An elephant named Boswell, Wild Dogs and a Leopard

This follows the previous chapter in our latest safari diary – Matusadona, a birding paradise on the shores of Lake Kariba

25 September 2104

Mana Pools here we come

Our flight to Mana Pools was booked for 9 o’clock, so we had to make an early start.

Our stay at Rhino Safari Camp was much too brief (much much too brief). Although we had 2 nights there, because of or later arrive and early departure times we’d only had one full day and only time for 2 game activities. We didn’t have time to do any walking and I could have spent a whole afternoon just watching the heronery. Undoubtedly the park has a lot more to offer than we have seen.

Helmeted Guineafowl are a bird that you see in almost every park in every country, but for some reason the ones here at Matusadona seemed to have much more vivid colours than those I’ve seen elesewhere.

Helmeted Guineafowl - (Numida meleagris)
Helmeted Guineafowl – (Numida meleagris)

Steve drove us to the jetty for our boat ride back to the airstrip. We said farewell and Steve asked us to say ‘Hi’ to someone called Cloud for him in Mana Pools.

A strong wind was making the lake waters pretty choppy for our boat ride back to the airstrip.

Our plane arrived late, having first landed at a different airstrip. I have no idea whether it was him or us that were in the wrong place.

We had a larger plane this time, an 8 seater, so we could all travel together.

Our ride from Matusadona to Mana Pools
Our ride from Matusadona to Mana Pools

Flying over the lake was amazing, it is so huge and the Kariba Dam looks so small.

Mana Pools at Last!

For some reason the Mana West airstrip was laid so that there is an almost permanent cross wind and our landing was interesting. Coming in to land the tree tops were so close I felt I could have reached out and touched them. They looked awfully close to our wingtips.

I’d never been to Mana Pools before and I was very excited indeed to be in this legendary park at last. If it lived up to its reputation we were in for a treat. It was because I’d heard and read so many great things about Mana Pools that I’d put it last on our itinerary, the icing on the cake so to speak. Afer everything we’d seen in the other parks, Mana Pools had a hard act to follow.

There was alone vehicle with a single occupant waiting at the airstrip. He introduced himself as – yes you guessed it – Cloud. I passed on Steve’s greetings and Cloud responded by saying that he had trained under Steve and “if I do anything wrong you can blame Steve.”

The drive from the airstrip to our camp on the banks of the Zambezi was pretty dull. The dry, rock hard, mud offered little in the way of grazing.

Our camp though, was a dream. What a location!

Our camp on the banks of the Zambezi
Our camp on the banks of the Zambezi
Who said camping was roughing it?
Who said camping was roughing it?

We were staying at Zambezi Lifestyles, a seasonal camp on the banks of the river operated by African Bush Camps. We were staying in tents, but certainly not roughing it.

Cloud introduced us to the rest of the camp crew who would be looking after us. The resident guide at the camp was called Lovemore. Everyone called him simply ‘Love’.

Even after 2 days I still could not get used to saying ‘Thank you Love’ to a young man.

Once the introductions were over the first thing I did was to take Love aside and explain to him that we had been on safari for 10 days already and had seen quite a lot. I suggested that he would not get much of a response from us if he stopped to show us baboons and impala.

I gave him our bucket list: wild dogs, Boswell (more about Boswell later) and leopards. Of course we’d be happy to see lions too. He smiled and gave me a look that suggested he relished the challenge.

From then on every time we passed baboons or impala he would shout out “Impala, but we’re not stopping.” or “Baboons, but we don’t stop for them.”

One of the tasks we had to get out of the way when we set out on our afternoon game drive was to register at the park office and although we set off in that direction it did not take long for us to get side-tracked.

I spotted a small group of elephants ahead of us and Love turned towards them. When we’d got a bit closer he pulled up and said quietly, ‘”It’s Boswell.”

Boswell and his followers
Boswell and his followers

The fact that he wears a large tracking collar makes Boswell easy to identify although I doubt that the guides need that assistance.

Boswell feeding
Boswell feeding

Up to this point I had not said anything to the others about Boswell celebrity elephant and his party piece. Love grabbed his rifle and we all go down from the vehicle to approach closer on foot.

As we walked I asked Love whether there were any other elephants that had learned to do what Boswell could do. He said not yet.

As we watched Boswell, followed by a small group of acolytes, move from tree to tree I explained to the others why this was such a special elephant. Boswell is able to stand up on his rear legs and reach much higher branches than other elephants.  Now that I’d given him the big build up it was over him to perform. And he did.

Boswell does his thing
Boswell does his thing

With his group of followers waiting to pick up what Boswell couldn’t be bothered to eat we watched him rise up on his hind legs and tear down branches and then move on.

Bosell's extended reach
Boswell’s extended reach

Boswell’s followers kept tryingot imitate him but they could not manage the final move.

Not quite Boswell
Not quite Boswell
Elephant feeding - mana Pools NP
Elephant feeding – mana Pools NP
Elephant feeding - Mana Pools NP
Elephant feeding – Mana Pools NP

Unfortunately it was not long before he moved into an area of quite thick bush and we could no longer clearly watch his antics, but even so it was a very special moment.

During our stay in Mana Pools we saw a few other elephants arching their backs to reach as high as possible, but no others that could go up onto their hind legs.

A typical pose for a Mana Pools elephant
A typical pose for a Mana Pools elephant

1 down, 2 to go.

We walked back to the game vehicle and were all set to drive to the camp office when we saw a couple of other cars a few hundred meters away. A quick scan of the area in front of them showed that there was a group of Wild Dogs lying in front of them. The dogs were dozing in the shade of a large acacia albida and seemed content to just lie there.

African Wild Dogs - Mana Pools NP
African Wild Dogs – Mana Pools NP

We sat and watched and waited, hoping for some action.

African Wild Dogs - mana Pools NP
African Wild Dogs – mana Pools NP
African Wild Dogs - Mana Pools NP
African Wild Dogs – Mana Pools NP

The only action we got was for each of them to get up, scratch, shit and then sit around looking bored. There were some impala grazing along the tree line further away from us and the dogs noticed them and looked as though they might be interested in hunting.

African Wild Dogs _ Mana Pools NP
African Wild Dogs _ Mana Pools NP

They did all get up and trot off in that direction but it wasn’t a hunt and they just disappeared into the trees.

Not the most exciting wild dog sighting but even so;

2 down and 1 to go.

Our half hour with the dogs meant that we were cutting it pretty fine to get to the gate to register and then drive back to camp before dark.

We’d only driven 500 metres when we saw 2 cars parked by the side of the track. One of the drivers walked up to Love and told him that a leopard had just killed an impala ram and had it at the base of a large albida tree.

We got out again and walked carefully towards the spot. We couldn’t get real close but we could just make out the leopard and its kill.

Leopard with Impala kill - Mana Pools NP
Leopard with Impala kill – Mana Pools NP

It was very wary and we were reluctant to try and get any closer for fear of scaring it off. Even so, the leopard climbed up the tree and out of sight, leaving its kill on the ground.

3 out of 3! A perfect score.

Not bad for our first afternoon in Mana Pools.

It was a mad scramble to get to the gate to register and we then had to head straight back to camp. There were some grumblings from the back seat that we’d not had time for our sundowners, but I’m not sure they were entirely serious.

After such a spectacular start to our sty in Mana Pools what would tomorrow bring?