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Nzou Safari: Matusadona, Mana Pools and Gorongosa - Aug/Sept 2011


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#1 Paolo

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:36 AM

Introduction

In fall 2009, I had carefully planned a trip aimed at an in depth visit to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, a place about which I had fond memories, and Gorongosa in Mozambique, which was an unknown quantity instead. Lots of research and lengthy discussions with my chosen guides for that safari had taken place, and in August 2010 I was ready to embark in this new adventure. But, ten days before my departure, the retina in my right eye collapsed and, instead of roaming the wilds, I found myself in a hospital, having emergency surgery to save my eye.

It was quite tough back then, but – and I wish here to thank again all the members of Safaritalk who expressed their sympathy and good wishes – somehow I managed the situation, and in March 2011 I was able to go on a Botswana green season safari with Safaridude.

The safari went well, and it was such an incredible joy to be back in the bush again, exchanging tales by the campfire, with a zillion stars above and hyenas whooping in the background.

Thus, I was ready to tackle the Zambezi and Rift Valley again. Further discussions with the various operators involved led to the following itinerary:

August 18: o/n Harare (Amanzi Lodge)
August 19 – 22: Matusadona National Park (private mobile camp at Makuzapela – 3 nights)
August 22 – August 30: Mana Pools National Park (private mobile camp at Mucheni – 5 nights; and private mobile camp at Chitake Springs – 3 nights)
August 30 – September 4: Gorongosa National Park (Explore Gorongosa – 5 nights)

Our operator in Zimbabwe was Classic Africa Safaris, which operates top notch private mobile camps in Matusadona, Mana Pools and at times Chizarira. Its owner, Craig Van Zyl, would be our pilot throughout the trip, as well as fantastic host and guide extraordinaire in Matusadona and Mana. Rob Janisch, owner of Explore Gorongosa, was to guide us in Mozambique.

Moreover, Owen “Squack” Evans, a professional guide originally from Zimbabwe but mainly working in East Africa, who after several safaris together is now a great friend, was also accompanying us. No shortage of bush skills in this trip.

Let me say from the beginning that this has been one of the best safaris amongst the 21 I have been lucky to enjoy so far. It has provided everything: emotions, adrenaline rushes, food for thought, peace within ourselves, and harmony with the surrounding wilderness.

In taking a leaf out of Safaridude’s book, who has christened our rain soaked safari in Botswana as pula safari (pula meaning “rain” in setswana), I should call this nzou safari, since we had elephant (nzou in Shona language) all over us for most of the trip: during walks, game drives, boat excursions, in camp, raiding our tent, drinking in the night a few meters from our dinner table. And they were also very different animals: stately, handsome big tuskers in Matusadona, placid bulls and happy families in Mana Pools, nervous herds still traumatized by memories of the slaughters during the Mozambican civil war in Gorongosa.

Anyhow, this is my first attempt at a proper trip report, and I should keep things simple and put the events in chronological order.

So, on August 19, after a nice dinner and a good sleep at Amanzi Lodge, we found ourselves boarding Craig’s Cessna 206 on a cool, crisp Harare morning. Alongside Craig, Squack and the two of us, a few cases of fine SA wines took off in a westerly direction. After a spectacular flight over the Sanyati Gorge, the plane reached Lake Kariba and after ten minutes or so we were landing at Tashinga airstrip, close to the headquarters of Matusadona National Park.

#2 Paolo

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:42 AM

Matusadona National Park

Matusadona takes its name after the Matuzviadonha Hills in The Zambezi Escarpment. The name means something like “dripping with dung” , which seems to make reference both to the rugged and sometimes steep terrain and the high number of elephants which have always lived in the area.

Just arriving with our plane we could grasp the appropriateness of the name: the Zambezi Escarpment descending northwards towards Lake Kariba appeared rugged indeed, and the signs of a healthy elephant population were apparent, since we could spot many of them on the lakeshore prior to landing at Tashinga airstrip.

