The overall size of Addo Elephant National Park is 686 000 hectares, which encompasses 164 000 hectares of land and a 120 000-hectare marine reserve. Stretching from past the shoreline near to Kenton-on-Sea in the east to the dry Karoo in the north-west, Addo Elephant National Park centres on the Zuurberg Mountains and has altitudes that range from sea level all the way up to 1 000 metres above sea level. The Sundays River runs along the south-western boundary eventually reaching the sea at Algoa Bay.
Earliest Inhabitants of Addo Elephant National Park
The earliest visitors to the game reserve area arrived about 5 000 years ago, but it was only 1 000 years later that man decided to settle and live in the region. Between 2 000 – 1 500 years ago there is evidence that more and more Khoekhoen (Khoi Khoi) people arrived and settled in the area, many of whom died however during an outbreak of smallpox that hit the area in the early 1 700s.
Around the same period nomadic Xhosa tribes were also entering the area, many of whom settled in the North and along the Wit River. There were many clashes between the nomadic Xhosa and the settled Khoekhoen (KhoiKhoi) as they tried to secure their space and claim the land.
The Colonials Arrive
The 1740s saw the arrival of the Boer people to the area in search of Ivory and trading opportunities and by the 1750s they too had decided to settle in the area and start to farm. Clashes between the various inhabitant escalated until the early 1811 when 1 000 Boer soldiers drove over 20 000 Xhosa and the Khoe (Khoi) out of the area to beyond the Great Fish River.
Elephants in the region were hunted almost to extinction
Throughout all of the fighting and arrival of settlers, hunters continued to poach the Elephant and other game animals in the area and eventually by the early 1900s there were only a few small populations of Elephants left. A ruling passed in 1919 by Major PJ Pretorious ordering that all of the remaining Elephants in the area were to be exterminated, saw 114 for these graceful animals shot in just over a year.
Public opinion then changed, leading to the proclamation of the park in 1931. The original size of the park was just over 2 000 hectares. Conflicts between elephants and farmers continued after proclamation as no adequate fence enclosed the park. Finally, in 1954, Graham Armstrong (the park manager at the time) developed an elephant-proof fence constructed using tram rails and lift cables and an area of 2 270 hectares was fenced in. There were 22 elephants in the park at the time. This Armstrong fence, named after its developer, is still used around the park today. Although the park was originally proclaimed to protect a single species, priorities have now changed to conserve the rich biological diversity found in the area.
The Alexandria dunefield is home to many archeological sites – the middens of the nomadic ‘Strandloper’ or ‘beach walker’ people. These middens contain shells and bones of animals eaten by the people as well as fragments of pottery and stone implements. Interestingly, the white mussel shells found in these middens are also found in the caves of the Zuurberg Mountains, proving that these people journeyed and stored their food over vast distances.
The Domkrag Dam in the game viewing area of the park is named after a giant mountain tortoise which once roamed the park. ‘Domkrag’ is the Afrikaans word for a ‘jack’, and this tortoise had a peculiar habit of walking underneath cars and lifting them up with enormous strength. Domkrag came to a sad end when he fell into an aardvark hole and couldn’t get himself out. His shell is still on display in the Interpretive Centre.
The magnificent elephant head which is mounted in the Interpretive Centre is that of Hapoor, the legendary dominant bull in the park for 24 years. The waterhole in the south-western section of the game viewing area is named after him. ‘Hap’ means ‘nick’ in Afrikaans, while ‘oor’ means ‘ear’ and it is believed the distinctive nick in his ear was caused by a hunter’s bullet. Hapoor retained a deep hatred of humans throughout his life. On more than one occasion park staff were forced to flee to safety when Hapoor made his appearance. His dominance stretched from 1944 to 1968. During the latter part of the 1960’s a few younger bulls reached maturity and challenged Hapoor. These upstarts were unsuccessful until one bull named Lanky finally deposed Hapoor in 1968. Hapoor was driven from the heard and became a loner. Later that year he succeeded in climbing the park’s ‘Armstrong Fence’, which for nearly 20 years had been elephant-proof. His freedom was to be short lived as due to his aggressive nature, it was determined he would have to be shot.