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wilddog

Mana Pools revisited - October 2011

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wilddog

At the beginning of October I was fortunate enough to be in a position to return to Mana Pools for 4 nights. As I was heading in from Lusaka where I wsa met at the Chirundu border post by my guide, Doug ,and we then drove down into Mana Pools to Vundu Camp where I was to stay for the next 4 nights.

 

This camp is towards the Rukomechi River and distant from Mucheni 4 were I spent 3 days in July. It proved to be an excellent launch point for the next few days.

 

The main boma had a large open area on the first floor which included the bar, lounge and dining area, allowing a pleasant through breeze in the hot afternoons. There is a braii area to one side of the boma with comfortable armchairs around the fire and breakfast is normally taken here. The accommodation is in large cabins nestling amongst the trees close to the river bank. The attached bathroom is large and open. Warm water is delivered every morning for washing before the first drive and hot showers are available as required.

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As the dry season has progressed it is noticeable that some of the pans are now without water and this means that all the animals come to the river. The concentration of wildlife is high and we came across most of the usual suspects in the area including the herds of eland which Paulo mentioned in his visit in August but which were not so evident in July.

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In addition we found this Kudu who seemed to have taken up cigar smoking.............................

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Why would he be chewing the sausage tree fruit? any ideas? vitamins?

 

This section is a bit short but I am experiencing a few technical problems so.............Yet to come elephants, lions and wilddogs.

Edited by wilddog

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Alex The Lion

Great start and pics.I hope to see some Canoeing action too :)

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wilddog

Not this time Russell.. Did 6 days canoeing down the Zambezi a few years ago. This was very much a walking safari. Glad you like it so far.

Edited by wilddog

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Shreyas

Have always been keen to know more about the Vundu area, so am glad for your report. I believe this area is pretty rich in Wild Dogs, hope you had your share of the sightings, wilddog ;)

Great pics...look forward to more!

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wilddog

Numbers of eland greatly increased towards the shoreline since my last visit. Easy to find and in large groups. Previously I just saw one or two. No Nyala - but we remained cl;ose the shorline for all out drives walks. I understand they are not commonly seen in this area even at this time of year, but am no expert.

 

@Shreyas - yes dogs everyday. more info to follow in subsequent sections of report which are currently being prepared.

Edited by wilddog

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Sangeeta

Cigar-chewing kudu?? Honestly, with all the amazing pics that are posted here, we don't need to go anywhere else for our laughs :D

 

"Laugh of the Day" contest is a tie today between cigar-chewing kudu and pault's sceptical hyena pup! :P

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twaffle

Great start. You have to wonder what these animals eat sometimes, when you see such dry conditions.

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wilddog

Elephants

 

The concentration of elephants was very high, with numerous large bulls and small cow herds all trying to find sufficient food to survive until the rains and of course to get regular drinking water. As the afternoon wore on the numbers of elephants increased and sometimes we could see 4 or 5 bulls all fairly close to us, making their way to the river.

 

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There constant presence around every corner meant we had to take great care whilst walking,

 

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One small elephant had kindly carried his mother's snack of water hyacinth on his back as he had left the pool and she had no hesitation in helping herself.

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When in the vehicle we had many close, but tranquil encounters with the bulls as they stretched up to reach an acacia pod high in the trees

 

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or passed us by slowly, casting one eye in our direction and with a toss of the head to show us who was boss.

 

Times are tough and one morning when a calf tried to approach a bull elephant that had pulled some high branches down. The bull trumpeted and turned in the calf, who beat a hasty retreat. I am pleased to say that the calf did manage to sneak behind the bull and found an acacia pod the bull had missed.

 

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Edited by wilddog

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Sangeeta

Wilddog, are you really lying down on the hood of the vehicle as the elephant passes by in that video??! Or did I totally imagine that?

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wilddog

Not my legs, Sangeeta, but a friend traveling in the front seat propped her feet up on the dash board, the elephant was not bothered. We kept still and quiet as he walked past up so we did spook him; a lovely moment.

