Photography and story: Nicholas Dyer
In early November 2019 Nick Dyer led an exclusive nine-day photographic safari in Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks in search of the elusive painted wolf.
Limited to six people and staying with African Bush Camps, it was action packed from start to finish. Join the excitement day-by-day as Nick recounts this experience illustrating the story with his photographs.
This is our last morning in Hwange. We have only been here three nights, but the abundant sightings make it seem like a week. The painted wolves have been living up to their reputation as Africa’s most elusive predator, but no one is disappointed, and I am confident in finding the packs in Mana.
Our transfer flight is not until midday, so we head out with Dickson for one last drive, voting unanimously to return to Ngweshla in the hope of finding Cecil’s lions. We had heard a lot of roaring coming from that direction during the night.
Sure enough, we find them quickly but again we are reminded of the severity of the drought and just how tough it is for the herbivores. They are very weak, and the lions are taking full advantage. One of the females devours the remains of a baby elephant while full-bellied cubs play frivolously with the remains of a zebra’s leg. For the carnivores, this is a time of plenty.
Dickson tells us that the lions have been killing several times a night. While it is distressing to witness such a one-sided battle, I know that, in a few weeks’ time, when the rains come, the lions will have it much tougher. Much of the game will disperse into the waterless wilderness and there will be many a day when the cubs go hungry.
The pride moves calmly in convoy towards the water clearly looking to drink. I ask Dickson to position the vehicle with the sun behind us so that it beams onto the lions. Excitement builds as I sense that we are going to get some incredible photos.
Dickson manoeuvres us into a perfect position and the lions hunker down in a line to drink. Two adults and six cubs; eyes shining in the morning sun while their reflections ripple below them. Photo opportunities like these are rare and our memory cards rapidly fill as we try to capture the essence of this unique moment. With such perfect conditions, our challenge will not be if will we get a great shot, but rather, which out of our hundreds will we choose.
We head back to camp to pack and say goodbye to our lovely hosts at Somalisa. We have had the camp to ourselves, and they have made us feel like family.
At the airstrip, we sit by the waterhole where we saw the baby elephant being born. It is again bulging with thirsty elephants and we strain to find the little lad that would not yet be two days old. We pick him out, tucked between his mother’s legs, looking strong but dwarfed by the giants around him. Patiently he waits his turn to drink. As we take off, we hope the other ellies will be kind.
I love flying over Zimbabwe as you gain a perspective of the country which I rarely get from my Landcruiser. We fly north up the eastern edge of the park spotting all the places where I have sat quietly by myself and photographed for hours. I think of all the incredible animals that are protected within its boundaries and quietly thank ZimParks for the incredible job they do in protecting them. This is in spite of the many challenges within this great country.
As we approach Mana, I feel my excitement levels rising. It is a second home having camped here for over 400 days over the last six years. I am also looking forward to seeing my good friend Henry Bandure who guided the BBC when they filmed Dynasties. We both know the Mana packs well and I love guiding guests with him.
On arrival we take a slow drive our to camp and I discuss with Henry the latest news on the packs. They have been sighted on the Mana River which is some way from where we are staying.
We reach our Zambezi Expeditions Camp located in an area called the Mucheni’s. It is a luxurious mobile camp that sits in a grove of acacias and sausage trees on the banks of the might Zambezi. Upstream of the camp is the full glory of the floodplain lightly sprinkled with trees, elephant and plains game. Across the river, rises the majestic Zambian escarpment which hems in the view making you believe you are living in a secret.
As we arrive, the staff sing an enthusiastic song of welcome and offer a cool drink and wet towel which is deliciously welcome after our journey. It is outrageously hot in Mana – the temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius.
The painted wolves are too far away to go looking for them by the time we had settled in, so Henry and I decide to take our guests on a late afternoon stroll along the Zambezi to soak up Mana’s unique atmosphere.
On our return we come across five lions sitting on a ridge only about 100 metres away…all female and known to us as the Spice Girls. They watch our procession of eight people with indeterminate curiosity. It is starting to get dark and the time when it is safe to be out with lions on foot is coming to a close.
To our astonishment a baby elephant walks onto the scene in front of them. In their surprise, the lions get up and mill around it, not sure of what to do. They seem to be as confused as the little ellie. ‘Where the hell is the mother?” I anguish. This stand-off seems to last forever but eventually the lions regain their composure and they all charge into the bush, out of site.
“Let’s get back.” says Henry authoritatively. “This is no longer a good time to be out here.” That’s what I like about Henry, safety is always paramount. While it would be tempting to stay and see the outcome, it certainly would not have been wise.
Over dinner and more Painted Wolf Wines, we debate the fate of that little elephant. No one mentions it, but in all our minds is the little guy we saw being born just 48 hours previously.
About Nicholas Dyer
Nick is an award winning wildlife photographer, the co-author of the acclaimed Painted Wolves: A Wild Dog’s Life and Chairman of the Painted Wolf Foundation. His passion is for painted wolves and he has spent the last seven years following the packs in Mana Pools on foot. He now leads Painted Wolf Safaris so people can get to experience and understand these enigmatic and endangered creatures.
Learn more about the Painted Wolf
Join me on my annual ‘Walking with Wild Dogs’ safari with African Bush Camps and enquire below. For the itinerary details, visit African Bush Camps’ website.
Please contact me if you would like to discuss creating a bespoke and unique painted wolf adventure