Loves and life on the Garden Route in South Africa

Through the eyes of volunteer coordinator and crazy cat lady, Sharon

The Knysna Elephants September 19, 2014

Great blog from the Knysna Woodworkers

The Knysna Elephants

DNA analysis has revealed the existence of five previously unknown, female Knysna elephants in the southern Cape, South Africa. This discovery provides cautious optimism for the world’s most southerly elephant population. Thought by many to be doomed to extinction, with fears in recent years that only one Knysna elephant, an elderly female was still surviving, the findings of a population study conducted using faecal DNA has revealed that the Knysna elephants continue to survive, despite formidable odds. The results ofthe population study, undertaken by conservation geneticist Lori S. Eggert of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Gareth Patterson, Knysna Elephant Project, have just been published in a paper in African Journal of Ecology, OnlineEarly version, 02 June 2007.

The decline of the Knysna elephants occurred over many decades due primarily to ivory hunting. In 1876 several hundred of these elephants were thought to exist, but under heavy pressure of ivory hunters were reduced to 20-30 individuals by 1908. In 1970 the Knysna elephant population was estimated at 11. In 1994 only one Knysna elephant was known to be still surviving, the elderly female.

In 1994, in an experiment to boost numbers three young elephants from the Kruger National Park were introduced into the range of the elderly female. One of the young elephants died of stress related complications soon after release. The remaining two elephants joined up with the elderly female for only short periods before choosing to spend 80% of their time in mountainous fynbos habitat beyond the Knysna forest. In 1999 the two young elephants were recaptured and relocated to the Shamwari private reserve in the Eastern Cape. The Knysna elephants were then declared by some to be almost extinct.

Lori Eggert’s conservation research focuses on using non-invasive techniques to provide information needed for the effective management of declining species, secretive or dangerous animals in particular. During her work in West Africa she developed a genetic censusing method for forest elephants usingDNA extracted from dung samples. Gareth Patterson has undertaken field research into the diet, range and distribution of the Knysna elephants since 2001. Knysna elephants are elusive and extremely difficult to see. To obtain important population data on these endangered animals, Eggert and Patterson teamed up to undertake the non-invasive genetic survey of the Knysna elephants.

Because fibrous vegetation eaten by elephants continuously scrapes cells from the intestine, dung is a good source of DNA. Genotyping of DNA from dung samples can determine numbers of individuals, sexes of individuals, the relatedness between them and the level of genetic diversity present in the population.

‘The Knysna elephant study identified that at least five females exist within the population, and two of the animals identified appear to be first-order relatives and that several others may be half-siblings. The results also suggest that the surviving Knysna elephants are closely related to the elephants of the Addo Elephant National Park’ says Patterson.

‘The genetic diversity of the Knysna elephants is lower than that found in most African savannah populations, and being such a small population this is likely to be a serious problem in the future unless measures to encourage out breeding are undertaken’ cautions Eggert.

Since the completion of the study, there is evidence that a Knysna calf was born. This and other evidence gathered in the field by Gareth Patterson, indicates that at the very least, one breeding Knysna bull is or has recently been present in this population.

The Knysna elephants are the only unfenced elephant population in South Africa. They range on National Park, provincial, commercial and privately owned land. Contrary to popular belief, the Knysna elephants are not confined, or restricted, to the Knysna forest, but also utilise mountain fynbos, successional and plantation areas.

Researched and compiled by Gareth Patterson

Photo Credits: Hylton Herd/Wilfred Oraai, SANParks


Fresh Knysna forest elephant dung, when found, is sold for about R300 a heap to community members who use this to cook a soup which is believed to have miraculous health benefits.

The elephants favour well-defined paths when moving from one area to another.  These paths are usually along ridges and always cross valleys and river beds by the easiest route.  The skill of the elephants has been envaluable to foresters who have frequently followed elephant paths when making tracks and roads.  The road through Bloukrans Pass followed an elephant track.

In 1920 only 20 animals remained.  Major P.J. Pretorius received permission to shoot one Knysna elephant “for scientific research” to determine whether or not these elephants belonged to a separate species.  The hunt went terribly wrong and after the hunt it is said only 15 elephants survived.

Sources:  The Elephants of Knysna, Nick Carter;  The Knysna Elephants and their Forest Home, Margo Mackay


114 countries South Africans can travel to without a visa September 18, 2014

Filed under: Explore,Out & about,Travel — shadreyer @ 10:53 am
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17 Places where you can find the World in South Africa

Filed under: Explore,Out & about,Travel — shadreyer @ 10:51 am

You’ve heard it before: South Africa is diverse. We didn’t realise quite how true this statement was until we embarked on a snapshot journey to find how many places in South Africa resembled destinations around the world. You’d be surprised!

1. Miami – Durban

The art deco buildings, palm trees, long sunny days, and warm tropical waters of Miami can be found on the Durban city coastline.


2. Piva Canyon – Blyde River Canyon

The famous Piva Canyon in Montenegro National Park could be the European sister of our Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga.

Piva CanyonBlyde River Canyon

3. Sub-Sahara – Karoo

We might not have the vast desert dunes of the Sahara, but the Karoo bears a striking resemblance to the scrubby terrain of the Sub-Sahara.


