Smells of the wild

A picture of an “engorged” lion cub resting belly-up posted recently on Facebook by my son reminded me of an elephant kill we witnessed together in Mana Pools in October 2013 when that picture was taken.

Apart from being a wonderful wilderness place teeming with wild animals, Mana Pools offers a number of add-ons. Apart from being allowed to walk unaccompanied in a park where the “Big 5” are present, the presence of the mighty Zambezi river adds an unsurpassed touch of beauty to the area.

In addition, camping there is an experience on its own as -like in the good old days- there are no fences or trenches separating you from the wild inhabitants. Camping in these conditions increases solidarity among fellow colleagues and information on the “state of the wild” circulates freely. In Mana Pools it is usual to have- in addition to the harmless buck- hyenas, buffalos and elephants of all sizes walking about at all times.

I vividly remember a nocturnal incident with an elephant. My wife and I shared a tent while our daughter had her own a few metres away. It was late at night and we could hear the breaking of branches around us as the elephants fed. Suddenly we heard loud elephantine intestinal rumblings followed by the unmistakable noise of heavy droppings being dropped! Judging by the direction of the noise we guessed that her tent could have been compromised by the event. Before I could ask her about the situation I heard her “Phew, that was close!” and went on to say, “It just missed my tent but I can smell it very well!” So could we although a few more metres separated us from the “object”.

Under these conditions of proximity with wild animals it is not surprising to have visitors at your camp bearing news such as “There are a few lions near the ablution block at the end, so refrain from using it tonight” or “we have just spotted a leopard walking near the entrance”.

Fellow campers also share their sightings and experiences in a friendly atmosphere.

The elephant incident I described above brings me to the issue of the wild life experience and the importance of the senses in it. Smells -together with the natural shine and subtle sounds of a live animal- are among the details wildlife documentaries are not able to transmit! It is common to drive or walk in the bush and be literally assaulted by different smells, both pleasant and otherwise.

October 2013 saw the whole family camping at Mana Pools and in the evening after our arrival we learnt that lions had killed a young elephant in the Mucheni area. This is apparently not surprising in Mana Pools where lions are skillful at killing elephants. Quite excited, the following morning we drove there as early as we could. The area of the kill was easy to find as, unusually for Mana Pools, there were a few vehicles watching the scene. A young elephant had indeed been killed the day before and it still had food to offer the lion pride that was resting next to it. We counted around 16 animals of all ages.

As it is common in these instances, satiated lions were lying all over the place, trying to take advantage of the little shade available. As the morning heat increased the vying for shade became more intense and, to add a touch of reality, the foul smell also gradually augmented. When a kill is available lions tend to gorge on meat to the point of becoming uncomfortable. It is therefore not difficult to understand that to have such a large number of individuals quite close to us multiplied the final outcome of their digestion and its vapours! I sharply recall our desperate spluttering every time the wind shifted and one of the lions rolled over as well as the family’s diving into the car through its roof hatch in an attempt to escape a particularly fetid eruption…

The situation was rather smelly, so much so that this was one of the few times when watching the scene through a documentary would have been preferred! So, being nice to you I present an odourless picture gallery as well as videos for you to enjoy. I am aware that seeing a kill is never pleasant but these are wild lives!

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