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Published on September 7, 2007

Author: guestee03a1




Although the Knysna Elephant Park (K.E.P.) was established in 1994 with the arrival of the two orphaned calves, Harry & Sally, the roots go much deeper – in fact back to as early as the 1890’s.

A young Irish Blacksmith named Charles Cooke, the great grandfather of one of the present day owners, had built road passes along the tracks made by elephants through the Groot Rivier and Bloukrantz gorges. Later, between the 1920’s and the 1970’s, his son-in-law Daniel Miller (grandfather of Ian Withers) managed the Thesen family plantations, surrounded by the Knysna forest, home of the most southerly elephants in the world.

In 1991, Ian & Lisette Withers realized their dream to bring elephants back to Knysna. Their vision for KEP has always been that the operation would be intrinsically interwoven with an unwavering conservation ethic, and the ultimate goal is – care of elephants. This vision arises from the tragic decline of the Knysna elephants at the hands of mankind: In 118 years the elephant population in Knysna had crashed from some 500 elephants down to 3 or 4 individuals – a shocking indictment against humankind.

From humble beginnings in 1994, when visitors for the year numbered 9000, to over 60,000 visitors in 2005, bears testimony to the popularity of the operation. Today the park’s operations include:
- Daily tours where visitors can feed and ‘be touched’ by the elephants;
- Elephant walking safari’s – where visitors are taken on guided trails through the forest with the elephants;
- Exclusive sunrise & sunset walking safaris with the elephants, which include champagne, meals and refreshments;
- A sundowner group excursion, which involves spending an evening with the elephants at the newly constructed lapa, while enjoying snack platters and sundowner drinks;
- Elephant boma accommodation, where visitors can spend the night in luxury accommodation, which overlooks the boma where the elephants spend the night: Literally ‘sleeping with the elephants.’
- The bunk-house accommodation – predominantly used by schools and students;
- Finally, after much soul-searching, elephant-back safaris, where visitors have the opportunity to enjoy a forest trail on the back of one of these magnificent creatures.
But the true success can be measured by the number of students visiting the Indlovu Environmental Education Centre each year. Here they learn how conservation combined with tourism can unlock employment opportunities, which open up prospects of a better future for themselves and their communities.


• It is the first facility of its kind in South Africa;
• The environmental Interpretive Centre was officially opened by Dr. Graham Avery, then president of the Wildlife & Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA), in 1999;
• Since then, in excess of 25,000 children, predominantly from under-privileged backgrounds, have stayed at the learning center – most of them free of charge;
• The facility (KEP) is acknowledged as being among the finest in the world for ‘domesticated’ elephants;
• All the elephants at Knysna Elephant Park were either orphaned or abandoned, and were destined to be killed;
• Ian & Lisette Withers were founder members of the Elephant Management & Owners Association (EMOA);
• They are also professional members of the Elephant Management Association (EMA), an international organization based in the United States;
• Three staff members of the Knysna Elephant Park team have undergone training at Riddles Elephant School in Arkansas, USA - among them the first black trainer from Africa. Riddles Elephant School is acknowledged as the bench-mark of elephant training schools in the world;
• Lisette Withers has trained under Daphne Sheldrick in Kenya, where she learned to care for orphaned calves;
• Lisette Withers was asked to assist in caring for elephants injured in the Pilanesberg fire.

Elephant-Back Safaris KNYSNA ELEPHANT PARK  Tel: 044 532 7732 Fax: 044 532 7763  Email: 2 Web: Knysna Great family fun to be had here with a unique opportunity to interact with our African elephants, who live in a controlled, free-range environment in the heart of the famous Garden Route in South Africa. Touch and feed our elephants on one of our daily tours that depart every half hour from 08h30 to 16h30. Expe- rience the thrill of an elephant-back ride or simply follow in their footsteps on an elephant walk. Sit back an d enjoy elephant-accom- D a i lyscheduled tours panied sundowners, or, for something Elephant-back rides and walks out of th e ordinary, overnight with Wedding and confe rence venue them in the elephant boma.

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