It’s not about the big 5.
It’s not about the chaos & the kills.
It’s not about 5* luxury and french-cuisine.
Mana Pools is all & only about immersing yourself within the African experience, about losing yourself to the romance of a larger-than-life encounter with nature in a way you could never dreamt possible.
From the moment you set foot in Mana Pools you realize how different this place is.
During the month of October seering heat meets you head-on as you leave the cabin of your small chartered plane. The drying heat immediately establishes its presence and just by looking at the arid surrounding landscape you need not be told that the country needs rain.
Mana finds itself on the banks of the Zambezi River and settled within the Zambezi Valley, an area known for it’s harsh conditions during the dry season. Rain here won’t fall for atleast another 50 days. When the surrounding land has been pushed to its limit, those near-two months can feel like an eternity for the resident wildlife!
That said, within all of this struggle and harshness Mana Pools possesses an etherel beauty, something nearly indescribable.
This is exactly what my guests came to see, this is why they travelled from all around the world. They wanted to have Mana impart a little of itself into their hearts. They were on the receiving end of this and so, so much more.
What makes Mana Pools so undeniably special is the fact that you explore and experience it largely on foot. The park itself is not surrounded by any fences and animals here are free to move as they please. To be afforded the privilege to see Mana’s extraordinary beauty away from the confines of a vehicle is something so pure, so unique.
Our guests were treated to sightings so special, so incredible heart-warming. Even though the days were very hot we would conduct safari activities during the early hours of the morning and again during the cooler late-afternoon hours and into the early evening.
This also presented us with a special kind of light. Smog would fill the air during the daytime, and wind would kick up clouds of dust within the forest floor. This acted as a filter and would allow us to shoot from 3pm onwards as the sun was never really as harsh as what it would typically have been.
As always elephants were the stars of the show here in Mana Pools. Although the floodplain is alive with many other species such as baboons, impala, waterbuck, zebra and eland, the elephants just have a way of captivating the viewer.
The way that they move through the forest floor, the shimmering light gleaning off of their white tusks and the way the colossal Albida tree’s dwarf the worlds largest land mammal all add up and together they create magical moments in time.
The fact that we can leave the vehicle and position ourselves as we need allows for beautiful framing and striking compositions.
Spending time in the company of the giants of the land is special indeed. Very little can compare with the feeling of knowing there’s nothing separating you and the bull feeding from the branches of an Ana tree. It is very humbling!
Photographing the elephant bulls within the forest canopy is something I really enjoy doing. I will often lead my guests deep into the woodland in search of forest segments where the light seems to be just right. The mystical atmosphere within these Mana woodlands set the scene for spectacular photography.
Once again our Wild Eye Mana Pools safari coincided with the fall of a giant forest tree. This draws massive elephant numbers to the area as they seek feeding opportunities. The leaves and pods of the Ana Trees are a source of life for many of Mana’s inhabitants, especially as the dry-season starts to take its toll.
Atleast 30 elephants appeared out of the surrounding woodland and peacefully fed alongside each other. The silence when these herds join together is deafening. They seem to know exactly what they other is saying, where to move and where to feed. It’s incredible and once again brings to life their elaborate inaudible communication system.
Two lovely scenario’s drew my attention within this lovely sighting.
The one was of the mother and her calf. The calf was still young and would not leave its mothers side, not even for a second. I made sure I got down low to the ground and in doing so created a stunning moment in time.
The other was of a young elephant bull off to the side of the activity. He just stood there, the soft early morning light gently caressing his face through the branches of a tree. He looked so lonely, so shy. I almost felt as if we shared a sweet moment in time.
Besides the “big stuff”, there’s so much on offer in Mana Pools. The sights and scenery will leave you breathless. Wherever you point your camera magic tends to happen.
The special light no doubt appears early morning & late afternoon, but thanks to a constant haze in the sky almost acting as a filter, one can continue shooting throughout the day.
The fact that there’s such an abundance of wildlife simply increases the odds that there usually will be a subject in frame at just about any place you aim your lens at.
Following up on a tip-off from our local professional Zim guide Kevin, we managed to spend some time at a Carmine Bee eater colony not too far from camp. Now if you are not familier with these incredible beautiful and striking birds I best suggest you get started.
Carmine’s are by no means a rare bird and can frequently be seen in Zimbabwe, Zambia & Botswana. That said their habits and locations can and will change through the seasons and to photograph them it’s best to be aware of these changes.
