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The Knysna elephants are a very small number of African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana), a relict population of large herds which roamed the Tsitsikamma Forest and surrounding regions at the southern tip of Africa until the 1800s and 1900s. It is conjectured that about 1,000 elephants historically roamed the Outeniqua/Tsitsikamma area.

The elephants of Knysna, living deep in the high forest, are shy and seldom seen and 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 the Addo bush, further east, and were slightly stunted because they lived in an area of low shrub.

Before the arrival of the Bantu and European-origin settlers, the nomadic people had refrained from hunting wildlife unsustainably. Ivory hunting and loss of habitat to agriculture had all but exterminated elephants from the Cape region of Africa by 1900. The last elephant in the vicinity of the Cape peninsula was killed in 1704 and elephant populations west of the Knysna region were extirpated prior to 1800. By 1775 the remaining Cape elephants had retreated for their lives into forests along the foothills of the Outinequa/Tsitsikamma coastal mountain range around Knysna, and dense scrub-thickets of the Addo bush. As far back as 1870 it was estimated that only some 400 elephants remained out of the enormous numbers that had been observed in and about these southern forests in earlier centuries.

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. They have a rich food supply and ample water. Excessive dampness is their greatest enemy, inflicting them with rheumatism.

A Garden Route National Park spokesperson said it is a “rare occasion to spot an elephant and this needs to be celebrated”. Only a few people see a Knysna elephant. There are maybe one or two a year. More info at The Knysna Elephants and Forests Public Facebook group.

Join us for tours through this magnificent area on our tours.

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