Mana Pools has become somewhat of a photographer’s mecca over the past 3 years. More and more people are flocking to this stretch of the Zambezi River and if ever you have wondered why, I will shortly convey to you the supernatural beauty that is Mana Pools.
The ability to not only capture incredible scene’s and wildlife, but to also do so away from the confines of the vehicle indeed sets Mana Pools apart from many other photographic safaris.
Yes, there’s the risk of dangerous encounters on foot with many large African animals. But, there’s also a once-in-a-lifetime experience that awaits any person taking the step to explore this paradise with Wild Eye!
Our recent Mana Pools Photo Safari guests got what they expected and even more. In the company of Marlon du Toit and professional Zimbabwe guide Kevin Louw, our guests were treated to intimate experiences few will ever get to behold.
Allow me to take you through a visual journey of 10 days of safari with Marlon & Wild Eye within the enchanted woodland that is Mana Pools…
Walking with dangerous animals such as elephants is a very special part of the experience. The giants roaming this scenic floodplain have grown relatively use to the presence of people, and when approached kindly and respectfully will allow you right into their own personal space.
Can you even begin to imagine what it feels like to sit, far removed from the believed safety of the vehicle, under the same tree as a 6-ton elephant feeding on the low-hanging branches of a Winter Thorn?
Not only is the experience one you will never forget, but it gives you the ability to photograph them like never before.
Great care is taken by Marlon & Kevin to ensure the animals are not threatened in any way, and most importantly that you are never placed within a dangerous situation. The overall mood of any particular elephant can vary from day to day, and reading the subtle signs is paramount to a enjoyable on-foot experience with these incredible creatures.
Thanks to the fantastic location of our camp along the banks of the Zambezi River, elephants are always around us. Mwinilunga Safaris, our host during these safaris, ensure a private experience and one that allows photography till after sunset. With camp just around corner from most of the action, there’s no need to rush and get back to camp.
Another fantastic encounter we enjoyed only a few hundred meters from camp were the resident pack of African wild dogs.
We had just finished breakfast when someone spotted members of the 18-strong pack settling down in some shade not far from camp. We grabbed our cameras and set off on-foot to investigate a little closer. We then noticed that they seemed to have arrived from a kill and we later discovered that lions had robbed them of their carcass only 200 meters south of us. We could actually see the lions from our position with the dogs. Incredible!
We returned to the dogs in the late afternoon as they were starting to move around a bit. With a stunning backlit scene we managed to capture beautiful images.
This is the beauty of being on foot here. There’s no damage done by a heavy vehicle and thanks to our unobtrusive presence the animals stay calm and completely at ease.
The dogs seemed unlikely to move before sundown and we spent as much time as we could with them. We noticed an elephant cow and calf grazing closer to our position. Knowing elephants, they have a strong disliking to the presence of any predators, regardless of size. We backed off a little from our position with the dogs and gave the animals some space.
Then it happened…
The moment the mother elephant caught scent of the dogs she went ballistic!
She immediately sighted the pack and without hesitation charged right at them. Judging by her angered state we decided to give them even more space. At times elephants may direct their anger elsewhere, say towards 5 people standing around on foot! We were not interested in experiencing any of that.
The dogs easily out maneuvered her and were not too stressed. The cow took some time to calm down and we safely made our way back to our safari vehicle.
Thanks to quick thinking by Kevin & Marlon a potentially dangerous situation turned in to one of the highlights of our guests’s 6-day safari.
We spent most of the first couple of days very close to camp. We simply had no choice as there was so much action right at our doorstep! When we finally managed to get into more of what Mana had on offer, our Wild Eye guests were simply blown away at the visual beauty of the forest.
How often have you stopped to photograph the humble impala? How many times have a smiled from ear-to-ear at the results of such images?
Well let me tell you, capturing impala within this forest can result in some of the most spectacular images you have ever taken!
See, a visit to Mana Pools has little to do with the “Big 5”. It has little to do with a lion kill or a leopard up a tree. Yes, those things have their places.
A visit to Mana Pools has everything to do with the grandeur of Africa, the unspoiled tracts of wild land that still exists within our modernized worlds.
A safari to this paradise explores aspects of safari that have lost value elsewhere.
Here we don’t rush after the splattering messages over the jeep’s radio.
We don’t continuously respond to sightings established by another vehicle.
Here, we enjoy Africa the way it used to be, the way that I would have it be whenever I may wander through her meandering floodplains, rising mountain tops and open grasslands. Why would I want it any other way?
There’s a particular scene I have always wanted to photograph. I knew that it simply had to produce some visual magic! The placement of the waterhole, the hippo’s frolicking in the foreground and the setting sun behind. It had the potential for incredible images.
