What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear about “Zimbabwe”? I am sure images of poverty, violence and Robert Mugabe soon follow? See, this was my view too, an absolute wasteland with nothing to offer.
Boy how wrong was I to assume this.
“God’s Country” is what Zimbabwe used to be known as. This will not make any sense until you venture into the middle of her war-ridden soul. This country may be struggling but she has so much to offer. There’s still so much beauty within her.
An integral part of this lies in the north along the Zambezi River in a little area known as Mana Pools. Four days in Mana has left me with a hunger and passion to return. I have never been to a place as special as this, a place that grasps a hold of your heart in a way no other has done before. This to me is still truly wild Africa.
It is here that a special meeting with African Wilddogs ignited my love for wildlife photography. Morkel Erasmus and I met with a pack of dogs in a riverbed. They were all sprawled out across the rough sandy riverbed enjoying the last warming rays of sunlight.
We decided to take two cameras with us, and to crawl as close as possible to the dogs without disturbing them. After about ten meters on this granite riverbed the skin on our elbows became rather sensitive. No problem, seeing as we only had another sixty meters to go. After another ten meters we were both in pain and were now actually losing the skin on our elbows. Carrying a telephoto lens each, with a beanbag and another lens on your back is no light task, all whilst trying to remain casual on your belly and elbows without disturbing the dogs, all of which have now perked up their massive ears and were intently watching us. Forward we kept moving. When we finally settled in our spot of choice covered in sand and sweat,the photography could begin.
We got some lovely images and all went according to plan. As we were about to start our crawl back to our vehicle something magical happened. The alpha male, a large dark dog, stood up and with purpose and intent walked straight towards us. Now we had kept about thirty meters between us and the dogs all of the time but this male had no regard for safety. He kept his head low, ears pinned forwards and marched right up to us accompanied by a light growl. This growling dog seemed determined to find out what our business was, and it was without a doubt this “light growling” sound that unnerved Morkel and I the most. Regardless, we help our pose and just kept snapping away. How we managed to get usable images I don’t know since we were shaking so much, a mix of ridiculous excitement and some serious nerves mixed all in one. I will never forget Morkel’s face after that dog walked away. We were both absolutely stunned and without breath.
We both had just had the single most life-changing encounter with a wild animal. It was over before it had even begun. We both were too scared to even look at what we had captured. It was in the absolute last light of day and we had to push our equipment to the maximum. The results? The images were amazing, we could not have asked for any better!
This is what Mana Pools is all about, moments with wild animals that will change your life. I can’t wait to see this special place again, to see what encounter she has in store for me next.
Marlon du Toit
Marlon and Morkel Erasmus are going back to Mana Pools to lead a safari. Read Morkel’s blog on what you can expect when you go to the awe-inspiring Mana Pools with them.