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Knysna Elephant Park

For those of us who grew up reading Dalene Matthee’s books, the Knysna forest is synonymous with elephants. Who can forget the struggles of the forest people described in Circles In A Forest and Fiela’s Child? The term “big foot” brings to mind something totally different in South Africa than in North America. Here it’s used to describe the majestic and violent elephants that used to roam the mountains and forests in this part of South Africa in the past.

We were travelling around the Garden Route and decided to visit the park. Where else would we have the opportunity to see elephants on the edge of the Knysna forest, feed them and yes, even walk with them? i was as excited as a little girl on the way to ride a Super Tube for the first time. We parked the car and set off to buy tickets at the Visitors Centre. There we found out that we had the option of feeding the elephants. Yes, you heard me. We could buy a bucket filled with vegetables and feed it to the elephants. How this was all going to happen, we didn’t know, but we were ready to find that out. After a short video presentation, which informs visitors about the park and provides some safety instructions, we were ushered to a vehicle which transported us to the grassy hill where we were to meet Sally and her gang.

As we approached, we could see the elephants wandering around, deftly yanking out some tufts of grass, but apparently they knew what we were bringing along, and as the vehicles drew near, the elephants started moving towards our group. The elephant handlers gathered the animals behind a steel barrier, and the visitors were allowed to bring the buckets of goodies. That-Man gleefully utered a soprano giggle every time the elephant outsmarted him and before you could say "bucket-of-pumpkins," the whole lot was finished.

Now we had the opportunity to take a walk through the grassland with the herd, in the company of an experienced and passionate elephant guide, Wilfred. The way he handled the elephants with care, their playful interaction as the elephants searched through his pockets for treats and the reverent way he spoke about the elephants all added up when i made my final assessment of the Knysna Elephant Park. Many a documentary has shown the way elephants have been mistreated at tourist attractions in order to train them to be show animals. Here, however, there is nothing of that kind to be found. While the female and infant elephants are kept in an enclosure at night, the elephants are free to roam around in the day. Indeed, while they are free to go to the forest, it seems that they choose to stay in the open grassland, except when accompanied by their caretakers. They are treated with great care and respect, and they respond well in turn.

The size of an elephant may be impressive, but the details were even more awe-inspiring. The size of their feet, the roughness of their skin, the strange wires that serve as hair, and the way their eyelashes almost completely veils their eyes, all added to a new sense of wonder at the beauty of these elephants. One thing that truly surprised me was their agility despite their size and seemingly clumsy bodies.

We stayed as long as we could, and then returned to the main building. This has come to be counted among one of my favourite memories ever of the Garden Route.

For those of you who are interested in visiting the Knysna Elephant Park, we’ve included some more information:

In 1994, Ian and Lisette Withers founded the Knysna Elephant Park with two calves, Harry and Sally, rescued from a Kruger National Park cull. It’s a pioneer institution for taking care of orphaned elephants in South Africa. Over 40 elephants, including elephants that had previously been circus animals, orphaned calves and elephants rescued from culls, have passed through this park or found a permanent home here. While some of them stay on, others are eventually moved to different reserves in other provinces.

Consequently, Knysna Elephant Park is recognised worldwide as a leader in their field, and they have been influential in establishing regulations on how to work with captive elephants in South Africa.

The elephants are encouraged to follow the social behaviour they would in the wild, meaning that male elephants are ejected from the breeding herd at a certain age. They gather together in a “bachelor” herd, leaving the females and young males in the main herd.

Since 2009, the African Elephant Research Unit has studied elephants at Knysna Elephant Park and elsewhere in order to contribute to their welfare. They have sponsor and volunteer programs for people who want to contribute to the research about and care of the animals.

The park also houses a curio shop, restaurant, a lodge with rooms next to the elephant enclosure and an excellent wedding venue.

365 days a year

Summer - 08:30-16:00

Winter - 09:00-16:00

Adults R290

Children 5-12 years R130

Children under 5 Free

Tour Guides Free

Pensioners & Students R210

Groups (more than 10 persons) R240

Adults R590

Children 5-12 years R260

Price includes an elephant snack bucket and refreshments at Indlovu Café after the walk

Early morning encounters (by reservation only) – 07:00 (Summer) & 07:30 (Winter)

Late afternoon encounters (by reservation only) – 16:00

Only available until 28 February 2018

Adults R1,050

Children 5-12 years R490

Price includes an elephant snack bucket and refreshments at Indlovu Café after the ride

6 rooms

2-5 people per room

R950 – R2,750 per room

Spend a night in a luxurious room with the opportunity of watching a herd of elephants as they feed and sleep. A set breakfast is included in the price, as well as an early morning experience with the elephants, and as many tours as you’d like. However, rides and walks are not included in the price, and pre-booking is required. These prices are valid until 30 April 2018.

Residents of the Garden Route may apply for a loyalty card (R200 initially, R50 per year after that), which allows them to participate in the Be Touched By An Elephant tours for free, as well as discounts for friends who join them. They can also stay at the Lodge at reduced prices during the winter months.

*Information regarding opening hours, fees and accommodation are accurate as of date of publication.

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Garden Route - The First 3km Of The Otter

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Take The Train - Cape Town To Simon's Town

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