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Mana Magic 2.0. - A Return to the Best Place in the World


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After two great weeks in Zambia´s Kafue National Park (see report in progress here) @AndMic, our guide @Doug Macdonald and me moved on from Lusaka to Zimbabwe. We had five nights on the flood plains and two more at Kanga Camp to look forward to, and our anticipation was high indeed. Our 2015 trip had been our most exciting safari ever. Walking into close distance of animals like Elephants and Lions had really changed our perceptions of what a safari can be. But it was not only anticipation we felt, also concern. They say you cannot home again, and could a second trip really live up to what we had experienced two years ago? Or would we always compare and think, yes, very nice, but last time ...?




Well, come with us, and I let you be the judge of that. B)


We left Lusaka (which is actually closer to the park than Harare) late morning. The border post at Chirundu has a bit of a bad reputation but for us it was a pleasant enough experience. The room is climatized, all officers were friendly and professional (like everywhere in Zimbabwe so for for us), and the whole procedure didn´t last much longer than half an hour. Granted, we didn´t have to check through a car (of course Doug took care of that) but we were pleasantly surprised.


Zambia had already been very, very hot but nothing like here. As we approached the park the airstream from the car felt more like a hairdryer, and we knew we were in for some hot times in Mana Pools. The temperature was somewhere between 45° and 50 ° Celsius (as it would be in the coming days). It was actually a relief to drive up the mountain a bit to get our permits.




It was almost 15:00 when we finally entered the park, and still had the long gravel road ahead of us.




I wanted to use the facilites at the second gate, but quickly retreated when my planned entrance provoked a lot of shrieking and unfriendly hissing - a troop of baboons had made the toilet their home. And shockingly, they did not even adhere to the most basic rules in there - Lady, can´t you read?




We arrived at the Flood Plains at about 16:45 and were happy to leave the dusty bonedry hinterland behind us. Here in the vicinity of the mighty Zambezi life abunded, lots of Impalas, Baboons, Elephants everywhere. We did not take pictures since we would have plenty of opportunities for the regulars later but just had to stop for this majestic Kudu:








Doug took care of the paperworks at headquarters, while we were happy enough watching our favourites, the Carmines dashing across the sky. A staff member also pointed out a Hyena hiding in a distant bush to us. We moved on to get to camp, it had been a long day, we were hungry, sweaty and tired.




Still, we had to do a quick stop at Chisasiko, one of the "mana" permanent pools of the park. Surely some nice birds are there. But -  wait, what is that over there?




No, not you, grumpy old daggy boy, nicely decorated as you are by Egrets.






A big fine male Leopard was playing welcome present for us!




We were thrilled!




Leopard sightings are not exactly a Mana Pools staple, and this guy was even pretty relaxed.




Doug felt that the number of Baboons has been decreasing a bit (maybe because they are on the Dogs´ menu now) and speculated that might prompt the Spotted Cats to become a bit bolder.




Did not matter to us why, he was here, all ours (an unshared sighting) and we were grins all over!




Big Boy gave us a good ten minutes until he retreated.




We celebrated at the river banks. I had so looked forward to stand by the Zambezi again, I think it´s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Everything there is good and peaceful and as it should be. At least it felt that way. It dawned, and the sinking sun was becoming less and less visible through the strong haze. Well, we were overdue in camp anyway, and just took a last look at the Elephants congregating.




But never a quiet moment in Mana Pools. "Quick, quick, spill down your beers, Gentlemen, get in, get in, no time to lose!" Why the rush?




Yeah, Doug had spotted the Dogs, Mana´s main stars. We were thrilled again to see them! While pretty likely to find them in dry season (Doug says six out of eight visits) they are not a given, and last time we only found them at noon, doing the Lion thing - nothing. This time, even if the light was gone, they were active, probably on their way to hunt.




And they had their pups with them.




We could not watch them for long, they soon left the road, and it was already way too late to try to follow them, so we finally, finally proceeded to camp. They had actually already started to worry about us there, being so late, but we had no complaints - First 90 minutes of Flood Plains Excitement had not been half-bad. And we thought "Wow, cool, last time we did not even see a Leopard! And only saw the Dogs lying around."


Of course, it was a day to be celebrated with Gin Tonic(s). B)


Edited by michael-ibk
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I have been looking forward to you reports - but I didn't expect you to write two at once!

a great start - the leopard in the warm light with the emerald green plants is beautiful, and the dogs. Wow!

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ooh yay, been waiting for your reports too - and like @TonyQ didn't expect the fun of two at once! will have to go back and forth but I certainly don't mind! What a great beginning at Mana with the leopard AND the dogs - wow! But those temperatures you describe! It was around 40 when I was there and that was quite hot enough for me! Looking forward to more.

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50 degrees??? Is that even possible? :o   Well, I'm looking forward to this one too although its making me feel really guilty, you doing two at once and I haven't gotten my Zambia trip report started!

