Mana Pools received alot of rain during the year, so much so that animals were not as abundant during the previous months as what I was accustomed to, and vegetation was still thick in many areas making photography a challenge.
Returning to Mana Pools in October I was curious to see how much the landscape & wildlife viewing will have changed. Each safari experience is different to the next, and to what has already been. You may have an idea of what to expect, but there’s always something different for guests to experience and this is a wonderful part of the excitement!
I need not have worried much about Mana & what my guests could have experience, because it was “all systems go” right from the start!
As we arrived in camp we were told that the wild dogs were resting only a few hundred meters from camp! Naturally guests (and guide) were beyond excited at the news we had received, and I could not have envisioned a better start for my guests. I had been to Mana twice before this year & had failed to spend time with the dogs of Mana on both occasions. This time round, it seemed as if the luck had changed in my favour!
The dogs were active that afternoon and gave my guests some good exercise. The attempted to hunt some nearby impala, but had no luck. They then changed direction & headed towards the area south of camp. Not long and they downed a young baboon. Killing baboon in something not often seen in wild dogs, apart from Mana Pools. Although we had seen them bring the baboon down a couple hundred meters ahead of us, we were too late to capture any of the action. The dogs devoured the baboon within minutes.
Also, consider we are on foot & had already covered over a kilometer at that point. It was tremendously exciting though & a fantastic welcoming for the guests!
The next day again was a special one.
We decided to spend some time getting to know the Mana forest. It’s always rewarding and the photographic opportunities are exciting & different. So often our guests struggle to photograph animals such as elephant. They are tricky to capture in a manner that’s different from the rest. In Mana however, you have to allow the forest to do the work for you. There’s no need to get too close to them, as the beauty of the natural woodland only really appears once you start stepping back.
If you’re aware of your surroundings in Mana, you can capture some incredible scenes. I am always on the lookout for what’s still to come. I try to figure out where the elephant is headed, as this allow me to spot any potential scene’s that will be good for my guests. Natural frames such as the one above are common in Mana, and it’s just a matter of a little planning and a bit of luck, and all comes together masterfully.
The woodland allows for light to turn very soft & photogenic. Between the canopy & forest floor you’ll often find a stunning blue haze as you look into the direction of the sun. It’s not only pleasing on the eye, but also allows for photography well into the morning.
On one particular late morning we found two elephant bulls feeding on the large Winter Thorns close to camp. Most people would easily drive past without giving it a second thought. I immediately saw the potential that lay in wait. This is what’s so important in wildlife photography – you have to SEE IT, you have to be aware of what could be, you have to be one step ahead.
We hopped off the vehicle, camera gear in hand & set off towards the two elephant bulls. What followed – during a time of day many would not care for photography – was pure magic!
The soft light created the perfect atmosphere for some quality monochrome photography. It was the perfect setting & guests thoroughly enjoyed the different experience.
The point of any Wild Eye safari is to change the way you see the world, to challenge you & to get you up & out of your comfort zone.
Much of the Mana Pools safari experience involves the greatest of animals, the elephant. There are many of them within the park, and they are found in such spectacular habitat, it’s difficult not to get back to the camp with a memory card void of hundreds of elephants pictures.
What makes it easier to photograph these often difficult-to-photograph- animals so photogenic is both that you’re able to get down on foot & create special & unique angles, and also that they live within the varied landscape.
A special elephant bull that I always have so much time for, is known as Boswell. He is the largest tusker in the park & also one of the only elephants capable of rearing up onto its hindlegs in order to reach the high branches of the Winter Thorns. The winter thorns carry pods that are rich in nutrients, and elephants have developed different ways of feeding on them. Boswell is one of a handful of elephant bulls within the park that stand on their hind legs in order to reach higher into the tree canopy.
He will very often have a “harem” of elephant cows and their young ones following right behind him as he continues with his day. They hope to feed on the bits and pieces that he leaves behind. The cows are too small to reach high into the trees & by spending time with this large elephant bull, they know that they will eventually get access to some good quality food during a time of year where this is crucial to their well-being & survival.
The same with the wild dogs, on my previous two visits I had not crossed paths with Boswell. He was either too deep into the woodland interior, or further west along the river. This time round we were very lucky to spot him. He allowed my guests and I to follow him for some time. He stood up on his hind legs no less than 4 times, much to the amazement of my guests.
