National Park and its surrounding private game reserves, located in the far east of the country north of Johannesburg and Addo Elephant National Park, in the south-central part of the country south of Port Elizabeth are two of the best places for viewing the great creatures.
The subspecies of South Africa elephants you are most likely to see on safari is the African bush elephant, the largest of all land mammals. Elsewhere in Africa, you are apt to see forest elephants as well. These are smaller and their tusks are straighter, making it easier for them to navigate through thick forest and jungle. You will find the forest elephant in places like the forest around Mt. Kenya, the Kakamega Forest on the shores of Lake Victoria, and the rainforests around the Virunga Mountains of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo.
South Africa elephants are found in large numbers. The countries of Zimbabwe and Botswana in southern Africa also have large populations of African elephants. The reasons for this include vigorous programs to protect the animals and the international ban on ivory trade enacted by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). This ban dealt a financial blow to the countries (primarily in southern Africa) that did trade in ivory, and led to an elephant population explosion. Because of this, this ban has controversially been lifted a number of times allowing the culling of herds and trade in the resulting ivory. Additionally, elephants are legal trophy animals for big game hunting in these countries. While many people around the world may abhor these practices, there have been instances of thousands of elephants dying of starvation because there were more animals than the habitat could sustain and it is undeniable that big game hunters are almost all dedicated conservationists.
One of the traits of African elephants that has led to population depletion by poaching is the fact that both male and female elephants grow tusks. (Only male Asian elephants grow tusks.) Elephant herds are made up entirely of females and their young; male elephants are chased out of the herd when they begin to reach sexual maturity in their teenage years. They then wander the bush alone or in small groups of only two to six bulls. Poachers, often armed with sophisticated automatic weapons will gun down all the older breeding females, leaving only helpless young who have not yet grown tusks. Without human intervention, these young will die. The countries with the most endangered populations of elephants are primarily Kenya, vulnerable to well financed and well-armed poachers from neighboring Somalia and Sudan and Tanzania , with huge tracts of sparsely populated and poorly policed wilderness. Countries where there has been longstanding civil unrest also have depleted elephant populations. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still experiencing conflict, Uganda, which lost almost all its elephants during the reign of Idi Amin; and Mozambique and Angola, which endured decades of civil war.