Cape Town - More information has emerged about the rare sighting of a Knysna elephant – it’s a girl!
The images were captured by The Landmark Foundation, which works on carnivore conservation in the Eastern and Western Cape, conducting research, rescues, education and extending wildlife-friendly habitats.
For its signature project, leopard and predator research, the foundation has set camera trap stations at strategic sites across the region to capture footage from either flank of the leopard so as to identify individuals by their unique markings.
But in addition to snapping leopards, the cameras have snared shots of a variety of animals – including genet, baboon, bushpig, porcupine, badger, otter, and antelope species.
“Rare species such as blue duiker are sometimes captured; however, on the last routine check-up of the cameras, fresh evidence of elephant presence in the vicinity of one of the cameras was found. The cameras had picked up rare footage of one elusive Knysna elephant,” reported the foundation’s Dr Bool Smuts.
“The elephant was photographed four times on two separate occasions at the same site between November 6 and on January 8,” he explained.
“Video footage made it possible to identify the sex of the elephant – it is a female.”
The Knysna elephants are at the heart of the historic folklore of the area, immortalised in literature such as Circles in a Forest by author Dalene Matthee.
“These elephants are known to frequent the forest, but due to pressure from the ivory hunts of the past, forest habitat destruction and the current genetic isolation of this small population, their numbers are extremely low. Little is known of the exact number of elephants that remain and some of the evidence is disputed,” Smuts explained.
“They have very rarely been seen, let alone photographed. Some estimates suggest that only this single female remains, others have suggested more are present. It is suggested by some people that seven individuals may remain. However, only one has been documented using photographic footage.”
The Landmark Foundation’s coup was celebrated by SANParks, which showed off the images on its website.
With regards to the leopard, the foundation believes the species is “locally critically endangered with less than 350 remaining as territorially dominant individuals in the Cape Fold Mountains and surrounding lowlands in the entire region (Western and Eastern Cape).
“Furthermore it has been demonstrated that these individuals are further divided into isolated pockets of population ranging from as few as eight individuals to larger populations of 40, demonstrating early genetic bottlenecking.
“Their existence is threatened by habitat destruction, human persecution mostly due to conflict with livestock farmers, and other threats like poaching, hunting and being hit on roads,” Smuts reported.