The Knysna Elephant Park (est. 1994) was the first facility in South Africa to house and care for orphaned African elephants. Today, it has become a world class facility, having cared for and raised more than forty elephants. These animals include relocated animals, orphaned calves, elephants rescued from culls and ex-circus animals. Some have become part of the resident herd, others have moved onto other reserves and facilities in the Western and Eastern Cape, depending on their personalities, bonds with other animals and welfare needs.

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The Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park are all orphans rescued from culling operations in the Kruger National Park, except for Thandi who was born in the park. The Knysna Elephant Park provides these elephants with the best board and lodging and their diet is scientifically supervised by veterinarians.

The Knysna elephants have free range of the 60 hectare camp on which there is plenty to eat, some big trees to rub up against and two large dams for bathing and drinking.

The vegetation in the camp is a mixture of indigenous Cape Fynbos (macchia), indigenous forest and grassland, although surrounding areas have pine and gum plantations. The elephant minders take the elephants for regular strolls through the forests and plantations in the mornings and evenings which adds interesting variety to their diet.

At night the elephants are housed in a boma. The Elephants are fed a high protein porridge and black wattle branches at night. Their stalls are lined with sawdust providing a comfortable bed for them to sleep on. In the morning they are fed the high protein porridge and move onto the first dam for a drink of water.

Their stalls are cleaned and prepared for the evening. The baby elephants, Bulelo, Malaika and Jabari are bottle-fed on baby milk formula with added vitamins and minerals on demand throughout the day and the night. They each have to have a minder that stays with them constantly. The elephant minders are some of Africa’s most qualified keepers and they keep a watchful eye on the herd.

The present KEP herd numbers ten – the largest domesticated matriarchal herd in the country. KEP style of management offers guests the opportunity to get up close and personal with our elephants, on elephant terms. Responsible and educational interactions allow guests to appreciate the awe-inspiring presence of these animals, but still give the elephants the space and freedom to choose where they want to move, what they want to eat and who they want to interact with. There are no fences to spoil the close encounter and our environment encourages elephants to exhibit natural behaviors.

Elephant experiences include Daily Guided Tours (departing from reception every 30 minutes), as well as Breakfast Picnic Walks in the morning and Elephant Walks in the afternoon,

Responsible Tourism

The tourism industry has recently seen a growing trend within the wildlife sector, where tourists are being made aware of the need to view animal activities and attractions they may visit during their holidays, in a different light. All over the world, animal welfare organisations and animal rights groups are asking tour companies and tourists to think carefully about the ethics and responsibilities associated with many of these wildlife tourism ventures.

Many of these non-governmental organisations have focused on the use of elephants for tourism purposes, particularly in Asia, where elephant trekking is a very popular tourism activity. The ‘traditional’ methods of breaking and training Asian elephants are well known and have been highly publicised. These methods use a variety of cruel and abusive methods to ‘break’ the animals, so that they can be ridden and controlled. In many cases the animals are kept in poor conditions, tethered for long periods of time and often isolated from other elephants. In the past, many tourists visiting elephant facilities in Asia have been unaware of these training methods. However, recent awareness campaigns and an emphasis on responsible tourism has served to bring these issues to the fore; and, as such, tourists are now more aware of their choices; and how these choices may contribute to animal welfare.

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The Knysna Elephant Park supports and welcomes these changing trends – increased awareness of the welfare requirements of animals in captive situations can only have a positive impact on the animals in these tourism facilities; and the way in which their owners and managers care for them.

Comparisons between the Knysna Elephant Park and facilities in Asia, can only serve to highlight the positive and responsible manner in which the Park operates its elephant encounters and interactions. Our tourism activities are conducted ethically and always with elephant welfare as a top priority. If ever we identify an area where welfare may be compromised, our flexible style of management allows for immediate notification, so that changes can be made to benefit the elephants.

For twenty years, the Park’s primary objective has been to offer elephants in the need the chance of a new and better home; and we have worked tirelessly to achieve this goal. We believe that the Knysna Elephant Park now stands as an example of how a responsible and best practice facility should be run, illustrating optimal standards of husbandry and welfare.

Contributing to Elephant Care

Visitors to the park are privileged to have a personal encounter with our gentle giants, and leave having gained a new-found respect for these animals, as well as a better understanding of the African elephant and its plight across the continent. Most importantly, by visiting the Park and experiencing our elephant herd, guests make a direct contribution to elephant husbandry and care. Visitors to the Park enable us to give our elephants the best possible facilities, nutrition and care. They also allow us to offer other elephants in need the chance of a better life.