Animal Angle: The sad story of the last Knysna elephant

Posted on 2022-02-24 08:56:40


In the 19th century, our Knysna elephants were the most southerly group of elephants in Africa and eventually they became the only free-ranging elephants in Africa. They were constantly preyed upon for their ivory, and Charles Helm of the African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience at the Nelson Mandela University writes in an article in The Conversation that it seems that only one elephant, a female in her forties, remains in the Knysna forest. Bearing in mind how family-minded elephants are, this is a sad indictment.  

Helm records that fossil elephant tracksites from the Pleistocene Epoch have been found about 18km from where this lonely elephant lives. These tracksites range from 35,000 to 400,000 years ago and confirm that elephants were widespread in the area. Even when I was a child, a small herd of elephants lived in the Knysna forest, and there were constant pleas for their protection. 

The Knysna elephants belonged to the Laxodonta Africana species, and it seems that they began to inhabit the dense forest area because it offered them at least some protection from human hunters…    although clearly not enough. No body fossils of elephants have been found in this Knysna forest area, but the trunk-dragging fossil marks give a clear indication of the elephant population of the extremely remote past.

Helm describes the sense of wonder felt at seeing the fossilised track marks that enable scientists to read the story left in the rocks up to hundreds of thousands of years ago. After that long history, there is just one lone female elephant left. So all the pleas throughout the years not to hunt and kill our Knysna elephants fell on deaf ears. One hopes that finding a couple of elderly elephants to become her companions has been considered, which would require strong protection measures, but it would be a wonderful protection example for the entire world.  

People are sometimes surprised to discover that the SPCA is vitally concerned about the welfare of wild as well as domestic animals, but it works to protect all animal life.

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