Tag Archives: Isilo

Celebrating our Tuskers

Elephants are a big drawcard for visitors to our parks and reserves, being charismatic animals and members of the famed “Big 5”. For us too, encountering elephants is always a special treat: witnessing the interactions between different herd members or the playful antics of the calves, and there’s few things in nature as beautiful as the gait of a confident elephant bull, his massive head swaying from side to side, intent on ensuring anything and everything in his way clears out before he gets there.

The 12th of August annually is celebrated as World Elephant Day. Elephants in Africa and Asia are faced with the threats of escalating poaching, habitat loss and various other conflicts with humans. With an estimated 100 African elephants killed daily for the illegal ivory trade in Asian markets, their population is in rapid decline. World Elephant Day was launched in 2012, to bring attention to the plight of these iconic animals, and has been observed annually since. South Africa has a growing population of almost 27,000 elephants (2015 estimate), but we have not been entirely isolated from the poaching happening on a larger scale in several other African countries.

One of our greatest joys when visiting South Africa’s wild places is being treated to an encounter with a real “Tusker”; a majestic elephant bull carrying massive ivory. There are only a handful of these enigmatic animals on the continent, and they are living monuments to those who protect our wild places for generations to come. Owing to their special status, they are given names by the Park authorities, often according to specific areas they roam or characteristic physical features or in remembrance of rangers or other members of staff that dedicated their lives to the Park.

Allow us to celebrate these magnificent creatures on World Elephant Day by sharing some of our encounters with Tuskers from four of our Parks with you.

Addo Elephant Park

With the proclamation of the Addo Elephant National Park in 1931, only 11 African Elephants remained in the Addo district. Addo’s elephants have responded wonderfully to the protection they’ve been afforded since the Park’s proclamation, and today number over 600! The population had an interesting trait however, due to hunting and the small founder population, in that the bulls had only small tusks and the cows had none at all. In order to address this, Park management translocated eight mature bulls from the Kruger National Park to introduce new genes into the pool in 2002 and 2003.

Valli was one of the bulls that moved to Addo from Kruger. He was named after then Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mohammed Valli Moosa. We saw Valli in bad light one afternoon in May 2010 while visiting Addo. Not a great photo, but a memorable experience! Sadly, Valli died in December 2017 following a fight with a younger bull.

Addo’s Valli seen in May 2010

We were most pleased to have this encounter with the beautiful Derek – certainly a contender for the vacant throne of Addo’s elephant king – during our December 2017 visit to Addo.

Unfortunately we weren’t around yet when Addo’s most famous elephant, Hapoor, ruled the Park for 24 years from 1944 to 1968. Today, a reconstruction of his head with the characteristic nicked ear that earned him his name has pride of place in the information centre at Addo’s Main Camp.

Pilanesberg National Park

There’s a population of approximately 240 elephants in the Pilanesberg National Park. Most of the fully grown adults in the Park today were babies when they were brought to the Pilanesberg from the Kruger National Park in the 1980’s , as the local population was eradicated by hunters before the Pilanesberg was proclaimed a reserve.

Pilane was one of six dominant bulls translocated to Pilanesberg from Kruger Park in March of 1998, when the absence of older bulls caused behavioural problems in the young bulls then transitioning to adulthood at Pilanesberg. At the time he was estimated to be about 34 years old and was named after Chief Pilane of the Bakgatla. We saw Pilane in March 2012. Unfortunately he has broken both his tusks in recent years.

Mavuso is another of the Kruger Bulls transported to Pilanesberg in 1998. He is named after Mavuso Msimang, who was SANParks’ CEO at the time. We saw Mavuso on a visit to the Pilanesberg in November 2018 at which time he was estimated to be about 55 years old.

Pilanesberg’s tusker Mavuso

Tembe Elephant Park

Tembe Elephant Park is home to over 250 elephants, the descendants of the last free roaming herds in this part of South Africa.

Isilo, meaning “The King”, was the biggest Tusker at Tembe Elephant Park and for a time also the biggest living Tusker in South Africa (after Duke of Kruger broke his tusks). It is believed that the gentle giant succumbed to natural causes, a dignified end befitting his royal stature, in January 2014. Sadly it was also made known that his enormous tusks have been stolen, presumably by rhino poachers who happened upon the carcass before rangers found it. We were fortunate to spend some time in Isilo’s majestic presence during our visit to Tembe in May 2013. You’re welcome to have a look at our special blogpost recounting our audience with Isilo.

