Cape Town - One of five elusive elephants, believed to be living in the Knysna Forest, has made a cameo appearance and it has been captured on camera.
SANParks confirmed one of its ranger, Siviwe Nondobo was out collecting data for scientist Lizette Moolman van der Vyver who is conducting research on the genetic uniqueness as well as the historical ecological impact of the elephants in the area, when he made the sighting.
Records indicate as many as 1 000 elephants roamed the Outeniqua-Tsitsikamma area about a century ago and most certainly played an ecological role on the environment - The elephant has since been named Oupoot from the Dalene Matthee book Circles in the Forest, centred around a man's struggle to find independence but also touching on deforestation in the Knysna areas and the subsequent loss of the elephant herds as part of its storyline.
SANParks spokesperson Nandi Mgwadlamba confirmed Oupoot is believed to be a female elephant as confirmed by previous hormine research conducted in the area.
However, data on the elephants and therefore an understanding of the ecological role they played and their potential impact on biodiversity in the Southern Cape is sparse, says Mgwadlamba, since the few scientific studies that were conducted, took place after the elephants were confined to the forest habitat.
Recent studies indicate the elephants once belonged to a larger, continuous southern African population, of the same sub-species as the African elephant, Loxodonta africana.
Mgwadlamba said since elephants are a ‘keystone species’, essential for the integrity of the ecosystem, its conservation value needs to be assess in terms of the elephants genetic uniqueness as well as the species as an ecological role player.
"Elephants affect ecological processes through their feeding, digging and movement, and contribute to biodiversity by dispersing seeds, opening thickets, making browse more available to smaller herbivores, making water accessible in dry river beds, and promoting nutrient re-cycling," said Mgwadlamba.
Due to the sensitive nature of the research being conducted SANparks is unable to confirm the exact whereabouts of Oupoot, who was spotted by Nondobo who was out collecting dung boli measurements as part of the non-intrusive monitoring by the park.
Techniques used to monitor the elephants include dung circumference measurements, notes on feeding signs and dung sample taking for elephant hormone studies, aimed at determining the reproductive potential of individuals in the group as well as assessing the level of stress hormones released when the elephants move through certain areas.
SANParks shared the following footage captured by Mountain to Ocean field workers on Wednesday.