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The Addo Elephants

Hunting for ivory began in earnest in the early 1700s. By the 1900s hunters had exterminated most of the remaining elephants and other game in the area. Only isolated herds remained – the largest of these in the Addo region, it being 140 elephants. The last black rhino in the Eastern Cape was shot at Graaff-Reinet in 1880. The last lion in the Eastern Cape was shot in East Griqualand in 1879. Growth in agriculture in the region led to conflict with elephants as they damaged crops and competed with farmers’ needs for water. Local farmers put pressure on the government to exterminate elephants. In the 1830s Mr. Thackwray was killed by an elephant while hunting. Legend says that he was challenged to chalk a cross on the back leg of a sleeping elephant to win the heart of a lady. In 1900, Mr. Attrill (who was married to the widow of the farm Gorah) and his foster son, Sidney, went hunting elephants. Attrill was killed by an elephant. In 1902, Sidney disappeared into the bush. His body was later found.

People, including the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage Farmers’ Associations, called on the government to exterminate the elephants. In 1919 Major P.J. Pretorius was tasked to shoot the remaining elephants. He set up his camp in Kinkelbos. He used various methods while hunting, including a ladder to see over the thick Addo bush. He shot 114 elephants between 1919 and 1920. He also caught two elephant calves and sold them to Mr. Boswell for his circus. Pretorius then applied to shoot one elephant in the Knysna forest for “scientific purposes” but shot between two and five (according to various reports). His activities generated publicity and sympathy for the elephants, prompting the halt of the killing when only 16 elephants remained.

In the 1920s there was little protection for the remaining Addo elephants so they took refuge on the land of a sympathetic farmer, Mr. J.T. Harvey, near Barkley Bridge. In 1925 the Strathmore and Mentone Forest Reserve was set aside for the elephants. In 1931 the Addo Elephant National Park (about 5 000 ha) was proclaimed when there were only eleven elephants left. The first Park manager, Stephen Harold Trollope (a former Kruger National Park ranger), chased the elephants into the Addo Park area using shotguns, firecrackers and fires. The area was inadequately fenced and the movement of elephants continued to cause problems on surrounding Addo farmland. Elephants were killed as a result of conflicts with farmers and collisions with trains.

In 1933, Trollope started supplying oranges, hay, pumpkins, lucerne and pineapples to elephants in order to keep them within the Addo Park boundaries, which was effective. Since elephants visited the feeding site at certain times, the practice of inviting visitors began. The feeding caused problems of its own which is the reason why there is a sign warning visitors not to take citrus into the game area. In 1954, Graham Armstrong (the Addo Park manager at the time) developed an elephant-proof fence using tram rails and lift cables and an area of 2270 hectares was fenced in. There were 22 elephants at the time. This Armstrong fence, named after its developer, is still used around the Addo Elephant National Park today. The feeding of citrus, lucerne and the like, continued after the fence was erected in order to increase the chance of visitors seeing the Addo elephants from outside the fence. The Sundays River Citrus Co-operative was donating substandard oranges and grapefruit. A viewing ramp and floodlights were erected for visitors.

By 1976 about 25-30 tons of oranges were fed during the winter months. For want of a better system, a truck would enter the game area and dump the oranges. Elephants would run behind, screaming, roaring and grabbing oranges from the truck. They would be scared away from the entrance gate (when the truck departed) by whips, throwing bricks and shouts. The vegetation around the feeding area was decimated, as elephants did not move out of the area for fear of missing the feeding sessions. Levels of aggression between the elephants rose and many were injured. Many elephant cows showed signs of stress by the secretions from their temporal glands when competing for oranges. Due to all these signs, the practice of feeding citrus was gradually phased out by 1979. Elephant numbers grew from 22 in 1954 to 100 in 1979. Today there are more than 400 elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park.

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Addo Elephant National Park

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