There is much speculation and mystery about the Knysna Elephants. How many are there really?
Where do they wander and how far is their range? From several thousand said to have been living in the Cape hundreds of years ago there is controversy now whether there is only one old female left or perhaps according to other sources a little herd survives. Right up to the present hikers, bikers and picnickers as well as rangers and forest workers find evidence of elephant presence when seeing dung, damaged vegetation or even a momentary sighting of an elusive beast.
The Bushmen hunted elephants with bows and poisoned arrows long ago and the Koi people tracked and killed them with spears. These early tribes used their skin for their shelters and ate their meat. Later European and other settlers would hunt them for their tusks. In the 18th century the elephants were forced into forest areas to escape. They were seen in Addo, Knysna and the Tsitsikamma area.
Vasco da Gama reported seeing herds in Mossel Bay in the late 15th century. There are many tales of elephant encounters since then but the numbers sighted reduced significantly over the years. Despite the government passing legislation to protect the elephants there were fewer and fewer spotted. Animals were killed for their tusks mainly but also for the pot and sometimes in
the case of attack for self-protection.
When gold was found at Millwood, a forest area near Knysna, a little town grew up briefly while the gold lasted. Elephants as well as other game escaped deeper into the forest. When the gold ran out the prospectors moved out leaving the town deserted. This was good news for the wild life. One can see the old mine workings still. There are some visible along the waterfall walk at Jubilee Creek, a popular recreational area with picnic spots and wonderful trees. One is not allowed into the old mine shafts visible along the paths but they add to the experience of this beautiful little hike.
For many years there have been sightings of a cow with her calf, an old cow with a young adult and several skeletons have been found. Residents of the Cape and conservation authorities alike
have worried about the thought of a lone female living in the forest. Eventually three young females were moved from Kruger National Park and were released into the forest in 1999. They did meet up with the lone female a few times but this project was doomed. One female died and the other two caused problems raiding farms for food. They did a lot of damage which caused their removal to a reserve for their own safety and the farmers’ peace of mind.
Whether there is one or there are several elephants in the forest hikers, cyclists and forest workers have continued to encounter evidence of at least one elephant in several places. One elephant has been photographed several times. This is a female with a distinctive tear in one ear. It would be wonderful to think that there are several more hiding in the trees, leading a peaceful life and plodding along their own paths. Somehow these animals have a mystique which is hard to resist. They are so special with their wonderful appearance, their intelligence, their family structures and their mysterious ways.
The forest areas in this part of the Garden Route are beautiful with many well maintained paths and cycle tracks. When visiting this spectacular coast it’s worth exploring these places even if you don’t come across an elephant!