Natural & Cultural History
In the early centuries, when great herds of wild animals roamed the Addo region, the Khoesan of the Iqua, Damasqua and Gonaqua clans lived in the area.
They hunted and kept cattle but tragically were largely wiped out in the 1700s by the smallpox epidemic. Nomadic Xhosa tribes had kraals in the area, including Chief Cungwa of the Gqunukhwebe (near the Sundays River mouth and inland) and Chief Habana of the Dange (near the Wit River).
The Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) was proclaimed in 1931 to protect the remaining 11 Addo elephant. The great herds of elephant and other animal species had been all but decimated by hunters over the 1700s and 1800s. In the late 1800s, farmers began to colonise the area around the park, also taking their toll on the elephant population due to competition for water and crops.
This conflict reached a head in 1919 when farmers called on the government to exterminate the elephants. The government even appointed a Major Pretorius to shoot the remaining elephants – who killed 114 elephant between 1919 and 1920.
Public opinion then changed, leading to the proclamation of the park in 1931. The original size of the park was just over 2 000 hectares. Conflicts between elephants and farmers continued after proclamation as no adequate fence enclosed the park. Finally in 1954, Graham Armstrong (the park manager at the time) developed an elephant-proof fence constructed using tram rails and lift cables and an area of 2 270 hectares was fenced in. There were 22 elephant in the park at the time. This Armstrong fence, named after its developer, is still used around the park today. Although the park was originally proclaimed to protect a single species, priorities have now changed to conserve the rich biological diversity found in the area.
The Alexandria dunefield is home to many archeological sites – the middens of the nomadic ‘Strandloper’ or ‘beach walker’ people. These middens contain shells and bones of animals eaten by the people as well as fragments of pottery and stone implements. Interestingly, the white mussel shells found in these middens are also found in the caves of the Zuurberg Mountains, proving that these people journeyed and stored their food over vast distances.
The caves in the Zuurberg Mountains also contain rock art and stone implements.
The natural and cultural heritage of the park has been studied by the Albany Museum, recording hundreds of sites of significance.
The Domkrag Dam in the game viewing area of the park is named after a giant mountain tortoise which once roamed the park. ‘Domkrag’ is the Afrikaans word for a ‘jack’, and this tortoise had a peculiar habit of walking underneath cars and lifting them up with enormous strength. Domkrag came to a sad end when he fell into an aardvark hole and couldn’t get himself out. His shell is still on display in the Interpretive Centre.
The magnificent elephant head which is mounted in the Interpretive Centre is that of Hapoor, the legendary dominant bull in the park for 24 years. The waterhole in the south western section of the game viewing area is named after him. ‘Hap’ means ‘nick’ in Afrikaans, while ‘oor’ means ‘ear’ and it is believed the distinctive nick in his ear was caused by a hunter’s bullet. Hapoor retained a deep hatred of humans throughout his life. On more than one occasion park staff were forced to flee to safety when Hapoor made his appearance. His dominance stretched from 1944 to 1968. During the latter part of the 1960’s a few younger bulls reached maturity and challenged Hapoor. These upstarts were unsuccessful until one bull named Lanky finally deposed Hapoor in 1968. Hapoor was driven from the heard and became a loner. Later that year he succeeded in climbing the park’s ‘Armstrong Fence’, which for nearly 20 years had been elephant-proof. His freedom was to be short lived as due to his aggressive nature, it was determined he would have to be shot.