There were period where we was so close to us that he filled up our entire camera frames. We were carefull to stay clear of his way, allowing him the freedom of movement, allowing him to walk where he pleased. This allowed him to build confidence with us.
As you can see from the images above, he is a beautiful creature, majestic in every way! He just seems to possess so much wisdom, so much experience. When he walks you can see his head sway wide to side under the weight of his large, cambium-stained tusks.
We followed him that morning all the way to the edge of the river. What a striking scene it was, wow! I still remember it well. We had covered more than 3 kilometres just walking with him, watching him photographing him.
After drinking some water he crossed over to an island in the middle of the Zambezi River. He would typically stay in the middle of the river for a few days as he feeds on a food source not accessible to many other herbivores.
This was certainly one of the days I remember best – our morning with one of Africa’s iconic tuskers on the banks of the mighty Zambezi.
A safari is not only defined by the wildlife encounters it offers. You have to dig a little deeper & find out what it’s like to be in the camp. The camp & its staff are equally as important and allows you to enjoy a wonderful charming environment when you are not in the field photographic the local wildlife.
Our home in Mana Pools – Mwinilunga Safaris – never disappoints when it comes to food in the camp on offer. The camp is owner-run & Dave & Tess always have our guests feeling at home. Tess owns a catering company in Harare & her ability to whip up a meal in Mana Pools is legendary.
There are also often visitors in camp. Very exciting although at times, a little daunting too.
Elephants constantly wander through camp & pose little threat to the guests, as long as you give them right of way & respect.
Another big animal that calls the camp home is a sun-adult hippo. He’s been a resident in camp for the past couple of years now, and on most evenings can be found sleeping just off to the side of the dinner table.
Every now and again he’ll climb out of the water, and in so doing occupy the shadiest side of the tent – right under the porch of Grahams tent. Yes, this is frightening for even the bravest of guests. He means no harm though and best is to “let sleeping hippo”s lie”.
One of the main reasons why our guests love visiting Mana Pools during this time of year, is to see the resident wild dogs out on the scenic floodplain. The dogs of Mana Pools have become well known over the past 5 years or so. Many people travel to Mana just to spend time with the dogs, and rightfully so.
The dogs here are also well-studied & even had a BBC film crew follow them for a couple of years in preparation for an upcoming wildlife documentary.
What makes the experience with Mana’s dogs the most memorable, is that you get to spend time with them on foot. This is something you’ll never forget! The vehicle allows you a level of comfort, you’re safe where you are and you’re able to sit & relax all whilst viewing whatever it is that you’re photographing!
When you step out of that comfort zone & on to eye-level with wild dogs, the tables turn & all of a sudden you’re much more aware of what’s going on around you. Your sense spark to life & you’re fully involved with what it is that you are doing! It’s incredible, you actually feel alive! Never will viewing wildlife from the confines of a safari jeep be the same again!
The wild dogs here in Mana have become accustomed to people viewing them on foot, and have grown to accept this as the norm. They will go about their business & largely ignore the fact that you exist. This is special as you get a first-hand glimpse into the fascinating lives of these super predators.
One early morning we found the dogs not long after leaving camp. They had just caught & killed an impala and were finishing off the remains of it. We were very close to the river and I hoped that they would venture down for a drink as this particular area was incredible scenic! We spent almost an hour with them on the shelf of the river’s floodplain when the finally decided to move down & on to the sandy, open floodplain itself.
We followed them for some time on the sandy beach. They were feeling playful & to watch them this relaxed, in such a beautiful environment was simply breathtaking!
I remember on several occasions telling my guests to just soak this in, to look around them, to look at where they are. It was incredible!
I always try my very best to remind my guests about the fact that they should not be too focused on getting the shots, and then completely forget where they find themselves. So often guests are so “involved” & stuck behind their viewfinder, and they don’t take the time to soak in the beauty of the wilderness around them. You leave with no sense of place, you leave with photographs & no memories.
Fortunately, the beauty that is Mana is more than enough to stop guests in the tracks – it almost forces you to put your camera down at some point, just to enjoy.
Later that afternoon we returned to the same area in hope of finding the dogs again.
