There’s Now Only One Elephant Left in This South African Forest

“And Then There Was One” is a sadly appropriate title of a recent study into South Africa’s elephants.

Asobering months-long study conducted by researchers from South Africa National Parks (SANParks) and other institutions examined a once-thriving population of elephants residing in South Africa’s Knysna forest.

Sadly, according to their findings, which were just published in the journal African Journal of Wildlife Research, there’s now just one lone female left.

Earlier footage and videos captured a single female, but researchers weren’t sure if they missed any other elephants. To find out if there were any others out there, researchers placed 72 camera traps throughout their known range that were active for 15-months between 2016 and 2017, capturing thousands of images and video clips with elephants in 144 captured events.

“Because elephants move along defined elephant pathways, we placed our cameras on these paths and covered the elephant range evenly, with spaces between camera traps no larger than the smallest range recorded for elephants,” explained Lizette Moolman, SANParks scientist. “In other words, an elephant would not reside in a gap area, between camera trap locations, for the duration of the survey.”

Sadly, all of the images and footage taken were of the same adult female, who researchers estimate is about 45-years old.

“The Brutal reality is there is no longer a population of Knysna elephants. All the mystique of the Knysna elephant is reduced to a single elephant left in rather tragic circumstances,” co-author Graham Kerley from the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at Nelson Mandela University told Business Day.

Kerley said she appears to be in good shape, but is showing physical signs of stress that could be the result of being all alone.

While there were once thousands of Knysna elephants roaming in South Africa, they’ve been increasingly squeezed into a smaller and smaller habitat, eventually retreating into the forest as a result of human persecution, hunting and development. Now, they’re functionally extinct.

Those who are worried about the last remaining survivor are left with an impossible choice about whether to step in. It would be dangerous to try to move her into another population, and unlikely that a reintroduction of others would succeed in the area it’s already been tried and failed.

Unfortunately, she could still have decades to survive alone, which for an elephant — who is an extremely social being who forms lifelong bonds with family and friends — must be torture.

It’s so far unlikely that any intervention will take place on her behalf, but hopefully her story will at least serve as a tragic reminder about the toll we’re taking on wildlife.

“Hopefully we humans have learnt a nasty lesson because it is ultimately our fault that we are down to the last elephant here. She is the metaphor for our treatment of all species that live on this planet with us,” Kerley added. “The saying ‘the elephant in the room’ could not be more apt; she is telling us we are making some big mistakes and we are going to lose a lot more than her if we don’t substantially change how we view and treat biodiversity.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

78 comments

heather g
heather g23 hours ago

Knysna is traditionally not a region with poachers. For some reason, they don't give an explanation for previously introduced elephants disappearing, but she should not be left alone in the forest.

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H4 days ago

tragic and heartbreaking

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Sophie A
Sophie A5 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Carol B
Carol B5 days ago

I hate the idea of removing her to sanctuary as equal to keeping her alone in her natural habitat. It is a resoundingly tragic situation...all man made, of course.

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Terri S
Terri S5 days ago

This is too sad!!!! Humans destroy everything and animals pay the price.

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susan a
susan a5 days ago

Trouble is that the people who should feel some remorse for this situation won't give a damn!!

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Ruth R
Ruth R5 days ago

I really hope some solution is found; terrible for her to be left all alone.

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karen korec
karen korec5 days ago

Poaching HAS TO BE BANNED ALL thruout the world, that is what is destroying the existance of the animal kingdom PERIOD

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Claudia A
Claudia A5 days ago

:( There are no words to describe the pain we are causing to our mother earth ...

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Sheila Miller
Sheila Miller6 days ago

The world is so sad. One elephant left in an area where they use to thrive. People should be ashamed of their lack of respect and care for such beautiful creatures.

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