Eastern Cape

Addo’s Elephants 2


There was a time when there were only eleven elephants left roaming a small section of bush near a town called Addo. 85 years later, there are now over 600 pachyderms. Addo Elephant National Park is a remarkable story of vision and conservation. I spent the long weekend in the park going in search of elephants (and sometimes moving out of the way for these giants of Africa).

About a century ago, this part of the Eastern Cape was home to great herds of wildlife, including elephants. But farmers considered them vermin, and elephants were exterminated with the consent of the state. By the time the voice of reason was heard, a mere 2 000 hectares of land was protected as a refuge for those remaining eleven elephants. Over time, public support for protecting them grew, and the park stretched its borders, engulfing neighbouring farms. Today, the park covers 180 000 hectares,  from the coastal dunes of Alexandria, north to the Zuurberg Mountains and further inland into the semi-arid Karoo. Straddled by highways, elephants still don’t have a free pass to roam their ancestral paths, but have a much larger dedicated area than the founding herd.

Baby elephant

Baby elephant

After all these years the habits of an elephant have changed little. Each day they consume large quantities of greens (most of which pass out undigested). Then they make their way to a water source, to quench their thirst, bath (and cool off in the warmer months), dust themselves and scratch a few of those annoying ticks off their wrinkled skins. Waterholes are the best place to observe these creatures: notice the long pink tongues as they slurp water from their trunks into their mouths; catch a glint of the sun on the fine hairs that grow on their chins; and watch the fine balancing of these giants as they raise a foot. As gentle and graceful as they are, they can be unnerving as they pass within metres of your car, especially as a large herd makes their way to a waterhole.

Elephant Bull

Keep calm and let him pass

But elephants aren’t the only ones that make Addo home. On my latest visit to the park, it would be no exaggeration to say we spotted over 50 warthogs within a few hours. Red hartebeest and zebra are other common sights and prefer the open plains, whereas kudu enjoy the dense Albany thicket. On two occasions, we saw kudu bulls fighting with their long, curly horns, but nothing as gruesome as the ones that fought to their death in Botswana.

Kudu on the plain

Kudu on the plain

Buffalo bull

Buffalo bull

Warthog at a waterhole in Addo

Warthog at a waterhole in Addo

Zebra and Kudu

Zebra and Kudu

A large group of vehicles gathered to look at lions, but the view was so obscure, we happily drove along to admire the other inhabitants. Curiuous meerkats and yellow mongoose scoured the plains and soaked up the morning light. Elsewhere, jackals flirted in and out of the bush.

Meerkat soldiers

Meerkat soldiers

Side-striped Jackal

Side-striped Jackal

The park has come a long way, but the vision has not stopped. Rehabilitation of overused land is in progress and efforts to link up patchworks of conserved land continue. Driving through the park, it’s hard to ignore the power lines and citrus plantations on the outskirts, as well as the wind turbines and urban development of Port Elizabeth in the far distance. In the same breath, it’s an incredible achievement to now be able to watch an elephant graze with rolling hills, dunes and an ocean as a backdrop – something that was not possible a decade ago. As has been the success story of elephants in Addo (and of mountain zebra at Mountain Zebra National Park, and bontebok at Bontebok National Park), is it a far cry to one day have a story for our rhino?

Sunset at Addo's Gwarrie Pan

Sunset at Addo’s Gwarrie Pan

 
Travel Tips 

Getting there

  • Addo Elephant National Park has a few distinct sections. The main game areas are about an hour from Port Elizabeth airport.
  • Matholyweni Gate is just off the N2 and provides quick and easy access to the south of the park. From here, it’s about 90 minutes to the Main Camp.
  • The Main Gate is accessed from the R335, off the N2 and is after the town of Addo. It provides direct access to the Main Camp.
  • I prefer Matholyweni Gate as it gets you into the park quicker and bypasses the towns. However, if you are in a rush to get to Main Camp, or are staying close to the town of Addo, use Main Gate instead.
  • A sedan vehicle is adequate for these sections of Addo.

Where I stayed

  • On previous visits to Addo, I have stayed at Main Camp, which offers a range of self catering cottages and camping.
  • On this visit to Addo, I stayed just outside the park, at Elephant House, an affordable and highly recommended option. See my next blog post for a review.

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