Over 200 wild elephants roam this Big 5 game reserve situated in Zululand, KZN .  The park is home to some of the largest elephants in South Africa, many species of bird life and other interesting animals, big and small.

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A few reasons why Tembe offers a unique experience:

  • Get to see the rare suni (smallest of the antelopes) and hopefully the Big 5.
  • Follow the footprints of the biggest land mammal, the elephant.
  • No such thing as time in Tembe, the sun is your clock. And the bird calls.
  • Only one excellent lodge in the reserve.


Duiker Tembe Elephant Park Big 5 Zululand KZN

Elephants and the Game Reserve

What is it about the elephant that fascinates us so much?  Is it perhaps their sheer size or their quiet intelligence?  They show compassion, love and understanding.  In many cases they could teach humans a thing or two.

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The Tembe Elephant Reserve was established in 1983 and opened to the public in 1991. The opening was delayed as it was of paramount importance that the elephants settled into their new home as many of them bore scars from poachers.

The conservation of the elephants, most with large ivory tusks, is a priority at Tembe and the park is managed very well.  No hunting is permitted and as a result the elephant population has grown significantly

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The Tembe chiefdom set aside the land for the formation of the reserve and played a major role in the introduction of lion into the park.

At Tembe it is all about preserving the reserve and a minimum impact policy is endorsed.  Only ten 4×4 vehicles per day are allowed into the park.

Isilo – King of Kings

Isilo formed part of the indigenous herd at Tembe and had an impressive set of tusks. It is stated that he weighed seven tons and was close to 50 years old.  Unfortunately, we never got to meet him.  Sadly, he passed away.  Remarkably one can still feel his elephant spirit in the reserve.  Something comes over the staff when they talk about him. “Isilo” they say, “the Lord of the Lords – the King.”

Mahlasela Watering Hole

Tembe Elephant Park Big 5 Zululand Game Reserve KZN Mahlasela 1



Early, but not too early for the sun, we visited the watering hole in the hope of seeing a bit of activity.   For quite some time nothing much happened.  A few buck and antelope ventured down and nervously drank from the hole.  Birds were busy and a few geese were making as much noise as possible.

It took a while but eventually not one but two elephants slowly entered the scene.  They moved with grace and confidence. It is as if there are saying to the other animals, “We are here, come drink with us” And that is exactly what happened. The smaller animals appeared all around and drank, happy to be around the protective Lords of the African Wilderness.

Game drives in open vehicles

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What is great about a game drive at Tembe is that the guide would have grown up in Tembe and is familiar with the land and the animals.  Skilled and knowledgeable on an array of bush subjects guests are taken on a Tembe African journey with an individual who has pride in his relationship with the land.

On the drive one falls into a bush lull.  The guide lightens the mood and points out impala and nyala and has a good chuckle as he knows we are all waiting to see the mighty elephant.

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Spotting warthogs is loads of fun, observing the gentle giraffe is always a special moment and getting a glimpse (if you are lucky) of a pride of lions or the elusive leopard is a very moving experience.

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Hopefully rhino sightings are good as the reserve has both the white rhino and the rarer black rhino.

For me, even observing the dung beetle is a great way to spend bush time. After all at Tembe dung beetles have right of way as it should be in all nature reserves.