“Johan Marais is one of Africa’s leading photographers of Elephants” – Iain Douglas-Hamilton
Dr Johan Marais. BVSc. MSc. Equine and Wildlife Surgeon
P.O. Box 16024,
Mobile: 082 55 606 44
The Board, Chairman, CEO and Conservation Manager Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
05 November 2011
Tembe Elephant Park I would like to congratulate you on one of the jewels of Africa, namely Tembe Elephant Park (TEP). I am a veterinarian (Equine and wildlife surgeon at Onderstepoort) with a special interest in large ivory carriers or great tuskers (hundred-pounders) as they are known, and have travelled the African continent extensively, especially Southern, East and Central Africa to search for and document these free roaming lords of the wilderness.
Elephants are the marquee of African wildlife. These animals with their highly social complexity and intelligent minds have always compelled respect. However, man relentlessly hunted these giants for their ivory since the early nineteenth century, threatening them with extinction. There are very few places in Africa today where one can be rewarded to see a “hundred-pounder”. During the early 1900’s, great tuskers were the norm in countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo, the south-western corner of Ethiopia, southern Sudan and the grassy plains of Tanzania and Kenya.
It is a commonly known scientific fact that elephant bulls only reach their prime breeding potential at approximately age 35 to 40. Unfortunately this is the same time when they also emerge as “hundred-pounders”. The ivory grows exponentially at this stage so that the ivory becomes very large over only a short number of years. Hunting of these magnificent bulls takes place exactly at this stage, so that few of these bulls are able to pass on their genes to future generations. This is exactly the reason why the once so numerous “hundred-pounders” have diminished to less than 40 bulls in the whole of Africa today. Poaching and hunting of African elephants for their ivory greatly reduced their numbers in especially East, West and Central Africa, and the systematic, selective destruction of great tuskers by trophy hunters in particular has resulted in the loss of some of the finest great tusker genes in Africa today. The best genes for ivory in Africa currently are in Kenya, in a park called Tsavo National Park. The second best place in Africa in my opinion for ivory is Tembe Elephant Park. Nowhere else in Africa have I seen so many bulls with such good ivory. Traditionally, the best ivory should be in East Africa, but due to relentless hunting and poaching these places have all but lost their great tuskers, except Tsavo. Even in a park like Kruger National Park, the average bull carries much smaller ivory than the average bull in Tembe.
I have had the privilege of publishing two books on the great tuskers of Africa, and am working on a third one. Tembe definitely features as one of the top reserves in Africa when it comes to conservation of elephants with large ivory. The park has been managed really well and the fact that no hunting or poaching has been permitted has allowed the elephant population to develop a fair number of great tuskers – more than Kruger currently! Tourists are quite intrigued by these bulls and come from Europe and the USA to see and photograph these bulls – the “late” Duke of Kruger was the most photographed elephant in Africa.
I would therefore like to congratulate you and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with this wonderful jewel in the north-eastern corner of South Africa. Tembe has currently the biggest tuskers in Southern Africa – it is no doubt due to the protection and conservation efforts of your organisation and the Tembe people of Kwazulu-Natal. Conservation should be geared towards protecting these old, magnificent lords of the bush so that their genes may live on in the young bulls that wander across the African savannah and in the forests of Africa so that our children may also enjoy the sight of a magnificent great tusker one day. I am however surprised that Tembe does not have a similar “Elephant museum” like Kruger, where the ivory of these great tuskers can be displayed for tourists, conservationists and elephant lovers to enjoy and marvel at. Seeing that Tembe has quite good genes for large ivory, please consider a similar “museum” where the ivory of these magnificent bulls can be displayed for our children to enjoy in years to come.