Original Source: yearinthewild.com
Tembe Elephant Park in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal is one of my favourite protected areas. In 300 square kilometres of sandforest, woodland and swamps, you’ll find some of the biggest tuskers in Africa, one of the most successful lion populations, some of the biggest Cape buffalo, thousands of nyala antelope, as well as one of the smallest antelope in Africa – the suni. Plus, there are some unique bird species to be found.
As usual, I stayed at Tembe Elephant Park Lodge, located just inside the southern boundary. It’s the only place for visitors to stay, and it’s probably one of the best value-for-money wildlife lodges in Africa. What I enjoy is the laid-back atmosphere… there’s a “luxurious camping” zeitgeist that prevails, and it’s not over-serviced, so you won’t have someone bugging you every five minutes asking if everything is alright. Suits me just fine! At the same time, visitors mustn’t expect a five-star experience.
There are guided game drives every morning and afternoon, but guests are also allowed to drive their own vehicles from the lodge around the park (remember, the thick sandy tracks mean that only 4x4s are allowed – and remember to deflate tyres to around 1 bar!).
Tembe has a very special feel about it. The sandforest habitat only grows here and a bit further south in KwaZulu-Natal. Impressive pod mahogany trees are just one of several species that grow in deep beach sand, left by a retreating ocean several million years ago. The Muzi Swamps in the east of the park is an extremely productive place to watch the huge elephants and buffalo, but undoubtedly, the best place in the whole park is Mahlasela hide, which looks out over a huge waterhole.
If you spend a day here, you’re almost guaranteed to see at least a few of the famed Tembe elephant bulls, which carry some of the most impressive ivory in Africa (these elephants’ genes survived the hunting onslaught of the colonial era, because the thick sandforest and incessant menace of tsetse flies kept the hunters out.)
Sadly, Tembe has lost most of its white and black rhino to poachers in the past few years. Situated alongside the southern Mozambican border, Tembe is a prime target for poachers. Although the reserve is fenced, the poachers are clearly able to breach the boundary and wander around the reserve relatively easily, especially because the thick sandforest makes it easy to hide. I’m very worried that Tembe will also be targeted by elephant poachers in the next few years… the ivory poaching epidemic that has already started in East Africa is slowly making its way down into Southern Africa, and Tembe’s big tuskers are at serious risk. If Tembe can’t even secure their rhino population… what of the elephants? Time for the park to start making serious plans, I think.
Many thanks to elephant monitor and biotechnician Leonard Muller, rhino monitor Eric Schram and park manager Richard Schutte for accommodating me and showing me around the park.