No more elephants

Thick vegetation on the banks of cola coloured streams

I have previously written about the tannin tinted rivers and creeks of the Garden Route of southern Africa. A bit further west from the Bloukrans Pass (described in that post), one comes across another veritable ‘Garden of Eden’, otherwise known as the Knysna Forests.

These too, have rivers and streams that are cola coloured, and they are just as beautiful.

Road access to the stunning Knysna forest

Many consider that there are three things in particular that the Knysna Forests are famous for: elephants, gold and timber. Stories of each of these add mystique and intrigue, but they are now all associated with events in the past.

The elephants roamed the forest for many centuries and caused little (if any) permanent damage. However, relatively recent exploitation of the forests has resulted in the demise of the elephants and they are now surely gone forever. However, there is luckily still hope for the forests to regain much of their former ecological glory, albeit without the important impact of their mighty pachyderms.

Tangled undergrowth on the forest floor

Small white flowers hide in the shrubs

Timber harvesting

The forest is stunning in that it has incredibly beautiful and tall trees as well as a wide variety of other flora and fauna. It was the trees that first attracted the attention of settlers in the local area, as the timber was of exceptional quality and an industry quickly grew to exploit it.

This history of logging continued for over two centuries. In the earlier years, timber was harvested by hand and dragged out of the forest using horses and drays. As such, it had a minimal impact on the overall forest ecosystem. However, with the advent of more efficient harvesting systems, this situation sadly changed and the forests were plundered mercilessly. Fortunately, in 1939, the forests were closed to the timber cutters and left in peace to recover and regenerate. After 70 years, the tall trees still have a way to go to become re-established, but the understorey is flourishing.

Tree ferns shade the stream banks


The forest was also home to gold miners for about 5 years. The excitement of finding gold in the early 1900s spread rapidly and many people made their way to a place called Millwood. The town expanded rapidly and then collapsed just as quickly when fortune hunters realised that there was not much gold and no fortunes to be made. The remains of Millwood are still evident and visitors can still see old mine shafts as well as a few building foundations.

Some of the mining machinery has apparently been recovered and can be seen in museums in nearby Knysna. I visited Millwood in the 1970s and was fascinated by the headstones in the lonely (and very overgrown) graveyard. I have often wondered about the lives those people led and the many difficulties and hardships they must have endured.

Tiny flowers amidst bright green foliage


But the thing that most saddens me about these lovely forests is that the herds of elephants that used to live here are now extinct.

Apparently, when white settlers first arrived in the area, there were approximately 500 elephants. They quickly became a ‘threat’ and a ‘nuisance’ as the settlers progressively invaded their habitat and took over their forests.

Efforts were made by concerned citizens to halt the hunting of the species over the years, but the various governments of the times refused to support the legislation and the killing continued unabated. By 1920, there were only about 7 left.

As a child, I spent many hours peering into the forest as we drove through the forests, hoping to be lucky enough to see one of these remaining animals. I now understand from speaking with locals, that the herd has now died out altogether, which is very sad indeed, and a matter of great shame for humankind.

Streams with tannin stained water

I think that the Knysna Forests are one of the most beautiful places on earth. But as I commented in my previous post, this is where I learnt to love plants and trees, so perhaps I am just a bit biased!

The forests are certainly a place to go to unwind and soak up some peace and quiet, in what has become a very busy, noisy world!

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12 Responses to No more elephants

  1. eof737 says:

    Such a beautiful terrain… What happened to the elephants is so, so sad…


  2. shadreyer says:

    We still have elephants in the forest and very occasionally there is a sighting. The Knysna forest is extremely dense and huge so it is difficult to tell but conservationist Gareth Patterson has been researching them and indeed they are not extinct-yet


  3. shadreyer says:

    Reblogged this on Loves and life on the Garden Route in South Africa and commented:
    Beautiful description of our Knysna forests but I must correct the writer in that there is now evidence and sightings that prove that we still have elephants in our forests


    • Madoqua says:

      Shadreyer, what wonderful news! I am absolutely delighted to hear this! I will have to update my post to let everyone know. Not often we have a great news story like this!


  4. Pingback: Precious elephants not extinct! | Have you ever…

  5. I used to live in Knysna! 🙂 The government department – which manages the indigenous forests – does harvest some of the wood each year for the indigenous wood auctions, but it’s on a much smaller scale.


    • Madoqua says:

      That’s interesting about the small scale harvesting of timber – I imagine it is now done sustainably, given how they are managing the rest of the forest.
      Knysna is such a lovely spot. I was pleased that they turned the lagoon area into a national park.
      Thanks for your input into this story 🙂


      • I don’t know if you remember the sawmill on Thesen’s Island in Knysna? Well, they moved the sawmill, but then built an “exclusive” housing development (called Knysna Quays) in its place. Willie and I both hate it – wish Thesen’s Island had been left for the birds and wildlife.

        You can see a photo of Knysna Quays here:


        • Madoqua says:

          I agree about the mill, we used to go fishing off the jetty there. I have seen the Knysna Quays, I agree – they should have just left the island as part of a nature reserve.


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