I love animals and nature. I also like taking photos of them! I promised myself a trip up South Africa’s beautiful Garden Route to see the elephants.
I originally planned to go to the ADDO Park, a real nature reserve on the borders between the Western and Eastern Cape, but a family member suggested the Knysna Elephant Park. The Knysna Elephant Park is a great experience, if you want to really interact with the elephants and if you are on a budget. You get to meet them, feed them, touch them, connect with them and take lots of cool close-up pics of them too.
history of the park
The elephants once roamed the forests of the Western and Eastern Cape provinces, and they had lived in peace with the indigenous peoples of the Cape. Colonisation had led to their near demise, as Europeans killed the elephants for the ivory trade and to get rid of them to expand their farming lands. At the beginning of the 20th century, the herds of the Knysna elephants had dwindled to just 16! Even at 16 a further 5 were killed with permission by the government to preserve private farming lands.
The Elephants had changed their behaviours and diets during this horrible time, and learnt to move quietly and stealthily through the forests, knowing they were being hunted. The very last remaining elephants were moved to the Nature reserve in the Eastern Cape, which share the same natural environment as Knysna. However, the natural herds of the Knysna forests are now gone.
Who wakes up and decides “Today, I want to kill an elephant!” Seriously, who kills an elephant?
The Elephant Park
These elephants are in a sanctuary, as many were orphaned or got lost from their herds. They are people friendly and there’s nothing quite like being so close to them and getting to stand right under one is something you don’t forget!
These elephants usually come in as young calves and are used to human interaction, so they are rather tame. There are many game rangers who stand with you as you take those close up shots and monitor the feeding times. You get a bucket of fruits and vegetables, and the elephants will stretch out their long trunks to take the food from your hand!
The park has an on-site restaurant, and you can even go on on elephant rides. The ride on the elephant does not include those seats, which the animal bears on its back as they do in Asia. You get to sit right on them. To experience a ride on these elephants’ backs, you need to book in advance and preferably before arriving there. The whole week ahead of them was already booked. I suppose the rides are limited and monitored to a small time, as not to exhaust the elephants. 🙂
Just seeing them up close is really awesome, and when you get to actually interact with them it takes the experience to a new level. Their skin is really, really hard, while their eyelashes are like broom bristles! They really are nature’s gentle giants <3!
The elephant experience at our parks and reserves in South Africa is completely different from that in South East Asia. Our elephants are not chained up, made to work whole day and live in cramped conditions. South African parks and reserves do manage to uphold very good standards when conserving our wildlife, and these elephants get to roam freely in wide open natural spaces.
These lovely elephants are definitely worth the visit, especially if you are helping to conserve these amazing animals! The picture above are of two young adolescent males. Even though these two were deemed harmless, they were off limits as it was breeding season and they were irritable. You will be mainly socialising with the females and calves. The big adult bulls were sectioned off due to the fact that they were in musth and highly aggressive.
It was actually my first trip to Knysna, one of the last stops before you venture into the next province, the Eastern Cape. Besides bonding with these amazing elephants, it also offers a really wonderful opportunity to photograph them and appreciate them.
- If you’re visiting Cape Town, I suggest you rent a car. the drive is 6 hours from Cape Town to Knysna. Even if you take the short flight to George, you will still need to drive to Knysna.
- If you really want to see elephants in the natural wild near the Western Cape, the ADDO nature park is another 2 hours drive in the next province in the Eastern Cape.
- Knysna is small town, but it has everything you need for your travels, including all big supermarkets.
- Try and book your accommodation online before during peak season in Dec-Feb.
- If you going to photograph the elephants, please put your flash OFF!
Just click on this link to their website for more info:
Knysna Elephant Park