Zimbabwe: Wild is Life

Neil retells his safari adventures in southern Africa.

Words & Photography by Neil Hamilton-Ritchie.

Landing into Zimbabwe was like landing onto a new planet. It was the simplest of things that caught my imagination; New sounds and smells. I was amazed at the bird life around me. These animals which were unlike anything I had ever seen before, they seemed so alien to me it was amazing. There was one bird, that at first look like ordinary black bird. Yet when its feathers shone in the light is had an amazing violet colour. Then there were the Quelea, which were hundreds of tiny birds that would fly together like a giant swarm of bees. The sound as they flew was like a loud gust of wind.

Over the course of a few weeks I went on Safari in the north, to a national park called Mana Pools. Mana sits along the Zambia river and is the only park in Zimbabwe that allows one to camp along side the lions, elephants and other wild life without any sort of protection. We spent our days scouting for wildlife in the morning and evening. Sometimes by treading carefully on foot or in one of the trusty 1980s Range Rover Defenders.

Leopard tracks leads to a dead impala dragged up the tree.

I learnt one could tell the animal’s story of the night using clues left on the ground. One morning we spent an hour tracking leopard prints. They led us to a patch of blood with dragging marks leading to the tree. In the tree there was a dead impala but no leopard in sight. Leopards always store their food in the tree for safe keeping. We decided to return to the tree later that night and sure enough when we arrived there was the leopard’s eyes shining right back at us like LED lights. I was just speechless, this is a once in a life time sort of thing.

A stampede of elephants walk past the tent grounds.

It was so important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Lions, hyenas and even elephants are well camouflaged and you wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of them — especially in between a Elephant mother and child. Another morning when we came across an Elephant that was stuck in the thick mud by a watering hole. Its entire half of its body was submerged in the glue-like mixture. There wasn’t much to be said, we all knew what we had to do. That was the day we saved an Elephant.

Binoculars, essential for safari!
The morning scout.

We usually finish the morning scout just before midday when the sun begins to become unbearable. The first thing to do is to chuck a cold bucket of water over yourself, clothes and all — it will evaporate in under an hour anyway! A delicious lunch is awaiting us when we get back, prepared by Tessa and the team. After lunch you do as the lions do — drift asleep in the shade.

Some afternoons were spent fishing in the Zambia River. The King Fish in the river are very difficult to catch. Don’t worry, when you have a Tiger on the line you will know. The line will start reeling frantically into the water. The proper technique is to let the fish swim away with the line for a few metres, then yank the hook back violently to get hook seated properly. After that it is a matter of muscling it back to shore. I never knew a fish could be so strong.

The nights were peaceful if you didn’t mind the lions calling and the hippopotamus splashing in the river. Over here the nights are just as awake as the day and I was reminded every time how special it was to be so close to nature again.

If you are interested in experiencing a safari like this, I can recommend Mwinilunga Safaris. Dave, Tessa and Andrew have been doing Safari for years. They will take care of everything for you. All you need to do is bring yourself, relax and enjoy the true Africa wilderness.