When we visited Tembe Elephant Park in 2013 we were lucky to see several other impressive tuskers – Tembe is renowned for them! Even though Ucici, Lebo and Zero is no longer roaming Tembe’s sandy forests and marshland, there’s still a number of up-and-coming Tuskers flying the Park’s flag high as a hotspot for majestic elephants.

Kruger National Park

Our flagship National Park, the Kruger, and the surrounding reserves has a combined population of around 21,000 elephants, but only a handful of these can be considered true “Tuskers”. Kruger’s renown as a home of elephant bulls carrying impressive ivory started with the naming of the Magnificent Seven in 1980 – Shawu, Mafunyane, Ndlulamithi, Kambaku, Dzombo, Shingwedzi and Joao. These seven big bulls immediately captured the imagination of the public, both in South Africa and overseas. Today, the tusks of six of them (Joao’s tusks broke before his death), along with the tusks of a few other big bulls that came after them (notably Nhlangulene, Mandleve and Phelwana) may be marveled at in the Elephant Hall in Letaba Rest Camp.

Over the years we were blessed to see several impressive Tuskers in the Kruger Park. Here’s a few of them.

Hahlwa

We’ve had two encounters with the big bull known as “Hahlwa“, which is Tsonga for “twin” because he looks so similar to Masasana, another big Tusker roaming the Kruger Park (see further below). When we saw him the first time in June 2016, Hahlwa didn’t have a name yet, but this was corrected in May 2017 when the Kruger’s Emerging Tuskers Project announced him as one of the new crop of magnificent Tuskers to be seen in the Park. When we therefore saw him again in April 2018 we could put a name to the face.

Hlanganini

Hlanganini was named after a small stream that has its confluence with the Letaba River in his relatively small home range around Letaba Rest Camp. We were fortunate to see Hlanganini just a stone’s throw from Letaba one afternoon in September 2007. Hlanganini’s carcass was found in August 2009, with rangers speculating that he died as a result of a fight with another bull about two months earlier. Just a couple of months before his death Hlanganini broke his left tusk. The stump of his left tusk measured 2.04m and weighed 45kg, his right tusk was 2.7m long and weighed 55.8kg.

Machachule

Machachule means “the lead dancer” and was the nickname of late ranger Joe Manganye who served for 33 years in the Kruger National Park. Machachule originally had a large home range that stretched between the Letaba and Shingwedzi Rivers, but was later regularly seen only around Shingwedzi Rest Camp. With Shingwedzi being one of our favourite places in the Kruger National Park, we were treated to two sightings of Machachule; the first being in October 2008 and the next almost three years later in June 2011. Sadly there doesn’t seem to have been any sightings of Machachule in the last few years and it is possible that he has died somewhere in the wilderness.

Masasana

To date we’ve had two encounters with Masasana, one of the biggest Tuskers currently roaming the Kruger National Park. Our path crossed with his in June 2011 and then again in May 2018. Masasana shares his name, which means “one who makes a plan”, with retired Kruger staff member Johan Sithole who worked in the Park for 35 years.

Masbambela

Marilize and I saw Masbambela, at the time thought to be the second biggest Tusker in the Kruger Park, on the 15th of January 2006 along the S56 Mphongolo Road between Shingwedzi and Punda Maria Rest Camps. His usual home range was in the wilderness area west of Shingwedzi and he was seldom seen near the tourist roads. Masbambela was named after late ranger Ben Pretorius, who’s nickname means “one who can stand his man”. Some months after we saw Masbambela he broke the tip off his left tusk. Masbambela died of natural causes in November 2006. His tusks were recovered and the right measured 2.31m long with a weight of 49.05kg, while the remainder of his left tusk was 2.07m in length and weighed 42.75kg.

 

Mashangaan

Mashangaan was named after ranger Mike “Ma Xangane” English, who was fluent in the Shangaan language and worked in the Kruger Park for 33 years. This old Tusker, who had a limited home range around Letaba Rest Camp, was estimated to have been around 58 years old when he died in August 2011. His left tusk measured 2.48m in length and weighed 42.9kg, the right weighed 37.3kg and was 2.07m long. We had just one encounter with Mashangaan, in September 2007.

