Addo Elephant National Park is part of the South African National Park system (SANparks), and was established in 1931 to protect the last remaining elephants of the area. In the past, there had been a long standing conflict between humans and pachyderms because the elephants ruined crops, invaded farms, etc. In fact, the elephants of the area had been ordered shot and only 11 elephants remained when the park was created.
Public sentiment towards elephants changed over time, and a miraculous thing happened… people would rather shoot photos of a pachyderm rather than shoot it to death. The creation of this park saved the area’s last remaining 11 elephants. Today there are 420 elephants residing in the Addo Elephant National Park, and are breeding nicely.
Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) is an easy drive; only 75 kilometers from Port Elizabeth to the main gate.
Today’s Addo Elephant National Park (AENP)
The park is currently about 170 000 hectares (one hectare = 2.5 acres) in size, making Addo Elephant National Park the third largest national park in South Africa, after Kruger National Park and Kgalagardi Transfrontier Park. The Park is constantly expanding, whenever there is a willing seller to sell adjacent land. The goal is to expand to 270,000 hectares.
The park stretches from the Woody Cape to the Indian Ocean, where one finds the Bird and St. Croix island groups which protects a large variety of marine life. Bird Island is home the world’s largest breeding colony of Cape gannets, and St. Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins.
Addo Elephant National Park is rich in biodiversity, conserving five of South Africa’s seven biomes, namely Albany Thicket, Fynbos, Forest, Nama Karoo and the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt.
Why Visit AENP?
This park is the world’s first Big Seven conservation area, and is the first National Park to boast the Big 7 (elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, Southern right whale & great white shark). The area is malaria free, making it an ideal tourist destination.
To Visit for the Day or Several Nights?
This park offers excellent facilities for the day visitor, as well as for the overnight visitor wishing to bring their own tent, caravan (RV), stay in the park’s various types of facilities, or the concession luxury lodges. Either way, the visitor is assured to have a lovely visit to this amazing park.
We visited the park for the day, and took a guided tour that cost R150 (or US $19) per person, though you are perfectly fine taking a self-driving tour through the park, in the comfort of your own car. The fee to enter the park was about US$20 for the two of us.
The Mystery of the Tuskless Female Elies
While on a guided tour, I asked our driver why some elephants at Addo are tuskless and some have small tusks compared to those at Kruger, for example. He said that the original eleven survivors where females and they did not have tusks, possibly being the very reason why they were not shot. Not having tusks saved there lives! The tusklessness was passed on to their daughters. Today, there are only five females with tusks, representing 5% of the female population.
The Most Coveted Sights at Addo Elephant National Park:
3. Black Rhino
4. Cape buffalo
5. Flightless dung beetle
~If you like elephants… well, there is no shortage of pachyderms and they will be there for your enjoyment, especially in the afternoon when they’re moving to different watering holes. This is one park where the animals get up close and personal with visitors, and as long as you remain in your car, you’re perfectly safe.
~The park participates in the conservation of the endangered black rhino, and there are over 48 black rhinos currently in the park.
~The park’s brochure claims there are over 400 Cape buffalo in the park, but we didn’t have any viewings during our visit.
~A small herd of lions of six were introduced to the park in 2003, and our guide said they have adapted quite well to the park. They keep to themselves, and we were lucky to see them, albeit, way on top of a hill. This is another reason why one must always have binoculars on hand!
~The dung beetle has the right of way on the park roads, as seen by the many road signs along the road! AENP is the only park in Southern Africa that protects the dung beetles. Why is the dung beetle protected? Because, these insects are the clean-up crews that convert elephant dung into compost; so they are extremely important in trying to keep a clean park!
Other Animals which are seen in abundance (not an all-inclusive list):
Antelope species are not in short supply in the main park, and one sees an abundance of kudu, bushbuck, hartebeest, but no impala (they’re not endemic to the region). Of course, no game reserve would be complete without the lovely Burchell’s zebra.
The lists of animals present at this park goes on, and on, and are too many to list. The rarer Cape mountain zebra and baboon can be seen near the mountainous areas.
If you wish to see hippos, you must take a boat tour in the Sundays River, which is an all day affair, and one must pay a separate fee.
In the marine areas, one can take boat tours and see the Southern right whales (in season) as well as the great white shark.
Addo Elephant National Park certainly deserves more than a one-day visit. For one, this is the only park in the world that is actively growing, and the only park in the world that covers both land and marine reserves.
Where else in the world can you see in one day, lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants, rhinos, and Southern right whales and great white sharks?
The park also offers well-developed hiking trail that are suitable for the beginner and the serious hikers who may wish to camp overnight in approved areas. One type of tour we’d love to take on another trip would be the guided horseback trails, which include camping for a day or two.
There are many types of accommodations to choose from: from the luxury private lodges, to the SANparks lodges which are simple but very comfortable accommodations (we’ve inspected a couple of cottages) that are geared for the more budget-conscious visitors.
The park also offers a main visitor’s area with a swimming pool (for the use of overnight visitors), a restaurant, guided tours, a well-stocked provisions store for those spending the night, and a gas station to keep your car in running condition without leaving the park.
The most endearing thing we saw were the “Beetle Crossing” signs, which must be respected or a ranger could fine you. Since you’re moving at very slow speeds on park roads, it’s not difficult to spot these critters. We saw a few dung beetles crossing the road while pushing little balls of elephant dung. The funniest thing is that while the male beetle is a great helper at making the dung balls, once they are finished, the male beetle hops on top of the ball and hitches a ride, while the female pushes it all the way into their little underground home. Such sightings can be amusing and entertaining and can be undertaken from the comfort of your own car.
The elephant viewings were amazing. This park perhaps offers the best opportunities to see elies with babies only a few feet away from the car… sometimes they’re curious and will try to sneak the tip of their trunks into you slightly opened car window… you may not, under any circumstance, try to actively touch an elephant… they may seem tame, but there is no such thing as a tame African elie!
The park is affordable and large enough that even on a busy day, such as when we visited, you can still have a quiet day of viewing the wildlife. Highly recommend this park!