A young boy feeds an elephant at Knysna Elephant Park on South Africa's Garden Route. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic)
A young boy feeds an elephant at Knysna Elephant Park on South Africa's Garden Route. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic)

The Nicest Elephants in Knysna

Elephants are big creatures, weighing up to 15,000 lbs (much more than a car), and while they are intelligent and gentle, they can also be potentially dangerous to humans, simply because they are so big, versus our own species which is relatively small.

Seeing elephants on safari is always remarkable and exciting, and occasionally (if you are in the right area), the wild elephants will get considerably close to your vehicle. But nothing beats actually walking alongside an elephant to get a sense of its true majesty and size.

Aside from the odd circus or zoo exhibit, there are very few places in the world where people can touch, handle, ride, walk, and stand next to African elephants. But Knysna, on South Africa’s Garden Route, is one of those places.

Known for its deep forests and thick vegetation, Knysna has long been famous for its secretive herd of forest elephants (some say they are still on the prowl, others that they are gone). But at places like Knysna Elephant Park and the Elephant Sanctuary, visitors can get up close and personal with the largest land animal on Earth.

Admittedly, I was skeptical of these kinds of animal encounters, but upon meeting the elephants and learning their stories (many are rescued orphans from hunting concessions), I was so glad to see that they had a safe home in one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa.

And while I am fairly spoiled with the number of incredible wildlife encounters I have experienced, I have never had an elephant suck a chunk of butternut squash from my palm, or get to grab their tusks, or feel the wrinkly skin on their legs or pat their lovely huge ears.

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Indeed, I have never felt so incredibly close to such an amazing (and giant) beast as I did in Knysna, standing next to little boy Mashudu (who’s the size of a Nissan), or big mamma Sally (who’s the size of a milk truck). Even better, there were children all around. Seeing as so many national parks and game reserves have strict age restrictions for safaris, it was nice that children had the chance to come and interact so closely to the elephants. This is only possible because these particular elephants have been so carefully and painstakingly trained, so that they are not afraid or nervous around humans. It’s the reason why it’s safe to stand next to their gigantic legs, and why it was safe for me to take a phone picture within an inch of the elephant’s trunk.

You can’t do that on safari, oh no. The chance to interact with these elephants—feeding them, walking with them, touching them and even holding their ears and tusks—is a very rare and splendid thing, and I did it all, in Knysna.

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