Masthulele

Masthulele, “the quiet one”, was named in honour of renowned scientist and elephant expert Dr. Ian Whyte, who served in the Kruger National Park for 37 years. Masthulele roamed a vast area between Giriyondo Gate (north of Letaba Rest Camp) and the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve west of Kruger, and we were lucky to have had six different encounters with him (September 2007, June 2011, April 2012, June 2013, September 2013 and April 2014), all close to Letaba, making him a familiar favourite for the Wild de Wets. At the time of his death of natural causes late in 2016, Masthulele was considered the biggest Tusker in the Kruger Park and South Africa. His left tusk weighed 51kg and the right 54kg, and they were 2.34m and 2.45m long respectively.

Muliliuane

This big Tusker was named after ranger Harry Kirkman who spent 36 years working in both the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Wildtuin (game reserve) until his retirement in 1969. Like Mr. Kirkman, Muliliuane’s home range included both these conservation areas. We saw Muliliuane only once, in June 2005, and unfortunately he didn’t want to give us a good view of his enormous ivory. Muliluane died at the end of 2007, in Sabi Sand.

Ndlovane

Our first sighting of Ndlovane was way back in September 2005, when he was much less an imposing animal than he is now. We then saw him in July 2016 and again in May 2018. Although very impressive already, Ndlovane is still considered a young bull (Ndlovane means “small elephant”) and with age on his side Ndlovane may grow to be one of Kruger’s biggest Tuskers of all time.

Ngonyama

Ngonyama is a much larger Tusker today than when we saw him in February 2009 while enjoying a guided walk through the mopaneveld of northern Kruger. He was named after the late Dr. Uys de Villiers Pienaar, who started working in the Kruger National Park in 1955 and ended his career in 1991 as Chief Director of National Parks. “Ngonyama” is the isiZulu word for lion.

Ngunyupezi

Ngunyupezi, meaning “one who likes to dance”, was named after late ranger James Maluleke (33 years service). In April 2007, the de Wets were among the first people to lay eyes on this irritable bull with his uniquely shaped left tusk. He roamed a vast area from Pafuri to south of the Shingwedzi River, but was later seen mostly near Shingwedzi Rest Camp. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to have been any recent sightings of Ngunyupezi and it is doubtful whether he is still alive.

Nkombo

Nkombo was named by research NGO Elephants Alive, who kept track of this emerging tusker with a satellite collar, which he lost in 2014. We were lucky to see him twice during a visit in September 2014, and as he is still seen regularly we hope for a few more sightings of him to see how his tusks have grown since.

 

N’wendlamuhari

We’ve had three encounters with the often irritable bull known as N’wendlamuhari, who’s name means “the river that is fierce when in flood”. Our first encounter with him was in 2009, and his tusks weren’t all that big then. It was therefore amazing to see him again in August 2011 and September 2012 and see how much his tusks have grown in stature. Today he is a very impressive specimen and we’d love to see N’wendlamuhari again.

Xindzulundzulu

This bull’s Tsonga name means “walking around in circles” and is in reference to his very small home range centred around one of the Kruger National Park’s camps, where he is regularly seen. We were lucky to have seen Xindzulundzulu twice already – in September 2012 and December 2015 – and hope to see him at least a few more times still!

We’ve seen many more aspirant and impressive emerging Tuskers in Kruger over the years, many of which have not been named yet. These are a few of them.

Not wanting to attract the unwanted attention of poachers to these beautiful animals I’ve purposefully omitted the exact locations where we saw those Tuskers that are still alive. And if we are fortunate enough to see some of these big guys and others like them in future, we’ll come update this post with those pictures.

 

 

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Remembering Isilo

Isilo was, towards the end of his life, the biggest tusker in South Africa, and our encounter with him at Tembe Elephant Park in May 2013 will forever be one of our most memorable wildlife experiences.

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This is our third installment for the 5 Day Black-and-White Photo Challenge. Today we’d like to invite Dina of Perdebytjie se Nes, to join the challenge. She blogs in Afrikaans, our mother tongue, but you’ll need no translation to enjoy the fantastic photographs she shares on her blog! Dina, ons hoop jy sien jou weg oop om deel te neem maar dis geen probleem as jy nie kan nie, solank jy weet hoe baie ons jou blog geniet!

There are only two rules for this challenge:

1. On 5 consecutive days, create a post using either a past or recent photo in B&W.

2. Each day invite another blog friend to join in the fun.

 

 

Gone, but not forgotten

Dedicating this post to three of the most magnificent tuskers that roamed the Parks of South Africa and that we had the pleasure of seeing before they departed for heavenly pastures.

