Mana Pools National Park ~ a rugged UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mana Pools is one of the most remote and least developed safari parks in Zimbabwe. This 220-hectare wildlife conservation area and National Park in Northern Zimbabwe adjoins the mighty Zambezi River. Mana Pools was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Map of Mana Pools location
Map of Mana Pools location

Mana Pools was so named due to the four large watering holes or pools created by the Zambezi River. These four water pools provide the much-needed water for the wildlife, and maintain the lush green forests, wild fig, baobab, and mahogany trees that are seen throughout the park.  Mana means “four “in the local Shona language. 

The park has the usual array of wildlife.  However, it is home to the largest concentrations of crocodiles and hippos in Zimbabwe. The park is well known for its large elephant herds of up to around 12,000 of them and its large wild dogs’ population. There are also lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, elands, impalas, monkeys, zebras, warthogs, various birds, and other smaller animals that inhabit this wilderness park. 

Mana Pools is one of the only places that allows walking safaris with wildlife a few metres away. Keeping a safe distance from all wildlife and having a trained guide keeps both wildlife and humans safe. Animals in this park are very used to human presence on foot and go about their daily activities. This allows humans to observe, photograph, and enjoy their walking safari experience.

Walking safari with local guide Henry ~ one of the best guides on the planet
Walking safari with local guide Henry ~ one of the best guides on the planet!

Initially, I was very apprehensive both for myself and the wildlife, but was assured by my local and very experienced guide Henry Bandure that it was indeed very safe ~ I decided to try the walking safari.  While it is an incredible experience to view wildlife from ones vehicle, to be at ground level to view and photograph wildlife is a completely another experience and so special. However, there are strict rules, for example; keeping a safe distance, remaining quiet, and move slowly!  For me, it was the elephants and the wild dogs walking safari that I loved the most.  I highly recommend Henry Bandure if anyone decides to visit Mana Pools.

The magnificent elephants were aware, inquisitive and did approach us very slowly!  My initial reaction was to “flee” and head back to the safety of our vehicle.  I was told, or rather ‘ordered’ to be quiet, remain still, keep smiling and ignore them! This was not easy to do as a few bull elephants edged quite close to us.  

Close encounter with a bull elephant
Very close encounter with a bull elephant. This shot was taken whilst I was sitting with my guide on the ground

Following these firm and well used instructions, I did what I was told. The elephants approached within a metre or two, sniffed us with their trunks in the air and then proceeded to pass us on their merry way!  I was ‘frozen in time”, and all I wanted to do was roll under our truck to escape until they moved past me.   I think they knew my guide Henry who is one of the most experienced guides in Mana Pools and one of most experienced wildlife guides I have ever had! It was really a ‘WOW’ moment. This kind of experience one never forgets.

Elephant checking us out
Friendly elephant coming to check the new visitors at Mana Pools

For landscapes and wildlife, Mana Pools is a photographer’s paradise. Sunrises and sunsets over the Zambezi River enjoying sundowners with elephants galore, wild dog packs, trees, forests are incredible, and one never tires of this magnificent wildlife park

Accommodation

Staying at Mana Pools was an amazing experience.  The mobile tented camp is set just beside the mighty Zambezi River. One wakes up each morning with the sound of the flowing river, hippos calling and very often a lion’s roar can be heard.

Daily visits from the elephants!
Daily visits from the elephants coming to check out the campsite

The camp I stayed at is a mobile camp. They very well appointed considering the remote location. All tents have an ensuite bathroom, hot water buckets are discretely filled up early in the morning prior to sunrise for showers or during the day on request. While each tent doesn’t have electricity, the main area tent has camera and other devices charging station set up.

The amazing meals are cooked by very experienced chefs, who are supported by a great team of locals who go out of their way to ensure ones stay very pleasant and enjoyable.

Meals are served outside to make the most of ones experience in Mana Pools
Meals are served outside beside the Zambezi River to make the most of ones experience in Mana Pools
Beautiful view of the Zambezi River from the tent
Beautiful view of the Zambezi River from my tent

The camp is unfenced which has a great feeling of raw nature with wildlife wandering through the camp day and night. 

Elephants coming for their daily visit to check out the new visitors
Elephants coming for their daily visit to check the new visitors out
Sundowners on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River
Sundowners on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River

Elephants are a big attraction and a firm favourite for most of the visitors to Mana Pools. Elephants have learned how to heave themselves up, balance their weight on their hind legs, extend their trunk, giving them access to the lush foliage in the treetops ~ a unique elephant adaptive behaviour for this area. 

Elephant standing on two fee to reach the top of the lush trees
‘Boswell’ the most famous standing elephant at Mana Pools
Beautiful landscapes with elephants always in the shot!
Beautiful landscapes with elephants always in the shot!

Having an opportunity to observe a pack of wild dogs from ground level only metres away was an awesome experience. The pack was on its morning outing, getting ready for a hunt. Watching their ‘ritual greeting ceremony’ at eye level was very special. Their ritual greeting ceremony is an important part of keeping the pack together, reinforcing mutual respect between all dogs in their respective packs. This occurs after sleep, when the pack joins up after being separated and prior to a hunt.  It involves them running together, sniffing, licking and playing together with a lot of affection towards one another. The greetings don’t last very long, so one has to be ready with their camera poised, waiting for the moment.

African wild dog greeting
African wild dog greeting

While the African wild dogs were aware of our presence, they are not inquisitive or interested in making friends with humans. They continued about their daily rituals without a care for our presence.

Daily ritual greeting for the African wild dogs
Daily ritual greeting for the African wild dogs
A pack of African wild dogs part-taking in their unique ritual greeting
A pack of African wild dogs part-taking in their unique ritual greeting
A pack of African wild dogs lining up prior to heading out for their usual well coordinated hunt
A pack of African wild dogs lining up prior to heading out for their usual well coordinated hunt
Stunning landscapes
Beautiful light filters through the trees every day
Beautiful light filters through the trees every day
Looking out over the Zambezi River on to the mountains of Zambia
Looking out over the Zambezi River on to the mountains of Zambia
Reaching up
Reaching up
Lone zebra
Lone zebra
Spotted hyena
Spotted hyena
Lion
Lion
Waterbuck
Waterbuck
Kudu
Kudu
Python just finishing devouring a squirrel
Python just finishing off devouring a squirrel
Conservation

Over twelve thousand elephants have been poached from Mana Pools over the past 10 years. With the help of Global Conservation support and the local Bush-Life Conservancy Support Unit, they are making great progress in protecting elephants and other wildlife in Mana Pools. These include antipoaching patrols, ranger training, improving roads, human-wildlife conflict resolution, collaring of wildlife for close monitoring and employing teams of local women rangers who are are actively protecting local community areas.

Please enjoy this short video on the wild dogs of Mana Pools
References

https://www.zambezi.com/locations/mana-pools/

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