Addo Elephant National Park

There are more than 550 elephants in Addo, up from just 16 in 1931. It is South Africa’s third largest national park and the recent addition of a long stretch of coastline with massive dune fields adds significantly to the park’s ecological diversity. Size: 180 000 hectares. Situated to the north-east of Port Elizabeth on the temperate south coast of South Africa.

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Days 37 & 38 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Surrounded by lions and elephants

For two hundred years hunters in the Eastern Cape had killed thousands of elephants. The most notorious was a rather unsavoury character - Major Philip Jacobus Pretorius - who was commissioned by the government in 1919 to kill any remaining elephants in the area. Fortunately, he failed in his quest. By 1931, when Addo Elephant National Park was proclaimed, there were just eleven elephants left in the Eastern Cape.

Today there are more than 600 of Earth's biggest land mammals in the park, and Addo is undoutedbly one of the world's greatest conservation success stories.

In the early days visitors were warned to stay well clear of the elephants, because the pachyderms had been so ruthlessly hunted and mercilessly slaughtered that the sight or smell of a man or woman would enrage them Read more »

Days 35 & 36 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – There’s a lion on my stoep!

If you live in a Southern African town or city, chances are you've got a nature reserve nearby. In the case of Port Elizabeth, you're just an hour's drive away from Addo Elephant National Park, a huge protected area that has wild elephants, rhinos, buffalo, kudu, hartebeest, zebra, warthog, spotted hyena...and LIONS! Just a few kilometres from the main national N2 road.

I spent the day in Port Elizabeth yesterday, seeing my partners Goodyear (who have their head office there), and also giving a talk at Cape Union Mart about Year in the Wild, and South Africa's amazing biodiversity and protected areas.

I drove back last night at about 9pm, and within an hour I was back at Addo, lying in my bed, listening to lions roaring. How many places in the world can you drive an hour from a Read more »

Day 34 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – All is extraordinary

In a world of Internet media we have instant access to the finest photographic images. With digital cameras and instant publishing platforms, we've become used to excellent wildlife photos. These days there are so many superlative images out there, taken by thousands of different professional and amateur photographers. It's great to see, and the digital technology and Internet has made my career possible.

But I also think that as photographers we should remember that ultimately we're just mirrors for the beauty which wild animals and landscapes present to us. The greatest value of any beautiful photograph is in the animal or landscape itself. The photograph - no matter how excellent - is simply a derivative of the remarkable creation that is an elephant, lion, baobab, leopard...or dung Read more »

Days 32-33 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Organized chaos at Bird Island

I'm now in Addo Elephant National Park, and although I've already spotted lots of elephants, I've been lucky to spend the day with the park's marine rangers. Addo is most famous for its conservation of elephants, but the park is also responsible for the conservation of several offshore islands with a huge amount of wildlife, including the most easterly breeding colony of Cape fur seals.

But these islands are absolutely critical for two threatened bird species: the endangered African penguin and the vulnerable Cape Gannet.

St Croix is a small rocky island near Coega harbour that is home to the largest breeding colony of African Penguins in the world. According to Birdlife South Africa, about 40% of the world's African Read more »

Special moments at Addo’s Gorah Elephant Camp

While I was at Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo Elephant National Park, I picked up a copy of a remarkable book by Nicola Schwim, a former field guide at Gorah who now lives in the nearby city of Port Elizabeth, running her own organic fresh produce business.

Nicola worked for several years at Gorah, guiding guests around Addo and introducing them to it's wildlife and other wonders. She documented many of her experiences in Addo into a beautiful book called Elephant Footprints, A Photographic Journal of the Gorah Elephant Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park, and it makes for intriguing reading.

What seems to separate Nicola from most other Read more »

Long live the Kings of Addo

Weighing up to 7 000kg, and measuring four metres at its front shoulder, an African bull elephant can eat 200 kilograms of plant matter and drink around 200 litres of water every day. Elephants are very, very big.

But statistics and adjectives cannot prepare one fully for a close encounter with earth’s largest land animal. Wild elephants command attention and respect like no other. And in Addo Elephant National Park, just 50km north-east of Port Elizabeth, there’s every chance of getting near to them.

I recently went back to Addo to research an article for Getaway Magazine's February 2013 issue. I have been there already earlier this year in February, but it had Read more »

Goodbye Addo…

I have just left Addo, but my second last night was spent at the highly recommended Narina Bush Camp in the southern part of the Zuurberg Mountains. It's a small tented camp alongside a river deep in a kloof. It was only me and intern ranger Mfuneko Fezi, and we sat round the fire listening to the Knysna Loeries croaking to each other. Mfuneko is a graduate of the innovative Umzi Wethu program in Port Elizabeth, which trains local youth in conservation and tourism. They have made great strides in empowering local communities to become active in the conservation industry.

On my last day I drove into the northern Darlington section, and made my way over the Zuurberg via the Bedrogfontein 4x4 route. It takes about 6 hours to do, and Read more »

Airborne over Addo

The last two days have been busy! Yesterday I spent the day in the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park, and it’s another world. The scenery changes completely. Instead of the sub tropical thicket which characterizes the main section of Addo where most of the wildlife is, Woody Cape comprises dense evergreen coastal forests, long, sandy beaches several kilometres in length, and the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere. (I presume the endless Namib coastline’s dunes are of desert origin, not ocean origin.)

I was fortunate to spend yesterday morning with rangers Guy Padayachee, Lungile Somyali and Korsten Hendrikse, as well as conservation student Melissa Perozzi. Riding on the back of one of the park’s Land Cruisers, we drove down onto the beach and into Read more »

From hell to paradise

Addo Elephant National Park is most famous for its conservation of the last remaining wild elephants in the Eastern Cape. A few hundred years ago there were thousands of the earth’s largest land mammal in this area of South Africa, as well as plenty of other wildlife like lions, leopards, rhinos, buffaloes and springbok. But rapid colonial expansion after 1820 meant most of this diverse landscape was transformed into dairy farms and citrus fruit estates.

The elephants had a penchant for oranges in particular, and understandably they couldn’t resist raiding the farmers’ crops.  The farmers got fed up, and put pressure on the government to sort out the problem. The first solution was predictable – for the times. The Administrator of the Cape Province – Sir Frederick de Waal - started Read more »

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