Grey Ghosts on the Ivory Coast
Great tuskers, or hundred-pounders, can still be found at Tembe Elephant Park. By Romi Boom.
Tembe Elephant Park was proclaimed to protect the last remaining herds of free-ranging elephants in SA and the elusive suni antelope. Ian Whyte, Research Manager for large herbivores in KNP for close on 30 years, once commented: ‘Large tuskers are national treasures, and as such they deserve special protection.’
Dr Johan Marais, the author of two books on great tuskers*, and equine and wildlife surgeon at Onderstepoort, wrote the following letter to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in November 2011:
“I would like to congratulate you on one of the jewels of Africa, namely Tembe Elephant Park. I am a veterinarian 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. There are very few places in Africa today where one can be rewarded to see a “hundred-pounder”.
“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.
“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 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 tusker one day.”
*In Search of Africa’s Great Tuskers. Johan Marais and Alan Ainslie. Penguin. 2010.
Great Tuskers of Africa. Johan Marais and David Hadaway. Penguin. 2006.
© Images by Romi Boom.
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