The Knysna Forests…home to the southern-most elephant population in Africa, and the only free-ranging, unfenced elephants left in the country.
Yesterday I went for a walk with Gerrit Slinger, a field ranger in the Goudveld section of the forests. About thirty kilometres behind Knysna in the foothills of the Outeniqua mountains, Goudveld includes both indigenous forests, commercial pine plantations and swathes of fynbos.
Gerrit and I walked down a steep gorge to the banks of the Homtini River, which was flowing strongly from the recent rains. Gerrit told me how he last saw an elephant (a bull) in February, and other rangers have also seen them. On one occasion, an elephant charged him!
But how many still remain here? The rangers – according to Gerrit – think there are at least three, as they’ve seen a youngster, so that means there must be a mother somewhere. Independent researcher Gareth Patterson believes there could be as many as nine, according to his own research and DNA testing. But no-one knows how many exactly. Some hikers who were walking the Outeniqua Hiking Trail saw two elephants in May this year…read the article here.
The important thing is that they are still surviving here, and that everything should be done to ensure their protection and future. SANParks have appointed a researcher to do a detailed study on the ellies, so it will be good to see the results.
The forest up here is thick. And you can’t see more than a few metres either side of the path. But the elephants don’t live only in the forest – according to Patterson and the rangers, their dung indicates that they are eating the restio grass which grows in the fynbos.
We arrived at huge cavern on the banks of the Homtini, and saw leopard spoor. “There’s a mother and a cub which come here,” Gerrit explained. It’s a spectacular setting, and one which no doubt inspired Dalene Matthee, who set her novel Circles in a Forest on this region.
Gerrit told me more about the elephants. “They range long distances…they walk from here to Diepwalle and back within a day and night, a distance of about 30 kilometres.
Of the original 250 000 hectares of indigenous forest that once existed, only 65 000 remain today. The rest was felled for use in the timber industry during the 18th and 19th century, to feed the huge demand by South Africa’s burgeoning colonial development.
Interestingly, the indigenous forests are still harvested these days. A few times a year, those trees – which are within ten years of dying from old age or disease – are cut down carefully, and sold at an auction to wood merchants, who sell them to furniture manufacturers. I’m still not sure how much I agree with this…but the guys at SANParks assure me it’s done on a very carefully managed system, and it provides sustainable income to the area, which I think is great, as conservation in Africa won’t survive if it can’t provide benefits to the local communities. (If you want to buy furniture made from indigenous timber, be sure to visit the Timber Village in Welbedacht Avenue in Knysna…it’s a wonderful place to see some beautiful wood and furniture.)
I am staying at the Knysna Tree Top Chalet, in the Harkerville section of the forest. What’s it like? Wow, that’s all I can say. This isolated luxury cabin is perched up on stilts about half way up the trees, and it’s got everything you want for a fancy self-catering holiday. Some photos below…
“Those who have experienced the forest in all its moods return home enriched. They do so in the knowledge that should man destroy the last of the forests, some of his inner peace, freedom and joy will be lost forever. The enchantment of the rainforest transcends its physical presence, leaving the human soul touched in mysterious ways that even science cannot fathom.” – Dalene Matthee
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