Text: Geoff Earnshaw
Photography: Geoff and Elise Earnshaw
In the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal, just south of the Mozambique border, you can find the largest elephants in the world. Nowhere else are they quite as big.
And among them are the three biggest tuskers in existence (a tusker is an elephant with tusks that exceed 45,45kg, or 100lb, in weight). Called Isilo, Induna and Makobona, these elephants boast tusks that would once have virtually guaranteed their execution and mutilation by greedy hunters.
Isilo’s tusks are the biggest and weigh an estimated 60kg. They are 2,5 m long and have a circumference at the lip of 50cm.
Sadly though, there aren’t too many of these majestic animals left. Having been decimated by the ivory trade in previous centuries, only about 250 elephants remain.
But the good news is that they are now safely protected. The last remaining indigenous elephant herd in KwaZulu-Natal is securely ensconced within the Tembe National Elephant Park.
And for off-road enthusiasts, Tembe is a delight. Due to the area’s sandy terrain, the 30000 hectare park is only traversible by 4×4. Upon entering the park you are given an A4 map, and left to roam the trails by yourself.
Be warned, though, that in the northern reaches of the park the tracks are very narrow and lined by thick bush, so there’s no way to pull off the roads. That makes any encounter with Tembe’s large (and sometimes aggressive) elephants quite nerve-racking. Be prepared to drive backwards as often as you drive forwards. If you meet a group of elephants on the park’s tight tracks, their size gives them automatic right of way, so you have no option but to back carefully away.
You should also accept that your 4×4’s paintjob is going to be in worse shape when you exit the park than when you entered it. The thorny branches will definitely leave their mark. Our silver Toyota Prado now carries a fair number of scars from its visit to Tembe.
But despite this, a trip to the park is well worthwhile. Tembe boasts plenty of attractions. In addition to elephants, it accommodates a large number of other species. Lions, leopards, kudu, eland, wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and rhino can all be found within the park.
And for bird lovers there are more than 340 recorded species.