Gone, but not forgotten“is the theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge

 

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Tembe’s Isilo is no more…

From the Tembe Elephant Park comes the sad news of the death of Isilo, the magnificent and undeniable King of Tembe.

It is believed that the gentle giant succumbed to natural causes, a dignified end befitting his royal stature, in January 2014.

Isilo’s carcass was discovered about two weeks ago. Sadly it was also made known that his enormous tusks have been stolen, presumably by rhino poachers who happened upon the carcass, and investigations into the theft delayed the news being made public. As reported on Tembe’s facebook page, a R100,000 reward has been offered by the Tembe people, who have looked after Isilo and his realm, for the return of these invaluable pieces of ivory to them.

We were fortunate to spend some time in Isilo’s majestic presence during our visit to Tembe in May 2013. You’re welcome to have a look at our special blogpost recounting our audience with Isilo for some more photographs of the special animal.

Hamba kahle Isilo. Go well.

Isilo of Tembe, died in January 2014

 

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…

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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.

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Isilo. “The King”. What an apt name.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tembe Elephant Park

In the far north of Kwazulu-Natal province, on the border with Mozambique, lies a uniquely beautiful, but little known, wilderness gem. Diminutive suni antelope forage along the sandy forest floor, a reminder that this area was an ancient seabed millions of years ago. Magnificent elephants carrying impressive ivory amble through the thickets, undeniably the star attractions of this show, while lions loudly proclaim their rule over the marshes and pans.

This is the Tembe Elephant Park.

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Leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros (both black and white) complete the “Big 5”, while giraffe, plains zebra, hippo, warthogs and several kinds of antelope, including massive numbers of nyala and impala, have found sanctuary here. The incredible variety of habitats found in this area – sand forests, extensive stands of palms, dense woodland, open bushveld, the expansive Muzi marshes and seasonal waterholes – abounds with birdlife, and over 340 species have been identified here already, including some rarities like the African Broadbill.

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For centuries humans and elephants have shared this piece of Maputaland, although never harmoniously, as conflict arose around shared water sources and when elephants raided the crops on which the people relied. This changed in 1983, when Chief Mzimba Tembe set aside 30,000 hectares of tribal land as a refuge for the last remaining free roaming elephants in this part of the continent. His community agreed to resettle outside the reserve so that its boundaries could be fenced and animals that had long been exterminated from the area could be reintroduced. Not only was this a visionary investment in the wellbeing of his people, but Chief Tembe also gave a precious gift to the people of South Africa and the world. Today the reserve and lodge still belong to the Tembe people, who benefit from employment in the tourism and conservation sectors, the natural resources protected there and the profits generated through tourism.

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The elephants now number more than 250 animals, and Tembe has become renowned for the large number of elephant bulls carrying impressive ivory. As an added bonus, these beautiful animals are extremely relaxed in the company of people – be ready for some close-up encounters when coming to Tembe!

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Upon arrival around noon, the warm welcome we received from the officials at the gate immediately made us feel right at home. Formalities completed, the lodge was informed of our arrival and within minutes our transport had arrived. Only 4 x 4 vehicles are allowed on the extremely sandy tracks inside the reserve and we were therefore escorted to a secure parking area near the gate where we could safely leave our vehicle.

Transferred into the game-drive vehicle we departed for the nearby lodge, but almost immediately encountered a massive elephant, named Ucici, walking along the road in our direction. Guide Vusi switched off the engine and we sat absolutely mesmerised as the huge tusker came confidently ever closer, eventually stopping a mere meter or two away from us, before moving to the side of the road so that we could pass, not in the least perturbed by our presence. What a welcome!

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At the lodge, some of the staff members had gathered to greet us on with traditional song and dance. After checking in and enjoying a nice cool drink of fruit juice we were escorted to our accommodation – a beautifully decorated, and very roomy, safari tent with en-suite bathroom, to which our luggage had already been delivered – to settle in before lunch and the afternoon game drive.

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Not even an hour has passed since our arrival, and already the scenery, wildlife and warm people of Tembe have made a deep impression on all of us. We had three nights to spend here, and it was clear that we were going to enjoy every minute of it.

