Meet the Lone Elephant and Other Animals of the Knysna Forest

SANParks’ recent camera trap survey in the Knysna Forest may not have revealed the numbers of elephants it was hoping to find, but as Bronwyn Mulrooney discovered, the cameras did provide a glimpse into the lives of the many other mammals that call the forest home.

During a 15-month study, SANParks captured this footage of what appears to be a lone elephant cow wandering the Knysna Forest. Watch as she tries to play with a logger and dismantles a gate.

To find out more about the story of this Knysna elephant, pick up a copy of the July 2019 issue of SA Country Life.

The Knysna Forest’s residents

The animals of the Knysna forest are a rather shy lot, so it’s hardly surprising we seldom encounter them on the walking trails that traverse this virtually untouched area.

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Sure, we come across the evidence of their presence all the time, like the messy dongas left behind by foraging bushpigs in search of tasty tubers, but few of us have ever come face to face with these hairy hogs. Which, if you know anything of the temperament of a bushpig, is actually a good thing.

So it was with much excitement that I pored over the images SANParks wildlife ecologist Lizette Moolman had retrieved from the 80 cameras used in the survey, as they had a remarkable tale to tell of the animals we perhaps unknowingly share this forest with.

Here’s a peek into this wonderfully wild world:

Meet the leopards

Camera traps are often used to determine leopard population sizes. Like elephants, these animals are individually identifiable by the spot pattern on their fur – each one as unique as a human fingerprint. SANParks’ survey caught leopard on film frequently at all its camera trap stations. The scientific team will soon begin analysing these images to identify individuals and determine the status of this population.

Just browsing

Bushbuck, like this gorgeous ram (below left), were seen most frequently on the SANParks’ camera footage. These shy browsers are usually most active at night or very early in the morning, but become entirely nocturnal in places where there is a lot of disturbance to their natural habitat. These bushbuck ewes (below right) with their trademark bright white stripes and spots didn’t mind posing for the camera while they grabbed a quick meal.

 

A genet (below left) scampers down a forest road. Genets are solitary, arboreal, nocturnal creatures that also made frequent camera appearances.

A family of bushpig like this one (below right) is called a sounder, and can host up to 12 members. Slightly comical-looking creatures, bushpig are actually very shy, difficult to spot in the forest and favour densely vegetated habitats. They are not popular among farmers due to their destructive outings onto croplands at night.

The dainty blue duiker is the smallest of all the duiker species and vulnerable, appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is a forest specialist, meaning it cannot survive outside the forest environment. Populations are decreasing, with forest fragmentation due to human activities being one of the biggest threats to their survival.

The endangered blue duiker makes an appearance on the SANParks cameras that were set up to find the elephants and animals in the Knysna Forest

On the hunt

Furry honey badgers may look cute, but they have a fearsome reputation in the forest where they’re known for their expert hunting skills. They feed on a variety of ‘kills’ including mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. They’re seen often on the SANParks’ cameras (below left), mostly during daylight hours, sometimes alone, and often in pairs.

Find out why the honey badger is the most fearless animals alive.

With its black tufted ears and exquisite features, the caracal is regarded as one of the most beautiful wild felines. It is a solitary animal that was captured by all SANParks’ cameras (below right) in all the different forest locations. Although they are thought to be largely nocturnal, footage showed the caracals in the Knysna forest to be active throughout the day and night.

Let’s take a selfie

Of course, what would modern camera traps be without a few selfies? A majestic bushbuck ram (below left) and a windswept baboon (below right) were among the many animal selfies recorded!

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Words Bronwyn Mulrooney

Photography SANParks

Leigh Hermon

A journalist by trade, features writer on occasion and now the digital editor of SA Country Life. The first chance she gets, Leigh will tell you about a podcast she was recently listening to and how you simply have to make the move from radio. In a previous life, she once taught English on Jeju which left her with an insatiable craving for kimchi.

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