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The Wilderness Society

Tracking the elusive Knysna elephants

Written by: Gareth Patterson

On the 11th November 2015, while I was hosting my Secret Elephants Forest Experience in the Knysna forest with guests, we came across fresh tracks of Knysna elephants, and signs of feeding.

Interestingly, the elephants had been feeding exclusively upon Red Alder (Cunonia capensis). On inspecting the tracks, it was clear that two elephants had been feeding there – an adult and a large calf/sub-adult. I determined this by using the method that I had used throughout my seven years of research on the Knysna elephants (as described in my book, The Secret Elephants).

Gareth showing the fresh sign of where the elephants had been feeding © Stewart Patterson

Showing the fresh sign of where the elephants had been feeding © Stewart Patterson

The method (devised by Lee & Moss 1986, Poole 1989) involves measuring the diameter of the hind foot imprint, through which an approximate age can be determined. From the measurements, I first surmised that this could be an adult female and her youngster, but after further analysis, I have realised that it might also be a young adult bull with a sub-adult.

Measuring the imprint © Mac Thorpe

Measuring the imprints © Mac Thorpe

Amazingly, a few days later on 19 November 2015, while hosting another Secret Elephants Forest Experience, I once again came across tracks of the adult Knysna elephant and the youngster. They were extremely fresh and on the slope of a rise, we then found a dung pile. The approximate age of elephants can also be determined by the measurement of the bolus circumference (Jachmann & Bell, 1984). Upon measuring, the age of this elephant correlated closely to the previous age determination of the youngster.

Further along the track we came across a forest information sign, which the elephants had knocked down.

With the broken information sign. The elephant track is visible in the foreground. © Mac Thorpe

With the broken information sign. The elephant track is visible in the foreground. © Mac Thorpe

The Secret Elephants Forest Experience is a 45km drive, incorporated with short exploratory forest strolls, and takes three to four hours. During this time, I speak about my long years of discovery into the lives of these elusive and amazing elephants and about my findings on their diet, range, numbers, and how they brought themselves back from the very brink without the aid of humankind. The forest experience is a verbal and visual interpretation of my book, The Secret Elephants.

The Secret Elephants by Gareth Patterson

The Secret Elephants by Gareth Patterson

It is not a search for the elephants (they must be left in peace and undisturbed), but an experience into their magical and mystical world.

In the forest with a guest © Stewart Patterson

In the forest with a guest © Stewart Patterson

This is a very personalised forest experience, whereupon I accompany participants in their own vehicle. Therefore, usually the maximum number of participants is four (depending on vehicle), and a minimum of two. The Secret Elephants Forest Experience takes place on most Saturdays and Sundays, but can also be arranged during the week, depending on dates. For more information about the forest experience, please email gpatterson@wispernet.co.za.

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