The elephants of the Knysna forest have long been the subject of
mystery and conjecture. Over the years they have taken on an almost
mythical quality, with many doubting whether they existed at all.
In 1994 the local forestry department maintained that there was
only one surviving Knysna elephant, the seldom seen female known as
The Matriarch. The Knysna elephant was thus described as
'functionally extinct'. This was the official stance until
September 2000 when forest guard Wilfred Oraai encountered and
photographed a young bull from a distance of some thirty metres.
The question arose: who was its mother? And, indeed, who was its
father? In 2001 Gareth Patterson began an independent study of the
Knysna elephant. For the next seven years he covered thousands of
kilometres on foot, following ancient elephant paths through the
dense Afromontane forest and the surrounding mountain fynbos. He
found abundant signs to suggest that, far from dying out, the
Knysna elephants are, quietly and secretly, holding their own.
Patterson's fieldwork, and his DNA research in collaboration with
conservation geneticist Lori Eggert, established that at least five
young females exist, lending support to Patterson's growing
evidence that the Knysna forest and its surroundings are home to a
small herd of young elephants. The Secret Elephants is the story of
these remarkable animals that fought their way back from the brink
of extinction without any help from humankind. Well known for his
work on the African lion, Gareth Patterson is an environmentalist,
independent wildlife researcher and author who has worked
tirelessly for more than twenty-five years for the greater
protection of African wildlife.
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