Addo Elephant National Park

3. May 2019

The Addo area in South Africa used to be rich in wild elephants. By 1931 hunters had reduced the plentiful herds in the area to 11 elephants. In order to save those 11 elephants from extinction the Addo Elephant National Park was founded by Sydney Skaiffe.

Elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park. Photo credit: Melanie van Zyl / shutterstock


Today the ADDO Elephant National Park is the third largest in South Africa. It is located 72 km by road from Port Elizabeth and is covered by vegetation of very dense bushes, which is one of the  reasons that elephants are well protected. It is difficult for humans to get through the thick bush. In fact, during the 18th and 19th centuries travelers considered the impenetrable Addo thicket a hunter’s hell. The main plants in the national park are a variety of succulents endemic to the area, regenerating quickly and loved by elephants.


Today the number of elephants in the national park has increased to 600 animals, plus a large number of other mammals thriving in harmony with the elephant umbrella species. The reserve now expands from the Sundays River towards Alexandria and includes a marine reserve and several bird islands. Africa’s only penguins can be found here. The marine reserve area is planning another expansion of 1640 km² increasing the Addo National Park to a total of 3600 km².

Elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park. Photo credit: Melanie van Zyl / shutterstock

Not all of the vegetation is covered by succulent impenetrable bushes. There are openings, created by the elephants, revealing large plains. In total the park includes 112 different vegetation types, subdivided into 1558 plant species. More than 300 of these plans are endemic and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The elephants in the park are happy elephants, because nature protects them well. Rangers do not carry firearms and elephants don’t feel threatened and therefore are not threatening to visitors. They don’t even feel threatened around cars provided that their number is limited.  However, guides and visitors are well advised not to approach elephants on foot, but rather park their cars at a safe distance and let the elephants approach, if they so choose.


Interestingly enough around 90% of the female elephants in the reserve have no tusks. For Lyle Watson, in his fascinating book Elephantoms*, the absence of tusks is an evolutionary survival adjustment. He describes other evolutionary changes that should protect elephants from its dangerous human predator such as smaller sized elephants and smaller herds to increase invisibility. These evolutionary changes do not only occur in the Addo, but also in Uganda and West Africa. The genes for such changes are present within all African elephants and simply need to be activated as the environment changes.


Trees in the Addo Elephant National Park are protected by bees. Visitors observing happy elephants in the ADDO National Park will notice that  some trees are equipped with small white bee boxes. Elephants are careful around trees protected by bees. They need the trees for shade, and they are afraid of being stung behind the ears, on their trunks and other sensitive areas. Bees protecting trees are about the only stress Addo elephants are subjected to.


* Elephantoms © 2002 by Lyall Watson / W.W. Norton & Company, Inc / New York  ISBN:

0-393-32459-1 pbk.