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bineba Addo Elephant National Park - A travel report by Sabine
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Addo Elephant National Park,  South Africa - flag South Africa
8964 readers

bineba's travel reports

All creatures great and very, very small

  10 votes
Page: 1 2
I have always been fascinated by elephants, for as long as I can remember. So, I was really excited about visiting Addo Elephant National Park, expecting to see the animals en mass. It didn’t quite turn out that way…

Addo elephant
Addo elephant
Addo Elephant Park is about 1 hour drive from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region and has grown from a small park founded to protect just 11 elephants to one of the country’s biggest parks. 168 000 hectares, from mountains to the bushveld to the coast and into the Indian Ocean, covering 5 out of 7 biomes, this park can not only lay claim to the Big 5 (Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard and Black Rhino), but to the Big 7, as the marine area is home to the Great White Shark and the Southern Right Whale.

In 1919 the elephants in the region were making a nuisance of themselves by destroying farmers’ crops and Major P.J. Pretorius was given the task to exterminate them. Standing on a ladder to see them better, he nearly succeeded, shooting approx. 120 of them within a year.

With only 11 of them left, peoples’ feelings changed and the killing was stopped. In 1925 a temporary reserve was founded and 1931 the elephants were chased with the help of fire crackers, fires and shotguns to the newly established Addo Elephant NP, at this time only 2000 hectares big.

Fencing was poor and to keep the elephants within the park, they were feed oranges and other citrus fruit during the winter and people were invited to watch the spectacle. The fences were replaced in 1954 by park manager Graham Armstrong, who used 4m long tram rails, which took 8 people to carry and were planted partly underground, and 5 strands thick lift cable to fence in the park. Only one elephant ever escaped after this.

The feeding of citrus fruit, however, continued and was only stopped in 1979 after mealtimes turned into food riots, with elephants chasing trucks carrying the oranges, fighting for them and getting injured and stressed in the process. They also wouldn’t move far from this area, worried, they might miss their ‘orange fix’.

So, today, you are not only forbidden to bring a loaded shotgun to the park, but citrus fruit are also out. An elephant never forgets!

Favourite spots:
Red Hartebeest
Red Hartebeest
We had booked an early morning game drive with Delano, the owner of the place we were staying at, and it turned out we were his only passengers. We set off at 7.30 in his open top Land Rover to drive the 15 km to AENP. I had seen photos of the elephants congregating around the waterholes and had been expecting to have dozens of them just waiting for me and my camera. Well, a park isn’t a zoo and we spent the next 3 hours trying to find just 1 of those 450 elusive elephants. Delano drove to every waterhole - no luck. He explained that because it had rained 3 days earlier the animals had no need to come to get water, but were most probably grazing in the mountains. It became his quest to find us at least 20 elephants. We had great fun in the meantime, enjoying the scenery and seeing many other animals: warthogs, kudus, tortoises, buffalos, jackals, blue cranes and dung beetles, but more about those later.

What's really great:
Elephant family
Elephant family
We drove up a mountain from where we had a great panoramic view of the park. Here we got out of the car despite the slighty worrying sign ‘Beware of lions – Alight from vehicle at own risk’ and after a spot of breakfast (Lize had filled a little cooler with sandwiches, fruit (no oranges!), chocolates, etc.) and hot coffee we continued our quest. And, true to his word, Delano finally found the elephants for us, including one of the 4 Krüger bulls, which have been brought in to bring in a bit of fresh blood, as inbreeding is a problem. Female Addo elephants don’t have tusks like other African elephants as a result.

We didn’t see more than about 30 elephants, but it’s such a fantastic experience to see them in the wild, that just one would have been enough for me. But we did see young bulls, old cows and a couple of family groups with young elephants. Some of them had a reddish colour, which is a result of them bathing in the red mud at the water holes.

Flightless dung beetle
Flightless dung beetle
I am going to use this space to tell you about the other animal Addo Elephant Park is famous for – the Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus). Being flightless, this beetle is now unique to this area as it doesn't get around much.

As soon as you enter the park you are greeted by a big sign: ‘Dung Beetles have right of way – do not drive over dung beetles or elephant dung!’

These little creatures are everywhere where there is fresh elephant and buffalo dung and they roll perfect little balls out of it to their underground hideouts where they will lay eggs into the dung balls. When the eggs hatch, the grubs will eat their way through the dung and eventually turn into beetles to start the process all over again. What a life!

Small as they are, they play an important part. I've read somewhere that a group of them can get rid of an elephant dropping in mere minutes.

One of the 4 Krüger elephant bulls
One of the 4 Krüger elephant bulls
We stayed just outside the small village of Addo, at the Old Drift Guest Farm, a working citrus farm on the banks of the Sundays River. We opted for B&B, but they also have self-catering cottages. Our room, half of a cottage, was huge, spotlessly clean and our bed very comfortable. Nice touches included a fridge (with mini bar), chocolates, CD player, etc. The grounds are very nice and inviting for walks (accompanied by at least 2 of the 3 dogs!) and there is a pool. Breakfast was great: fresh fruit salad and juice, hot dishes and breads and pastries with local jams.
The owners, Lize and Delano, are lovely and extremely helpful.

