Migration is an important, but threatened ecological process. Conserving migration requires the
maintenance of functional connectivity across sufficiently large areas. Therefore, we need to know
if, where and why species migrate. Elephants are highly mobile and can travel long distances but we
do not know if they migrate. Here, we analysed the movement trajectories of 139 savanna elephants
(Loxodonta africana) within eight clusters of protected areas across southern Africa to determine if
elephants migrate, and if so, where, how and why they migrate. Only 25 of these elephants migrated.
Elephants are a facultative partially migratory species, where only some individuals in a population
migrate opportunistically, and not every year. Elephants migrated between distinct seasonal ranges
corresponding to southern Africa’s dry and wet seasons. The timing of wet season migrations was
associated with the onset of rainfall and the subsequent greening up of forage. Conversely, the
duration, distance, and the timing of dry season migrations varied idiosyncratically. The drivers
of elephant migration are likely a complex interaction between individual traits, density, and the
distribution and availability of resources. Despite most migrations crossing administrative boundaries,
conservation networks provided functional space for elephants to migrate.