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Zimbabwe - Mana Pools

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Posted by  kipper Monday, 14 January 2008 15:16

Zimbabwe - Mana Pools



October 2007

Part 3
Mana Pools


After an uneventful flight from Kariba our little plane was met at the airstrip & we were soon heading for Vundu Tented Camp on the Zambezi shore, Benson, forever vigil, soon had us in the company of a Nyala & calf. This shy antelope soon disappeared into the bush.

We were met at the camp with cold drinks & a refreshing towel. The two guests already at the camp would ship out the following morning leaving us as the only occupants. We were shown the facilities by Fiona & instructed on the use of the whistle in the tent. See “Something big & Unpleasant” under “Jokes Related to Africa”.

Vundu camp is nestled in a grove of trees on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. The five double walk-in tents have en-suite facilities, flush toilets and traditional bucket showers. The dining room is on a patch of sand under the spreading branches of a tamarind tree, just a few feet away from the river.
Yet again the food & hospitality was fantastic, we wanted for nothing.

On our evening game drive we met our first Eland of the trip & as with Eland everywhere they soon set off at a trot away from us. We have never ever been able to take a good photograph of Eland the largest of the African antelopes but one of the shyest! They always set off at a steady trot with dewlaps swinging long before we get close!

Again our first drive in a new area was for Benson to read spore & discuss the areas news with whoever we met! The main reason for visiting Mana Pools was to see & photograph Painted Dog (African Hunting Dogs) we encountered a young Leopard as we returned to camp.

Over the Bushdrums we learned that a known den of a pack with five pups had been raided by Hyena & the new den site of the dogs was unknown. Over the next couple of days we set out by vehicle & on foot to find them & to see how many pups had survived the attack!

Benson had, unbeknown to us, spotted fresh activity at Aardvark holes as we had come into land & we set out on foot to take a look.
He found plenty of dog spore but a day or so old, they had been checking out the area & holes, with some minor excavations, for a new den site. But, alas, we found no dogs.

The day before we arrived there had been heavy rain, which had dispersed the animals away from the river for food now that the water holes would be full but the promised rains had not yet arrived & they were soon returning to the river area for water. We did notice that the dry sand over the three days took on a green hue as grasses sprouted due to the shower of rain!
There was plenty of bird life to console us for our lack of hunting dog.

We also encountered the most laid back bull elephant ever! He had found a fallen tree & the pleasure he was getting just chewing on sticks was evident from his expression. If this had been the sixties I bet he would have had flowers in his hair & used words like "Yea Man! Cool!" & "Just chill out man!" A hippie Elle!

In our quest for the dogs baboon alarm calls were heard, nothing spotted through the bino’s so we set out on foot to investigate…..Oooops!....Nearly walked into lions laying in a gully about 20 meters in front of us, taking refuge behind a termite mound they totally ignored us.
This was our last day.

During the afternoon siesta, I watched Benson & Rick, camp manager, fishing for Zambezi tiger fish. The national sport of Zimbabwe!
Kath had found a book with a picture of wild dogs, we photographed it & showing them the screen on the camera we nearly convinced them that hunting dog had been at the camp while they were fishing!

The staff had brought the tea & muffins to the fire area for our tea before setting out for our last game drive, I was sat waiting for Benson & Kath when there was a commotion behind me, a large bull elephant had crept up behind me & shook his head to indicate his displeasure of me being there. Slowly I retreated to allow him right of way.
Who was I to argue?
Rick by now had joined me as the bull stepped into the clearing, we thought we had said goodbye to the muffins but no he stood for a while then walked past the chairs down to the river bank stopping to feed on the trees before disappearing into the bush.
He disturbed not a single item as he deftly negotiated the chairs in his passing!

Tomorrow we would fly out to Vic Falls, Johannesburg & home. Yet again hunting dogs had eluded us.
That night in camp it was discussed “Game drive out in the hope of finding them or one last quick try?” We decided that at first light we would have a quick last try in a different area but we would have to be back in camp early to ship out to the air strip.

Dawn was just a light on the horizon as we left camp, heading north out of the protected area. Upon reaching the hunting conservancy we turned back.
Oh well! Next trip!

A herd of Impala was spotted running in the distance, we stopped, eyes straining, binoculars scanning!
Then a growl or a rustle in the dry scrub!
They were there!
Hunting Dog with a kill!
The light was still poor & the carcass was soon stripped of flesh, the dogs spooked on the arrival of a lone hyena but were soon back feasting until, with bloated bellies, as one, they left the scene at a fast trot! The speed at which they covered the ground was amazing. We followed but lost them a few times in the bush until finally we left them as they returned to their new den somewhere ahead of them & we for a hurried breakfast back at camp before our trip out.
Alas there were now only three pups we assume two had been taken in the hyena attack on the old den.

On our return to camp I had my earliest celebratory beer of the trip at 0645 in the morning, a habit I had acquired from South Africa. Celebrate a good sighting with a beer! At any time of day!

After a two hour flight we sadly bade our farewells to Benson at Victoria Falls airport, a couple of hours wait at Johannesburg airport then home to the UK.
Unfortunately we discovered our luggage had been tampered with & equipment stolen! A week or so later we learnt that arrests had been made for baggage thefts at Jo’burg airport.

Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic refused our claim, “Not their responsibility! Read the small print!”
Two camcorders were stolen, one was old & faulty, the other new, they were in a special carrier disguised in a padlocked rucksack, we can only assume the cams were spotted & selected as they were X-rayed. Our insurance did not reimburse us the full amount even though we only claimed for the good camcorder.

Except for the theft, an excellent trip arranged by Ngoko Safaris. Our thanks to Fiona for her organization & to Benson for his skills & friendship.

All photo’s were taken by "Bridge cameras" that cost less than £300, some editing with Video Studio or Elements 5. The Hunting Dog photographs at the kill have been enhanced because of the poor early morning light.

For further photos and full size images, please visit the photo gallery.

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