It was far from camp and we would be taking a chance. If it did not work then my guests would have spent most of the later afternoon out at this waterhole with nothing to show for it.
That said, we had to try!
The results were unbelievable! Wow!
The sun set exactly where I had hoped that it would, and the golden liquid surrounding the submerged hippo’s was simply breathtaking!
A cacophony of colours saturated the waterhole after the sun had set. It was visual bliss for my guests and they had been blown away once again by the sheer beauty and diversity of Mana Pools.
It is very important to approach wildlife photography with a vision. To see what you want and to go in search of it will elevate your photography to new heights.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not talking about unrealistic expectations. Nothing is certain on safari in Africa. What I am talking about though is the ability to see the story, the vision.
More on that in another blog post though.
I have a few spots within the Winter Thorn woodland that always produce the most striking natural light.
I guided my guests to these spots and as always, the magic happened right before our eyes. To see elephants within such an incredible scene simply snatches your breath away! Knowledge of a particular area is crucial to a great photographic experience. It really sets a safari apart.
The woodland surrounding our camp also produced some incredible scene’s over the course of the safari, and we made sure to be at the receiving end of light that only Mana Pools can produce.
Thanks to the large number of elephants constantly around our private camp, we were able to photograph them long before sunrise and after the sun had set.
The results? Mouth-watering!
There is no doubt a huge emphasis on elephants in Mana Pools. They are commonly found and the on-foot experience with these giants is simply incredible.
There’s so much diversity to the park and its wildlife, and we certainly did get to see more of it.
Spending time close to water during these dry months can yield great results, especially for resident predators.
Leopards can prove difficult to track down in Mana. We were treated to a special sighting of one drinking from a waterhole. He was relaxed enough to continue drinking after our arrival, and this proved to be the first leopard sighting for many of our guests.
We also found mating lions close to a water-filled drainage along the eastern side of the park. Although most of the lions in the park are accustomed to humans and vehicles, this male lion seemed to be of the contrary.
One look at him tells you that he is not fond of our company, his fire-filled eyes telling no lies.
The park is surrounded by very wild country and often animals that are not habituated to our presence end up spending time within the park’s borders. This particular lion has formed a coalition with his brother. They are relatively new to the area and I am doubtful that they’ll ever become as habituated as their female counterparts. These are wild lions!
Our Wild Eye guests got to see Mana at its best, at a time of year when more and more animals depend on the waters that the floodplain holds, and on the nourishing power of the Winter Thorns. They move out of the surrounding thickets and onto the open, exactly when you want to be there to capture the experience.
The Winter Thorns are what many of the herbivores are seeking. These valuable trees produce leaves and pods during the driest times of the year, exactly when most of the wildlife need it!
The trees are massive and mostly out of reach of Mana’s resident wildlife. Elephants and animals like baboons are crucial to the survival of herbivores. The feeding and activity by these two species result in broken branched and fallen pods, creating feeding opportunities for those unable to reach it otherwise.
We were fortunate to see the ripple effect of a fallen Winter Thorn.
Within minutes elephants arrived on the scene, alerted to the presence of the fallen giant by the thunderous sound that echoed through the forest floor as it collapsed.
We watched for many days as many elephants fed on the tree, as well as all types of antelope. This single tree provided life to so many of Mana’s hungry residents, something that will hugely help in them surviving the harsh dry season ahead.
Our last day had arrived and I woke up with the anticipation that something special was in store for us.
In the afternoon we found an incredible elephant bull. He has the ability to stand up on to his rear legs and reach high into the branches of the life-giving Winter Thorns.
I really wanted my guests to spend time with him and had hoped that he they would get to see this during the last light of day.
Many times he stood up on to his back legs, ripping large branches from the massive trees. He would feed for a bit before relinquishing the branch to another elephants. He simply repeated the feat to reach high into another tree.
We spent perhaps 2 hours with him and the time was near for the sun to set.
The large bull paused for a while, and caked himself in some Mana dust. All I could hear around me was the sound of shutters firing, a sound as good as music to my ears! My Wild Eye guests were being treated to something so special, something very few ever get to see.
Then it happened.
Seconds before the sun had set, he once again stood tall and as the large branch cracked and fell down to the earth below, a cloud of dust ignited in the back-lit sun! This was exactly what we had hoped for and my guests were absolutely blown away by the visual beauty and overall experience they had been blessed with.
Mana touched their hearts in a way they never thought possible. It holds on and beckons your undeniable return.
To say Mana Pools is special would be stating a very obvious fact. Regardless of expectation, my guests have never had an experience in Mana Pools that left them disappointed.
Till next time,
Mana Pools Photo Safari 2015
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