The Addo Elephant National Park
Found deep in the shadow of dense Addo valley bushveld, the Addo Elephant Park was proclaimed in the 1930’s when only 11 elephants remained. Today it is a finely tuned Eco-system which is sanctuary to over 500 elephants, buffalo, black rhino, lion, leopard, hyena, antelope, small carnivores, over 180 bird species as well as the endangered flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo. The Zuurberg Mountains, falling within the park, are home to interesting fauna and flora including three rare cycad and two yellowwood species.
Plans to extend the current 170 000 ha Addo Elephant National Park into a 400 000 ha “Greater Addo Park” are already underway with the park having more than doubled in size over the past six years. Unique features of the Park include the “Big Seven” (elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard, lion, great white shark and Southern Right whale) in their natural habitat, a 120 000 ha marine reserve with a number of offshore islands as well as five of South Africa’s seven biomes (distinct vegetation regions), make Addo one of the most diverse conservation areas in the world.
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 the Addo 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, now part of the Addo Elephant National Park) and his foster son, Sidney, went hunting elephants. Attrill was killed by an Addo elephant and in 1902, Sidney disappeared into the thick Addo bush, his body was later found.
Many people, including the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage Farmers’ Associations, called on the South African government to exterminate the Addo Elephants and in 1919 Major P.J. Pretorius was tasked to shoot the remaining Addo 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 Addo Elephants remained.
In the 1920s there was little protection for the remaining 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 Addo elephants left. The first Addo 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 Addo elephants continued to cause problems on surrounding Addo farmlands. 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. The elephants would remain within easy reach of the feeding area which had a negative effect on the natural vegetation within that area and elephants were often injured during the insuing feeding frenzies created by the regular food delivery. 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 450 elephants in the 1,640 km² Addo Elephant National Park.
In 1981, the first tourist drove through the Addo Elephant Park using a basic gravel road system in place. Hapoor, the dominant bull in the Addo Park from 1944-1968) Hap means ‘nick’ in Afrikaans, while ‘oor’ means ear and it is believed the distinctive nick in his ear was caused by a hunter’s bullet. Hapoor was the only elephant to ever break out of the Addo Park, in 1968 after being deposed from his dominant status by Lanky and was driven from the heard and became a loner. Later that year he was found feeding near Coerney Station and was shot by the then Park Warden, Sep Le Roux. It was well known that Hapoor disliked humans and could have been a potential threat, because of his aggressive nature. The Hapoor waterhole in the south western section of the Addo Park game area is named after him.
The last of the remaining disease-free Cape buffalos were also protected by the establishment of the Addo Park, as well as the endemic flightless dung beetle (endemic to the area, not the Addo Elephant Park). Eland were introduced into the park in 1957 and Burchell’s Zebra and Warthog in 1996. The expansion of the Addo Elephant National Park into a ‘Greater Addo’ was first officially mentioned at the Open Africa Initiative in 1997.
The plans to expand the park received a significant boost when academics from the Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit (TERU) at the University of Port Elizabeth drafted a proposal outlining the opportunities that could possibly be created through an expansion initiative. Dr. Anthony Hall-Martin was instrumental in this process. The expansion has meant not only that the Addo Elephant National Park contains five of South Africa’s seven major vegetation zones (biomes) but also that it is probably the only park in the world to house the so-called “Big 7” (elephant, rhinoceros, lion, buffalo, leopard, whale and great white shark) in their natural habitat.