 

By the way the lion and wilddog sections are nearly ready but I am away in Egypt at the moment so you can expect these to be uploaded in about 10 days. I hope you will think they are worth the wait!

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wilddog

The main focus of the four days was to find, and spend time, with and the lions and wild dog. We spent each day looking for both species and were successful each time. Once located, we got down from the game vehicle and carried on foot. The main risk during this walks was bumping in to elephants that were around every corner.

The Lions

  • A pride of 11 lions, which I had seen earlier this year comprising 2 males one darker than the other.
  • A mother and daughter group who lived apart form the others but were currently being visited by the darker maned lion from the main pride.

We found the mother and daughter group at dusk early in one evening guarding a recently killed buffalo. We are able to get quite close remaining at the rear of a tree and sitting on some fallen branches. The younger lioness was by the carcass, the mother I later discovered, when I went down the bank to take a sunset shot, was down the bank away from the carcass. You can just see her resting, to the right of the sunset image.

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We saw mum and daughter together at the carcass again the following morning.

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After this second visit we walked back to the car and found the tracks of 2 very large crocodiles and evidence of an earlier kill, probably a wilddog kill, although it was under a tree so could also have been a leopard kill. The carcass had been removed by the crocodiles to enjoy their ill gotten gains in a safer place

 

The first morning that we found the main pride, minus the dark maned male, walking through the bush.

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Briefly the male rested under a tree but then the rest of the pride walked past so we got down from the vehicle and followed them on foot, crouching as we progressed and squatting down behind convenient trees, bushes or termite mounds when we stopped. Although we were noticed, in particular by one female, they carried on about their business, seemingly wanting to hunt.

A little later they all stopped and rested under a tree, presumably giving up in their hunt and resting for the day. A little later a small cow herd came towards them at which point all the youngsters beat a hasty retreat leaving the male and two females to face the elephants it is not often I have seen lions looking sheepish, but they certainly did.

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Another morning we found the pride, with the lighter maned lion, resting up on one bank of a dry river bed.

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As we moved forward we spotted the second dark maned male walking on the other side of the river bank, heading towards the main pride presumably a free meal with his lady friends.

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We walked slowly down the river bed, being watched with some interest. As we got nearer we took to the ground and slowly shuffled along on our behinds, edging ever closer. Once we felt we were close enough, we just sat in the river bed enjoying the experience, with the lone male on our right and the main pride on our left.

 

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Edited by wilddog

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Atravelynn

Exciting times in Mana Pools! You were outnumbered on the walk with lions. The lions seem aware of you, but not too interested--typical cat behavior. I'm glad the baby ele came out of the altercation ok. I saw impala eating the fallen sausages so I am guessing there are nutrients. Certainly a lot of fiber.

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Atravelynn

I also wanted to mention that normally I don't like to watch somebody eat with their mouth open. Your ele eating leaves shot is an exception. Great work.

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wilddog

I also wanted to mention that normally I don't like to watch somebody eat with their mouth open. Your ele eating leaves shot is an exception. Great work.

 

Thanks Lynn. It does give a slightly different view!

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wildernessman

It appears you were able to spend quite some time at close quarters , the lions seem to have become accustomed to humans , more so than i have thus far experienced ?

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wilddog

It appears you were able to spend quite some time at close quarters , the lions seem to have become accustomed to humans , more so than i have thus far experienced ?

 

Mana Pools is well known as a walking destination so perhaps there may be some element of lions having seen people on foot before but my guess is this is only a small part of it. I do not believe that the lions there are any less dangerous than in other safari areas.

 

Key points for me are:-

 

1. I was accompanied by a professional guide, Doug Macdonald, who has been working in Mana for many years and who knows the area well and has great experience of being close to animals on foot.

 

2. Mana is a relatively quiet area in terms of numbers of people around.

a. On one occasion with the 2 females there were 2 other people there who also had a professional guide. The rest of the time we were alone

b. When with the pride there was no one else there, either when we walked with the lions or when we were in the river bed.

