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.
To me, Mana Pools is not only one of the most stunning parks in Africa, it is also incredibly varied, possessing myriad areas each with an individual mood.
The wide-open flood plain, on the banks of the Zambezi, makes me feel I am strolling through the Garden of Eden, where game grazes around me, unperturbed by my presence. The tranquil albida forests bathe in a blue light that feels ancient and mysterious. The quiet pools lie still and motionless until, sitting by them for a little while, I discover that they are exploding with life.
Then there is the jesse, an area of extremely dense bush which can only be explored on foot by following elephant tracks; where I can stand next to a lion and never know… until it’s too late. And walking through the pillarlike cathedral mopani forest permeates the atmosphere of Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey…an ancient spirituality.
I choose to work with African Bush Camps, not just because of their expert guides and commitment to community conservation, but also because they have three very different camps in the park: Kanga, Zambezi Expeditions and Nyamatusi. Each offers a distinctive perspective of Mana. Kanga is a waterhole deep in the jesse which we are not visiting on this trip, but we are staying at the other two. Being able to stay in different locations adds significantly to the overall experience.
The last few days has involved a lot of travel so Henry and I offer our guests the option of another long journey to find the painted wolves or exploring the western side of the park where we are staying. We will be near the Mana River when we move to Nyamatusi, so there will be better opportunities to see the wolves then and it would be a shame to miss out on a full Mana experience.
Our suggestion is unanimously accepted and we set off at dawn to explore the floodplain, the area that I consider Eden. The plan is for Henry to guide us to Acacia Point, a grove of albidas on the banks of the Zambezi and then return through a forest further inland. I decide not to take my camera, electing instead to soak up the atmosphere and listen to Henry describe the formation of this stunning landscape and inform us about the flora and fauna it maintains. He has incredible knowledge and I always learn something new when I am with him.
At Acacia Point, Henry shows us where David Attenborough filmed the introduction to the BBC Dynasty series. Henry spent two years guiding the BBC team when they were filming the Painted Wolf episode. While I was not part of the BBC team, I spent days on end with the crew when photographing for my book. This time forged Henry and my friendship coupled with our shared passion for the painted wolves.
After an enthralling hour and a half we start our way back to camp, crossing the floodplain and into the trees. We spot a dead baby elephant, mauled by lion but not yet touched by hyena or vultures. Could this be the same elephant that we saw being chased by the lions two nights ago? It soon becomes apparent that it is.
While it is quite normal to see elephants on a walk, they are usually moving in a particular direction as they forage along the ground and in the trees. This makes it relatively straightforward to stay out of their way.
However, not far away, a female elephant seems to be randomly walking in wide loops. “She’s searching for her baby!” confirms Henry.
Looking through my binoculars I could see sweat pouring from her temples – a sure sign of stress. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal and after 22 months of carrying her baby, the loss must be awful.
“She is not safe to be around!” says Henry and expertly guides us through the trees, staying downwind of her all the time. If she had spotted us she would almost certainly have charged, but Henry gets us back to camp undetected.
In the late afternoon we decide on a short game drive. We meet a herd of elephants and I talk about the fun of shooting detail, especially useful when the animal is very close and you only have a long lens to play with. There is always a shot to be had.
We take an evening stroll along the banks of the Zambezi to a bee-eater colony to practice photographing birds in flight. It is notoriously difficult but very rewarding if you succeed. It requires incredible patience and concentration and Henry stands sentry on a termite mound to ensure nothing creeps up behind.
A vicious wind picks up off of the Zambezi covering us in dust which is not pleasant. We head back to our vehicle for a G&T. We realise that this is only the second sundowner we have had on this trip…there has just been too much excitement.
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.