We confirmed once again that Mana Pools in October is hot, really hot, specially from 12:00 to 16:30 hours. During that spell all you can do is to find a shady spot and sit it out whilst hoping that the Zambezi breeze continues to blow removing the warm air that your body generates. Frequent applications of water help as the evaporation refreshes you, at least for a few minutes. Luckily the air humidity is very low so at least you are not soaked wet.
To have the sight of a beautiful but “out of bounds” river with clean water running a few metres from you is really counter productive! To make matters worse, when the hippos look at you with their exaggerated mouths, they seem to smile while enjoying the cool water!
Although the Zambezi offers nice sandy banks and beaches, you will enter its waters at your own risk. The latter is rather high as, if you are lucky to remain undetected by the numerous and some really huge crocodiles, you may pick up the invisible but equally bad Bilharzia parasites.
The heat affects all and for the game is a tough time. The inland pans are dry and the last blade of desiccated grass has been consumed, transforming the Zambezi terraces in the proverbial dust bowl. Luckily the park has many trees that provide shelter to the animals that remain there from the blistering sun, mainly the greater kudu that still manage to find nourishment by browsing.
Although the trees offer good shade, their fruits are by now almost exhausted. The pods and flowers from the apple ring acacias and sausage trees respectively are very few now and the amount available does not justify the effort the animals require to collect sufficient to live upon. The fruits from the sycamore fig trees are ripening fast but they are being quickly consumed by birds and monkeys alike so that they hardly hit the ground!
Even the apparently dry baobabs are being consumed, mainly by elephants!
Both Chisasiko and Long pools still have lots of water but it is brackish and not liked by all. Although we have seen impala and waterbuck drinking there, we are yet to see an elephant! Chine pool, now just a green ribbon, attracts plains game as it seems to be fed by a fresh water spring. We did not see how Green pool was but I suspect that it is also getting dry.
As expected, most game now gathers around the only permanent source of water, the Zambezi river. Adjacent to it the plains are still green and teeming with animals grazing intensively in a fragile and unstable truce between different links of the food chain. There are thousands of impala within a kilometre from the river as well as buffalo, eland, zebra and waterbuck that have also moved residence to this true “food land”.
Aware of this, the area is now also the home of the predators. These range from water and land birds consuming prey that gets caught in small pools or drying mud to hyenas, leopards and lions on the prowl for larger animals.
The elephants dot the plains with the relaxed attitude that their size allows them. They are all over the place. There are family groups composed of a matriarch and her progeny as well as bulls in small groups or preferring their own company.
Game drives inland only find the ocasional heat-enduring animal so game watching focusses on the river area where being comfortably seated with open eyes normally rewards the observer with good finds. We were well placed at Mucichiri lodge, a two floor building offering an open upper deck from where a great view of the river was available. While hippos were always in the neighbourhood either in or out of the river, impala and waterbuck grazed under the shade.
The birds were busy nesting, anticipating the rainy season that it is just round the corner. In addition to spur-wings and Egyptian geese, the bee-eaters were very numerous, both white-fronted and carmine. They were busy going in and out of their burrows in the alluvial banks of the river found on the oposite margin.
A few times a day they their constant chirping noises ceased for a few seconds and then all would take off screeching loudly in alarm as some threat approached.The most common predator seen was the Yellow-billed Kite (Milvus parasitus). The latter would come from high and then gradually descend as it approached the river banks. Although birds did all possible to disuade the attackers, the kite would continue relentlessly on the hunt and it would suddenly swoop down fast and land, either on the banks or on the trees near our lodge. Twice I saw it catching fledglings and land nearby to eat them. Once prey was taken, the predator was quickly forgotten by the birds that will soon return to their socializing, clearly showing “short memories” or being resigned to the inevitable!
By mid afternoon Mana Pools was a furnace with the shade offered by the large trees and the hot wind as the only relief. Luckily the lodge has a bathtub and a shower and we took turns seeking refreshment until the sun power finally slacked and we slowly revived. It was time for the evening game viewing drive and, on return, a barbecue kept simple and managed from a distance to avoid getting too close to the fire!
At night the wind dropped and, unfortunately, the little that blew got stopped by the mosquito net. The consequence was that sleep was hard to find. Fortunately there was a full moon and the animals outside the lodge were very active. We are surrounded by impala and waterbuck while the hippos grazed in the grassy banks, their bulk easier seen while they walk about as true lawn mowers.
The elephants also passed by in numbers, as usual, in total silence but rather obvious to us sitting only a few metres from them! Loud calls preceded the arrival of hyenas checking for some left overs before embarking into their longer missions in search of substantial prey. Lions were only heard once and far away, clearly hunting much further downriver.
While watching and listening to the Mana inhabitants the temperature eventually dropped to “sleepable” levels and we went to sleep aware that we needed an early start to our game drives the next day, before the heat would set in. Looking at the clear sky we could be sure that on the morrow we could find anything, except rain.
Mana Pools, Zimbabwe, October 2015.
 You will note that I now know the names of the four pools, courtesy of a helpful park ranger that we met during this visit.