Elephants are an animal that fascinate me. Since my first trip to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, where I went with the sole of intention of seeing them for the first time, I have been lucky enough to encounter hundreds. I have seen them in several parks, in large herds, family herds, breeding herds and of course lone large bulls. I have seen them whilst self driving and from the comfort of a game viewing vehicle under the guidance of an experienced ranger.
The sheer size of an adult elephant is something that my mind had a problem coping with. It is after all the largest living land mammal. I helped some friends plan a visit to KwaZulu Natal, they to wanted to see elephants. However one of them discovered they had a fear of them from their very first encounter. They seem to walk without making a noise. They also have the ability to just vanish into the bush despite their enormous size. They have the power to fell a tree. Yet when you sit and watch them use their trunk you can see that this is not only a very intelligent animal but also one with immense skill.
To give myself the best chance of seeing some of Africa’s largest elephants I headed back to Tembe National Elephant Park. There are of course no guarantees but having stayed in the park before I knew my chances were good. Since my last stay it has now been upgraded to a Big 5 destination and wild dogs have also been reintroduced. Tembe National Elephant Park, KwaZulu NatalRegardless of the potential game viewing Tembe is simply a stunning place to be. There are nearly 350 bird species in the area. The flora is mixed and includes raffia palm forests that thrive in the soft white Tembe sand. The Karoo acacia trees looked to be weighed down with masses of seed pods. Outside my tent stood a large pod mahogany tree and below in the white sand laid its pods and ornamental black and orange seeds.
From my tent I watched duiker and nyala grazing. At 4.30 in the morning I was woken by what sounded like someone walking around my tent wearing flip-flops. Then the noise moved to the tent roof, and to be honest I was a little worried. That was until two silhouetted bush babies appeared on the front of my tent. We had already seen bush babies in the trees surrounding the camp fire after dinner. We had heard them before we had seen them as they screamed on their approach to camp.
During our drives with Carlos we had some great encounters and sightings were plentiful. These included bushbuck, kudu, giraffe and wildebeest. I have to admit to feeling a little guilty on seeing kudu as I had very much enjoyed a kudu steak for dinner in the Tembe dining area. The sand tracks were full of spoor, animal tracks, including all of the Big 5 and wild dogs. However we were yet to encounter any of the parks elephants.
On reaching a water hole we made our way up into the hide. And here in front of was a classical African seen. Herds of nyala, waterbuck and impala were wandering in, drinking, and leaving. Here to was what I had really come to see, elephants. One huge bull with particularly impressive tusks was helping himself to gallons of water. I could hear him sucking up water with his trunk and then gurgling as he squirted it from his trunk to his mouth. He was identified to me as Vuyo, and if he is not yet classed as a tusker he cannot be far away. A tusker has tusks weighing in at one hundred pounds. Tusker or not he truly was a magnificent specimen. Dr Johan Marais, vet and elephant expert has recently written “Tembe has currently the biggest tuskers in Southern Africa” And it is estimated that only forty exist in the whole of Africa.
Lastly I need to pass on greetings from Inkosi Mabhudu Israel Tembe, the monarch of the Tembe tribe, and invite you to visit this unique reserve.