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EXTREMELY Close Encounters With Elephant!

July 15, 2008

I have been in and out of the bush all my life but never come quite so close to wild elephant. 2 metres max?! But their trunks within 15cm of my feet. How’s this for a photograph:

 and look at the size of these beasts!

 I had been sitting next to the barbecue when 3 elephant arrived – 2 teenagers and an old bull. Realizing that they wanted to eat the acacia pods all around, I decided to respect their space (and size) and so retreated to the edge of the verandah. Not deterred they kept on coming. I could have reached out and tickled their heads. They knew we were there, they kept checking our scent, but we kept our voices low, made no sudden movements, and for about one hour these gentle giants browsed around us. You feel truly privileged when you experience a moment like that… and you have to remind yourself that although they appear to be ‘gentle giants’ they are not. If spooked they can be deadly.

I know I have sung the praises of Mana Pools before but here we go again: It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and this is not just my personal opinion – it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it is running on a shoelace and struggling to survive. This is of course due to the political climate here. The head warden’s monthly salary is US$6. Can you imagine what the game rangers receive? As little as 2 or even less. How is anyone meant to survive on that?

I feel very strongly about this and am meeting with various interested bodies at the end of the month to see if we and the international community can raise funds to help run this Park through these difficult times.

Mana Pools is unique, being the only Zimbabwean national park with species such as elephant, lion and buffalo, in which you may walk unaccompanied. It is emphasized that you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Mana is wild and so are the animals, but it is safe so long as you use your common sense. As in all of Zimbabwe’s national parks, it is the interests of the animals that take precedence over all else.

Swimming and paddling in the Zambezi River are extremely hazardous occupations as large numbers of crocodile and hippo are present in the water – they are there, even if you can’t see them!

The Zambezi Valley is a western extension of the Great Rift Valley, the huge geological fault that extends right down the continent of Africa. The southern edge is formed by the Zimbwean escarpment and the northern edge by the Zambian escarpment. In this valley lies a wilderness paradise with almost all species of spectacular Central African wild life occurring in large numbers.

The Mana Pools National Park covers a representative section of the Middle Zambezi Valley, extending from the Zambezi River in the north to the escarpment in the south.

As you drive into the park you go through various different types of vegetation starting with low jessebush (real difficult to see through scrub) to Mopane forest which gives way suddenly to woodlands of Acacia, Mahogany, Fig and other large trees nearer the river. This change in vegetation marks the southern edge of the old river terraces – the area over which the Zambezi has meandered and shifted its course over thousands of years. The terraces are overed with fertile alluvial soils deposited by the river during its wanderings.

The Pools of Mana are lakes which mark former courses of the Zambezi. They are refilled by the swollen river during the rains and are the homes of large numbers of crocodile and hippo as well as a magnificent bird population.

The number and variety of animals that can be seen at Mana change throughout the year. During the rains most large mammals such as elephant, buffalo, zebra and eland leave the river area to seek grazing and browsing closer to the Zimbabwe escarpment. As the year progresses, shortages of food and water inland force them back towards the Zambezi where the river terraces, with their extensive grasslands and the nutricious acacia pods, support them through the worst of the dry season. As soon as the first rains fall the animals disperse inland again.

Each of the acacias (Faidherbia albida; winter thorn or apple-ring acacia) bears several hundred pounds of seed pods each year: These pods are particular favourites of the elephant and you may see them shaking the trees to get the pods down; which is also why you will see many a baboon hastily leaving a tree when an elephant approaches! These pods also provide a substantial part of the diet of buffalo and several other species.

 

These were the two teenagers.

I could bore you rigid with hundred of photos of this magical place but will restrict myself to just these few! “Phew” I hear you say… but there will be more.

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One comment

  1. Wonderful photos! Yes, not a good idea to go swimming in the Zambezi River! We had a croc take our dog off the river bank a few years ago!
    Lovely post, keep it up!
    – Val



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