 

3. We were only a small group, myself, my guide and one other so we were not perceived as intimidating or threatening.

 

a. In the video we were walking parallel to them; not walking towards them or following them.

b. In the later situation in the river bed the main pride was already settled for the day with the exception of dark maned male whom we allowed to settle before we made our final move forward, scudding forward in a seated position. When the photo was taken my guide was watching both groups of lions very carefully. This was the closest we got. We then retreated and left them in peace.

 

 

4. My guide carries a firearm but I never felt that I was put in a dangerous position. More importantly I understand he has never had to use it to defuse a situation.

 

5. Some visitors walk without a guide but I only saw this near wilddog packs. I have to say the benefits of having a professional guide with you in Mana are enormous and will ensure a great experience.

Edited by wilddog

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wildernessman

My reasons for enquiring are that from my experience in South Africas Kruger National Park , lions tend to disappear very rapidly on seeing humans approaching .

Contrary to this were the lion prides in areas of KNP that traversed regularly by Mozambiquean refugees . Many human skulls & posessions were discovered , I personally saw a few while participating in wilderness trails there . When the Mozambique civil war was in full swing in the mid 80's era , refugees regularly fell prey to lions , as the best time to traverse the KNP was at night - in order to avoid detection as well as to navigate by stars and the lights of South African towns on the perimeter of the KNP .

 

It seems that an experienced guide is essential as those Mana lions are well habituated .

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yeahyeah

Thanks for the report wilddog. Looks like you had a great time!

 

My reasons for enquiring are that from my experience in South Africas Kruger National Park , lions tend to disappear very rapidly on seeing humans approaching .

Contrary to this were the lion prides in areas of KNP that traversed regularly by Mozambiquean refugees . Many human skulls & posessions were discovered , I personally saw a few while participating in wilderness trails there . When the Mozambique civil war was in full swing in the mid 80's era , refugees regularly fell prey to lions , as the best time to traverse the KNP was at night - in order to avoid detection as well as to navigate by stars and the lights of South African towns on the perimeter of the KNP .

 

It seems that an experienced guide is essential as those Mana lions are well habituated .

 

In September I went to Mana Pools. During our first encounter with lions on foot we gradually moved closer and closer. We never walked directly at them, we actually kinda walked around them. We first sat down maybe 80-100 meters away. We then walked a little closer (again we did not walk at them, and also paid attention to the wind) and sat on a termite mound 50-60 meters away. We then walked into the dry river bed (lions were sitting on the edge of an escarpment just like in wilddog's pics). The lions were maybe 30-40 meters away at this point. Gradually, one by one, they moved down the riverbank towards us and layed down 20 meters in front of us. The guide mentioned that a week or two earlier you couldn't get within 200 yards of this pride so perhaps they had gotten more used to humans? Maybe they were just in a good mood that day? Also working on our side was that there were only 2 of us.

 

Are the animals more habituated to people in Mana? A lot of people seem to think so (not to say that they're not still wild and dangerous). That certainly seems to be the case with the elephants. What I gathered from the guide and a few other seasoned safari goers is that the elephant in some other countries are much more skittish than at Mana (this was my first safari). You can certainly find incredible pictures of people REALLY close to elephants. Maybe it's just the large concentration of all animals at Mana in the dry season that a lot of animals sort of get used to it?

 

At Victoria Falls the baboons and wart hogs are VERY habituated to people. Not true with the baboons and wart hogs at Mana. I thought the wart hogs were one of the most skittish species while I was there. Hmm... I don't know... maybe there is more at play here? Maybe because of the high concentration of game in the dry season, the animals higher up on the food chain get more tolerable while the ones lower down keep their guard up since there's plenty of things that wouldn't mind making a meal out of them? Maybe the animals have become more habituated to large game in general, not specifically humans.(how many people have even been visiting Mana in recent years anyway?).

 

I'd definitely agree that a guide is huge plus at Mana. I never would have experienced half of what I did if we hadn't gotten out of the vehicle and walked, and I wouldn't have just gone walking around there on my own. At the same time though, Mana is the kind of place where you don't even have to leave camp. Self-drive or guided, great place to be.