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Look forward to this report, Michael ........ Did you go to Chitake too?  Not sure it was your post on Facebook, or someone else's of cheetah seen there ........ Thanks for this report!


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Well, that was a HOT welcome and a sizzling welcome from leopard and dogs, no less! great beginnings spell greater moments ahead, surely? :P


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Really not sure I should be reading this, after our recent visit following the rains.?

Looking forward to another wonderful report from you.

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great start..look forward to this one from mana ! :-) 

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I always look forward to a Mana trip report.  A welcome party from a leopard and the dogs  -  can it get better??

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Thanks, @TonyQ, @SafariChick, @janzin, @madaboutcheetah, @Kitsafari, @Seniortraveller, @bushbaby and @Zim Girl!


No Hari, unfortunately we could not make it to Chitake this time. I forgot to include our dates for Mana btw, we were there Oct 17th - 24th.


@anocn4 Yes, it was really hot but of course those are the peaks of the day temperature, noon, early afternoon. You´re well advised to lie under a shady tree and do absolutely nothing then. It´s quite manageable during game drives, and walking was ok as well. For some nights it would cool down enough to sleep peacefully but I´ll admit some others were quite uncomfortable. We opened up the back flaps from the tents to get some relief. And our guide Doug had brought a battery-driven fan which was really good to have. I also had some of these dehydration satchets every day, drank a lot and it was fine.



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So, our first full day on the flood plains - what did we see?


Because of the heat we started very early and got on our way before 06:00. We had barely left camp when Doug saw some lion tracks on the road. He went out to investigate, walked a bit down the road, quickly came back to the car and laughed. "They´re right around the bend."


Indeed they were.








There were four females, and one of them was with extremely young cubs!




She was taking good care of them and kept them hidden deep inside a bush on a termite mount most of the time, but we could snatch a few good looks on them.






This position looked quite awkward but the little one seemed to really like it.




Soon they retreated even further inside the thickish and we decided to move on.

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A short while later we thought we had found an old friend - Boswell, the iconic handstanding tusker of Mana Pools. Of course we had to walk over to say Hello, just to be polite.




Doug soon realized this was not patient old Boswell. This guy here is called ASBO, an acronym for "Anti-Social-Behaviour-Ogre" (probably not Ogre I´ll admit, I forgot what the O stands for). As a matter of fact we were unable to find Boswell to find during our trip. It´s always a bit worrying when he´s not around because he likes to leave for the adjacent hunting areas from time to time and he would be of course the perfect trophy. But he´s fine we were told, others saw him during and after our stay. Back to ASBO:




He definitely wanted to check us out, but unlike Boswell he was not so relaxed and good-natured.




Doug resorted to his friendly Elephant-slang "Hello my Boy" chatting mode which somehow seemed to calm him down a bit - and it did also have a reassuring effect on AndMic and me. :)




Still, ASBO made it quite clear we should make way for him.




And came very close.




You really only appreciate just how big an Elephant is when you are on foot, feeling like a mouse looking up to a giant.




But he was simply interested in the juicy trees right above where we were standing.




An angle you only get in Mana Pools.




Not quite a handstander yet so he has to use other tricks. (Maybe that´s why he´s antisocial - he must feel inferior to the other big bulls who have mastered it. ;))




When the whole family joined in it was time for us to retreat. The youngster there was quite cheeky - he even climbed the tree, obviously wanting to impress us.

Edited by michael-ibk
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Great trip report @michael-ibk! Love to see dogs and leopard, but that picture from underneath an elephant: that's just breathtaking!


Mana Pools, it already was high on my list and I start to believe it's safari heaven :) Temperature is my only concern though, taking anti dehydration and a battery fan sounds like a smart thing to take with you.

How many hours did it take to drive from Lusaka to Mana? Never thought of it travelling through Lusaka, would make it a lot easier to go there as from Holland flights to Lusaka are less expensive and better planned.


Looking forward to more!

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Thanks, @LarsS! I´m not exactly sure since we spent some time in Lusaka (bank and other stuff), and even without that it takes quite a while to get through town from Pioneer. So we started around 08:30 at Pioneer, left the city at around 10:30 and reached Chirundu at about 12:45. I´d say we needed a bit less than an hour to get everything done there. Of course we did not have to bother with the car paperworks which apparently can be quite bothersome if you don´t know how to do it but obviously Doug has done that many times. We were at the park ticket office at 14:35, at the first gate to Mana Pools at 14:50, at the second gate (where the turnoff to Chitake is) at 15:30 and reached the Flood Plains about 16:30. All in all, it´s faster than going from Harare if everything is going fine at the border. It´s definitely shorter (213 km vs 344 km).

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We spent the rest of the morning walking. This is what makes Mana really special - I love this, walking between the ancient trees, being surrounded by animals and animals all over. Paradise. An extremely hazy paradise this time I admit - the oncoming rains and some burnings around the park did contribute to that.






One of the ubiquitous Tree Squirrels




Waterbucks were particularly numerous this season, they must have had a good year.