During the month of October they usually spend time around the nesting sites as they lay eggs and then proceed to feed the young. This creates a great opportunity to photograph them. They are very busy little birds and at best it’s slightly challenging to get them in frame, but eventually you will walk away with a few decent shots. Well, atleast you can try 🙂
Now something I really hoped my guests would get to see were the resident pack of African wild dog. It is never a given that you will get to see them but I knew our chances were good.
The dogs tend to den in and around the months of June & July. They then focus almost all their attention on providing for the new puppies and this rarely takes them far from the den. The den itself is often well into a woodland far removed from any disturbances and potential dangers. There’s always a chance of seeing the pack during these denning months, but the odds greatly increase once the pups start to move along with the rest of the pack, typically from September onwards.
To say we had great timing is a complete understatement. My guests enjoyed fabulous sightings of these magnificent predators.
Once again the fact that my guests could photograph from the ground and far from the vehicle not only made for fantastic images but also for a unique and exciting experience.
You could lie down on the ground and follow along with the pack once they get moving! How incredible is that not?
Often whilst following the pack of 25 on foot they would allow us glimpses of events we would never have seen from the confines of a vehicle. Pictured above, the pack crossed a small channel en route to the resting area for the day. One by one the adults jumped across the scenic drainage. It was just delightful to see, let alone to photograph.
My guests also got to see several kills. This included the dogs bringing down impala and baboon. We never got to photograph the actual take-downs as this is very tricky. The dogs are so fast that it becomes impossible to keep up with them when they start hunting. They are pure sprinters and simply too fast for us humans. By the time you reach them the meal is just about done and dusted.
We did however photograph sensational action as the dogs fed on what was left of the kills.
Whilst spending time with the dogs one morning at a pan deep within the thicker jesse (scrub woodland), some curious pups took notice of us. At this age everything is new to these puppies and humans are well worth investigating. The puppies boldly strolled up to us and stopped a mere 4 meters away.
Can you imagine the feelings my guests experienced during this encounter.
Can you imagine having these little precious pups only a few yards away?
An exciting time in the company of the wild dog pack is when they start getting active. They become extremely vocal and excited as they greet one another and at times, regurgitate food for the puppies to feed on. These greetings in the afternoon will usually be followed by drinking from a nearby pan and they then set off on the afternoons hunt, Marlon & his guests usually in tow.
It’s an amazing opportunity being able to follow the pack on the move. They are often in single file as the lead dogs scour the landscape for potential prey up ahead. We always stick to the rear and ensure that we are not interfering with the dogs and also importantly not giving their position away to potential prey on the horizon.
On one such an occasion we happened upon an elephant cow and her young calf. This is a great time to be as far away from the dogs as conveniently possible. The mother elephant gets extremely upset once she either sights the dogs or picks up on their scent. Often anyone in her way, including humans, will get the royal treatment.
Also whilst out on the hunt with the dogs they happened upon a leopard out in the open. The leopardess had to make haste to find the closest tree as the dogs speedily set after her. She made it up the tree in time and soon came down after the dogs lost interest.
We spent a good deal of time with the resident pride of lions as well. They currently consist of 4 adult lionesses & 3 cubs of roughly 6 months of age. If you thinking time on foot with the dogs gets your heart thumping, try spending time on foot within rather close proximity of the large cats.
They are magnificent creatures, there’s no doubt about that. In Mana Pools they frequent the open floodplains as food & water is plentiful and the shade from the large trees a welcome respite from the heat during the daytime.
The closest we managed to get to the lions was about 20 yards. This distance, pictured above, was set by the cats themselves. Can you image sitting flat on your bottom watching lions from such close distances, with nothing but the air you breathe between you?
We were treated to a magnificent last morning.
We found a skittish pride of lions that had killed a buffalo during the night. They had fed on the sub-adult buffalo for most of the night and had done so only a few meters from the road. We stayed in the vehicle on this occasion as us out of the car would have unsettled the lions immensely. They were already rather nervous of our presence.
This was clearly obvious when one lioness decided to drag the carcass away from us and into some thickets further off of the road.
So why Mana Pools? Why all the fuss?
If these questions are still on your mind after all of these images & stories, then I am surprised that you are still reading along!
It simply is an incredible wildlife destination and absolutely filled with phenomenal photographic opportunities! It’s endless really! There’s something in here for everyone to enjoy, without doubt!
From the vistas across the Zambezi River, the woodlands of the great floodplain filled with incredible Ana Trees, to the many pans and pools dotted about the floodplain and adjacent woodland. Mana has such variety and deserves every bit of credit it receives.
This was the last of our Mana Pools safaris for 2015. We had an incredible year in Mana and many extremely satisfied guests.
We have a few very exciting safaris planned to Mana Pools in 2016. You know where to find me if you are interested in joining us there 😉