Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Exploring Nature: Zimbabwe 2014

       Following America's premiere day of freedom,  I joined my family on one of the wildest journeys that I have ever experienced. All members of my family have a deep appreciation for nature and are fascinated by all things living. It has been a dream of ours to visit the continent of Africa and finally, after nearly a year of planning and research, (mostly by my sister Allison. Thank you!) we embarked on an 18 day trip to two of Zimbabwe's finest national parks. The following is a collection of my favorite images and stories from our trip. 

I spent several days and many hours in transit until I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. There I met my family and flew directly to Victoria Falls. From Vic Falls we had one final flight in two small planes that brought us to Hwange National Park. There we were met by a spectacular man from Zimbabwe named Elliot. Elliot has studied and guided in Africa for 30+ years. He is a living encyclopedia. We quickly got to it and started down a dirt road into the bush.

Hwange National Park
Within 15 minutes we arrived at a waterhole that was occupied by 30+ elephants.

This little guy was having a good time.
This is a 'Lilac-breasted Roller'. Their beautiful colors made them a favorite of the trip.

That night when we arrived at our camp, we were peaking with stoke and very gratified from the amazing wildlife that we had seen in the first few hours.  We relaxed under the rising moon. Soon we saw a red flash from a game light just a few hundred meters from our camp and someone shouted "Lion!" We hopped in a vehicle and quickly parked only 20 feet or so from this large male lion. 

As we laid down to sleep that night we began to hear calls of the lions, long deep groans, which lasted about 20 or 30 second each. I have never heard anything like it. The lions called throughout the night and were all less than 300 meters away. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much that night.

We woke at first light and were thrilled to see a large pride of lions!

Truly one of the most majestic living things I have ever seen.  

There were some MASSIVE termite mounds!
A Yellow-Billed Hornbill, or more commonly recognized as "Zazu" from Lion king. 

Me and this guy really hit it off.

Are incredible guide in Hwange, Elliot, has dedicated a lifetime to the African wild. I have met few individuals as knowledgable and humble. His passion for wildlife is inspirational. Photo by Brad Parker.

After 2 incredible days at the Davidson's camp in Hwange, we hopped on another small plane and flew several hundred kilometers to the heart of Mana Pools National  Park, along the shores of the mighty Zambezi river.

 Mana Pools National Park

We got a little too close for comfort to this guy. He didn't mind us at first but he got a little too curious for few minutes. He flopped his ears and stood aggressively, but shortly stumbled on. Epic photo by my brother, Bradley Parker.
"Boswell." He is one of very few elephants in Africa that has learned to stand on his back legs.

There is a very healthy population of wild dogs in Mana Pools. One afternoon we walked to a den and saw this one. If you look closely you can see blood around its face.  

Baby elephant.
Henry Bandure is a wonderful human being. His fantastic personality and seemingly infinite knowledge of Africa is incredible. It is great to meet people that are doing exactly what they love!

About 300 kilometers downstream of Victoria Falls,  Mana Pools National Park is positioned along the banks of the Zambezi river. While spending 8 days in the park my family and I decided to do a guided Canoe trip down a 30 kilometer stretch of the river. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into...

Canoeing the Zambezi

Notice the hippo head popping out of the water. We were constantly avoiding and waiting for them to get out of the water. We saw hundreds during our trip. 

After waiting about an hour, I caught this big slimy Cat Fish.  

The time we spent with Henry in Mana Pools was truly amazing. It makes me very happy knowing that healthy populations of African wildlife still flourish in the modern world. Without the parks like this, wildlife would certainly perish. I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced this amazing place in the world with the ones that I love.