Impala, of course, are everywhere.




A Lilian´s Lovebird - I had forgotten how common they are (but not easy to get close to).






Red-Billed Quelea are always an entertaining spectacle with their huge flocks, and I had some fun trying to get pictures of them.






We spent some time by the banks of the Zambezi at a White-Fronted Bee-Eater colony but they were shy and remained high up in the trees while we were there so we soon retreated to let them go take care of their offspring again.




In the sizzling heat it would have been very tempting to go down the banks and stick your toes into the cooling water.




But some water ripples always tell why that would be an inredibly dumb thing to do - down there, we are  prey to them:




Doug always was careful about Elephants, and it always is exciting, but also a bit unnerving, when one of them emerges somewhere like he had never been around.




Obviously, this guy could care less about us.






These two will give me an ID headache for my Big Year thread - some of these WhydahWidowbird things which all look the same.




Back at the car we enjoyed a late (excellent) breakfast pack from camp, I still remember those cold Quiche Lorraine very fondly. :) It was time to get back to camp, it was getting really hot now. The little one here did not seem to mind:






Meve´s Starling - they are everywhere in Mana Pools.


Poor photos coming up but it was an interesting thing to watch. This Ayre´s Hawk-Eagle (a good tick for me, not a bird you see every day) was just minding his business sitting in a tree when a Wahlberg´s Eagle decided out of all the three trillion branches in Mana Pools he needed to have just that one and attacked:










The lions were still around where we had seen them this morning. They looked hungry and quite interested in a herd of Buffaloes not too far away so we waited to see what would happen. At one point we even asked camp if it would be possible to have lunch brought out to us (sure, no problem) but when they all became flat cats again we reconsidered (the heat might have had something to do with that) and got back from our first drive/walk at around 12:30.

Edited by michael-ibk
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In the afternoon we wanted to check what the lions were up to but they had left their spot near the road! What to do now? Track them of course. I remembered how absurd I found that proposition two years ago when we did it for the very first time. After all, which sensible person would voluntarily run off into the bush and try to get close to Big Bad Teethy Cats on foot? But now, of course we just shrugged in a "Yeah, let´s do it" way and were Matrix-like cool about it.


Big fat lie of course. I´m a pretty chicken guy, and I will never be "cool" while walking. Looking for Lions is pure excitement. Never knowing where they are, seeing moments of that Val Kilmer movie in your fantasy, always alert, always looking around - it´s so so different from being in the safety of a car, and - to me - much more satisfying.


We soon found the two brothers.




When some Elephants walked by closely we were wondering if they would notice them, and also did worry a bit for the Ele youngster but they never realized the Lions were there, and the Boys were far too lazy to do anything.






We moved on to a little ridge. There were several water puddles below, and Doug hoped the Lions would come to drink later, maybe even bring the cubs with them.




But first it was the Elephant´s turn, and they had a lot of fun in the mud.















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It took them a while but finally the Lions did come out - without the cubs, though, and only one of the ladies actually chose the waterhole close to us.








The two brothers soon followed, all in all they were seven.






They spread out and obviously were hungry. We saw two (failed) hunting attempts by one of the females and then a lot of Zebras, Impala and Waterbuck running. Surely they would make prey tonight. But it was getting dark - and high time for us to get back to the car. The mother with her cubs was waiting there, her cubs in the very same bush where she had been this morning.




Tomorrow - an absolutely Cat-free day (which actually can be a good thing).

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We saw the four females after the rains, but sadly no sign of the cubs while we were there. There were suckle marks on one of the females, but unsure how quickly these would disappear if the cubs had died.

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Oh my I hope not. What was Doug's take on this? 

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Not sure if he was 100% convinced the cubs had died, but we did check the area they had previously been. No sign of them at all.

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Lovely photos - especially the elephants in the mud. It must be very relaxing in that heat.

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Thoroughly enjoying both your entertaining narrative and photo's @michael-ibk - particularly impressed (and envious!) of your leopard sighting at Chisambiko.


As for the cubs, I hope for the best for them.  We felt this was a very fluid pride and saw various groupings throughout our week, including the females on their own (drinking at Mucheni 4 late one afternoon - exactly where your mud-bathing ele pictures were taken if I'm not mistaken) whilst the cubs were in the care of the two males a good 2km away, so fingers crossed, they are still OK and you were just unlucky @Seniortraveller 

Edited by Whyone?
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@michael-ibk @Seniortraveller @Whyone? I whatsapped Doug in mid  Nov and he was sat watching the lionesses and 4 cubs so hopefully all is well with them still. Your report is wonderful and making me feel guilty that I haven't yet started my report. I am aiming for the Christmas break but will in the meantime savour this one. 

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@michael-ibk Enjoying the report and excellent photos. ASBO stands for Anti Social Behaviour Order - a legal order prohibiting unwanted or disruptive behaviour - not sure how easy it would be to serve on an elephant though :D

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