In the deep-green depths of the Knysna forest lives the last, tiny remnant of the once great herds of Cape bush elephant. Of the original group just one female remains, though three elephants where recently brought in from the Kruger National park.
Elephants are the largest land mammals, second to the great whales as the largest living creature. A big male can stand up to four meters tall and weigh six or seven tons.
The Knysna Elephants are the last of the most southern elephants on the African continent. They represent a remnant of large populations, which occupied the Cape in the 17th century. The elephants were confined to an area of roughly 150 square km in the forest of Diepwalle, Gouna and Buffelsnek.
In 1876 it was estimated that between 400 and 500 giants roamed the forests of Knysna. The numbers declined partly due to poaching and ivory smuggling. In 1908 when the elephants were declared royal game only 20 were counted.
An elephant's tusks or ivory can extend to three meters each and weigh as much as 100 kilogram. This is a very popular item to smugglers. An elephant's tusks are its only two front teeth, which continue to grow throughout life.
Tusks never grow again when they are lost. Males carry longer and heavier tusks than females. It can reach such a length that they touch the ground when the animal stands at rest.
Apart from fighting, sparring and jousting, an elephant uses its tusks almost continuously while feeding. Using them in conjunction with its trunk to break branches, peeling bark, stripping off thorns and digging for roots. Elephants are usually left or right handed and will use one tusk almost exclusively.
According to forestry records 12 elephants survived by 1920 and in 1962 only 10 were counted. After having remained static for 50 years, the Knysna elephant population decreased rapidly and in 1983 only four were recorded. This population crash was merely the dying out of the old animals.