Isilo of Tembe

In the presence of majesty

It’s mid-afternoon at Tembe Elephant Park, and we’re watching a number of elephant bulls milling around Mahlasela Pan. Occasionally the peaceful scene is disturbed by two or more of the younger bulls mock-fighting and testing one another’s strength with heads held high and tusks and trunks interlocked, sending nervous nyalas and impalas running for cover…


Slowly, royally, a magnificent tusker moves out from behind a clump of bushes to drink from the pan. The day before, when our guide Patrick asked us what we’d most like to see at Tembe I was very quick in replying “Isilo please!”. And now, perched in the game-viewing vehicle, we’re speechlessly admiring South Africa’s biggest living tusker – a wish granted, a prayer answered. We’re looking upon one of the most awesome animals in all creation and nothing could wipe the smile from our faces.


Isilo. “The King”. What an apt name.


We watch enthralled as Isilo moves around the pan, stopping often to quench what must be a massive thirst. The old gentleman is looking frail; at an estimated sixty years of age, he’d be having trouble eating the woody vegetation that has sustained him all his life. His tusks must weigh about 60 kilograms each, and in excess of 2.5 meters in length – what a strain it must be on the neck to keep those massive ivory pillars from scraping on the ground as he moves. Yet there’s no feeling of pity. This is the King!





Taking his leave now of the pan and the younger company around it, Isilo ambles westwards into the woodland. We follow alongside, hoping to spend as much time in his audience as he will allow. Occasionally he stops to enjoy a tender creeper or succulent young shoot.




My heart skips a beat as Isilo turns towards us, moving ever closer, gently and peacefully passing within touching distance of the admiring humans in the game-viewing vehicle. No one says a word. There’s no need to; the expressions on our faces tell the full story.


As we follow a while, Isilo slowly walking along the sandy track into the sunset, there’s no denying that we’ve spent a tiny fraction of our lives in the presence of majesty. Sala kahle Isilo. Stay well.


We went to Tembe Elephant Park in search of Isilo, and it was every bit the exhilarating experience we had hoped it would be. But Tembe turned out to be so much more: have a read here for more of our impressions of this South African treasure.

If you’re interested in South Africa’s big tuskers, you can see more pictures of these magnificent animals, from the Kruger National Park this time, here and here.


28 thoughts on “Isilo of Tembe

  1. Pingback: Celebrating our Tuskers on World Elephant Day | de Wets Wild


    Hi Dries and family,
    Today I had an email in my inbox from Tembe elephant Park regarding a documentary in the making by James Currie, Johan Marais and Tom Mahamba; a conservation movie about the last of the world’s remaining big Tuskers. It covers the life of Isilo, an animal we’ve always wanted to see. Just looking back at your stunning pictures now – how lucky you were!!!

    For if you’re interested more info on this on:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      High-time the big tuskers and their plight get some publicity, Maurice! Our encounters with Isilo, Masbambela, Masthulele and many other big elephant bulls remain some of our most cherished wildlife experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Remembering Isilo | de Wets Wild

  4. raroto

    After having read this, I can now truly understand why Isilo’s death was such a big loss. It must have been a humbling and moving experience for you that day to have encountered this majestic creature. Such reverence. Thank you for sharing this de Wets Family.


  5. Pingback: Tembe’s Isilo is no more… | de Wets Wild

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  9. derekevens

    Being in the presence of any large tusker is so special, these encounters will forever remain entrenched in your memories.


  10. Lize Ferreira

    Such a beautifully written tale of a truly magical experience! I definitely need to go meet The King now Dries.


      1. mjculverphotography

        June is the official start of hurricane season here. The weather turned really humid and feels stormy. I was sad to lose one of the birds that regularly comes to the bird feeder yesterday. I found it stunned and was hoping that it would recover but when I went back to check on it, it had passed on…..very sad. I love all my fish, birds and animals. But, other than that sadness, we are having an enjoyable weekend.


  11. Pingback: Tembe Elephant Park | de Wets Wild

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