Mystery of the hideaway elephants of the Knysna forest

The elephants of thee Knysna forests are the remnants of a famous, once numerous population. They are large specimens of their kind. It has been suggested that living in a high forest area stimulated their growth, while the elephant community of thee Addo bush, further east, were slightly stunted because they lived in an area of low shrub.

The Knysna elephants, unfortunately for themselves, carried excellent ivory and were systematically hunted. Sportsmen, too, were attracted to the forest by the size of the elephants, and, using the local inhabitants as guides, the hunted the big bulls and carried away their heads, tusks and tails as trophies.

Today, the last of these animals live in the depths of the forest and are seldom seen.

They are silent, elusive creatures, occasionally looming out of the shadows and surprising foresters, hikers and campers. Motorists see them crossing the roads and relate exciting tales of charges and narrow escapes.

With the habits of these elephants confining them to deep forests, they are difficult to photograph and little is known about their numbers, or whether they have, in their isolation, developed different characteristics from those of Savannah elephants in the rest of Africa.

In former years, elephants were found as far south as the Cape Peninsula, and up the west coast as far as the Olifants River and the verges of Namaqualand. These elephants of the far south of Africa were blood-brothers of the Knysna elephants.

There was no way elephants could have crossed the more arid Karoo areas or Namaqualand – they could only have migrated down the watercourses to the Orange River or the well-watered Garden Route, or retreated up it when pressed by hunters from the settlement at the Cape.

The elephants of Knysna are therefore the last of a most interesting branch of their kind, they belong to the same species, Loxodonta Africana, as all the bush or Savannah elephants of Africa, but their life-style has modified their habits, causing them to resemble those of one of the two sub-species of African elephant – the forest elephant, Loxodonta Africana Cyclotis, whose habitat is the equatorial forests of West and Central Africa.

In appearance, however, the Knysna elephants are identical to the bush elephants. Both have curved tusks of excellent soft ivory, easily carved, unlike the brittle ivory of the forest elephants.

Left to themselves, these Knysna elephants will linger on in their forest home for an indefinite period. The have a rich food supply and ample water. Excessive dampness is their greater enemy, inflicting them with rheumatism.

They breed quite regularly, but elephants are not fast breeders. Breeding starts when they are about 12 years old, and their prime is between 40 and 50 years. The gestation period is 22 months.

Life in the high forest also has special hazards for calves, they can be trapped in mud, catch a cold or be pinned by falling trees.

At Sophie’s Properties we take great pride and care for these majestically creatures dwelling in our forests. Would you like to move closer to nature? Brenton-on-Sea is a small coastal town surrounded by nature reserves and overlooking the Indian Ocean. Contact Sophie on 082 572 2729 to view upmarket houses and vacant stands for sale.