Once landed, we jumped into the vehicle that was waiting for us, and headed to our camp, which had been erected prior to our arrival. It was located in the central area of the Park, in a campsite which had never been used for the past 7 years, at the confluence of the Makuzapela and Karonga rivers, both dry at this time of the year (Matusadona is criss crossed by several of these rivers coming down from the Escarpment towards the lake; when they seem to contain water in the dry season, it is water from Lake Kariba pushing in).

It was a very wild and remote area, in the prime section of the Park for wildlife. I have to say that Matusadona seems to be scarcely visited – we were told that, apart from our party, throughout our visit (dead in the peak season) there was only another small group of people staying at Rhino( Island) Safari Camp – so just two cars in over 1400 sq. Km. Needless to say, we never met those other visitors.

Our camp’s set up was excellent: out tent was large and practically furnished, with a bathroom attached but under the stars, with a bucket shower and - surprisingly – a flush toilet (thanks to a tank which was periodically filled by the camp staff). The beds were extremely comfy, the service immaculate and the food really very good. We had five camp staff taking care of us, and they were dedicated and professional. Definitely one of the best mobile camps I have experienced.

Our two camps in Mana Pools would have been exactly the same, though with different camp crews (equally good). Basically Craig can use three different camp units in the same safari. The same day the guests leave a location, the camp is dismantled and most of the equipment stored at the relevant Park’s headquarters until the arrival of a new party.

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Our days in Matusadona followed a similar path: out on a mix of game drive and walking all of the morning, then boating on Lake Kariba in the afternoon, especially to take advantage of the unique sunsets, with the occasional walk on the lakeshore (which is in some points rich in fossils) and a bit of fishing.

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From the very first moment, I was struck by the beauty of Matusadona elephants: they are truly remarkable specimens, with long, thick, beautiful tusks. I was amazed by the number of big tuskers we saw, something which had not happened to me since my first safaris in Kenya in the early 1980s. Also, due to its different types of soil Matusadona has both “grey” and “reddish” elephant.

Those nzous provided fantastic viewing, especially in the course of our boat excursions. It was moving admiring them coming to the lake to drink and bath, with the golden light, the dead trees of the “drowned forests” in the water, and prolific birdlife and hippos around our boat. Having your G&T in your hand, what could you ask more?

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Matusadona has always been known for its large buffalo herds, which thrive on the extensive patches of “torpedo grass” (Panicum repens) covering the lakeshore. The torpedo grass can survive for long periods underwater and provides a good source of food for herbivores at the height of the dry season. So, it was quite common to see herds of up to 1,000 buffalo roaming the lakeshore.

Then, around 1996/97, the level of Lake Kariba rose dramatically, and much of these grazing grounds disappeared, forcing the buffalo to move further inland in search of food. During our boat excursions, Craig showed us a lot of places where he used to drive or walk in the past.

Having said that, buffalo were ever present on the lakeshore, and we saw a herd of 200 – 250 animals a few times, as well as another herd of 100 - 150 and many dagga boys. The impression is that the buffalo population, even if still far away from what it used to be, is on the up again.

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As much as the lakeshore is soft on the eye, with its green shores and the brilliant colours provided by its birdlife, so the immediate interior of Matusadona is a harsh, untamed wild country, made of ridges, sand rivers, dry mopane woodlands and big extensions of thick jesse bush (mostly Combretum).

This was the area we were exploring in our morning outings. Similarly to Mana Pools, there are very few roads and you are not allowed to go offroad (which would be however extremely difficult in the jesse), so we were following a precise routine: we would go out on a drive in a certain direction and, when we found something interesting – either a sight or a track – Craig would stop the car, grab his rifle and the four of us would start walking.

One morning we were heading towards the Jenge river, when we saw some vultures on a tree. We walked up to that tree, but apparently there was nothing,except.... a big male black rhino footprint from earlier in the morning ( Matusadona still harbours a small, but very important, population of black rhino). We started tracking that rhino when we discovered other tracks – this time a female and calf. “If we find this rhino”, Craig said “she is the nicest one we could see”. And so we kept tracking her and her baby for more than three hours, amidst the jesse and up and down various ridges, staying clear of a few dagga boys in the process.

