Elusive Knysna elephant caught on camera

9 January 2014

An elephant was recently photographed in the Knysna forest by a trap camera set-up for leopard research, SA National Parks said in a statement on Thursday.

The camera was placed in the forest by the Landmark Foundation, a conservation NGO whose research involves determining the leopard population status in the Garden Route.

The footage includes photographs of an elephant whose tusks, trunk and legs are visible, SANParks said. The forehead shape as well as sex organs and ear-notch patterns were “unfortunately” not visible, making identification difficult.

A century ago, there were up to 600 elephants in the Tsitsikamma forests near Knysna. But by the turn of the 20th century, hunters and ivory poachers had thinned out the herds of hundreds to a few score. By 1994, SANParks officially declared that only one elephant remained.

Dung samples

But research in mid-2000, which included DNA analysis of dung samples, shows that there are at least five cows and possibly some bulls and calves within the 121 000 hectares of forest managed by SANParks.

SANParks said its scientists have moved away from relying on photographic techniques for population status determination “due to potential disturbances to the elephants”.

“The focus of studies now focuses on non-invasive hormone studies using dung, to determine the reproductive potential of these elusive elephants,” it said.

“However, opportunistic photographs such as these recent photographs taken by the Landmark Foundation’s camera trap are always a very welcome addition to SANParks’ elephant research database, existing since 1987.”

SAinfo reporter and South African National Parks