Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Secret Elephants Book Tour

Gareth with his friend Wilfred Oraai, SANParks forest guard and Knysna elephant tracker extraordinaire, at the Knysna launch of The Secret Elephants.
I have just returned from the promotional tour of my new book, The Secret Elephants. The tour began in Knysna very appropriately, and the launch was fantastically attended at the Wordsworth book shop by supportive Knysna locals. My forest guard friend Wilfred Oraai, who features prominently in The Secret Elephants, also attended the occasion and was inundated by people wishing to talk to him about the famous Knysna elephants which he has been monitoring for almost a decade and a half.
Next stop was Johannesburg where I was interviewed on the longest running talk show in South Africa, Kate Turkington's, Believe it or Not on Talk Radio 702 I have known Kate almost twenty years, and have had many adventures with her and her family in the Tuli Bushlands.It was fantastic seeing Kate again and the show went really well with lots of enthusiastic callers phoning in asking questions about the Knysna elephants. The night I was on Kate's show Mnet's Carte Blanche programme screened an excellent story on the elephants and the book.

Also in Johannesburg I was interviewed for regional and national newspaper's and magazines, including Africa's premier wildlife and environmental magazine, Africa Geographic. After Johannesburg the tour continued in Cape Town and this coincided with the launch of The Search for the Knysna Elephants documentary at the beginning of its screenings at the famous Labia Theatre.(Due to public demand, the screenings of the film have subsequently been extended at the Labia, fantastic). At the launch it was great to meet up with friends, including film maker Mark van Wijk, who made The Search for the Knysna Elephants. Interviews continued in Cape Town including one with Ben Williams of the Book blog whom I did a video reading from The Secret Elephants. View it on

So the book tour went very well indeed, and The Secret Elephants I am very
pleased to say, was received very positively by the media and the book

Many thanks to Penguin Books South Africa's publicists Leanne Harris and
Janine Daniel who planned and organised the book tour.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Porcupine and Knysna Leopard

Porcupine quills were strewn across a pathway. “It was as if it had been plucked. Quills were everywhere,” remarked a friend who informed me that last week a porcupine had been killed in the remote camera mammal project area.After several days of heavy rain, I went out to investigate with Tuli. Already "leopard" was on my mind, as I could not think of any other predator here which would tackle a porcupine. I found the place. Black and white quills were scattered on the track on the edge of a pine plantation.Imagine my surprise when stepping amongst the young pines when I saw at the base of one tree, several quills protruding from the bark like darts. Vegetation had been disturbed and flattened. Clearly this was where the porcupine had attempted to defend itself from its adversary.Typically when attacked, porcupine will back up or go sideways towards whatever is confronting it, and they have been known to severely injure leopard as well as lion. (Once, with the Adamson lions, my little lion pride attacked a porcupine family, and the young male, Batian, ended up with a face-full of quills, which I helped him remove).I was standing with Tuli where the porcupine had backed up in desperate defence, leaving its lower stouter quills imbedded in the tree. Clearly it had put up a good fight, but I wondered how the leopard had fared.Because of the rain, no tracks could not be seen, but a trail of quills at intervals indicated that the porcupine had been dragged away towards a thicket.This is not the first time that I have known porcupine to be prey for leopard here. During early leopard diet analysis work, scat of one sample was made up almost entirely of quill material, as you will see in the photograph.Generally though, it seems that bushbuck constitute the main prey of these Knysna leopards.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

16 June 2009. Youth Day in South Africa

This last week we heard of the South African High Court ruling that in the medium to long term could result at last in the end of canned lion trophy hunting in South Africa.(Over 1,000 lions were hunted/shot in South Africa last year alone by trophy hunters, according to one report). Over the years, South Africa has had the sickening title of being “the world capital of canned lion hunting” and this hunting practice has brought our country into grave disrepute. I urge you to read two recent news reports on the home page of my site concerning the recent court ruling. The one is an excellent overview of the canned lion situation in South Africa and the ruling that appeared in the Sunday Independent June 14, 2009.The second is a press release from June 15th by Animal Rights Africa (ARA). What both reports importantly highlight is that though the end of canned lion hunting might be nearing, we in South Africa are facing a potential animal welfare crisis, as some 3,000-4000 captive raised lions are currently caught up in the industry.

From when we first exposed canned lion hunting in South Africa over a decade ago, many others and I have urged the government to have welfare provisions planned for the lions caught up in the lion breeding industry in the event that one day the sordid practice of canned lion hunting will finally be made illegal and banned. Today the government needs to work with all animal protection organizations, locally and internationally, to address this potentially fast looming situation.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


This last week I saw for the very first time The Search for the Knysna Elephants, a documentary that deals with aspects of my work and findings on the world's most southerly elephants. It was beautifully filmed and directed by my friend Mark van Wijk and tells the remarkable story of these “miracle” elephants. I have just heard this morning that The Search for the Knysna Elephants will premiere on Animal Planet UK on Saturday, 13/06/2009 at 21:00.

Also, last week I was working on photo selection for my new book The Secret Elephants. Going through the various images taken over the past eight years made me wonder how these years of learning about these special elephants have flown by. What a privileged time it has been. The book comes out later this year.

I have a new dog companion and her name is Tuli. Interestingly, I did not name her. She was named by my rhino researcher friend, Jed, and his girlfriend, Jordana, an American elephant researcher based in the Addo Elephant National Park. They found Tuli just days old on the side of a road. They rescued her and raised her to six months before asking whether I would like to take her on as Jed's new research posting unfortunately does not allow for dogs. Tuli is a delight and accompanies me on my rounds as I undertake my remote camera leopard/mammal survey work just beyond the southern boundary of the Garden Route National Park.

Lastly, on a sad note, on Saturday morning, I heard the tragic news that 55 false killer whales had become stranded at Kommetjie's Long Beach, south of Cape Town. People with compassionate hearts flocked to the scene and tried for hours to swim the whales back into the open ocean. Very sadly later that day, 44 of the whales were put down.