The Attack at Elephant Sands Campsite

Getting close to wild African Elephants at Elephant Sands campsite
When the elephants came under attack at Elephant Sands Campsite in Botswana
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“I wouldn’t put your tent there.” The guide warned me.

“Why?” I enquired.

“When the elephants come through in the night they use those trees as scratching posts” as he points to the acacia tree next to my tent. “Chances are they won’t see you and there will be quite a mess to clean up in the morning.”

“Fair enough.” I responded as I took my tent and moved it a little further away from the little spiky shrubs.

It was at this point I knew I was in a special place.

Welcome to Elephant Sands Campsite in Botswana

Botswana is often overlooked as a destination as people flock to its more famous Sothern neighbour, South Africa. However, this is a good thing as it has many secrets waiting to be discovered and is also ranked as Africa’s 2nd safest country.

Botswana is home to some amazing places to spot wildlife including the Ocovango Delta, Chobe river, and the place this post is about, the Elephant Sands is a campsite.

Located in the Northern wilderness, as the name suggests, it is a fantastic place to get close to wild elephants in Africa. I was there on an overnight stop as part of a five-day organised tour that started in Livingstone, Zambia, (where I got to jump in the Devil’s Pool) and ended in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you’re not tied to a tour as I was, it’s definitely worth knowing the best time to visit Botswana before you go.

The tour was the final leg of my trip through Africa and was a great way to end it, especially as I had to fly home from J’berg. Not only did it make sure I was in J’berg on time, the day before my flight (something that can’t be said very often when talking about African transport) but I also got to meet great people along the way and really enjoyed the final days of my solo African adventure.

It always starts with a bloody tent

As with most stops on these safaris, the first job after arriving is putting up the tents. After a few days, it becomes a real pain in the arse. I would love to be able to say I got better at it each day and it got easier . . . but it didn’t.

Luckily I could rely on the help of the others. On reflection, it must have been that I had a bad tent.

Another tenting skill I also didn’t master was choosing the right spot. A day earlier I had managed to camp on an ants nest and was still finding hundreds of the little buggers hitching along with me.

With the ground hard and dusty, if I hadn’t been so poor, due to a complete lack of budgeting skill, I would have certainly ended up in one of Elephant Sand’s lodges rather than my ant-ridden tent.

After receiving the very welcome safety advice, I finally decided on a safe place to pitch my tent before heading to the bar area for a couple of well-earned beers and a spot of elephant watching.

Elephant sands swimming pool

The Elephant Sands watering Hole

The campsite (and more importantly campsite bar) is on a raised terrace area with a swimming pool and located about 20 metres away from a watering hole. When our group arrived there must have been at least 12 elephants, bathing, spraying and in general having a pretty good time.

They would often inquisitively wander over to us, within touching distance, I had to keep reminding myself that they are wild elephants, so although I really wanted to grab some trunk, I thought I best err on the side of caution.

Attack of the African wild dogs

It was while watching the elephants I noticed something on the horizon, smaller than an elephant. Then a second and a third, it was a pack of wild dogs and they wanted what the elephants had . . . the water.

A couple of the wild dogs approached, but the elephants didn’t want to share and chased them off. I thought that’s pretty cool, wild dogs are quite rare to see.

Wild dogs attack elephants
Wild dogs lurk in the trees, wish I could have taken a better photo

But before I could get my next beer I heard a commotion as the whole pack, around 25 dogs, charged the watering hole.

Startled, the elephants retreated and stood back, watching the dogs. Every now and again an elephant would make a half-hearted attempt to scare the dogs away, running towards them, trumpeting and putting on a show. But it would take just one dog to growl and stand its ground and the elephant would slink back off.

The elephants fight back

However, after about 10 minutes of watching the dogs, they decided enough was enough. A group of them charged together as the dogs stood firm, but this time, as two pulled up, the third elephant, a bull and the biggest of the bunch kept on going, water and dogs flew in every direction! The rest of the elephants saw their opportunity and dashed into the water.

With no other option, the dogs retreated. For a while they hung around, it seemed they were devising a new plan, but something happened in the pack and they became more interested in fighting each other as opposed to the elephants and disappeared over the horizon.

Elephant encounters at Elephant Sands Campsite in botswana
That was a pretty big elephant

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to witness that and I didn’t even have to go on a safari trip to do it. Well, I was on a safari, but you know what I mean, one of those game drives into the national parks with lots of people in safari jackets crammed into a small Jeep. It was like something straight out of a wildlife documentary, right in front of me, with cold beer available!

As the elephants settled back into their routine of spraying, bathing and generally lazing around, I finally got that second beer and relaxed, sipping, thinking about the power of that bull elephant and wondering if my tent really was far enough away from those acacia trees.

Getting close to wild African elephants

Discover more from my African Adventure

If you would like to know more about my trip through Africa, an ambitious attempt at solo travel for the first time, you can buy my awesome travel diary on Amazon. How to Clean Your Underwear in Africa chronicles my trip, the highs, lows and hangovers as well as dishing out lots of handy advice for first-time travellers. There may even be some great little nuggets in there for travelling pros as well.

You could also get a free PDF digital download of the book by signing up to my Travel Blogs updates, a monthly newsletter that cherry picks the best of months blogs shard on my interactive travel blog maps.

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  1. Ok, a little scary but fantastic experience. I probably would be ready to run zigzag after seeing those elephants. They can be pretty unpredictable but am glad you did not for we would not have had this post. Nice one.

  2. The tour sounds interesting, so glad that they were on time and well organized.
    You made me laugh with camping on an ants nest! 😀 I can totally relate, not knowing a thing about putting a tent up. Or the right location to put it on! Such luck that you were told to move it on time, right! 🙂
    And how about those wild dogs! You’ve actually witnessed how they have dispersed when elephants ran up to them? Oh my, that must have been the sight! So envious! 🙂

  3. This sounds amazing. What an incredible experience to be so close to these immense wild creatures, and to also camp and be outside and close to nature. It’s lucky that your guide warned you about setting up your tent near the scratching posts, it would have been awful to get trampled!

  4. To see elephants in the wild would be such an awesome experience. And they don’t seem to mind human presence at all because they let you get so close. I would have a difficult time not reaching out to touch them. And how cool to see them interact with the wild dogs! There is a pair of African wild dogs at my local zoo and I will watch them forever. Seeing them in their natural environment would be a dream come true.

  5. I cannot even describe how jealous I am right now. You are so damn lucky!! As you have probably noticed, I am kinda obsessed with elephants and generally wildlife. I would LOVE to see something similar. Also wild dogs look so cute!! Am I the only one who thinks that?

  6. Wow what an awesome experience. I agree sounds so much better than those other safaris. This one I would pick over any other ones in a heartbeat. To see those elephants in their own habitat – so precious.

  7. Oh gosh, did you fear for your own life? That many wild dogs nearby would make me worry they would come over. An amazing natural interaction to witness though, not many people can boast this one!

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