There is a place in Africa where the wild elephants still roam. The legendary Ivory Route where the great tuskers still tramp their ancient pathways through dense sand-forest and tall yellow grass. This is Tembe Elephant Park, a 300 square kilometer reserve between Zululand and Mozambique, home to Africa’s largest elephants as well as the smallest antelope, the suni.
The Big Five also find their home here – lion, leopard, black and white rhino and buffalo, as well as more than 340 bird species and myriad other animals and plants. It is a world of hot silence and white sand, where the busy modern world ceases to exist and only the rising and setting of the sun marks the passage of time. It is also the ancestral home of the Tembe people, who co-own and manage Tembe Safari Lodge: a place of warm African hospitality, classic safari food, world-class personal service. This is where you will find the Africa of story and legend, of adventure and myth.
And it’s waiting for you….
Tembe’s elephants are acknowledged giants. Dr Johan Marais, writer of two books on Africa’s elephants (Great Tuskers of Africa and In Search of Africa’s Great Tuskers), believes that the largest elephants in the world can be found in the Tembe National Elephant Park. The largest of these were Isilo, Mkadebona and Siqualo. Isilo, the biggest of them all, died in 2015 of natural causes and is thought to have been about 50 years old, to weigh about seven metric tons, and to stand 3,2 metres tall. His tusks were about 2.5 metres long (8.2 feet), and weighed more than 60 kgs. (132 lbs)
“During the early 1900s, great tuskers were the norm in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the south-western corner of Ethiopia, southern Sudan and the grassy plains of Tanzania and Kenya,” says Dr Marais. “But through hunting this has diminished to less than 40 bulls in the whole of Africa today. The best place in Southern Africa to see ivory elephants, in my opinion, is Tembe Elephant Park. Nowhere else have I seen so many bulls with such good ivory.”
“Tembe definitely features as one of the top reserves in Africa when it comes to conservation of elephants with large ivory. The park has been managed really well and the fact that no hunting or poaching has been permitted has allowed the elephant population to develop a fair number of great tuskers – more than Kruger currently!”
Since the old days of Arab traders and transport riders, this area of Tongaland between Mozambique and Zululand has been known as the Ivory Route. The silent sand veld would echo to the shouts of the hunters, the creak of wagons and the passing conversations of travellers as they made their way from the ancient ports on the African East Coast to the home grounds of the mighty elephants, famous for their tusks. The hunting and trading ended years ago, but the tuskers remain. More than 200 of these gentle and intelligent animals tramp the quiet paths through the brush, secure in the safety of this haven. It is a rare eco-system, this transition zone between tropical and sub-tropical, and this ecological diversity suits not only the elephants but also huge numbers of animal and bird species. To preserve the pristine wilderness, Tembe park management employs a minimum-impact policy: non-intrusive visitor facilities; sand roads; sympathetic environmental management.