As a South African we think we know the bush so which South African needs travel protection when travelling to Mana Pools? However, when I first went to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, I was unprepared for the sheer abundance of wildlife and the close encounters with wild animals. I for one was glad I had some travel protection for my visit and we were taken around by a Zimbabwean, Dave, who loves to spend time there. Here are some of the camp site stories that Dave relates.
Mana Pools in the north of Zimbabwe is one of my favorite places. You are allowed to walk here because the bush is so open in the dry months of the year. The wild life is prolific, unequaled really and walking among them one gets a sense of the birds and the smells and the air whilst easily able to see any dangerous animals. This is not a place for luxury, its a place for someone who wants to see the bush in its raw form, untouched, up close, exposed. Ok, so we stayed in main camp. For the novice, this may be a good idea because its a camp with running water, showers with hot water and set fire places. You are also surrounded by people (some of them annoying) so you dumb down on the wilderness experience but safety in numbers right? Bottom line is its like a campsite in wilderness without fences and without electricity. However, if you are a self-contained camper with fridges, showers and all the other necessities (note you can get away with a bucket for a bucket bath behind your tent, a large block of ice that you don’t break up in your cooler box and keep meat and veges in separate cooler boxes), then you can book an exclusive camp site with a long drop – that’s it. You can get drinking water from main camp at the reception or the Nyamepi camp site unless you are one of those bush die hard’s with purifying tablets.
You are never short of adventure in Mana and in a series of articles, Dave writes about a few of them. On the subject of campsites, Dave has the following to say: “At night there is no shortage of hyenas that come and raid sites. They are generally cowardly but you would not want to take a chance with small kids as they are great opportunists. Everything that has been tainted with food should be packed away. This included braai grids and potjie pot lids that seem indestructible but they are still carted away by the muscle-jawed, shoulder-sloping, witch-riding cretins (some of the local Shona believe the chief transport of witches are hyenas not flying brooms. I have to concur its far more realistic ….and exciting). However, the biggest thief of the campsite are the vervet monkeys and baboons. They have learned to open zips on tents so you have to tie your tents closed when you leave. When you make food, if there are any vervets in sight they will take food from you when your back is turned no matter how close you are to the stolen items.
Elephants wander through the campsite as do buffalo. They are however, very polite and do not behave aggressively. You don’t want to tempt them though and we always kept our distance and laughed at other campers playing round and round the tent/car with elephants. When the animals don’t mind about keeping their distance, then apart from vervets, its not easy for them to sneak up on you, right? Wrong! Natalie and I were sitting on the chairs by the fire sipping wine and chatting watching the river, stars and fire in no particular order when Natalie suddenly exclaimed, “Oh my God there’s an elephant”. And so it was, I turned on my head torch and a female had moved silently to our left to the waters edge and was kneeling down at the edge of the bank to pluck grass from the water’s edge below. Nervously, Natalie asked me, “Should we run for the vehicle?” The cow was within 15m of us and was calm and grazing and we were talking so I knew she knew we were there. “Just keep talking, she knows we are here. If we move now or show stress she may do the same and close the distance to us very quickly,” I replied. So we sat in awe watching her grazing and moving ever closer between our chairs and the water’s edge. She drew parallel with us now directly in front and looked at us, fully aware of our presence.
We continued talking softly the way we had been and she move past within 5 metres of us to our right. Wow! We gulped our wine down and marveled at our experience. Then, this time Natalie jolted and cried out – “Ooh!” The cow’s calf was making a beeline for the mother except we were in the way. On hearing Natalie’s cry the calf mirrored Natalie’s fright and stopped dead in fright. I could see it was confused and conflicted. “Sit tight Natalie!” I kept talking calmly and the mother then reacted by walking away from the river so that the calf could now walk safely to her behind our tent. “Good girl”, I thought, the mother had reacted very sensibly to a potentially dangerous situation – she knew we were not a threat. Staying calm in the situation was the best way to handle it but probably also better to move out the way of approaching animals and keep a safe distance if you can.”
Dave had heard of a heard of a woman being gored from behind when an elephant bull came up close behind her in Nyamepi camp site in which we were staying. “She was a German woman I think and she was evacuated with life-threatening injuries but survived. I am pretty sure she had adequate travel protection and a good thing too”.