It’s Monday 28th May 2018 and a fantastic trip to John’s Camp!

I do hope that you are well, sitting comfortably and have had a fabulous weekend. Well, the news in brief from the Valley is that Tena Tena and Nsefu are open, the camps are looking fab and the teams are in great spirits. However I am not here to talk about that, this week Ed Selfe who usually is found snapping away with his camera here in the Luangwa actually led a safari down at John’s Camp and they had a wonderful time, so for this week — Ed over to you:

“I first knew about Mana Pools in 2004 when friends told me about a stunning, mature forest on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Even then, before it had enjoyed the fame that it is enjoying these days, it was revered as a wild and authentic safari area.

Even now, it is an inaccessible area; a challenge to visit, but protected by its remoteness from the high visitor numbers that other National Parks now experience. We arrived by boat, after a comfortable and scenic 2 hour transfer. We were booked in at John’s Camp, an authentic bush camp at the Eastern end of the park, named after the renowned Zimbabwean guide John Stevens. The camp is run by John’s daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Milo, and has recently joined the collection of exclusive Robin Pope Safaris’ camps.

There is nothing commercial about Mana Pools, but John’s Camp perhaps takes this one step further. They are the only camp on the Eastern side of the park’s HQ at Nyamepi, which gives them a wonderful private area of operation. They have taken the idea of a real bush camp and refined it with touches of comfort, class and elegance that make the camp experience all the more remarkable in their remote location.

The park is made up of the relatively narrow Zambezi floodplain and, inland from that, the thick perennial bush that lies above the flood-line of the Zambezi River. As the season develops, more and more of the game emerges from the thickets and resides on the floodplain with its rich feeding grounds and access to the river.

Of course, the scenery is outstanding. Along the river, there are broad grasslands running down to the water’s edge where elephants feed in the reed-beds and dip long trunks into the enormous river. A few steps back from the water, the habitat changes and quickly becomes the ancient forest that has captured the imaginations of so many aspiring to visit Mana Pools. Leadwood, winterthorn and African ebony trees stretch away into the distance with sparse vegetation between their trunks that diminishes daily as the dry season rolls on.

Among these large trunks, impala browse the sickle-pod bushes and elephants lift extendable trunks to the fresh leaves of the winterthorn trees. When we visited, the impalas were in the peak of their rut, so our safari was punctuated by snorts and roars that seem so unlikely to come from Africa’s most elegant antelope.

We left camp on our first afternoon in Mana Pools to go in search of a mating couple of lions which we’d seen on our way in from the boat transfer to the National Park. Predictably, they were asleep under a bush, though the female was clearly hungry as she locked her eyes on to a pair of sparring impalas nearby, and even began to stalk them. But she lost interest, so we decided to move off and return when the temperature had dropped.

We headed to the majestic forests just inland from the riverine strip, hoping to find some elephant feeding from the large winterthorns. In this area, family herds accompany the large bulls, knowing that the bulls will reach for high branches and drag them down, possibly allowing some spoils for the rest of them! Before we had travelled far, I caught sight of something in the leaf-litter near the road as we passed. I asked our Guide, David, to stop. I said “Um, please go back, I think I’ve just seen a pangolin!”. Keeping in mind that this was 5pm and still daylight, there was some disbelief from others around me!

But there is was! Hiding behind a tree, with its long tail still visible, was my first ever pangolin! For a while, I forgot about elephants, forests, large rivers and decided that even if we saw nothing else, my trip to Mana Pools would have been worthwhile! With David as a qualified walking guide in Zimbabwe, we were able to get out of the vehicle and approach this terribly shy and normally nocturnal creature. Pangolins are mammals, birthing live young and feeding them on milk, but appear reptilian with their covering of large scales. They feed on ants, using a long tongue to extract them from holes. Despite their protective scales, they are slow-moving and vulnerable to predation so therefore tend to be active at night. When disturbed, they roll into a ball and not even the strength of hungry lions can get inside.

We took some great photos of the pangolin as it foraged in the leaf-litter, occasionally lifting its head to look around and fix us with a beady eye. What encourages a pangolin to leave its burrow early in the afternoon and forage, rather than waiting until the cover of nightfall, we’ll never know! We left it to feed, hoping that we hadn’t traumatised it too much, and set out towards camp. Safaris in Mana Pools end at 6pm so we arrived in camp at last light, in time to sit at the fire with a beer before supper.

We chose to spend the morning exploring the stunning forest areas in the hope of finding wonderful light and interesting subjects. The ability to walk through the landscape at any time enabled us to get out of the vehicle and approach elephants and in a way that is harder in a vehicle. It’s thrilling to walk among these large animals and, of course, the angle that you enjoy when photographing an elephant on foot is also very pleasing.

We stayed out late in the morning, way beyond when the light was useful for photography, exploring new areas and noting game movements. We saw lots of large birds of prey, small pockets of eland, a couple of little clusters of buffalo and zebra, and plenty of hippos along the river. All these factors point to a healthy and thriving ecosystem. We heard the lions in the night, and they sounded close! We left early in the morning and almost immediately found a large male on the road. He appeared to be alone, but we soon heard the sound of others nearby, and he pricked up his ears. We walked in to where we’d heard the lions that we couldn’t see, and found the other male with at least 2 females hidden in the long grass. It appears that the male we saw on the road is attempting to form a coalition with the male who had been mating the previous few days. In the early part of the season, when there have been many months of unobserved lion activity, it is often hard to know exactly how the pride structure will settle during the season.

Mana Pools is a unique and beautiful park that offers visitors the chance to walk in prime safari areas that would often be “vehicle-only” areas in other National Parks. It is also a small park, with a very restricted zone of activity, forcing incredible concentrations of game and predators together for a few months in the dry season. I will certainly return for the wildlife opportunities on offer and the quiet, scenic and superbly efficient surroundings of John’s Camp.”

Wow thanks so much Ed what an incredible trip and thank you so very much for sharing it with us. To be honest with you there is very little that I am able to follow on with from that so shall graciously bow out and leave you all to the rest of the week and hope that you have a fab time with plenty of smiles and laughter and don’t forget to look after each other.



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