At one point, we found them browsing. We moved carefully towards them, having a good view. Then, something amazing happened: the mother rhino became aware of our presence and, instead of running away or charging us, she moved towards us in an apparently happy mood. Upon Craig’s instructions, we moved backwards and placed ourselves behind a log. The rhino, with her offspring as an appendix, kept coming to us, and finally they stopped less than one meter from us.

I learned that this rhino has a peculiar story. She is eight years old, and her mother was killed by poachers. When the wardens discovered the murdered, hornless rhino, her calf was still trying to suck milk from the corpse. They rescued the baby and brought her to Tashinga headquarters, where a few people, including Craig, were taking care of her. They christened her “Mvura” (which means “water”), since she was perennially thirsty and loved to be given water by her rescuers. She was released into the wild when she was two years old, and since then she has enjoyed a good life, even if she has been dehorned last July. She has already had another offspring, now fully grown up and living on his own, which seems to be very skittish. The current calf was born at the end of April, and obviously follows mum like a shadow.

We spent a good ten, fifteen minutes (maybe more, I do not really know), with the pair and then Craig said “OK, now we back off”. We went up on the ridge behind us, whilst Mvura and her calf trotted back towards their bushes. I thought that was going to be the last I would have seen of them.

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Our vehicle was not close, so Craig asked Squack to lead us towards the lake, whilst he would go and retrieve the car. We would have met by a certain peninsula nearby. I kept silent during that period, prey of mixed emotions: I was clearly in awe and over the moon for our close encounter, but I could not help fearing for Mvura. Even assuming she is somehow familiar with Craig, from her early days and subsequent encounters with him, and that normally she isnot that friendly, her lack of fear of humans does not bode well for her future. As said, her previous offspring is, unlike her, very skittish, and there is no reason to think that the current one will be otherwise. But as for Mvura, I can only hope she is lucky enough to only meet well meaning human beings.for the rest of her life.

An hour later, we met the vehicle. We jumped on it, turned our heads...and here they were: Mvura & calf in the open, drinking from a pond! Then the calf begun sucking milk from her mother. Fantastic stuff. We got closer, and the pair decided to pay us a close inspection, and so we had Mvura on one side of the car, and the calf on the other side, both within touching distance.. Truly an incredible feeling. After a while, they headed back into the jesse and we kind of waved them goodbye.

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On another morning, we went towards the Bize river, and we found a mating pair of lions close to the road. The male was roughly 4-5 years old, and very enthusiast of his role of a young lover. In fact, contrary to what I had seen in several other occasions, he was the one taking the initiative and “asking” the female to mate. A few hundred meters away another male lion, probably the brother, was relaxing under the scarce shade provided by some shrubs.

Plains game – with the exception of impala – was not particularly abundant, and generally concentrated on the lakeshore. We did see greater kudu, common waterbuck, bushbuck and common duiker. There are zebra in Matusadona, but we did not spot them. We had an elusive leopard living close to camp, which was also regularly visited by side striped jackals and spotted hyenas.

On our last afternoon, we went out on the lake to fish breams in the shallow water amidst the “drowned forests”. We put in a decent fishing performance, even if at times we were distracted by the ever present elephants or some large herds of impala, or the hippos, or the beautiful birdlife. Back in camp, all our catch was magistrally sliced and deep fried by Sam, our cook, and helped us to have one more round of drinks around the campfire before dinner was served.

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The following morning, we took off from Tashinga and flew northeast to Mana Pools.

#3 Game Warden

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:43 AM

Great start already Paolo. Get uploading those photos :)

"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#4 twaffle

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 12:30 PM

I've been given the grave responsibility of photo adding but due to time differences will be doing it in the morning. Hope everyone can wait those few hours ..... BTW, they are worth waiting for. :D

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#5 Game Warden

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 12:32 PM

What, the old GW's on 24 hours a day, I demand the same dedication...

