It was supposedly the only
product that kept the tsetse flies away.
We found the tsetses - or rather, they found us.
Their bites are like a wasp sting. Tsetse flies are extremely tough
and difficult to kill. They close in on movement and prefer blue for
See the article on African trypanosomiasis in this
issue by one of the doctors who accompanied us on the trip.
The budget for our whole trip was about R3,000 (US$
450) per person for 10 days, everything included. Not bad at all -
R300 per day in a pristine wilderness area.
The Zimbabwe Government Gazette states that no
person shall drive a vehicle in Zimbabwe unless:
it is considered roadworthy
equipped with a fire extinguisher
2 x red warning triangles
a serviceable spare wheel
an efficient jack
a wheel spanner capable of undoing the vehicle’s
We also took a reflective jacket for each driver
based on what we heard
Breakdown Triangles: Two reflective breakdown
triangles per vehicle and with serial numbers, name of manufacturer
and year of manufacture and conforming to Standards Association of
Zimbabwe (SAZ) standards will be mandatory.
A pair is also required for each trailer. These must
be placed one in front and one at the rear of a vehicle (30 to 50m)
when it is stationery on any road at a place not designated for
Fire Extinguishers: All vehicles to carry an
appropriate and SAZ approved fire extinguisher in the CAB of the
vehicle – Light vehicles (750g) and heavy vehicles (1,5kg). Every
fire extinguisher shall be of a type and make approved by the
Standards Association of Zimbabwe, which approval shall be visibly
marked on the fire extinguisher, and secured at an easily accessible
and visible position within the cab of such vehicle."
Reflectors: White reflectors in front, red
reflectors at the rear.
T-Stickers: If you are using a trailer, there
seems to also be a requirement for T-stickers: a white T on black
background for the front and a red T on black a background for the
Our three 4x4 vehicles met at Gateway (S25 27.252
E30 56.178) near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga in the chilly pre-dawn and
started out for Beit Bridge500 kilometers away. We got there at
about 12:00 and spent 2 hours trying to get through on the
Zimbabwean side. Not fun.
We reached our stopover at a Masvingo camping site
(S20 04.014 E30 50.339) at about 8:00. Facilities were basic. We
left just after 5 in the next morning.
After getting lost in Harare and a $15 speed fine we
were on our way at 9:48. We were stopped near Chinhoyi because of an
army route march on the public road. All traffic was brought to a
complete standstill and we waited until the surly recruits passed.
The look in their eyes did not give me much hope for Zimbabwe.
booked in at Morongara (S16 13.370 E29 09.685) at 2:06 and were
welcomed by friendly staff. At the turnoff to Mana Pools (S16 11.448
E29 09.724) we were warned about the bad roads, let our tires down
to 1 bar and took the road to the second gate (S16 03.360 E29
24.550) which we reached at 4:14.
Once through, we were in. We reached Mana Pools
reception (S15 43.415 E29 21.657) at 5:28.
We were one day early and pitched our temporary camp
near the basic ablutions. Some of us even had warm water for a
It was not long before we saw the first hyena.
The four pools
We moved early the next day to BBC camp only to
discover that the old BBC camp had been separated from the park by a
new channel. We were directed to the new BBC camp 356 m above sea
level at S15 43.667 E29 21.235. Both entries to new BBC camp had No
Entry signs up and we were constantly reminded by officials that we
were using an unauthorized road. Africa – you’ve got to love her.
The reports we had before we went was that Mana
Pools was a game viewer’s paradise. It turned out to be true – to a
certain extent. Chobe and Moremi have larger varieties of species
and numbers - and of course Hwange is the king of elephant parks.
Some of the exceptional sightings were an 80+ herd
of eland and a cheetah catching a small warthog.
Walking along the waters’ edge is allowed, and an
afternoon stroll on the banks of the Zambezi is quite pleasant.
I could never get it. You put something on the line,
chuck it into the water and wait and wait. The fish never seem to
bite in fresh water with me. At Mana, the secret obsessions of our
friends were revealed. It was tiger fever, and the avid fishermen
got a fishing license each at $20 from reception. What followed was
an embarrassing tale of unfounded optimism, reckless commitment and
While live earthworms were on sale next to the road
as we approached Kariba and the river, it seemed to not be enough.
Obscure references were made to various types of Rapalas and live
bait - which us non-fishermen took to be Impala. It turned out to be
a live small fish with a hook through the back and left to attract
every opportunity these incorrigible optimists had their hooks in
the water – all to very little avail. The only sizable tiger was
caught by Wynand, the youngest member of our party.
