Loves and life on the Garden Route in South Africa

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

What I get up to as a volunteer liaison… January 12, 2015

And this is what I do as a volunteer liaison in Knysna…. An insert of one of my days…. My volunteer’s name has been taken out for anonymity

“As it is school holidays in South Africa at the moment, our volunteer knew that her placement at the safe house would be filled with lots of fun with the kids starting from her very first day.

The children all live in the township of Concordia East on the top of the hill above Knysna town so the first order of the day was to decide on what would be the day’s outing. It was decided that a trip to Diepwalle (Deep Walls in English) would be a great and educational outing too. Sandwiches were made for a picnic and fruit, cool drink and chips were bought, a blanket packed and then it was off to the forestry station taking a windy road through the indigenous forests home to the elusive Knysna elephants known to be the most southern free-roaming elephants in the world. On the way we spotted Vervet monkeys sitting on the road that quickly sprang into the tree tops and brought shrieks of laughter from the kids.

Once at the South African National Parks board (Sanparks) forestry station, the kids enjoyed their picnic giving them energy for the rest of the outing. It was then time for a tour of the museum with the guidance of Sanparks employee, Denzil, who explained all about the elephants. Denzil is employed by Sanparks to monitor, track and catch data on the elephants for ongoing research so is quite the elephant expert. As they have a large bull elephant skeleton at the museum, he was able to give the children information and ask them questions using the skeleton as a guideline.   Little Tracy even learnt that elephants do not snack on humans when they are hungry-which is pretty much all the time!

A final tour on the history of the woodcutters in the museum ended our time there with the children starting to lose focus and getting fidgety so it was on to the next stop of our outing.

Our next stop was down the road to the big tree which is a really famous Outeniqua Yellowwood found in the forest and estimated at being well over 600 years old. This was followed by a boarded walk through the forest enjoying all the greenery and nature around us and trying to hear the call of monkeys and baboons and sightings of the shy Knysna Loerie-a local bright green bird with red feathers underneath topped with a white crest on its head. It is a bird indigenous to these forests and often seen as a mascot for Knysna. Sadly we had no luck spotting the Loerie or primates.

Kids listening totally enthralled to Sanparks employer Denzil's stories about the Knysna elephants

Kids listening totally enthralled to Sanparks employer Denzil’s stories about the Knysna elephants

By this time it was time to head back to the safe house with all the kids dropping off one by one to sleep exhausted from all the food and fun. A true Knysna outing of forests and elephant stories and hopefully one that the kids will have fond memories of for life”

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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

 INTERESTING FACTS:

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

http://knysnawoodworkers.co.za/articles/knysna-elephants/

 

A re-post on the beautiful Knysna forests August 27, 2012

Filed under: elephants,knysna,Out & about — shadreyer @ 2:07 pm
Tags: , ,

Beautiful description of our Knysna forests but I must correct the writer in that there is now evidence and sightings that prove that we still have elephants in our forests