The Addo Elephant National Park

The Addo Elephant National Park

Since moving down to Cape Town, our nearest nature reserve with big game animals consisting of elephants, lions, hyenas, buffalos, kudu, warthog and a whole host more is in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape. Its name being the Addo Elephant National Park (AENP). It’s a very different experience to other South African National Parks (SANParks) in that it contains a variety of different vegetation types (I’ll get into that later) as well as having year round rainfall, which other (SANParks) lack.  Let’s have a look at what the Addo Elephant National Park is all about and what it has to offer.

History of the Addo Elephant National Park

The park was initially decreed in 1931. Its sole purpose then was to safeguard the Eastern Cape’s last eleven remaining African Elephants Loxodonta africana . The saving of these elephants has been the forerunner to further conservation advances in the region. Management in the initial years of the park was made difficult by the fact that no elephant proof fence encircled it. Farmers and elephants continued to clash until, in the 1950’s, Graham Armstrong designed an elephant-proof fence so effective that it is still used around parts of the park to this day. The first authorised sightseers drove through the park in the late 1970’s.

The Zuurberg National Park was proclaimed in 1985 with the transfer of Zuurberg Forest Reserve, originally proclaimed in 1869 with the intention of protecting a characteristic sample of the grassy Fynbos and Afro-Montane forest patches distinctive of the Zuurberg Mountains. Zuurberg National Park was later deproclaimed and incorporated into AENP in 1995.

Animals of the Addo Elephant National Park

The Addo Elephant National Park hosts an amazing range of animals and sea life as there is a newly proclaimed (2019) marine protected area which borders the reserve, this will protect a diversity of marine life. A number of animals which can be seen in the reserve include African Elephant, buffalo Syncerus caffer , lion Panthera leo , Kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros , Eland Taurotragus oryx , Leopard Panthera Pardus , Red Hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus caama , Plains Zebra Equus quagga and much more. Some birds which you may see are Secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius , southern boubou Laniarius ferrugineus , Cape Crow Corvus capensis , Fiscal Flycatcher Sigelus silens and Forked tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis amongst others.

Addo elephant park
A zebra keeping an eye on a couple of lions lions in close proximity to him.

There are two characteristics that differ from other areas regarding elephant and lion found in the Addo Elephant National Park. The first being that the majority of elephants don’t have tusks. This is because the elephants in that particular area never developed tusks. It was only once park officials relocated some bull elephants from the Kruger National Park tusks entered the gene pool.

Addo Elephant National Park
Notice no tusks for the big female elephant.

The second animal being the lion has a behavioral characteristic affecting the prides in which, in normal prides, a number of up to eight or 10 individuals form allowing hunting prey to be easier, thus enabling one or two lionesses to stay back from the hunt and care for the lion cubs, however with Addo’s thick and dense vegetation there are more places to hide the cubs and so pride numbers in the Addo are usually only two or three individuals.

Addo Elephant National Park
Another tough day in Africa ( notice only 3 individuals in this pride).

Vegetation of the Addo Elephant National Park

The Addo’s vegetation is quite complex hence a very rough outline follows. It contains five of the seven biomes found in South Africa, the biomes represented are Nama Karoo, Fynbos, Forest, Thicket, Grassland and Wetland. The Addo is believed to be Succulent Thicket. This vegetation is distinguished by its dense impenetrable entanglement of succulents along with spiny shrubs which grow 2-4 meters high. Thickets are identified with a large degree of endemism. Bonteveld (Valley Bushveld) consisting of dense woody thickets with small portions of grassveld. These grassveld portions are made up of perennial tufted grasses along with forbs and shrubs. Sundays Thicket (Xeric Succulent Thicket) is comprised of dense thicket where trees, shrubs and succulents thrive. The dominant plant species which occurs is spekboom Portulacaria afra. Albany Coastal Belt (Valley Bushveld) is characterised by short grasslands with scattered bush clusters and the occasional Acacia natalitia tree.

Conservation of the Addo Elephant National Park

As stated above the main reason for the parks existence was to protect the elephants which it still does today along with offering a safe refuge for many other animals.

