Little Ruckomechi

Game On: A New Mana Pools Season Beckons

Your Guide to Africa


Eddie Mudzimu


It’s three months into the new year, and the countdown to a new Mana Pools safari season begins. Much talk is centred on the Zambezi Valley, as Ruckomechi, Little Ruckomechi and Chikwenya camps get ready to welcome their first guests of 2019.

The atmosphere in all three camps is still very relaxed, but our minds and thoughts are on mise-en-place and other to-do lists to be completed by the appointed time. Naturally, it is always opening day that sets the tone for the season, so a cautious state of preparedness has to be achieved. The hype that usually precedes opening day, year after year, is slowly catching up on everyone. A feeling of joy and can’t-wait has already gripped me, and I and many other members of staff are emotionally, psychologically and physically ready to open our doors and hearts to our guests.

My ducks are lining up square and neat, and I just can’t wait to share the many stories and events that happened while Little Ruckomechi was closed for guests. Tales that I will tell around our morning and evening fires, spots synonymous with story-telling.

Mana Pools is calling, as she always does, for those that have walked the many elephant and hippo trails, driven her tracks or canoed the mighty Zambezi River. Mana Pools does not disappoint if you allow your soul and senses to flow with this mysterious river and land. There were moments we wished we had guests in camp right now as there has been so much drama in the animal arenas – and how lucky I have been to witness some of the gripping episodes that I will be sharing in camp this coming season.

The vegetation is already reminiscent of the dry season, yet we are supposed to only just be coming out of our rainy season. There won’t be much of a summer to talk about as rains were sporadic and less than anticipated, and the grasses in the many open areas are already dry or wilting. In spite of this, there is much happening in the bush and along the floodplains on the river, with many exciting sightings. Much of the action shifted quite early in the year to the riverfront. The floodplains are teeming with all forms of life, from huge elephants and hippos to tiny, creeping insects.

Birds of all forms and colours are having the time of their lives. The red bishops in their breeding plumage are as vividly colourful as always, while all species of wading birds, fish-eating birds and the ever watchful fish-eagles are all there for the keen birders. Cormorants, darters, storks, the ibises, the Meves’s starlings and arrow-marked babblers are there too; white-fronted bee-eaters, and woodland and pied kingfishers too, with many raptors and more having a merry time.

Natural waterholes up on the ridge and inland are dry, so from mid-morning everyone wants to head to the river. Elephant are a daily presence in the floodplains, feeding on the weeds and all the juicy plants that are in abundance at the moment – on the islands as well. Occasionally herds of buffalo add to the mix, making Mana a real live jamboree of sizes and shapes.

Impalas are naturally all over, in huge herds, though occasionally we come across bachelor herds – but numbering 20 to 30. The larger herds are females with their two- to three-month-old little ones – a good sign of progress is the number of these smart antelopes, so graceful in stature and lovely in colour. A healthy number of impalas always coincides with a healthy number of leopard and other predators that find impala a delicacy.

The leopard’s rasping call has been heard almost every evening around camp, other than when baboons and monkeys spot them first, and give away the cat’s position with their unmistakeable alarm calls of fright from these stealthy assassins.

However, my most unforgettable sighting this summer so far was a foiled attempt by seven adult lions on three adult buffalo. In the pride were one big male, six females and a tiny cub that I am proud to have been the first to see this season.

It started early one morning, as I was taking a short drive to Ruckomechi from Little Ruckomechi (about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on traffic and time of the day). At this time of day, the wildlife can be sparse, so I didn’t think it necessary to take my camera with me. However, less than two minutes’ drive out of camp, I spotted the lion pride lying by the side of the road, all facing in the direction of the Zambezi River. Quite tense was the atmosphere. Curious, I instinctively surveyed the area towards the river and spotted three mean-looking dagga boys, heads held high and looking straight at the lions from about 30 metres. The wind was blowing into the faces of the buffalo, removing any element of surprise for the lions. For some reason the buffalo had decided to move towards the Ruckomechi River, possibly to catch a bigger herd that was heading towards the Golf Course. I saw the impending drama and quickly made a U-turn to camp to grab my trusted mate, my Canon D400. When I got back, a daring female lion had initiated the hunt, starting a calculated approach towards the alert bovines who were watching her every move. Buffalo and lion lined up eye-to-eye, with me in a front-row seat, camera in hand, finger on the ‘trigger’.

In that tense moment, the buffalo decided to take a long detour and avoid direct confrontation, making a semi-circle loop around the lions at a distance of about 20 metres, at which point the rest of the lions joined in, going for the kill in the open area. The buffalo bolted with tails raised high and lions in hot pursuit, trying to cut off their escape route. The two buffalo in the lead got it right and shot out of the encirclement, but unfortunately the last one could not get out of the trap and was surrounded on all sides by the ready-to-pounce lionesses. At this point I was sure some blood would be spilled. Quickly, the other two buffalo realised the danger their brother was in, turned around and with heads held high and murder in their eyes, galloped back into the circle of lions sending the felines scurrying for cover. They had saved their brother before any of the lions could draw blood. The victorious dagga boys regrouped and galloped towards the Ruckomechi River, with the lions giving a timid chase.

Call it a foiled or a failed attempt, it will be one of my stories for the camp fire this coming season.

Such ‘games of thrones’ have been unending, and surely there have been occasions when a combination of good coordination and careful planning amongst the lions has seen them come out triumphant, having taken down something to feed that big pride and their nursing cub. Every night we hear them calling from quite close to camp, and we hope the little cub will survive, and grow to become part of the pride. With seven adults around, definitely some lessons on life and survival will be instilled into it from its many seniors.

Hyaena have also visited camp every night, walking past and around the area on their nightly vigils. Not to be outdone, hippo have come up to find some form of greenery in camp, while baboons, monkeys and impalas literally take refuge in camp.

With just a couple of weeks to go, all our camps are buzzing with activity as we prepare to create some lasting memories, with life-changing experiences – going out of our way to showcase the secrets of the Zambezi Valley, hidden in the floodplains and mopane woodlands.

Our batteries are fully charged, and everyone is raring to go, with the excitement building daily. The vehicles, boats and canoes have all seen some maintenance and as we draw nearer to our opening dates, the roads will take shape as we ‘prune’ the crotons. The airstrip is always a major maintenance project.

If we do not receive any rain in the next few weeks, we will be opening our camps in dryer conditions, with the vegetation not as thick, and plentiful game from the outset. It is certainly going to be Game On from the word go, as the wildlife is already very active and concentrated along the river.

We trust you will allow Mana Pools to reveal her delightful mysteries, and be wowed by her charisma, and that you will continue to yearn for her, long after you have walked her trails and drunk her Zambezi water.

"Mana Pools is calling, as she always does, for those that have walked the many elephant and hippo trails, driven her tracks or canoed the mighty Zambezi River. Mana Pools does not disappoint if you allow your soul and senses to flow with this mysterious river and land. "

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