What a message to receive when you walk into the office – “Hey Ian… You know the Wolf family who are in Zimbabwe right now? They were enjoying breakfast when a bull elephant came up and tossed them and the tables around… fortunately everyone was ok”. Thank goodness for that! Then I saw the video which was posted on Youtube. Wow! Within a week the Wolf family had been mentioned in Irish papers, then on Sky News, then to the USA where several papers picked it up and the story appeared on Inside Edition.
Mana Pools – getting close to African wildlife! Mana Pools Zimbabwe holds a lot of dear memories for me as I went to University in Zimbabwe. On weekends we would get a group of friends together and drive 4 hours from the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare, to Mana Pools for some fishing, wildlife and lots of drinking and mayhem. I recall elephants walking all around our campsites and yet cautiously maneuvering around and over our fishing lines. Crocodiles would take our bait (you try to reel in a crocodile), hyenas stole our cooler and shoes repeatedly, baboons would shout all night from the treetops often dropping smelly little presents on our tents or sleeping bags. We found a rope swing and on 100 degree days there was nothing better than launching yourself into the cool Zambezi River (where biologist’s say there is 1 crocodile for every 30 feet of shoreline)… We were nuts. We would stay up late, throw elephant dung piles at each other and generally behave like college students. But one thing was not lost on us – Mana Pools was like the Garden of Eden. It had a comfortable, natural feel and look to it. With the blue Zambian hills to the north and the Zambezi Escarpment to the south it was like time had stood still and the earth was a beautiful place filled with wild animals of all sizes and shapes, beautiful trees and flowers… just an amazing place. When we talk with others in the safari industry we often hear, and agree, that if you had to live the rest of your days in one place in Africa Mana Pools would be it. I have seriously thought that life would not be too bad to grow old there – be a tribal leader with crazy white hair and a huge beard living in a mud walled, grassed roof, hut… anyway I digress.
So we are about to launch a new website and Mana Pools / Ruckomechi Camp, where this elephant encounter took place, are featured as one of the places where we have had some of the closest wildlife encounters over the years. It is commonplace to have elephants, lion, hippo and buffalo walking all around the rooms and main areas of this open air camp. It is common that you cannot walk from your room to the bar as wild animals are in the way. The guides will actually use their LandRovers to escort you around. I recall an afternoon a few years back – I stayed in camp while all the other guests went out on game drive… I walked over to the bar and grabbed a Coke from the fridge. I was about to walk back to my room but found myself surrounded by 50+ buffalo and a small herd of female elephants with babies… No problem. I quietly opened my Coke and sat on the ground with my back to the fridge. A small woven reed wall behind the bar separated me from the wild animals. Over the next 30 minutes the eles walked up to within a foot of me… their sides rubbing against the thin wall. I could reach out and touch their feet but of course I didn’t. After they stepped back a bit I was able to move to a nearby sofa in the open air lounge. It was then that I noticed one of the camp staff walking up. He was older and I knew he didn’t see well. I shouted “Hey – watch out – elephant and buffalo”… He replied “ahh… everyday” and clapped his hands loudly while shouting a few words… the eles and buffalo moved a little further on. Wish I had thought of that…
A few years back there was a global news story about a lion that stole a tourists camera in Africa and the close up shots were incredible… this too was our client, professional photographer Ed Hetherington, and this happened at Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools.
A few years prior to this we had clients on a canoe safari in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe and a hippo took a bite out of the front of the canoe.
Anyway when writing about Ruckomechi for the new website I worried about talking up how close you get to game here… I didn’t want to invite trouble. Well before the site has even gone up the latest close encounter of a wild kind occurred with the Wolf Family. We have spoken at length about the incident with Mr. Wolf and he said they were able to have a good laugh about it after the fact. They love Africa and the special wilderness and wildlife experiences to be had there. He also had to laugh at the incredible reach of the internet and how fast the video spread… Mitch Wolf, the family patriarch, mentioned one of his extended family was in a New York taxi and saw her nephew getting tossed by an elephant on the little TV screen on the back of the taxi’s seat! How is that for incredible.
Here’s to Mana Pools, Zimbabwe – one of the wildest and greatest wilderness areas on the planet! And here’s to the incredible African elephant – one of the largest and powerful animals. Although generally well behaved they are immensely powerful and deserve a tremendous amount of respect. Any encounter should be taken very seriously. It is far better to err on the side of caution and keep your distance – fortunately being of such great size you really don’t need to be that close to see them well!
Ultimate Africa founder and president