Mana, banking on the Zambezi!

While we were in Mana Pools on a Wild Eye photographic safari, we stayed at Mwinilunga Safari camp operated by friends Dave and Tess, wonderful people! This camp is located in the Trichilea area of Mana Pools which is named after its groves of verdant green, deep shade Natal Mahogany trees. The welcome shade, wildness, hospitality and wonderful cuisine made this a perfect base for our photographic excursions.

“The Zambezi river mercurial and transformative. Controlled for the most, but never tamed. Humble beginnings but mighty in maturity. The journey forces changes in the mood and energy,  but the character and purpose remain. Life blood to many and much. Abundance within, above and around. It casts an enchanted spell on those who choose to wander along its course.”

~Mike Haworth

The Mwinilunga camp is named after the source of the Zambezi river. The Zambezi Source National Monument is located in Mwinilunga, a district in the North-western Province of Zambia. The source of the Zambezi River is itself located some 53 Kilometres on the Northwest of Mwinilunga in Kalene Hills. This is the source of one of the four mightiest rivers in Africa. The Zambezi River is ranked fourth in terms of size on the African continent after the Nile, The Congo/Zaire, and the Niger. ( http://whc.unesco.org). The area of the Zambezi’s basin is slightly less than half that of the Nile river.

This river originates in the Kalene Hills in northwest Zambia at an elevation of 1,500m above sea level and flows south and eastwards for 2,574 km to the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi river has been classified into three distinct stretches: the Upper Zambezi from its source to Victoria Falls, the Middle Zambezi from Victoria Falls to Cahora Bassa Gorge, and the Lower Zambezi from Cahora Bassa to the Zambezi Delta. The next panorama shows the vastness of the flat flood plain section of Mana with the hills of the Zambian escarpment in the distance.

20171014-D5S_0788-Pano

Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba are in the centre of the Middle Zambezi section. Below Kariba Dam, the Zambezi flows from Kuburi through a series of deep gorges and narrow floodplains down to the Lower Zambezi National Park on the north bank and Mana Pools National Park on the south bank. Middle Zambezi is fed by two major tributaries – the Kafue River and the Luangwa River. The Kafue river flows into the Zambezi just below Chirundu and upstream of Ruchomechi while the Luangwa joins the Zambezi at the headwaters of the Caborra Bassa dam in Mozambique.The Middle Zambezi Valley is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Zambezi River Basin features several of Africa’s finest national parks. Eight Zambezi Basin floodplains are designated as Wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, including the Barotse Plain, Busanga Plains, Kafue Flats, Mana Pools (also a World Heritage Site), Lower Zambezi National Park, Elephant Marsh, and the Zambezi Delta. (https://hub.globalccinstitute.com). The river surrounds are home to a rich biological diversity and some of the densest concentrations of wildlife in the world.

“There is another alphabet, whispering from every leaf, singing from every river, shimmering from every sky.”
~ Dejan Stojanovic

Before the Kariba dam wall was built, the vast area below Chirundu was a floodplain. The annual flooding of the floodplain resulted in a massive increase in fish production far in excess of what an equivalent river without a floodplain could produce. Now that the floodplain no longer floods and renews the soil, the land is less fertile and consequently supports less wildlife. Today, the Mana Pools flood plain is sustained by rainfall and groundwater seepage.

As the Zambezi flows past Mana Pools it spreads out. At some points, it is a wide shallow river and at other points it splits into numerous channels alongside  the main channel. The river looks very quiet at this point but watch a piece of water hyacinth or a small raft of reeds being carried by the river, and you will see it is in fact flowing at about five kilometres per hour. The Kariba dam wall had major hydrological and ecological changes down river. Immediately down stream of Kariba the water quality was markedly altered. Turbine intakes usually draw water from the hypolimnion (lower thermal layer) or metalimnion (middle thermal layer) water layer of the lake. This turbinated discharge water is cool and low in oxygen. By the time it gets to Mana Pools the quality of the water has been restored. 

(http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/AC675E/AC675E06.htm). 

There has been deep erosion of  the Zambezi channel below the adjacent floodplain and  the water table in the floodplain has fallen. Without the flooding, there has been the invasion of woody savanna and thicket vegetation into open grassland and wetland, abandonment of former tributary channels, and further down at the delta as the Zambezi floods into the Indian ocean there has been displacement of freshwater grassland species with salt-tolerant grassland species, degradation of coastal mangroves, and reduction in breeding and feeding grounds for endemic and threatened mammal and waterbird species. There are significant long-term consequences to the down stream river flow once a dam such as Kariba had been built.

