Secret elephants.

Secret elephants. Gareth Patterson.

Johannesburg: Penguin Books, 2010. Octavo, paperback, colour photographs, illustrations.

The elephants of the Knysna forest in South Africa have long been the subject of mystery and conjecture. Over the years they have taken on an almost mythical quality, with many doubting whether they existed at all. In 1994 the local forestry department maintained that there was only one surviving Knysna elephant, the seldom seen female known as The Matriarch. The Knysna elephant was thus described as 'functionally extinct'. This was the official stance until September 2000 when forest guard Wilfred Oraai encountered and photographed a young bull from a distance of some thirty metres. The question arose: who was its mother? And, indeed, who was its father? In 2001 Gareth Patterson began an independent study of the Knysna elephant. For the next seven years he covered thousands of kilometres on foot, following ancient elephant paths through the dense Afromontane forest and the surrounding mountain fynbos. He found abundant signs to suggest that, far from dying out, the Knysna elephants are, quietly and secretly, holding their own. Patterson's fieldwork, and his DNA research in collaboration with conservation geneticist Lori Eggert, established that at least five young females exist, lending support to Patterson's growing evidence that the Knysna forest and its surroundings are home to a small herd of young elephants. This book is the story of these remarkable animals that fought their way back from the brink of extinction without any help from humankind.

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