"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#6 JohnR

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 02:01 PM

Oh dear. Now I am having second thoughts about writing a report on my trip expedition as there's no way I can match this standard. :(

Very evocative writing, Paolo.
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#7 Jochen

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 02:13 PM

Very evocative writing, Paolo.


I definitely agree. I was there with that rhino too, at least a little bit.
I'm waiting for those pics like a cat circling around it's food bowl.

J.

#8 Safaridude

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 03:05 PM

Fantastic encounter with Mvura. I second (or is it third?) the evocative comment. Eagerly waiting for more...

#9 Sangeeta

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 04:56 PM

Me too... could have been standing with Mvura along with you, Paolo (and worrying about her, just like you). This has been so eagerly awaited that I bet it wasn't easy to write, but you couldn't have made a better start.

+1 on Matt's comment, Twaffle. Where's the 24-hour dedication? :)

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#10 Raelond

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 06:10 PM

Great trip report. I can't wait until next August for my trip to Zim.

#11 twaffle

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:11 PM

Yawn. Just waking up. Mmmm. A bit of breakfast, clean the house, grocery shopping ... I forget what, but something I have to do. It will come to me ...... :D

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#12 Game Warden

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 12:38 AM

Spectacular start to the report, and cracking photos Paolo... Look forward to more :)

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#13 Anita

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 05:24 AM

Paolo, what precious sightings and thank you for creating such a live experience reading this. Beautiful pictures. Waiting for more.

#14 Treepol

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 08:33 AM

Paolo,

thanks for sharing your photos and memories. I really enjoyed Mvura's story and like you fear for her future because of her amazingly gentle nature.

Great photos of Mvura and her calf, and also fishing on Lake Kariba.
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#15 Paolo

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 12:56 PM

Thank you all for your kind comments.

Now I have to start to work on the Mana Pools chapter - a few adventures and many good sightings, so I fear it might be a bit longish....

#16 Game Warden

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 01:05 PM

As long as you want Paolo :)

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#17 Pangolin

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 04:27 PM

As everyone has said, great stuff! Looking forward to more.
One pangolin to rule them all......

#18 Bugs

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 05:58 PM

sigh! beautiful.

There's none so blind as those who will not see.


#19 madaboutcheetah

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 04:17 PM

Thanks for the report, Paolo. Glad you had a great trip!!!
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#20 Paolo

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Posted 07 October 2011 - 08:38 AM

Mana Pools National Park (Rivefront area)

“Nyala on the airstrip!”, Craig said whilst we were about to land at Mana Airstrip. We went up again, made a circle in the air to check that no other animal have decided to pay a visit to see our big shiny bird, and finally landed.

That was a very auspicious start to our five nights stay in the riverine area of Mana Pools. I was banking on Gorongosa to see nyala in this trip, and here they were, very distant but still recognizable through my binoculars, a big nyala bull and a female.

Nyala are mainly seen in Mana Pools towards the end of the dry season, which was still some way to go, and this was a clear indication that the conditions were quite dry in the Zambezi valley. In spite of very high water levels in the Zambezi at least until July, rainfall in the valley floor had been modest; moreover the big flooding from the river early in the season might have caused a reduced productions of nutrient rich pods and flowers from the majestic trees dotting the flat, fertile floodplains. Driving to our camp at Mucheni, we saw lots of already skinny baboons and Craig explained to us that quite a few would have not made it to the rains. It was tough going for many creatures, the floodplains turning to a dustbowl and the food becoming scarcer. But these harsh conditions were to provide the set for an extraordinary game viewing bonanza for us.

In any event, nyala population seems on the up in Mana Pools (bushbuck are decreasing instead), likewise eland and zebra. We would have seen 11 nyala during our time at Mucheni, including a nice group of six females and one young male.