There are a number of elephants and other animals in the reserve and with high numbers of animals comes a high amount of dung. The Addo Elephant National Park is home to the flightless dung beetle, which is classed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to habitat loss, agriculture and human interference. Now, the point of this statement is that the high amount of dung lands up on the tourist roads that cross the park.  While the dung beetles are going about their business, tourists are driving on these said roads looking at the big 5 and not being aware of this activity on the road… squish. Please bear this in mind when driving around the reserve.

Addo Elephant National Park
Flightless Dung Beetle

The Eastern Cape like the Western Cape is going through a drought and so water is scarce,affecting the animals in the reserve. Elephants need to drink between 150 – 300 litres of water a day, a lot of water for the amount of elephants in the reserve and this excludes all the other animals that need to drink. Park officials have therefore selectively closed off some waterholes to elephants so ensure all animals have access to water.


There are a number of fun and interesting things to do in the Addo Elephant National Park. Self driving into the park or game ranger driven vehicles i.e. (SANParks) safari vehicle have an experienced ranger guide ensuring a knowledgeable and enlightening tour through the park.

For the birders out there, many different bird species can be seen and recorded, subsequently the last three times I have been to the reserve I have noticed at least three to four new species I have not recorded. A lovely bird hide is found in the main rest camp. While talking about hides, there is a great underground hide, looking across a small water pan, also found in the main camp which is a great place to get up close and personal with the animals.

Addo Elephant National Park
Secretary Bird (Birdlife South Africa ,bird of the year 2019 )

You can go horse riding in the park with a guide, booking at reception with a guide is recommended, which enable a great close and personal encounter with the animals perhaps just as James Stevenson Hamilton had.

Within the main rest camp there is an interpretive centre giving information about the park as well as the workings with local communities that surround the park. Along with this, an ecological walk is available as well picture boards about the ecology of the park and how the animals and vegetation are all interconnected.   

Do’s and Don’ts

The speed limit of 40km/hr, is for the protection of animals especially tortoises.

Denim Bustard seen in the reserve

Good spots

One of these spots is Hapoor Dam where you are bound to see a herd or two of elephants. In fact most of the dams are visited regularly by one animal or another. An exciting aspect of the park is listening out for wild sounds at night with the sound of lions, black backed jackal and spotted hyena, ensuring an exciting bush experience.


The Addo Elephant National Park is a great place for a holiday with plenty of activities to keep you busy and be surrounded by nature. It is one of the strongholds in Africa for the African Elephant and a great testament to conservation success in South Africa. For more information and accommodation inquiries click on this link

Juvenile Red Hartebeest in background and Adult Red Hartebeest in foreground


Hayward, M.W. & Kerley, G.I.H. 2005. Prey preferences of the lion (Panthera leo). Journal of Zoology, 267(3): 309–322.

Hayward, M.W., O’Brien, J. & Kerley, G.I.H. 2007. Carrying capacity of large African predators: Predictions and tests. Biological Conservation, 139(1–2): 219–229.

Landman, M. & Kerley, G.I.H. 2001. Dietary shifts: Do grazers become browsers in the thicket biome? Koedoe, 44(1): 31–36.

Lehmann, M.B., Funston, P.J., Owen, C.R. & Slotow, R. 2008. Feeding behaviour of lions (Panthera leo) on a small reserve. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 38(1): 66–78.

Mjadu,M.C., Engelbrecht, A.H, Songelwa, N.C, Mketeni, F.G, Dlamini,K.D.2015. Addo Elephant National Park Management Plan, for the period of 2015 – 2025. South African National Parks Board.

Mosser, A. & Packer, C. 2009. Group territoriality and the benefits of sociality in the African lion, Panthera leo. Animal Behaviour, 78(2): 359–370.

Mucina, L. & Rutherford, M.C. 2011. The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Pretoria: Strelitzia.

Novellie, P. 1988. The impact of large herbivores on the grassveld in the Addo Elephant National Park. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 18(1): 6–10.

Comments are closed.