When a lone bull elephant is spotted in South Africa's Knysna forest by a forest guard - six years after the small population that lived there had been declared 'functionally extinct' - environmentalist and wildlife author Gareth Patterson set out in search of the truth about these elusive animals. For the next seven years he covered thousands of kilometers 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.
The Secret Elephants is the story of these remarkable animals that fought their way back from the brink of extinction without any help from humankind.
The Secret Elephants is the interesting but very sad saga of the last remaining elephants of Knysna forest. This book is a combination of history, bush walking and a great deal of memoir. I much preferred the bush walking part of the book and the chapter about the Knysna elephants eating medicinal mushrooms. I feel Patterson is overly optimistic. An isolated handful of related elephants does not make a viable population - especially for a species that takes almost two years to gestate a single infant.
Patterson included fictional speculative asides, which I felt didn't particularly contribute to the book. The narrative is also choppy and rambling. While the tangential material was interesting, Patterson could really have used an editor to smooth out the flow of the writing and organise things better.
PS: I'm not sure what to make of the author's claims that he dowses for lions (and apparently crashed helicopters), and all his "feelings" as explanations for events. At the end of the book, I also not sure if I was relieved or disappointed that he didn't hire a psychic (or, this being South Africa, a sangoma) to raise some ancestral elephant spirits to ask them questions!
PPS: The book was published in 2010. What is the state of the elephant population roaming the Knysna forest in 2023? According to SANParks, there is only one elephant. They make no mention of what happened to the other elephants.
I did quite enjoy this book, although I did get a little frustrated with the author and the constant "I just had a feeling" explanation of things.
Regardless of how annoying that was, it is still and amazing and incredible story because these elephants are both amazing and incredible. It's quite a wonderful thought that they have survived in spite of all the humans who have tried to get rid of them. It makes me very happy that they didn't succeed :)
I like this book . However, there are sections that feel more like "bird walks" than pertaining to the story. Essentially, it feels like filler to meet a page requirement. I really enjoyed the accounts and information about the elephants. I found it interesting and exciting. Overall, I recommend it with the possibility that you may want to skim some pages here and there.
Interesting story about the (re)discovery of these elephants that had been pushed deep into the forest in Knysna at the southern tip of South Africa. Some interesting bits on the endemic flora of the area and elephants eating medicinal mushrooms. Good bibliography.
I bought this book because the foreword was by Daphne Sheldrick. I admit I shared her misgivings about publicizing an account about these secretive elephants.
This is an interesting read. The beginning about the history of the Knysna elephants was really upsetting and it's appalling what happened to elephants all across South Africa in those dark times.
There was a good deal of non-elephant related tangents in the book about flora and fauna alike.
I found it odd that the author didn't offer a strong opinion against the cruelty that is captive elephant "tourism". I would have thought most conservationists to be steadfastly against the cruel practice of elephant riding and the breaking of elephant spirits to allow people to touch them. These are living beings and their exist is not for the entertainment of twatty tourists. He kind of glossed over the whole practice which I found a bit strange.
Overall, a pretty good book! Long may the secret elephants flourish.
A great account of Gareth's search for the elusive elephants of Knysna. Delving into the hidden world, Garth sparks wonder and administration for the forest, locals and the wildlife. This was a great read.