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As we progressed towards our camp at Mucheni, we left behind the jesse bush to first traverse some cathedral mopane (there are some impressive patches in Mana Pools, particularly in its western part), to finally hit the floodplain terraces which render Mana one of the most splendid and iconic places in Africa.

What can I say about these theaters of the wild which has not been written a hundred times? Something you normally hear is that the area has a “parkland” feel, and in places the lack of undergrowth, the majesty of the Faidherbia albida (winter thorn), Natal Mahoganies and Sausage trees, the light that filters through the open vegetation really makes you think that some talented gardener has sculptured the landscape like a well tendered country park. In fact there are many gardeners taking care of this magical place: the seasons, the floods from the Zambezi and the animals (especially elephant).

To me, they resemble ancient abbeys or cathedrals, and the thousands of animals moving through the floodplains are kind of silent monks from a different world.

It is worthwhile mentioning that the topography of the Zambezi valley has played a major role in shaping this wildlife paradise. The Zambezi Escarpment is, on the Zimbabwean side, at a distance of more than 50 kilometres from the Zambezi, whilst on the Zambian side it is much closer (in places just a few kilometers from the river). This is the reason why, in my experience (confirmed by the common wisdom of many safari goers) wildlife in Mana Pools is much more plentiful and varied that in Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia - the floodplains, rich in nutrients, are much larger on the southern bank of the Zambezi, and thus can support a greater abundance of animals.

Our camp at Mucheni was an hotspot of activity: we had a pod of hippos in front, lots of impala and waterbuck, warthog and baboon everywhere, sometimes a few eland and one morning our camp was almost “invaded” by a herd of roughly 400 buffalo.

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But most of all, our camp was elephant territory. My tent had been set up under the shade of a Faidherbia albida – as well known, elephant are fond of winter thorn pods, which are rich in protein. As mentioned above, pods have not been overabundant this season, but….”my” winter thorn had plenty of them, and they were constantly falling on the tent roof. So elephant were “raiding” my tent on a daily (if not hourly) basis. During siesta time, it seemed that every time I was napping an elephant bull would come and gently (or not so gently) polish the roof of my tent in search of his beloved pods. (Probably I should not mention it, but once I was sitting on the loo, just to suddenly see a trunk hanging over me…..).

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Similarly to Matusadona, Mana Pools has a limited road network, and those roads are more transfer roads (between campsites and headquartes, between gates etc…) than proper game loops. So, even if you do see game along these roads, walking in Mana Pools is essential. My advice to anyone wanting to do a proper safari in Mana would be: 1) put yourself in the hands of an excellent guide and 2) allow yourself as much time as you can, since, being on foot a lot, you will not rush from one sighting to the other, but you will spend quality time with whatever you find (maybe one afternoon you will concentrate on elephants, then the next morning you will spend your entire time sitting with lions etc…). Mana is not “Fast Food” safari country.

One afternoon, we were just a few kilometers from camp, driving westwards, when Craig and Squack saw in the distance a group of impala kind of staring at one direction. Craig immediately stopped the vehicle, under a shady tree, and we began to walk on the river terraces to check what was holding the impala attention. After 20 minutes or so of walking (rendered quite easy by the very sparse undergrowth), we saw a lioness. We made a circle around her, trying to sneak as close as possible, only to discover that there was also a male with her, and they were a honeymooning couple. According to Craig, this particular lioness must have been 15 or 16 years old, so the fact that she was still mating was quite remarkable.

We approached the pair cautiously, and then sat on the ground in front of them. Every now and then they were watching us, but got progressively relaxed and went on with their mating antics (once agian, the male was the one taking the initiative, like the pair in Matusadona). Each time they mated, they were coming closer to us (at the end they were at no more than 25 meters from us, maybe less). We stayed with them a couple of ours, and then we left since the sun was starting to set. On the way back to the car, we bumped into the rest of the pride (where had they been hiding???), but it was just a glimpse of another male lion and another lioness - and a lot of growling!

