Halfway through our Garden Route trip, my friend had a connection that worked at the Elephant Sanctuary in Knysna. The African bush elephant or Loxodonta africana, used to have hundreds of elephants running wild in Knysna and surrounding areas. Now it is estimated that there is only one left, so you’re only chance of seeing elephants here is in a sanctuary. You can see why this sanctuary was built and the education being provided to help save these majestic creatures.
Knysna Elephant Park Info
The facility offers an array of activities. The interaction with these gentle giants includes daily elephant tours, elephant rides, and elephant walks. On-premise holds a restaurant, a curio shop, and a lodge where you can stay to sleep with the elephants. The park even hosts large functions that is located right in the heart of the ingenious forest of the Garden Route with the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountain ranges in the background.
The park is open 365 days a week and during the peak season, it is highly recommended to schedule ahead of time as the tours fill up quickly.
My friend was introduced by a mutual friend to Debbie Young, who was the lead researcher there for the African Elephant Research Unit. She spends most of her time doing research on all things elephant related. The knowledge this lady had was unbelievable. She took her day to personally show us around the park and give us stories and information about each elephant and other wildlife on the sanctuary.
Meet the Elephants
There were seven elephants total while we were there. They had recently sent the older males to another facility that was more suited for them. Each animal has a different personality and it was truly a great joy to interact with them. The info below was taken directly from their elephant page along with some personal commentary.
- Sally – Born in October 1989. Came to Knysna Elephant Park in October 1994 from Kruger National Park. She is 24 years. She is the matriarch (leader) of the herd – she is gentle but stern and is always very concerned about the welfare of the other elephants.
- Nandi – Meaning “a sweet thing” in Zulu. Born in February 1993. Came to Knysna Elephant Park in 2002 from the Northern Province. She is 20 years old.
- Thandi – Meaning “love” in Zulu. Born 16 October 2003 at Knysna Elephant Park. She is 11 years old this year. She was the first calf born in the park.
- Keisha – Meaning “favorite” in Swahili. This 11-year-old elephant was very close to death when she first arrived at Knysna Elephant Park.
- Shungu – Meaning “patience” in Shona. This seven-year-old male was the naughty one of the bunch. He was very playful and quite cheeky.
- Mashudu – Meaning “lucky” in Venda. This seven-year-old male was recused from a hunting farm. Unfortunately, his mother suffered the same fate as Thato’s mother.
- Thato – Meaning “love or beloved” in Tswana. At six years old she is the baby of the heard. As stated above, she was recused from the same hunting farm as Mashudu.
Debbie was such a lovely person who gave us first a tour of the building. Our tour first started with Debbie showing us where the elephants sleep and the lodge where people can “sleep with the elephants.” She explained that every night the elephants have to be protected from poachers. The lodge offers a common area balcony where you can see the elephants sleep in their pens.
Next Debbie took us over where the elephants and zebras roam during the day. We started off first by feeding the elephants from our hands while they stood behind a barrier. They have the elephants stand behind a barrier because they can get a bit aggressive when it comes to food. Any last bit of food left, you had to feed to Sally, the matriarch. Meanwhile, Debbie and her associates filled us in on how each elephant was rescued and a little background on their personality.
Afer the feed, we went out into the meadows where we were allowed to interact with the elephants. Watching Debbie interact with the heard was pretty amazing. She knew what to say and how to approach each one in a way of true passion. My friend and I had a chance to interact with each elephant. This was the first time in my life I ever touched an elephant and was quite the surprise. After a day of playing with them while being educated, it was time to find somewhere to stay for the night. We thanks Debbie for taking the time to personally show us around Knysna Elephant Park.
Thank you, Debbie, for the wonderful experience. I highly recommend anyone who has the chance to visit Knysna Elephant Park.