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Tembe has Africa’s biggest tusker and web-spinning spider plus tiny suni

Submitted by on November 15, 2009 – 8:03 pm
Isilo could be the world’s largest elephant; the suni is one of Africa’s smallest antelope; and scientists thought until recently that nephila komaci — the female spider has a leg-span of five inches — was extinct.

By Africa correspondent Graham Linscott

Photos by Wayne Matthews

elephant_on_roadTEMBE Elephant Park, a wilderness in the remote north-east of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, offers visitors the opportunity to step back 200 years into unspoiled pre-colonial Africa.

It also offers the opportunity to spot southern Africa’s largest tusker, a giant bull elephant named Isilo who is about 65 years old and leads a herd which has migrated since time immemorial between Maputaland, as the region is known, and Mozambique.

As southern Africa’s largest elephant — the scientists agree on this — Isilo is almost certainly also the largest in Africa and therefore in the world. He has two relatives who are not far behind him in size.

The picture of Isilo (click on “View With PicLens” see him bigger, below) is taken from a cunningly constructed hide near a waterhole. Otherwise nobody would get close. The Tembe elephants are very shy. They disappear into the forest like a flash. Well, a lumbering flash but it’s so damn quick — one second they’re there, next they’re not.

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From one extreme to the other: Tembe is also home to one of Africa’s smallest antelope, the tiny suni, which is about 10 inches high at the shoulder and lives in the undergrowth, feeding off leaves that have dropped from the trees.

The suni is not much bigger than a small rabbit. They live in the undergrowth. They don’t eat grass, but live off the leaves that drop from the bushes. They require leaves with the exact chemical content that caused them to drop. You can’t pluck leaves from the bush and feed them. They can’t eat leaves that have been lying on the ground too long. It has to be the leaf as it drops. It goes without saying that you can’t keep the suni in captivity.

World’s Largest Web-Spinning Spider

Tembe now has another distinction. Scientists recently (October 2009) discovered that it is home to the world’s largest web-spinning spider.

The nephila komaci, the world's largest web-spinning spider: alive and well at Tembe. Photo courtesy Tembe.
The nephila komaci, the world’s largest web-spinning spider: alive and well at Tembe. Photo courtesy Tembe.

Nephila komaci had been thought to be extinct. But scientists of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural  History and the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts confirm finding it at Tembe.

The female has a leg-span of five inches (the males are much smaller) and she spins a web three feet in diameter.

Giant elephant, tiny antelope and giant spiders — between this triangulation Tembe has lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, the complete range of antelope indigenous to the sand forest/grassland/wetland habitat and more than 340 bird species.

Old Ivory Route

Tembe lies on the old Ivory Route between Mozambique and the Zulu people. To visit is to experience primordial Africa because so little has been disturbed. Its unique character is protected by its remoteness and by the comparatively low-density tourist traffic.

Staff at Tembe Elephant Park.
Staff at Tembe Elephant Park.

The luxury lodge in the park — 50 percent owned and fully operated by the Tembe tribe — caters for 30 people at a time in double permanent tents with hot water bathrooms en suite. (Semi-luxury tents are also available).

The rustic Lodge has a swimming pool and barbecue area and offers sumptuous meals, venison dishes prominent on the menu. It also offers the unforgettable bush experience of sitting by a campfire  under the stars.

Game Drives and Scuba

Game drives with an experienced ranger go out regularly (at no extra cost) and excursions are arranged to the scuba diving reefs on the coast, as well as other wilderness attractions outside the park.

Home comforts in the bush at Tembe.
Home comforts in the bush at Tembe.

All needs are catered for and tariffs include accommodation, meals, teas, coffee, two daily game drives and transfers to and from the waterhole game hide during the day.

How to get there:

By road: Tembe is a four-hour drive on a tarred road from Durban. You will be met at the entrance gate to the park, directed to the secure parking area where you can safely leave your vehicle for the duration of your stay. From there, you will be driven in a 4×4 to the lodge.

The game-spotting vehicle at Tembe.
The game-spotting vehicle at Tembe.

Visitors requiring transport from Durban will be met at their hotel or preferred pick-up point and driven to Tembe in a luxury air-conditioned vehicle.

By air: A return air service is available from Virginia Airport, just north of Durban, direct to the airstrip at Tembe or to the neighboring Manguzi airstrip.

To watch the elephants in real time: www.elecam.org

For bookings and more information, visit the Tembe Elephant Park website.

Story ©: Graham Linscott
Photos Wayne Matthews

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