Citizen (South Africa)

PICS: Evidence of elusive Knysna elephant roaming forest during lockdown

Many believe that this elephant is the last of the Knysna elephants. Image: SANParks scientist, Lizette Moolman

Park rangers and managers suspect that scattered planks found in the forest was the work of Oupoot, the last known Knysna elephant.

The lone female elephant roaming the Knysna forest may have made a rare appearance during lockdown. 

SANParks conservation manager for wilderness Carel van der Merwe reported that parts of a broken hut along the Outeniqua trail were found by rangers. 

Van der Merwe suspects that this was the work of Oupoot, the last known Knysna elephant. 

Dung was also found near the broken wood planks.

Van der Merwe told George Herald that the structures were too heavy for monkeys to have destroyed them. 

It is estimated that Oupoot is about 46 years old. SANParks scientist Lizette Moolman said last year that Oupoot roams around indigenous forest and fynbos areas, occasionally moving to neighbouring private land. 

Thanks to camera trap technology used during the latest Knysna elephant survey, Oupoot’s movements were sporadically documented over 15 months. 

Elephants are creatures of habit, and once they settle on a pathway through the forest, they almost always follow it. Once Oupoot’s pathways were identified, cameras were set up in the hopes of catching her, and possibly others, on film.  

Mailman said that Oupoot was the only elephant identified in all 140 captured images and footage, and was always alone. 

Elephants are some of the more mysterious creatures to inhabit the forests along the Garden Route.

It is believed elephants moved into the forests of Knysna, Tsitsikamma and Addo in the 19th and 20th centuries, when they were poached en masse for their tusks, and their land taken to be developed by farmers. 

The elephants continued to be killed until government decided to spare 11 of them and confined them to what is now known as the Addo Elephant National Park

Their tumultuous history has made them reserved and shy. 

Controversial evidence that there may be a thriving population in the Knysna forest was suggested by researcher and author Gareth Patterson in 2009, who claimed to have found evidence to suggest that there was a healthy population of elephants hidden beneath the dense canopy. 

But since then, only one female elephant has been found roaming the quiet forests of the Garden Route. Her movements continue to be monitored as she roams the forest floors.