The last leg of our journey took us to the Knysna Elephant Park. Knysna forest elephants had supposedly roamed freely through the forests around Knysna but, largely through loss of habitat, they became almost extinct. The Knysna Elephant Park sought to bring elephants back to the area. Like Birds of Eden and Monkeyland they’re also a sanctuary, taking in calves rescued from culls or orphaned and elephants kept in poorly run zoo’s, or no longer wanted by their owners as they’re too old and no longer workable.
There’s a whole range of different elephant encounters, such as early morning or evening walks and rides (NOTE: rides are ‘conducted according to strict welfare guidelines. No saddles are used and the entire herd stays together.’) However, we chose to simply go and pay the elephants a visit, during which you can also buy a bucket of fruit to feed to them. You climb onto a tractor pulled trailer with a group of people and as the free roaming elephants see you coming they all rush to stand behind a bar, waiting for the buckets of fruit that they know are coming.
Then in smaller groups a guide takes you over to an elephant and, whilst they’re explaining more about the Park and elephants, you have the opportunity to get a closer look and even feel the texture of their skin (like sandpaper).
You can then stay with the elephants for as long as you like and watch the next trailer load of people arrive who’ll go through the same process. We stayed for about 3 or 4 trailer loads of people arriving and watched the elephants rush to the feeding bar each time and then go through the same routine. For me it was a little disconcerting, watching these truly majestic creatures perform over and over, however it’s a great experience and I can also appreciate the good that comes from it. The elephants there are well cared for and the elephant encounters are a way of educating people about the animals. Also, any elephants that the park rescues that can be rehabilitated for the wild are relocated to big game reserves where they’ve started their own families, so ultimately the park is working towards the conservation of these amazing creatures.
The best part was just watching them in the moments between arriving tourist groups.
As an added bonus a herd of zebra appeared on the horizon.
The elephants then came and put on a show of their own choosing right in front of where we were sitting.
Despite the situation, (and forgive the cliche), it was humbling to be around them, but also incredibly sad to think that because of the threat to their lives and destruction of their habitat by humans, this is now their only option.
I had some of the most incredible experiences and saw amazing things on this road trip, and given the chance I’d definitely go again, especially as I’m sure there are millions of places we missed out!
After our visit to the elephants we began the long journey home and, quite literally, drove off into the sunset.