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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > October-December 2019 > Mana Pools

Mana Pools

Understanding the geography of the park will explain the structure of the accommodation available

ZIMBABWEAN SIDE

DICK PITMAN

The ‘Middle Zambezi Valley Wildlife Complex’ extends along 160 miles of the Zambezi River between the Kariba and Cabora Bassa reservoirs, where the Zambezi Valley itself is defined by its twin escarpments, rising some 2000ft above the Valley lowlands. The northern escarpment lies close to the Zambian shore; on the Zimbabwean side, it lies up to 50km south of the Zambezi itself.

The entire complex covers about 14,000sq km. So why is so much of the wildlife tourism to this magnificent area confined to the (very roughly) 40sq km pocket-handkerchief-sized area beside the Zambezi and known locally – but not entirely correctly – as the ‘Mana Pools floodplains’?

Tourism tends to focus on spectacular gatherings of wildlife; and the Mana floodplains are one of very few – and certainly the largest – spectacular dry-season ‘concentration areas’ for wildlife in the entire valley. The remainder of the area is of great interest to biologists and conservationists, and essential to the survival of Zambezi Valley wildlife, but less immediately attractive for tourists. Much of it consists of rather featureless mopane and other woodland, the main exception being the ‘dry forest’ known to locals as ‘jesse bush’.

Visitors by road will pass through these forests shortly before reaching the floodplain. They contain trees that are found nowhere else in the world; and you may see the relatively uncommon crested guineafowl, or glimpse the shy nyala antelope which you won’t see elsewhere in the Zambezi Valley. However, the forests are so dense that visibility is restricted to a few metres and it is positively dangerous to enter them on foot, unless accompanied by a very experienced Mana guide.

All these areas are of critical importance to wildlife, because there’s no way that 40sq km of Mana floodplain could support even a fraction of the Park’s wildlife year-round.

This has to do with the availability of water and forage. Many wildlife species disperse throughout the Park during the rains, when natural – but temporary – water is abundant, and forage plentiful. At this time, the floodplains can be almost deserted, except for the resident impala and an occasional elephant bull.

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