 

I've got to learn to be more concise...

Edited by yeahyeah

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Sangeeta

Wilddog, where are you??

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Atravelynn

Walking in Mana Pools without a guide is risky I would think. I realize local people walk all over with no guide, but that is usually on well traveled roads or paths. Poking around in the bush is a different story.

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wilddog

Wilddog, where are you??

 

 

Hi Sangeeta I am around in UK (at the moment) but simply have not finished last section of report ( on the wilddogs) as have been so busy. Really hope to get it posted soon, apologies for delay. But I hope you will find it worth waiting for.

Edited by wilddog

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Sangeeta

Didn't mean to nag :)

 

Take your time. We'll enjoy the remainder whenever it comes!

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Atravelynn

We'll be here when you are ready.

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wilddog

The Dogs

 

I am a particular fan of wild dogs, hence the avatar and this trip 4 day trip was to be a wilddog extravaganza.

 

We found the Vundu Pack (28 strong, 17 adults and 11 pups) on the first morning and every day thereafter. This pack has a GPS collared female and is a research pack for the Painted Dog Conservation team. Vundu camp is working with PDC to support their research in Mana Pools and the camp has all the details of the individual members of the pack. At the time of my visit they were trying to find suitable names for the 11 pups, each of which would reflect a particular characteristic of their coat patterns. Although the female is collared telemetry is not used, so we looked for them in the traditional way.

 

The pack were settling down for the day but the pups were still full of energy and playing tug of war with the remains of an earlier kill. We sat and watched the pack for some time enjoying the antics of the pups.

 

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Later that day we returned to their resting spot and watched while the adults gradually awoke, with some reluctance and were able to watching their post rest greeting/rebonding session.

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Watching the pups was very entraining, particularly when they decided to chase all the hooded vultures that were waiting around the pack to get free meal as soon as these were dropped.

There were 3 adult dogs within this pack with floppy ears. I understood that this was probably due to ear mite infestationin the den as they were all from the same litter. If anyone knows any more about this or has an alternative explanation I would be interested in comments.

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On the second morning we again found them resting in a different spot. The adults were sitting on the top of a dry river bank while the pups were playing in the last remaining puddles in the river bed or chasing hooded vultures again.

 

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On the third morning we found the pack on the move. We watched and followed them for a while and then saw them them chase an impala, who fled across from the trees, down the river bank and into the river. We did not remain long so the outcome for the impala is unknown; the river has plenty of hungry crocodiles waiting for a chance meal.

Although this hunt was unsuccessful, we frequently found remnants of successful impala kills, and, given the number of dogs in the area, this was unsurprising. However, we estimated that this pack probably had to kill about 4 impala each day in order to thrive which is a considerable number and as there are another 3 packs in Mana the thriving population of impala must inevitably be affected.

 

In the afternoon we found a pack of 10 adults with no pups. It was suggested that this was a breakaway group from another large pack (of 17 adults and 10 pups from the Kanga area. It was certainly not the pack of 9 with 3 pups (Long Pool pack) that I saw in July.

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The final morning we again found the Vundu pack settling down for the day near one of the remaining water filled pools.

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We had hoped to find the dogs again in the early afternoon but my flight out of Mana was brought forward to lunch time.

 

This was a very action packed four day trip. Sightings were superb of all species but in terms of predators, October is a particularly satisfying time to come. As the game is all focussed at the riverside, the predators are all there too.

 

A great Trip

 

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Edited by wilddog

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Atravelynn

The reflection in the water is a wonderful shot.

 

I'd be interested in speculation on the floppy ears and earmite theory too.

 

Good to know there are another 3 thriving packs and that you saw a splinter pack of 10 adults. Ten is enough to raise pups when they arrive. Was there any mention of how many packs or dogs is sustainable in the area? How about indications that the lion population is on the decline there, which is usually when wild dogs do better?

 

You were one with the pack! Just amazing.

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