They began competing who could catch the smallest
fish and records were broken daily.
Which brings us to our standoff with the crocodile.
The fishermen wanted to improve their chances and
fish on the islands in the river, for which purpose we rented
Although doctors are normally reasonably intelligent
people, they cannot grasp the fact that a vague understanding of the
function of the human digestive system does not necessarily
translate to knowledge of African animal behavior.
So it was that we were in flimsy canoes right on top
of hippos – who are the most prolific killer of humans in Africa –
and next to man-eating crocodiles. It was dangerous and unwise.
We decided to come back to South Africa in one shot
– a 24-hour drive broken into 2-hour shifts for each driver.
The only incident on the way back was near Masvingo
while it was my turn to drive. We were in convoy with my vehicle in
front. I spotted a laden yellow pickup coming towards me when the
sparks started to fly – literally. I saw the rear wheel and
sideshaft separate from the axle.
In a split second the 1.5 meter solid steel
sideshaft, still attached to the wheel sped toward us at 200
kilometers per hour. I braced my hands on the steering wheel as it
Had the sideshaft bounced more, it could have
decapitated me or impaled one of us. If we went over it, the
possibility of losing control of the vehicle and a head-on collision
with oncoming traffic was possible.
Instead, the tire hit and demolished the bumper
while at the same time the shaft hit the right front magnesium rim
and crushed it. The impact threw the wheel and shaft high into the
air and safely into the bush. You had better believe it that this is
how you are protected when you pray.
In conclusion, it was a great trip. Even with the
poor facilities, Mana Pools is one of the last great wilderness
areas in Southern Africa and worth visiting.
History and overview
1952: Much of the area protected as a
1963: Mana Pools Game Reserve established;
1964: Chewore, Sapi and Urungwe Safari Areas
designated; 1968: Dande Safari Area designated;
1975: The National Park established and made
public under the Parks and Wildlife Act.
The Mana Pools lie in the wide floodplain of the
Zambezi river under high escarpment cliffs. They are former channels
of the Zambezi which lie in a broad sandy valley 110 km downstream
from the Kariba Dam little modified by man.
There are four main pools: Main, Chine, Long and
Chisambuk. The Safari Areas lie along the lower Zambezi nearer the
Mozambique border (except for Dande and Doma which are inland).
Their hinterlands include large areas of the rugged
Zambezi escarpment, which rises 1,000m from the valley floor. The
geology of the region ranges from the ancient gneiss and paragneiss
overlain by the lithosols of the basement complex of the escarpment
to the Karoo sandstones and recent river alluvium of the valley.
Much of Chewore is heavily dissected, with the 30 km
long Mupata Gorge along its northern boundary. The soils are sandy
except for the river bottom alluvium.
The mean annual rainfall is 700mm, falling mainly in
summer. The mean annual temperature is 25°C.
Some 463 species have been recorded, including 106
grasses (DNPWM, 2000). Well-grassed Brachystegia communities
dominate the mountainous escarpment and higher Chewore areas. The
valley floor is dominated by mopane Colophospermum mopane woodlands
or dry deciduous thickets known as jesse bush of a mixed species
layered dry forest.
Seasonal tributaries crossing the valley floor
support extensive riparian communities differing in character from
the floodplain vegetation. On the younger sandier alluvial deposits
along the Zambezi are well-developed though dwindling tracts of
winterthorn Faidherbia albida, a useful source of fodder with
more diverse woodlands containing sausage tree Kigelia africana
and Natal mahogany Trichilia emetica on the higher levee
deposits or old islands.
Iron Age sites have been investigated in the area
and J. White (1971) has written on the history and customs of the
Urungwe district. ‘Mana’ means four pools.
There is virtually no permanent human habitation
because of the presence of an array of tropical diseases including
sleeping sickness, bilharzia, and malaria, but the main road between
Harare and Lusaka with its associated settlements passes near the
Visitors and Facilities
Between 1995 and 2000 tourist numbers averaged
10,000 a year (DNPWM, 2000). but current conditions in the country
have reduced tourism. Visitor movements are strictly confined and
they are allowed to walk only in the Park’s riparian woodlands.
During the wet season the area is virtually closed
and the only effective way to see it is by canoe, and several canoe
safaris are available.
During the dry season visitors here experience some
of the highest concentrations of game in Africa and the greatest of
all seasonal aggregations of wild mammals along the Zambezi river.