We quickly settled into the lodge’s leisurely routine. An early morning wake-up call is available, but being early birds you’d have to be up pretty early yourself if you wanted to wake up the de Wets! Before setting off on the early morning game drive at first light, guests can help themselves to a selection of cereals, toast, fruit salad and yoghurt to put pay to any hunger pangs that might have arisen through the night.

Clambering into the game-viewing vehicle everyone gets a blanket to keep the worst of the cool morning air at bay before heading into the wilderness, the guides scanning the sandy tracks for fresh signs of predators. Our guide Patrick and soft-spoken tracker Nkosi was born and raised in the Tembe area and thanks to their excellent knowledge of the plants, animals and culture of Tembe, and their warm and friendly nature, every drive turned out to be a most pleasant experience.

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Half-way through the morning drive the guides will park at a lovely spot where hot coffee, tea and rusks are by now a very welcome treat before heading back to camp. Have you ever enjoyed your morning tea accompanied by the roaring of two magnificent wild lions just meters away? Thanks to Tembe we can now say that we have!

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On arrival back at the lodge, guests head for the dining area where a full English breakfast, nicely rounded off with a bran muffin or two, will be served.

Guests then have the late morning and early afternoon to laze around the camp – a small library, a couple of reed enclosed lounges and a sparkling pool are available for guests’ enjoyment or you could head to your secluded safari tent to relax on the veranda. You can even arrange for a massage or you could also ask your guide to deliver you to the hide at Mahlasela Pan to spend a couple of hours there watching the animals and birds come and go. We enjoyed walking around the camp grounds taking in the rich fauna and flora.

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Everyone gets together in the dining area for lunch at around 2pm. Who knew that Kudu Burgers are that delicious!? The lodge staff will go out of their way to ensure that every guest’s specific dietary preferences are met, so don’t worry that you’ll go hungry if you like vegetables more than meat!

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It’s time again to head off into the bush in search of Tembe’s feathered, hooved, tusked and clawed inhabitants. It was during one of our afternoon drives that we encountered the magnificent elephant bull Isilo, South Africa’s biggest living tusker. Just as the sun reaches the western horizon there’s time to park off again in another beautiful location and enjoy a cold refreshment while taking in the unparalleled beauty of an African sunset. With darkness now swallowing the wilderness the spotlight comes out for the drive back to the lodge, picking up the eye-shine of some of Tembe’s nocturnal animals and birds along the way.

In the Background (Isilo)

Isilo of Tembe (click on the image to see more of this magnificent animal)

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On arrival back at camp, a very inviting camp fire awaits the guests and quickly everyone is relaxing around it, excitedly chatting about their day as if they were old friends who have known each other for years. As soon as dinner is ready the camp staff comes around, inviting everyone to their tables. More mouth-watering meals; kudu wors and steak, impala kebabs and chops, all served with crisp home-grown vegetables, salads and maize porridge, the African staple, to be enjoyed under the curious gaze of the bush babies clambering around the trees that surround the dining area. Of course you’d expect a delicious desert at the end of such a delectable meal, and the Tembe staff won’t disappoint in that arena either!

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Three guests were lucky enough to celebrate their birthdays at Tembe during our stay. After dinner, the lodge staff presented them each with a beautifully decorated cake accompanied by the obligatory “Happy Birthday” songs in English and Zulu. After the meal, it’s time for entertainment in the form of traditional Zulu song and dance performed by artists from the Tembe community.

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Retiring to your accommodations for the night, you will find the beds neatly turned down, the electric blankets heating it all cosily, and on your pillow a small chocolate and short note with information about Tembe’s people and animals.

Now that’s a routine we could all get used to. Lying in bed at night, listening to the far off wailing of a bush baby or hearing a tree snapped nearby by a foraging tusker, city life and its daily grind is but a distant memory…

Be warned – leaving Tembe is bound to be a lump-in-the-throat affair. Being seen off by the staff in front of the lodge, wishing you a safe trip and hoping to see you again soon, you’ll already be making plans to return to this beautiful place, its amazing wildlife and the warm, hospitable people who are so proud of their culture and their reserve, and what they have achieved here.

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Marilize has already made arrangements to include Tembe in the portfolio of destinations she offers her clients, secure in the knowledge that they’d be treated like royalty for every minute of their stay at South Africa’s most affordable full service game lodge in a “Big-5’ game reserve, while enjoying breath-taking encounters with legendary wildlife and a glimpse into fascinating local culture.

When you start putting together your bucket list, be sure to leave a space for Tembe near the top!

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