4. Great Barrier Reef – Sodwana Bay

Why fork out your life savings to scuba in the Great Barrier Reef when Sodwana Bayis one of the top diving destinations in the world?

Great Barrier Reef Sodwana Bay

5. French Winelands – Cape Winelands

We may not be able to call it Champagne, but our Methode Cap Classiques are just as good!

FranceVergelegen estate with winery building

6. Blue Mountains – Mpumalanga

Sometime less is more. Pinnacle Rock in Mpumalanga is just as inspiring as the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

Blue MountainsPinnacle Rock

7. Lama Temple (Beijing) – Nan Hua Temple (Bronkhorstspruit)

If you’re looking for spiritual upliftment, the Nan Hua Buddhist Temple inBronkhorstspruit is the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere.


8. Lake Nakuru – Kimberley

Lake Nakuru in Kenya is home to thousands of pink flamingos, but you’ll find a similar spectacle at Kamfers Dam in Kimberley.

Lake NakuruFlamingoes-Kimberley-By-Winston67(Flickr)

9. Assateague Island vs Bot River Lagoon

Assateague Island, off the coast of Maryland, USA, is home to more than 100 wild ponies. You can also find approximately 25 wild horses living freely in the dunes of theBot River Lagoon in the Overberg.


10. Alaska – Drakensberg

The Drakensberg offers plenty of snow days without the extremely long day-time or night-time hours of Alaska.


11. Angel Falls – Tugela Falls

Angel Falls in Venezuela is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, with a height of 979m, while the Tugela Falls in the Drakensberg is the world’s second highest waterfall with a total drop of 948m in 5 free-leaping falls.

Angel Falls?????????????????????????????????????

12. Shanghai – Johannesburg

If big city lights are your thing, you’ll find Johannesburg a fitting substitute for cities like Shanghai.


13. Elan Valley – Haenertsburg

Prefer the quieter country life? The beautiful landscapes of Haenertsburg could easily pass off as the Elan Valley in Wales.

Elan ValleyHaenertsburg-Turaco-Farm-Cottages

14. Monaco – Cape Town

With luxury yachts, apartments worth millions, and boutique stores with hefty price-tags, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is as fitting a haunt for the rich and famous as the streets of Monaco.

MonacoV&A Waterfront

15. Mykonos – Langebaan

Get a taste of the Greek life in the quaint coastal village of Langebaan, especially atClub Mykonos.

MykononsClub Mykonos Langebaan

16. New Zealand – Wilderness

The forests, mountains, and waterways that make New Zealand such an attractive destination can also be found in the little Garden Route town of Wilderness.

New ZealandWilderness Forest

17. Vietnam – West Coast

If you love the charm of fishing villages, you’ll love the colourful boats lining the beaches of Ly son Island in Vietnam as well as Paternoster on the Cape West Coast.

Ly son Island in VietnamPaternoster

With so many incredible places to see, your next overseas holiday may just divert within the borders of South Africa. Do you have any more suggestions of South African places that resemble destinations around the world?


“Die Spook van Uniondale” September 10, 2014


One of the neighbouring towns to my town of Knysna, is the Karoo ‘dorp’ (Afrikaans for town) of Uniondale. This small slightly isolated farming town has always had a resident ghost and recently a movie was made about it with a fairly romantic love story angle.

So tonight we go to see the movie “Die spook can Uniondale” (The ghost of Uniondale) and I’m really looking forward to it. I love the Karoo and Uniondale too so having been dying to see it!

This review of the movie isn’t that great but I will be honest, I want to see it more for the visuals of the surrounding area of Uniondale and Willowmore than the storyline: “Die spook van Uniondale” movie review


Oudtshoorn, more Karoo visits September 8, 2014

So on Thursday I have a tour to Oudtshoorn with an overseas volunteer. For those that don’t know about Oudtshoorn, it’s largely regarded as the ostrich capital of South Africa and is a pretty town found in the Karoo with gorgeous old sandstone historic buildings.

I shall be first taking our volunteer to the Cango caves to do the heritage your. I can’t wait to see these natural caves and rock formations in undeniably Africa’s most popular ‘show caves’. The Cango caves have had excavations that prove humans have lived in the entrance dating as far back as the Middle and Later Stone Ages. Africa truly is the home of mankind!

Cango Caves

Obviously an ostrich farm will have to also be on the cards and I’ve decided to take him to the Cango Ostrich Show farm. One thing I will do though is not encourage ostrich riding which I think is not necessary and cruel.

Cango Ostrich Farm

Last but not least is a visit to the Cango Wildlife ranch which is actually an accredited zoo. One of the things they offer is crocodile cage diving! Yes you read that right!

However I will also not encourage any cub petting as I don’t feel that it’s an ethical thing to do to any wild animal. We shall just observe them.

Cango Wildlife Ranch

As the town I live in is a 2 hour drive from Oudtshoorn, I don’t visit there as much as I would like to. I’m really starting to love the Karoo and it’s very unique beauty. Hopefully I will take lots of stunning photos and upload them at a later stage on here.