The Knysna Elephants
These elusive Knysna elephants (the African bush elephant – Loxodonta africana) have become adept at moving almost invisibly and in near silence.
There are only a very small number of elephants remaining from a population of large herds which roamed the surrounding forests until the 1800s and 1900s, when contact with European farmers and hunters led to their near extinction.
It is believed that about 1,000 elephants historically roamed this area and as far back as 1870, it was estimated that only some 400 elephants remained out of the enormous numbers that had been observed.
Recent DNA analysis of dung samples has revealed the presence of at least 5 cows and possibly some bulls and calves, moving within an area of 121,000 hectares of forest managed by South African National Parks, constituting the only unfenced elephant group in South Africa.
Despite the DNA evidence, official sources insisted that only one elephant survived, an elusive female known as ‘The Matriarch’ or ‘Oupoot’, making the Knysna elephant functionally extinct.
Interesting facts about the Knysna Elephants
- Fresh Knysna forest elephant dung, when found, is sold for about R300 a heap to community members who use this to cook a soup which is believed to have miraculous health benefits.
- The elephants favour well-defined paths when moving from one area to another. These paths are usually along ridges and always cross valleys and river beds by the easiest route. The skill of the elephants has been invaluable to foresters who have frequently followed elephant paths when making tracks and roads. The road through Bloukrans Pass followed an elephant track.
- In 1920 only 20 animals remained. Major P.J. Pretorius received permission to shoot one Knysna elephant “for scientific research” to determine whether or not these elephants belonged to a separate species. The hunt went terribly wrong and after the hunt it is said only 15 elephants survived.
Sources: The Elephants of Knysna, Nick Carter; The Knysna Elephants and their Forest Home, Margo Mackay