Year in the Wild Blog

Sonto Tembe, legend of Ndumo Reserve

I’ve spent the past few days in northern KwaZulu-Natal on the subtropical region of South Africa’s east coast. It’s one of my favourite regions because of it’s huge diversity. Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park are situated a bit inland from the coast, and both these are fascinating protected areas. Ndumo is a must-visit because of it’s unrivalled bird life in South Africa (and beautiful pans and fever tree forests), and Tembe is, well, one of the most important protected areas in Africa because it is home to some of the largest remaining “tuskers” on the continent. But more on Tembe in a later blog.

For now, here’s a video I did with Sonto Tembe, a ranger who has worked for more than 30 years at Ndumo. He is probably one of the most impressive naturalists and conservationists I have met on my travels. Most people would consider it an achievement to identify the region’s 400 birds, but Sonto can also identify each species by its call AND he can imitate pretty much each call of each species. Incredible.

This is the second video I have done with Sonto, so if you’ve seen the first one, you’ll recognise some of the calls, but he also does some new calls, and his rendition of the trumpeter hornbill is simply brilliant. Enjoy! If you can’t see the video below, click on this link to watch it –

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as WildCardEeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.


  • I had the pleasure of Sonto’s knowledge on several walks exactly 25 years ago, he is amazing. I will again be staying in Ndumo in July 2014 and look forward to showing him an old photo of what we looked like as young men :-)
    Thank you Scott, for the video, the tribute to Sonto and especially for rekindling some very fond memories.

    • Rean, he is a special man…and deserves all the official accolades, but my guess is he doesn’t care for them. He just loves his home of Ndumo and it’s feathered folks.

      • Scott, you are spot on in your take of Sonto. I’ve just returned to Australia after 10 amazing weeks visiting Ndumo, doing an iMfolozi Primitive Trail, the Kruger, Injisuthi, Lesotho etc and Sonto was as humble as ever. He loved the enlargement of “our” 25 year old photo and we went back to Shokwe Pan for a walk where he delighted in calling Trumpeter Hornbills to cross the pan and we reminisced about the good old days, our children and wives. He admitted to be completely content, I sense he is a very happy man.
        You will also be pleased to know that a fellow trailist mentioned your iMfolozi Primitive Trail articles very favourably, this was my 5th iMfolozi Trail and I left with a very heart. Thank you for your pictures and words.

  • Hi Scott.
    My wife and I will be in Ndumo in early October. How do we reserve a bird walk there, preferably with Mr Tembe?

    • Hi Pedro

      You can contact Sonto on 072-697-2260. But usually you can just book at the office when you arrive. Sonto walks every morning and afternoon anyway. The office number is 035-591-0058. The reception manager is Chris Ngubane, and you can call him on 072-672-8508.


  • Impressive speed of response, Scott. Much appreciated.
    Any further advice, 2 nights in uMkuze and 2 nights near St Lucia – trying to secure bird guides especially for the latter give that there are game walks at Mkuze.
    Can’t wait to hear and feel Africa again

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