Yesteryear’s “hunter’s hell” is today’s wildlife paradise.
In the early 1900’s, a major P.J. Pretorius was contracted to rid the Addo region of its elephant population, then numbering around 150 animals, as the area was developing into one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions. It is he who described the Addo-bush as a “hunter’s hell” due to the impenetrable thickness of the spekboom vegetation. Pretorius was nevertheless extremely successful in his undertaking, and by the time the Addo Elephant National Park was proclaimed in 1931 on a small piece of land considered unsuitable for irrigation, and in the face of rising public support for the elephants, only eleven animals remained.
Over the years more land has been added to the Park and, from the original 40km² at proclamation, the Addo Elephant National Park today covers an area in excess of 1650 km² (and there are plans to increase this even more). As the Park grew, so did the elephant population – more than 450 now roam the reserve.
Those first Addo elephants were wild and dangerous, understandably so due to the persecution they endured, but the animals you’d find in the park these days are much more tolerant of the human presence and there are few, if any, places in Africa where you’ll be able to get so close to wild elephants going about their everyday business (though you’d still be well advised to keep a safe distance from those big bulls and cows with calves).
Now that the future of the Addo Elephant has been secured, the park’s priorities have shifted towards biodiversity protection, and it certainly ranks as one of South Africa’s most diverse protected areas in terms of habitat and species. Today the Park accommodates all the species of big game that occurred here historically, including Africa’s famed “Big 5”.
Located close to Port Elizabeth, one of South Africa’s largest cities, Addo is easily accessible and very popular. Accommodation is provided in a number of camps operated by the South African National Parks as well as a host of more upmarket, privately run, concession lodges.
The Addo Elephant National Park is a South African conservation success story – if you ever have the opportunity, go see for yourself just how beautiful a “hunter’s hell” can be!