One of the Knysna Forest’s precious gentle giants spotted by SANparks officials a few years ago.(Photo: SANparks.)
KNYSNA NEWS – A group of Grade 4 campers of Oakhill School have been dubbed ‘the elephant spotters’ after they had the incredible fortune to see a Knysna elephant during a school camp last Thursday, April 11.
The group were trekking through fynbos at Millwood Heights below the Bendigo Mine shed (dating from the Millwood Goldfield gold rush of 1876) between 15:30 and 16:30, when nine-year-old Diego Pires heard a rustling in the bush some metres away. He had the proud honour of spotting the elephant(s) first.
“We were actually looking for the other part of our group because they had run away,” Pires explains matter-of-factly.
“And you were trying to find me!” adds an excited Josh Kidwell (10), who, on the morning before they left for camp, emphatically told his dad, Oakhill principal, Shane Kidwell, “Today I’m going to see a Knysna elephant!”
“That’s when I saw a trunk!” says Pires, who then called the others who had been walking right behind him and they all saw the huge grey form of the enormous creature partially visible in the bush.
“We saw a tusk and one flapping ear!” enthuses Richard du Plessis (9) and Liam Watts (10).
“And I only saw the backside of one as he was slowly walking away!” smiles Thandolwethu Rolisisu (10).
Pires then got onto Kidwell’s shoulders and claims to have also seen an elephant calf, but no one else could substantiate that.
The group said that a white bakkie had passed them by earlier and the driver had warned them, “Be careful of the elephants!”
In the meantime, Mark Stevenson, one of the camp organisers and parent who had mapped an orientation trail for the children, went looking for the one group.
“They were taking longer than I had anticipated, so I went to see what was keeping them,” says Stevenson. As he found the group, who had obviously become distracted, Pires nonetheless quite casually asked him whether there were Knysna elephants in the vicinity. “Oh, because we just saw one,” he added.
“I could hardly believe what they were telling me and told them to just stay put as I rushed up the top of the hill so that I could look down onto the next forest valley – I have lived in the Okavanga for almost 13 years and I definitely know what an elephant looks like and sure enough, there he was!”
Stevenson reports that he saw the left side and rump of an adult elephant moving away into the shrubbery for about 45 seconds before it disappeared from view completely.
“It was incredibly exciting and an unforgettable experience for all of us!”
He cycled back to the spot on Sunday in the hope of getting another glimpse, but no luck so far.
Garden Route National Park area manager for Knysna, André Riley was very pleased to hear of the pupils unexpected encounter.
“Every sighting of either an elephant or elephant activity is valuable information for our database and we welcome all reports, although we want to ask the public to please deter from going ‘elephant hunting’ to try and spot them as we are conducting research as non-invasively as possible.”
According to Riley they have had no recent sighting reported by the public. “However, earlier this year, SANParks officials reported fresh elephant activity in the Knysna Forest, in an area not too far from this latest sighting.”
SANParks is currently conducting a monitoring/research project, which aims to determine the sex and age of the individual elephant(s) in the area, by measuring dung and sampling dung for hormone analysis.
“This project is still in its initial phase of sampling, so, unfortunately, it is still too early for us to comment on specific individuals. It is worth mentioning that in order to minimise potential disturbances to the elephants, SANParks have shifted their research focus, away from tracking and photographing, and are now focusing on non-invasive research methodologies, ie dung sampling.”
(A DNA-based non-invasive study was conducted by conservation geneticist Lori S Eggert of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Gareth Patterson of the Knysna Elephant Project. According to their research, published in 2007, there may be five or more elephants in the forest.)
Any elephant sightings or observations of elephant activity can be reported to either the closest SANParks office, or Lizette Moolman at 044 302 5619.
Knysna-Plett Herald, 18 April 2013