We came across a large herd of buffalo on the same sandy floodplain & spent some good time photographing them. Once again, it was not so much the buffalo as what it was the incredible scenic floodplain that compelled us to spend time with this herd. It was crazy beautiful!
This is likely Mana’s greatest asset. It’s not as much about viewing the animals only, as what it is viewing them within this majestic landscape. From the vistas overlooking the Zambezi River, the Zambezi Valley escarpment on the opposite bank in Zambia and the large life-giving Winter Thorns, to the incredible golden morning light you’ll see as you drive east on a winter’s morning. This is what makes Mana so special. This is why the images you capture in Mana are so different & unique, so covetable.
Add to all of this magnificent beauty the fact that you are able to explore on foot, that you can alight from your vehicle & spend intimate moments – eye to eye – with some of the most revered wildlife in Africa!
That, is why Mana Pools is so special, and will continue to be regardless of wether you’ve been or not.
No safari is complete without a little unexpected madness.
I’ve never in the past 5 years of visiting Mana, experienced any form of rainfall. We try and choose the dry season periods between July & October for our safaris, and although the first rains could fall in October, it was always highly unlikely.
Well, that certainly changed on this safari…
It started to rain the night before we were meant to leave Mana Pools. It started lightly but as the evening progressed into early morning, the heavens really opened up! The last time I experienced continuous rain such as this was during the Lowveld floods in South Africa in 2012. I naively packed my bags in preparation for our flight out that morning, but deep down I knew that our departure was highly unlikely.
As first light broke we could see the extent of the rainfall. The entire bone-dry floodplain had turned into one super lake! There was water everywhere and it was still raining. It just would not stop! We were on the phone to the pilots meant to collect us just after 9 that morning, and they confirmed that there was no chance that they would be capable of landing. The gravel runway would be compromised & the dangers were too real!
So, we ended up spending another day in Mana, and enjoy a day in camp just watching the rain, editing photos, read a couple of books & caught up on stories from the last couple of days.
I still had the task of getting my guests out of Mana, and the rain kept going all day long. We managed to drive one of the Land Cruisers all the way to the airstrip, and it seemed solid enough for a landing the following day, if the rain stopped in time.
The rain stopped that evening & we were upbeat about flying out the following day. We started the day with a hot cup of coffee, and set off towards the airstrip, game viewing as we went. Not far from camp we happened upon a old male lion in poor condition, that somehow managed to kill an adult eland cow. They were right next to the road & we were able to spend a little time with them.
To put in perspective just how much rain Mana received in 18 hours, have a look at the picture below.
The first one was taken on our second day. The second picture taken on the way out on the last morning.
This really gives you an idea of how much rain fell! It was incredible! I’ve never experienced Mana Pools like this, and it was eye-opening indeed!
We then enjoyed a cup of coffee next to a beautiful pool, and then left for the airstrip.
Mana Pools had one last little hurdle for us to cross. Literally.
The heavy rains filled up waterholes & allowed drainage lines to start flowing. This one particular drainage line crossed the only road to the airstrip, and during the evening had pushed a massive old fig tree onto & over the road, blocking our only road. It was rather funny, you simply had to see the funny side of it.
We tried for almost an hour to get it out of the way, we tried many different ways, even involved parks board. No luck!
Then, as if by some kind of miracle, two game viewers appeared on the other side. We knew the guides driving the vehicles very well & immediately waded across to the other side & arranged for them to drive my guests and I guests to the airstrip. It was heaven-sent!
We carried all of the luggage across, and then helped our guests across. We made it safely to the airstrip where we had to wait for over an hour before the delayed flight arrived.
We landed in Harare with no time to spare in order to catch our international flight to South Africa, and on top of that, my guest Graham still managed to misplace his passport. He luckily found it after unpacking his entire bag, and we were finally off to South Africa.
It was an epic safari experience filled with amazing photographic moments, wonderful memories, great laughs and a few adventures to say the least! That’s exactly what a safari should be about!
Thanks so much to all of the guests who joined me on this safari. They are pictured here from left to right.
If you would love to join Wild Eye on a safari of this nature, please check out the link below. It’s an experience you’ll treasure for a lifetime!
Till next time,
Mana Pools Safari Experience
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