The history of the Knysna elephant is a tragic one and it is still not known with any certainty whether any survive today. Certainly none have been seen in the forest for years, although extensive research indicates that a small herd of four may still be living secretly deep in the forest.
In the beginning, wildlife was prolific in the Knysna region with large numbers of elephant, buffalo, antelope, lion and hippopotamus in the area. The discovery of gold and the corresponding influx of people soon put paid to this, and before long these large herds were eradicated by trophy hunters. Less than 50 elephants remained in the forest by the early 1900s. Despite this, the hunting continued, and by 1920 only 16 remained.
Massive public outcry resulted in these last individuals finding tentative protection on a private farm. During the 1920s, Major Pretorius, was granted permission to shoot one of these elephant for research purposes. What transpired was a spontaneous killing spree that left five of the precious elephants slaughtered and sealed the fate of these priceless beasts, sending them to their doom.
In 1968, a survey revealed that only 7 elephant remained. Of these, the legendary bull, ‘Aftand’, was culled due to his intrusion into neighbouring farms and in 1981 only 4 elephant were recorded. After that, attempts to introduce new breeding stock have all failed and it seems we have seen the last of the Knysna elephants. Or have we? Now and again hikers in the forest report signs of elephant, but no confirmed sightings have been recorded for a long time.
In order to keep the magic of the Knysna elephant alive and as a tribute to them, the Knysna Elephant Park was established in 1994. The park is home to a small herd of elephants, which have all been brought in from other parks. Here guests can interact with the elephants by riding them, walking with them or just watching them. It is a fantastic opportunity to get close to these amazing creatures and serves to foster respect and understanding of elephants.