The Old Drift Farm is a place with quite a history: the first convenient natural crossing of the Sundays River from the sea, there was a military post here in 1815, from 1830 there has been an inn here and it also served as a small pox station, coach stop, prison and wagon building business. Check out the small graveyard with graves from the 1800s.

For the afternoon we had booked another game drive, this time at Schotia Safaris, a private game reserve bordering Addo Elephant NP. The plan had been to return to the Old Drift Farm, have a spot of lunch and a swim, but as it had been such a mission to find the elephants, we just managed to race back, freshen up and set off again. Schotia is about 30 minutes away on the dirt road (45 minutes the long way round on the tarred road) and it is the oldest private game viewing reserve in the Eastern Cape. It opened to the public in 1982, but the farm has been there since the 1800’s and in the hands of the Bean family for the 6th generation. It is one of the most densely stocked game farms with 40 mammal species and over 2000 animals and so big that at no time you feel like being in a zoo. Animals are left to sustain themselves, meaning they are not fed my humans.

Tours are in small groups (up to 10) with very knowledgeable rangers.

Schotia lion
Schotia lion
In Addo, like all South African national parks, only animals that are indigenous to the area are allowed, but here you get the chance to see others, like hippos, giraffes, crocodiles, wildebeest, etc.

Once again we set off in an open top Land Rover and it didn’t take long until we saw our first lion, a magnificent looking male. When he got up it became apparent that one of his legs was injured, probably from a fight with his son, who, as we later discovered, had taken over his father’s pride.

We saw lots of animals in addition to the ones mentioned above: zebra, rhino, impala, blessbock, warthog, kudu. And we also found the lion pride, with 3 adolescent lions.

As it got dark, we used a spotlight, which I got to hold as I was sitting at the front. I even managed to spot another lion! The evening ended with a meal at a huge open air lapa around open fires. We had kudu stew and chicken, salads and vegetables and malva pudding. Lekker!

There isn’t all that much choice in Addo, but Lize recommended the Lenmore Restaurant, just off the main road, and we had a great meal there sitting outside on a deck under the trees. The menu isn’t very adventurous, but the food was delicious, the portions big and included at least 6 different vegetables, all grown in their own garden. I have been told that their creamed spinach is famous in the region and people come from far and wide for it!
There is also a deli and bakery and it is home to the Addo Raptor & Reptile Centre, a recovery and rehabilitation facility for sick and injured birds of prey and reptiles, both wild and captive bred. Lenmore also has B&B chalets you can rent.

Other recommendations:
About 45 minutes drive from Addo, near Kirkwood on the R75 is the Daniell Cheetah Breeding Project, well worth a visit. Here you get to hangout with these beautiful cats and can experience them up close and personal. There are very strict regulations for breeding cheetahs in South Africa and facilities are carefully monitored. These cheetahs are not bred for hunting farms, but private and national game reserves.

After watching a couple of meerkats at play and a rather sleepy serval, we got introduced to Ola, a 6 year old female cheetah. Such a beautiful animal! Apparently they make quite good pets, but I have to wonder about the cat food bill!

They highlight for me came, when I got to hold a 2 week old lion pup. He and his brother had been abandoned by their mother and they were being cared for here for 6 months before being returned to the wild. His eyes had only opened 5 days before and he was still very unsteady on his four paws, but perfectly content to lie in my arms.

Published on Saturday April 24th, 2010

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Wed, May 12 2010 - 04:48 PM rating by eirekay

Sabine, this is wonderful! Worth 5 stars for the pictures alone! Really envy you the Cheetah experience! That must have been WONDERFUL! Well written too!

Fri, Apr 30 2010 - 02:04 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Only the pictures deserve 5 stars, and the text 5 more stars. Total: 10 stars!

Wed, Apr 28 2010 - 02:21 AM rating by louis

I completely agree with David. 12* is the only correct rating for this report.

Sun, Apr 25 2010 - 04:23 AM rating by krisek

A very nice report, Sabine. Fantastic photos, too. Many thanks for taking time to share your story with us. I remember, when I was in one of southern Africa's national parks, a group of South Africans decided to use a massive spot light at night to see lions better. I felt it was terrible invasive. But then again, it made me think whether driving around in daylight wasn't... ;) Then, I discovered safaris on foot!

Sun, Apr 25 2010 - 04:14 AM rating by mistybleu

Fascinating report, with lovely pictures; I would have love to have seen the cubs. Thanks

Sun, Apr 25 2010 - 01:13 AM rating by davidx

This report is about 12*

Sat, Apr 24 2010 - 10:41 PM rating by pesu

Sabine, I loved to read your well written, informative report. I am also fascinated by elephants and it's great you shared this wonderful experience with us. Intriguing pics as well!

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