The history of the Addo Elephant National Park is relatively young and has undergone several phases before the park became what it is today: one of the highlights on any South African holiday, both for local as well as international visitors alike.
In the late 1700’s, when the first European settlers visited the area, their sightings of elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and eland were often and varied. Wildlife was in abundance, and it did not take long before especially the elephant hunt became popular and widespread, with a roaring ivory trade to go with it.
When the English in the 1800’s started settling in the greater Port Elizabeth area the land surrounding this growing city was not only used for hunting parties, but farmers also divided the land for agricultural use. The game population came under severe pressure, as their natural habitat got smaller and smaller. Combined with the increased social hunting and farmers shooting the wildlife off their land, the number of game started diminishing.
By 1853 the last rhino in the area was shot, and another 26 years later also the lion was exterminated. The elephants in the area raided the farmers’ crops, and in 1919 government bowed for their demands to have all elephants killed… It was 1919 when a Major Pretorius was contracted to kill the remaining elephants. He did a thorough job and managed to shoot 114 elephants within a year after his contract started. Only when 2 young calves were sold to a travelling circus did the public react, and the elephant hunt came to an end. Sixteen elephants remained.
These 16 elephants found refuge on a Mr. Harvey’s land – who is nowadays remembered by his own ‘loop’ within the park. By 1925 two substantial pieces of land, the Strathmore and the Mentone Forest Reserve were earmarked as elephant refuges, which – in 1931 – resulted in the proclamation of the actual Addo Elephant National Park. By that time there were only 11 remaining of the original elephants which roamed the area.
Although this was a major achievement in the elephant conservation in the area, they were not safe as yet. Fencing around the original park was not adequate, and the elephants kept on breaking out and destroying nearby farmers’ crops. To the extent that in 1933 Mr. Trollope, who was the then Park Manager, started feeding the elephants to keep them within the boundaries of the park. With certain feeding times visitors were then invited into the park to enjoy this spectacle. The elephants got used to being fed at certain times of the day, and consequently started harassing the feeding trucks. Furthermore they would no longer roam around the park, but rather stick to the feeding area, afraid as they were to miss out on the next feeding session. The area got depleted; elephants got stressed and started becoming aggressive towards each other. Slowly but surely the feeding sessions stopped, and this practice was abandoned altogether in 1975.
In the mean time other game species, as originally recorded in the area, were being protected byt the establishment of the park, in particular the Cape buffalo and the flightless dung beetle. In 1957 eland was being reintroduced, followed by the Burchell’s zebra and warthog in 1996. Last but not least the reintroduction of (Kalahari) lion into the Addo Elephant National Park was completed in 2003, together with the extension of the park to the more than 180,000ha it currently covers.
Click here to read about our visit to the Addo Elephant National Park.