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The following afternoon, not far away from where we had seen the mating lions, we were walking peacefully trying to absorb the spectacle of six or seven different mammal species (impala, warthog, chacma baboon, common waterbuck, greater kudu, eland, zebra…) under a grove of huge winter thorn, when elephant started to appear like ghosts. They seemed to pop up out of nowhere, but now they were everywhere. In my previous walking safaris, this occurrence (in particular considering those were breeding herds) would have immediately caused a hasty retreat by the hominids, but not this time. Craig deemed the situation to be fine, and guided us closer to them, always having the precaution to be near somewhere to hide, just in case.

I have to say that, amongst Craig’s set of bush skills, there is an incredible ability to understand animal body language. He could predict exactly what an elephant or a lion would have done in the next second. It was like he was in telepathic contact with them (Craig has done some work on this for National Geographic and will feature on a forthcoming Animal Planet series on big game body language). I need to stress that Craig is by no means reckless, and would only approach animals he either knows personally as individuals or in situations with which he is totally comfortable (for instance, we always steered well off of solitary male buffalo; we never got too close to elephant herds if Craig had a doubt they could come from a hunting concession such as Chewore).

Anyway, we went behind a log (plenty of logs on the floodplains) and witnessed to this parade of elephant cows, calves and young males, practically surrounding us, and at times a mere few meters from where we were standing. An incredible feeling.

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Mana Pools takes its name, notoriously, from the four (mana means “four”) relic watercourses of the Zambezi which, located well inland, keep rainwater for practically the entire dry season (in reality, one of the original four pools has now dried up, whilst other smaller pools contain water for most of the season). The most prominent is Long Pool that, as the name suggest, runs, almost parallel to the main course of the Zambezi but approximately three kilometers inland from the river, for eight kilometers, and is jam packed with crocodiles. In places, they are amassed to each other like seals at a colony. The one other place I know which has a similar concentration is Lake Tagalala in the Selous Game Reserve, in southern Tanzania (also some colonies in Lake Turkana should be quite impressive). There also many hippos and a vast array of waterfowls and other birds.

For the antelope lover, Mana Pools is superb greater kudu and eland country. One morning, close to Green Pool (where we shared a cup of tea with fellow Safaritalk member Doug Macdonald, by the way), we walked up to a beautiful herd of 70+ eland, with a nursery of roughly 25 calves. Eland are normally very flighty even if you are in a vehicle, so it was great to be able to approach them quite close on foot. They say that eland numbers in Mana are increasing and I can easily believe it; they were quite common. I have just had some reports that, as I am now writing and the dry season comes to its peak, you have the impression that they might be as abundant as impala! Quite a treat.

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If you take the road that leads to the Chikwenya concession and Sapi Safari Area, both bordering Mana Pools to the east, at a certain point you will find a largish (dry) river serviced by a rather unsteady wooden bridge. That river is the Chiruwe, and once you have crossed it, you have entered Nyamatusi, the “wilderness area” (I would call it “even more wilderness area”) of Mana Pools National Park, accessible by special permit.

I was very keen to visit the area (which is normally only accessed by canoeing safaris), since I was curious to see if the terrain was more similar to Chikwenya (where I had been a couple of times in the 1990s). So, on our penultimate morning we went to Nyamatusi (quite a longish drive from our camp). The vegetation was thicker and the tree canopy closer than the other parts of the Park we had been exploring so far. Game was not plentiful: a few elephants, a few dagga botys, some impala, a couple of bushbuck.

After we had penetrated into Nyamatusi for about 10 or 15 kilometers, Craig said: “This the closest the road comes to the river. Let’s stop here and go for a walk”. We had just jumped off the car when we heard a distant growling. Walking silently but expeditiously towards the source of the noise we reached a small wooded ridge, barely a few hundred meters from the car. In the plain in front of the ridge a pride of 14 lions (four big adult females and ten youngsters of various ages) was feeding on a freshly killed buffalo.

