There are elephants in game parks all over Africa, but the one which was opened to save the elephants of the Southern Cape in South Africa is Addo National Elephant Park.
The history of the park.
The park was opened in 1931 to provide a protected area for the eleven elephants left in the area. During the days of big game hunting and growing human settlements, wildlife was considered expendable and a nuisance. According the East Cape Tours, there were thousands of elephants, buffalo, rhino, zebra, giraffe, and other animals, but they were being killed off. The last lion in the area was shot in 1849, and the last rhino in 1853. Elephants are an amazing community of animals who can adapt and learn new ways of living to protect themselves. There are several places in South Africa where the elephants took to the bush and hid from humans, and even became nocturnal to keep themselves safe over generations.
East Cape Tours reports that by 1918 there were about 140 left, and a hunter was sent in “to rid the area of the nuisance…and in 14 months, managed to kill 114, and capture 7 which were sold to the circus.” There were only 11 elephants to be found in 1931 when the park was established. Current numbers are somewhere around 450 elephants.
Many other animals in the park.
People still go to the park to see elephants, but in recent years there have been successful programs to reintroduce the wide range of wildlife which was once native to this area. The Addo Elephant Park website documents additions to the park, including lions and spotted hyenas in 2003, Cape buffalo, the endangered black rhino, antelope, warthogs, leopards, and a vast number of other animal and bird life. The park contains what was the Big Five for hunters, and is now the Big Five for tourists hunting with cameras: the lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard.
One of the creatures which is found in Addo is the flightless dung beetle. Signs are posted to tell visitors that this dung beetle is protected, and has the right of way. If you see one moving its huge roll of dung across the road, stop and wait for it to pass.
Visiting the park.
There are so many ways to visit the park. It is always helpful to take at least one organized tour with rangers when visiting a game park, as they not only know where the animals are, but can give you a lot of background and answer lots of questions. However, it is really marvelous to drive around the park, being able to stop for as long as your group wants to while watching a group of elephants.
Watching at the waterhole.
We sat for a long time in a parking spot over looking a water hole. There was a group of elephants taking turns climbing in the water, rolling around to get well washed, spraying water with their trunks, and looking as though they were enjoying themselves. The smaller youngsters were a bit unsteady as they joined their group in the water, while some of the middle sized youngsters seemed to be having great fun.
As another group came along, we saw the hierarchy of the elephant community at work. The large bull came lumbering along towards the water, and all the others moved aside or got out to make way for him. One younger bull seemed to consider not making way, but then thought better of it when the bull moved in his direction. The big boss elephant certainly enjoyed his time in the water, and the others kept their distance.
How elephants communicate.
At some point, the message was given that it was time to move on. We didn’t hear any sounds, but one by one the elephants began to gather and head slowly off in one direction. Mothers or aunties gathered the younger ones, gently nudging them from behind in the right direction, just as a group of human moms in a park might do. The groups separated, with each group heading off in their own direction. The larger elephants led the herds, and a few at the back kept rounding up their group to be sure all were on their way.
We were told by one of the rangers that for many years people believed elephants were pretty quiet, not speaking to each other. Then when recording equipment was used, they found that the elephants were constantly talking to each other, but at a frequency below that of human ears. Apparently the groups we were watching were communicating in ways we could not hear.
Large ranges are needed.
Elephants need a lot of space, as they roam in wide ranges, and eat a great deal of vegetation. When they want the leaves from a tree, they knock it down with their heads and flatten it to the ground where it is easy to get to the leaves. It takes a lot of land and trees to keep a herd of elephants in food.
There are fruit trees growing in the area, which pleases the elephants, who are known for their fondness for fruit. If you want to taste a bit of South Africa, and enjoy flavor of one fruit elephants are known to like, find Amarula liqueur in your local liquor store. It is a creamy fruit drink with an elephant picture on the label.
The growing park.
The park continues to grow in quantity of animal life and in actual size, now including the dune areas along the coast and islands off the coast with sea life which will become part of the protected wildlife. This is a park which will be on the must see list for visitors to South Africa for many years, and for more than just elephants. However, for those of us who love and admire the community of these wonderful creatures, the elephants alone are worth the trip.
Sources: East Cape Tours and Addo Elephant Park websites. Personal Experience.