Walking in Mana Pools.
Six months or so ago there were reports that some individuals--professional photographers and various other individuals--were abusing the privilege of being allowed to walk in Mana. The result was that a committee was set up to look into devising a Code of Conduct for Mana Pools and while this was being completed, a total ban on public walking was announced. This, subsequently has been lifted.
I can honestly say that during all the walks I have made, both alone or in the company of good friends, I have never once returned to camp without having witnessed something that filled me with wonder at the beauty and complexity of nature and the bush.
The advantage of walking with friends or alone is that although the walk may set out with the goal of tracking down a pride of lions--heard roaring the previous evening--or visiting a special piece of the river, it very seldom ends that way. Something else always comes along. You walk and rest at your own pace and look at whatever is interesting to you--you are not obliged to follow some other route because the professional guide is trying to please everybody.
I have sat and observed a dragonfly defending his territory, the super predator, eating any other flying insect that came along. I have followed an elephant bull, only to come across that fresh pile of dung absolutely covered in the most beautiful butterflies of varied colours--and so forgot to follow the elephant but instead sat for 10 minutes admiring the kaleidoscope of colours flitting to and fro in front of me.
I have heard the call of a Giant Eagle owl and whilst trying to find him, been distracted by a honey guide, whose raucous chattering filled the air whilst he flew from tree to tree, hoping that I would follow him instead. Those so called "little" tilings, so different, beautiful and interesting, but all special in their own way.
I once rested under a Natal Mahogany and while sitting there noticed a pack of over 20 wild dogs trotting through the bush in my direction--on the hunt. Once they caught my scent, they trotted right up to the tree, sniffing and winning with curiosity at this strange human form. Some bolder, younger dogs approaching to within a few meters, quivering absolutely overcome with curiosity.
I but never once aggressive. On another occasion I walked with two mates to an Acacia tree that was situated on the river bank, and we knew was adjacent to a nesting colony of Carmine bee eaters. They were absolutely stunning warming themselves in the morning sun. Then in the distance we observed an elephant bull with a beautiful set of tusks. He was feasting on Acacia pods and moving along the bank, going from tree to tree. We discussed whether he would pay us a visit and decided to wait and see. Suddenly he was 50 meters away. Elephants seem to move so slowly at times but in reality those giant strides sure cover the ground quickly. We sat still and he walked up to the Acacia we were leaning against. He walked all round us, completely aware of our presence, picking up pods and occasionally lifting his trunk to smell us. He knew clearly that we were human, but he had no fear, he accepted us on his terms, and into his world with no malice ... only dignity, majesty and kindness. So wise so gentle--where had he wandered, what were his experiences I wondered? We were dwarfed by him and I was in absolute awe of him, looking up at the half closed wrinkled eyelids, he towered over me, an enormous giant, his gentle nature and accepting demeanour--for me the experience was the true meaning of the word awesome--which we use so often but rarely understand. However, transcending all this was that in both these moments (and so many others as well) I knew that I was not only in the company of a giant, or in the presence of a pack of ruthless killers, but was also in the company of the ONE who created all this. This surely is how life should work--what it is all about. I came back to camp more humble, trembling and realising that these moments could never be repeated. They are part of the reason why I love this country and that possibly this is the only game park in Africa where it is possible to get this close to nature and the meaning of life.
I am not the only one who visits Mana and experiences these precious moments. I find it difficult to articulate the emotions and privilege of being able to walk there. We all want to protect the park, respect the animals and enjoy the experience of being there without disturbing the animals or other visitors. Over the past 30 odd years there have been remarkably few incidents in the park involving walkers and one of those fatalities occurred in camp not even walking. Let's enjoy this privilege responsibly and with utmost respect.