The next images shows the Zambezi splitting into a number of channels along the main channel. This is beneficial for hippos and crocodiles.

Some of the channels are permanent and other seasonal. 

The water levels in the river do vary depending on how much water is being controlled through the Kariba dam wall. The Zambezi Water Authority reported that Kariba dam was 36% full on 15 Jan-2018 compared to 15% full the same time the year before. The lake level varies seasonally with a low around February and a high around May-June each year. One interesting fact is that the maximum flow recorded at Victoria Falls was during the early construction phase of the Kariba Dam wall in March 1958 at 10,000 cubic metres per second. The lowest flows recorded to date at Victoria Falls were during the 1995/96 season which had an annual mean flow of 390 cubic metres per second. The long-term mean annual flow at Victoria Falls is 1,100 cubic metres per second and it is currently 990 cubic metres per second (http://www.zaraho.org.zm). One anecdotal piece of information I found ( not sure how accurate it is) indicated that each flood gate opened in the Kariba dam wall raises the water level of the Zambezi River, passing Mana Pools, by approximately 1 metre.

“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.”
~ David Brower

Mana Pools is dry and hot in October but along the Zambezi river bank the flora is verdant, attracting much wildlife.

As you would expect the flood plain is flat

There is an abundance of wildlife in Mana Pools. If you are lucky you may see rare species such as African wild dogs and South Ground Hornbills.

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.”
~ Jo Walton

The spring days in Mana can be very hot with cloudless blue skies.  Unusually one morning it was very hazy. I am not sure whether it was temperature inversion or smoke haze. It did not smell like smoke haze.

 

By mid morning the heat normally makes the far side of the river shimmer in waves, this particular morning it was very hazy. Interestingly, there was a strange quietness which descended over the bush.

This is a panorama of the scene in the late afternoon between Goliath Safari’s camp and the BBC camp. (double click on the image to enlarge the panorama)

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore

The sunsets in Mana are legendary. The sun sets over the Zambian escarpment. In early spring there is plenty of dust in the air, so the setting sun shines through a dusty atmosphere creating surreal colours.

This particular evening marked the end of a productive afternoon with our cameras. We drove down to the river to watch the sun setting – with a beer in hand.  This scene was indescribably beautiful. The quiet and beauty was mesmerising.

 

There has been a long-standing family tie with Mana Pools. My father, Brian Haworth, built the steel frame for this treetop lodge for a European client in the early 1960s. When he was alive, Dad told stories of when he was building the treetop lodge. While constructing the steel frame, once the frame was built and the first floor platform was in place, he would sleep on the platform at night for safety. During the night elephants would come and scratch themselves against the steel columns of the elevated lodge. Needless to say the entire frame swayed back and forth. Dad quickly realised stronger bracing was required for the stability of the steel frame to ensure the safety of future guests. Once the lodge was opened, we visited as guests and I remember standing at the top of the stairs looking down at the buffalo and honey badgers below the lodge. There were also black rhino around that area.

Mana Pools treetop lodge 1964 1Mana Pools Treetop lodge 1964 2

Source: Unknown, but thank you for the wonderful memories.

Much later my cousin, Rob Shattock, became involved in Ruchomechi in the early 1980s. The luxury lodge of today had humble beginnings. Rob had always had a deep interest in the area. He started the camp with an old caravan, a few small tents. The camp was not on the tourist map, but it was just at the end of the war. Times were tough and there was little income revenue forcing the camp to change hands a few times. The successive owners progressively developed Ruchomechi into the wonderful lodge it is today.

nehimba-lodge

Robin Shattock holding up what I think was a Sable Antelope skull to show guests.

I have only ever gone to Mana in the dry season mainly because of accessibility and ease of seeing the wildlife. I am told Mana is a verdant paradise around March and April. 

I spent a wonderful five days in Mana Pools in the Mwinilunga safari camp. A big thank you to Dave, Tess and Roog for your hospitality, exceptional cuisine and warm friendship ( and Roog your evening dancing!!!). I will be back!

To Johan van Zyl of Wild Eye, thanks so much for showing interesting ways to photograph and sharing your knowledge about wildlife which is so valuable when trying to anticipate its behaviour – much appreciated. 

“Memories were the markers of the journey through life. It was necessary to know where you had come from. Only then could you know where you were going.”

~William Shatner

Explore, seek to understand , marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

 

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