Important Considerations and Questions

Before any decision is taken about the reintroduction of more elephants to the Knysna forest, a number of questions should be answered, these include, but are not limited to the following:

Concerns Relating to Elephant Biology

  1. Would it be appropriate, and indeed humane, to introduce human-trained elephants to a difficult foreign, natural environment?
    With their history of trauma, alleged abuse and controls on their behaviour, and reliance on humans for sustenance they are very unlikely to be able to face the challenges of the forest unless they are guided through a long rehabilitation process.
  2. If these are the elephants that are being considered, has it been noted that they do not form a natural herd but they are rather elephants who have been forced together in captivity?
    It is not possible to predict whether the formerly captive elephants would choose to remain together in a cohesive group or to move and forage independently of each other, once they are given the freedom to make their own decisions. It is equally impossible to predict, or assume, that the resident female would choose to form associations with any introduced elephants.
  3. These elephants could potentially continue to rely on their handlers to supplement them with additional food. While the native female might have adapted to this kind of environment, sufficient nutrients might be difficult to find and, consequently, wholly inadequate for the new “herd”.
  4. Even considering the new land acquisitions from SANParks, does the forest provide the ideal amount of vegetation for the eclectic diet healthy elephants need? This should include, according to biologist and and ethologist Dr Joyce Poole, a world authority on elephant reproductive, communicative, and cognitive behaviour, a variety of nutrients normally found across several landscapes and habitats. Grasses, herbs, leaves, roots, branches, bark, seed pods, and lianas should be available to the elephants. Will any imported elephants be able to adopt the habits of the native female elephant, who is likely to have gained her knowledge of feeding grounds and survival skills through learning passed down through generations? Closed canopy primary forests have very limited ground-level vegetation available as food for wildlife, and forest-dwelling elephants tend to have large home ranges, which may also include forest clearings or adjacent areas of more open, secondary habitat. The preference for open, non-forest, habitats was noted for the elephants released in the earlier, unsuccessful operation.
  5. How will human-habituated elephants bond and remain in close proximity to an elephant who is easily stressed by any human activity, as the SANParks study on stress hormone levels confirmed?
    If the handlers are to remain with the introduced herd, we can naturally assume that the native female will stay away from the introduced herd. In sum, the proposed initiative is very likely to fail in achieving social mixing of the introduced animals with the resident elephant – the primary reason given by proponents of this essentially speculative gamble.
  6. Which elephant experts have been appointed to design and manage this project?
  7. Which elephant relocation experts have been appointed to design and manage the evacuation and relocation of the elephants?
  8. Were specific tenders published?

Human Aspects and Concerns

  1. Have the surrounding communities been informed of the risks, including potential conflicts relating to land use practices, of introducing more elephants to the Knysna forest?
  2. What training will the elephant handlers receive about the proposed evacuation, relocation, release and rewilding of the elephants?
  3. Has the forest been recently fenced with elephant-proof fencing to protect both the elephants and the surrounding communities? If not, how will SANParks ensure the elephants won’t walk out into neighbouring fields, as they did in the previous project, looking for forage that is more nutritional than can be found under closed forest canopy? Intolerance and human-wildlife conflict are particularly exacerbated when pre-existing residents are not accustomed to sharing the land with newly introduced large wildlife.
  4. Who will be liable for any damages or loss of life?
  5. Who will fund the project?
  6. Is this being floated as a tourism opportunity? Have the details of this opportunity been published?Who will benefit from this tourist opportunity?
  7. Who would train the elephant handlers to work in the Knysna forest? How will the elephants bemonitored? Will the elephants be fitted with collars? Who will monitor their movements?


PREN is not in support of the initiative to introduce captive elephants to the Knysna forest.
Members of PREN favour SANParks’ cautious, non-invasive and scientific-based approach to themanagement of the Knysna forest elephant.PREN members are cognisant of all the factors that have culminated in the difficult life of the female elephant living in the Knysna forest. We would want to prevent any further complications or create any additional stress for her, and would rather see her live out her final few years in relative peace.

The hormone stress analysis confirms she is coping, while her response to human presence plus her current age makes us think that it would be extremely difficult, risky and probably cruel to force her to confront a group of naïve and inexperienced elephants which might be released into her familiar home range. It would be equally cruel to capture and move her elsewhere, in the process putting her through the complex logistics of a capture, relocation and release in another reserve. It is not predictable how she could cope with a new, completely foreign environment having been born and spent her entire life in the forest.

PREN members who have signed this document welcome the vision to rehabilitate and release into a more natural environment, other than the Knysna forest, the chosen group of five captive female elephants from Knysna Elephant Park. The individual needs of each of these five elephants must be separately and carefully considered.

Image Credit: Lizette Moolman SANParks

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