There is high quality recreational hunting, game fishing and
exceptional wildlife viewing which are all managed so as not to
impair these resources or the wilderness. Mana Pools is only
partially developed as a tourist centre, but is so popular that the
available facilities can become overcrowded.
The number of cars allowed into the National Park at
one time is limited. There are tourist lodges at Rukumeche in the
west and at Chikwenya at the confluence of the Sapi and Zambezi
Rivers and tourist and hunting camps, but no tarred roads. The
nearest airport is at Kariba, 150 km southwest.
Escarpment cliffs overhanging an almost pristine
riverine flood-plain and sandbanks harbour a remarkable density of
wild animals including elephants, hippotamus, leopards, cheetahs,
buffaloes and large numbers of Nile crocodiles and birds. The Parks
lie within a WWF Global 200 Eco-region.
Fully protected, but strictly controlled
recreational hunting is permitted in the safari areas by the draft
management plan. Chewore and Sapi are eventually to become National
The five areas are zoned into: one Special
Conservation Area with no development and entry only for scientific
purposes; two Wilderness Areas of sufficient size to contain the
complete biota of the locality and with few signs of human
occupation; four Wild Areas serviced by roads and tracks, but where
the fauna and flora are paramount; and Development Areas for
visitor, management and administrative facilities.
Hunting rights in Sapi, Chewore and part of Urungwe
Safari Areas are divided into lots which are sold by auction on an
annual basis. In the rest of Urungwe they are sold to a local
hunting association, and in Dande they are leased to a safari
company. The Zambezi water level, fisheries, animal populations,
birdlife, dwindling winterthorn forest and tourist numbers are
monitored annually by the research staff of the DNPWM.
seasonal flooding of low-lying areas was seriously curtailed by the
completion of Kariba Dam in 1958. In 1989, oil exploration was
proposed in the reserves using trace line roads which would result
in erosion, industrial littering and improved access for poachers.
International publicity temporarily averted this threat. The
ecological heart of the area, the rich floodplain, has been further
threatened by a hydroelectric scheme proposed for Mapata Gorge which
would create an 85,000 hectare lake, obliterating much of the
Zambezi valley and halving the carrying capacity of Mana Pools. An
environmental assessment has been completed.
When the property was listed in 1984, it contained
about 500 black rhinoceros, the largest endemic population of these
animals in Africa. But this was almost destroyed by well organised
foreign poachers, chiefly from across the river in Zambia who killed
many rangers. To help control the problem it was suggested in 1987
that the site be listed in danger and that Lower Zambezi National
Park in Zambia be added to the World Heritage site. But at the end
of 1994 the last ten rhino were captured and translocated to an
intensive protection zone in another part of Zimbabwe.
destruction by elephants, poaching of elephants and fish are also
problems, and conditions in the country have led to much destruction
of wildlife during the past two years (David Shepherd Wildlife
The main road (gated) between Harare and Lusaka with
associated settlements passes through the area and there is a
private estate on the Zambezi near Chirundu. The land is sandy, of
limited agricultural potential and has never been used extensively
for livestock owing to tsetse fly infestation; Mana Pools have until
recently been remote enough to be relatively unaffected except for
the increasing numbers of tourists which create the need for more
facilities, especially for litter control.
However, a group of farmers, businessmen and
companies recently publicised the Chirundu Project, a 100,000 ha
agricultural development approximately 100 km long x 10 km wide,
proposed for the World Heritage area in 2005. The area under
immediate consideration totalled 67,660 sq,km, including the
construction of 600 low-cost houses.
According to the Zimbabwe Conservation Development
Foundation, this would result in serious degradation and the loss of
potential tourism revenue; and farming subject to malaria, sleeping
sickness and bilharzia would prove unprofitable (ZCDF, 2005). A
temporary stop was placed on the proposal in mid 2005 (Zimbabwe
Mitchell is a bow hunter, outdoorsman and the author of
several books on African wildlife and survival
In 2008 prospecting for copper, gold and uranium on
land in Zambia adjoining tributaries to the Zambezi became known,
including a reported ‘world class’ open-pit copper mine. Eight
national and international mining companies, among them Rio Tinto,
are interested in developing the prospects.
The resulting pollution by uranium and other mineral wastes could
potentially contaminate the almost pristine valley, threatening its
value as a World Heritage site. A proposal for hotel development on
the same bank was made at the time but withdrawn (UNESCO,2010).