When the lions noticed our presence, they backed off from their feast, just to lay down in the shade a few meters from the buffalo. Then, hunger had the best of the cubs, and, slowly but surely, one after the other came back to their meal. At that point, the females were sufficiently relaxed to join the youngsters, and it was like we were not there. It has to be mentioned that hunger had also the best of us and, since the car was only a ten minutes walk away, tea, coffe and biscuits were generously brought in, so that we could have our own personal feast while watching the lions eating until they could take no more. When we left, almost a couple of hours later, the lions simply casted a passing glance on us.

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Mana Pools is well renowned for its wild dogs, which probably are unparalleled in Africa right now. There are three large packs (Vundu, Long Pool and Nyamatusi) roaming the floodplains, another pack – I have recently learned - moving beyween some inland pans and the river, and the Chitake Pack living around Chitake Springs. There might be some more vagrant dogs coming from the Escarpment or Chewore.

I could thus be forgiven if I had thought that dogs were a given and easy to see. For three consecutive mornings we went in the western part of the Park, between Ndungu and the Ruckomechi river, walking in the area were the Vundu Pack had historically denned in the previous three seasons. I think we visited all the old den sites. We were walking amidst very pretty (but in patches tsetse infested) cathedral mopane woodland, sometimes finding tacks, sometimes not even those.

Then, on our last morning, we were a few kilometers south of Mana Airstrip, and here you go: the entire Vundu Pack lying on the road, some 30 kilometers from where they should have been! They were 18 adults and 3 pups. Originally the pups were 11, and the general consensus amongst guides was that the den must have been raided by hyenas before the pups were grown enough to leave it. Amazingly, I learned here on Safaritalk a couple of weeks ago, that the 8 missing pups have miracolously re-appeared. Wonders never cease.

This was the one sighting in our entire stay in Mana Pools (or, shall I say, in our entire trip) that we shared with other people. We had it all for ourselves for 20 minutes or so, then another vehicle cmae. After further 10 minutes, a second car joined the party. At that point, the wise dogs must have thought that “three is a crowd” and after a few minutes they were disappearing in the jesse bush.

I have been told that lately (for the past two ot three weeks, so to speak) wild dog viewing has been unbelievable, with two packs (for a total of 43 dogs) both being seen on the floodplains on a daily basis.

Well, sometimes it is nice to work hard for your sightings....

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There is one of the iconic animals that historically roamed the Zambezi valley which is missing these days, and it is – obviously – the black rhino. It is even more sad, since black rhino were really thriving here. It is hard to think that, still in the mid 1980s, 3,000 black rhino wre estimated to live in Mana Pools and adjacent safari areas (in particular, Chewore). The few that survived the slaughter carried out by relentless poachers (Zambians are considered the main culprits by the Zimbabweans) were relocated elsewhere. We can just hope that one day we will see black rhino taking the reverse route and returning to their ancestral domains – but I am not very optimistic.

The one kind of disturbing thing I experienced during my stay at Mucheni was the noise and aestethic (and maybe not only aestethic) pollution coming from the Zambian side of the Zambezi. In Mana Pools all motorboats are forbidden – you can just canoe on the river - , whilst on the Zambian side there is an abysmal quantity of motorised traffick going back and forth. You do not see it, but if the wind is unfriendly you do hear it.

Also, lots of building are still going on in the Chiawa GMA (in front of Mana), in an area which is already seriously overdeveloped. One night we could hear from our camp the noise of a generator and also see blinding lights from the opposite site of the river, where they are building yet another massive lodge. Also Royal Airstrip (close to Lower Zambezi National Park) is ill conceived, since it has been built – unlike Mana Airstrip – right close to the river. Between air traffic, motorboats and generators those living on the Zambian side must be used to cacophony.

Even taking into account the occasional noises coming from the other side of the Zambezi, our camp at Mucheni was truly a slice of paradise, with such magnificent view – the mighty river, the blueish mountains, the abundant animals, the pristine floodplains – that I could have stayed there forever.

It was thus sad to leave. But also exiting to think that we wre heading to Chitake Springs, a place I had been longing to visit for quite a few years.





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