The Knysna Elephant Park was founded in 1994 by husband and wife team Ian and Lisette Withers. Ian’s family had lived and worked in the Knysna area for several generations and Ian himself grew up surrounded by the legends of the forest and the famous Knysna forest elephants. In the evenings, gathered around the kitchen fire, Ian’s grandfather would tell of his encounters with “Big Feet” and how his great-grandfather had built road passes along the tracks made by these elephants through the Groot River and Bloukrans gorges and forests.
Sadly, by the time Ian and Lisette settled on their farm just outside Knysna, the elusive forest elephants were all but extinct, with a mere five animals thought to still survive. Then, in 1994, Ian and Lisette heard of two young elephant calves, rescued from a cull in the Kruger National Park, that were in need of a safe home. Would this be an opportunity to bring elephants back to Knysna? Could this young elephant pair help to highlight the conservation needs of elephants in the nearby forests?
And so the foundations of the Knysna Elephant Park were built on the struggles of the elephants in the Knysna Forest. Harry and Sally (named after a famous movie of the 1990’s) arrived at the Park in October 1994… little did Ian and Lisette realise how this small family would grow. It did not take long for the word to spread throughout South Africa: The Knysna Elephant Park was a space that could offer elephants in need a good home. Twenty years later, more than forty elephants have passed through the gates of the Park; and the park has developed from a small shack into a world class elephant facility.
The hefty family have welcomed thousands of visitors over the years, giving them unique insight into the lives of elephants. Guests are privileged to have a close-up and personal encounter with these gentle giants, and leave having gained a healthy respect for these wonderful animals, as well as a better understanding of the African elephant and their plight across the continent.
It was in 1994 that the Knysna Elephant Park was established on a beautiful 200ha farm between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
Over the next 27 years, this would become the perfect home for the elephants in need.
In an ideal world, there would be no need for keeping elephants in captivity because elephants would have all of Africa to live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, in this world factors such as human population expansion, human-elephant conflict, deforestation and habitat loss mean that humans and wildlife do not always coexist peacefully.
Baby elephants are orphaned by poaching… herds are culled because they get too numerous for the restricted spaces humans allocate to them… wild habitats shrink and disappear, and the elephants become a ‘nuisance’ as they try their best to survive on the edges of the human world.
Older elephants are removed first, and the wisdom these elders use to pass through the generations is lost in an instant. The young ones are left behind without the protection or guidance of a family to help them recover from what they’ve witnessed. It’s for elephants like these that Knysna Elephant Park exists. At KEP, each individual elephant is able to bond with other elephants who have been through similar trauma, and these bonded groups can become as close as the families that were lost.
Harry and Sally were the first to arrive in October 1994 – both orphans related to culling in the Kruger National Park. A quarter of a century later, more than 40 elephants have found a place within our family. This ‘family’ extends well beyond the physical borders of the Park. Some can not be released and remain with us, but many others have moved on (in their bonded groups) to new homes where they have another chance at a wild life at reserves such as Garden Route Game Lodge, Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, Gondwana Game Reserve, Aquila Game Reserve and Inverdoorn Game Reserve. Elephants living wild in these reserves are still considered to be very much part of the KEP family.
The elephants who remain at KEP have become ambassadors for their species, allowing visitors to have a close personal encounter with these gentle giants.
These opportunities allow people to meet elephants in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Such an experience can be very profound and transformative, which can only be a good thing for elephants across the world.
IT IS DIFFICULT TO LOOK INTO AN ELEPHANT’S EYES AND NOT FEEL MOVED TO PROTECT THEM.
The Knysna Elephant Park came about in 1994 as the elephant numbers in the surrounding forests had been dwindling and were on the brink of a natural disaster. The reality of the situation became clear; if we don’t look after our natural heritage, humankind would pay the ultimate price and lose its soul.
Knysna Elephant Park was borne of the struggle faced by the elephants in the Knysna Forests. Our aim is to convey this message and through the creation of the Park many years ago, we created a safe space for elephants in need and when the time is right, we hope that our vision to release them back into the forest where they belong will finally be fulfilled and that this will become a reality within the next five years.