Knysna Elephant Park

Knysna Elephant Park, situated in the heart of the beautiful Garden Route in the Eastern Cape, offers a rare and very exciting opportunity to get close to the southernmost African Elephants in the world.

The Knysna Elephant Park became the first captive elephant operation of its kind to open in South Africa, which happened in 1994. Its primary purpose was to help elephants in the area, who have struggled for many years to survive. It swiftly became one of the leaders of Elephant Management in South Africa.

The park simply began as a farm as the owners, Lisette and Ian, had a natural tendency to care for orphaned animals. Two elephants, Harry and Sally, arrived as orphans after a culling operation in the Kruger Park in 1994. They were around 5 years old at the time and soon became part of the household. Lisette attended an internationally acclaimed course in elephant care in the United States of America in order to learn as much as possible about caring for her elephants. Soon, many other elephants arrived and gradually became integrated into the herd. Harry and Sally were the ones to calm and settle any new arrivals.

A process called Instinct Behaviour Modification is used when training these elephants, whereby we strive to change the instinctive fear a wild animal has of man. By showing an elephant that you mean it no harm, it learns to trust you and you are then able to reward its behaviour with treats. The elephant quickly catches on to this and strives to perform such good behaviour for further rewards. The elephant handlers work with a different elephant each day, in order for each handler to learn the individual characters of each elephant, and in turn, the elephants get to know all the handlers at the park.

Two births have been experienced here, to the delight of the crew at the park. The first being Thandi, born in 2004, and the second being baby Shungu, born on 1 January. Shungu is the Shona word for "patience".

Elephant care is of the highest quality in this country, with facilities for such being world class. The Knysna Elephant Park has developed a system called the "free range controlled environment", whereby the herd roams the park as they please. If they want to receive food from guests, they know to gather at certain points in the park where they have been taught to accept fruit and vegetables from the guests. Barriers are in place for the guests comfort and safety, therefore relaxing both guest and elephant alike. Guests have the opportunity to view these animals up close, with guides adding value to the experience with their knowledge and expertise regarding the elephants behaviour.

Their diets are supplemented by scientifically formulated feeds, a 60 hectare park in which to wander and graze, plenty of big trees to enjoy and two large dams for bathing and drinking. At night, they stay in their stalls, which are lined with sawdust to provide a comfortable bed for them, and are fed with a high protein porridge and blackwattle or Port Jackson branches. In the morning, they once again have porridge, after which they move to one of the dams for a drink of water. While the animals are out and about during the day, their stalls are thoroughly cleaned and prepared for the evening.

Since Harry and Sally arrived, the park has had a number of orphans finding solace in its surrounds and providing entertainment to many visitors from all over the world. Visitors take home with them a healthy respect for these majestic creatures, as well as a better understanding of the African Elephant and its plight across the continent.

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