Stepping out of our vehicle into the dust laden, blustery Mana Pools Park, the wind whipped our hair into our eyes as it gusted across the bare landscape. It was hard to believe the transformation from a few months before when the area was full of Indigofera bushes, their small green leaves giving the area a lush feel. There has been no rains in the area since May and the bush and grasses have given up the fight and become dormant until the rains reach the valley again.
The bright orange ringed pods from the Faidherbia Albida, are rattling furiously overhead in the swaying branches, before coming crashing down to the ground. Animals love these nutritious pods and I imagine the sound of them dropping to the ground can be liken to a chip or chocolate packet being opened! Looking around the vista in front of us, there is a variety of creatures busily munching on this delicious delicacy. Impala are dotted everywhere, competing with the baboons and warthogs who can be seen to be crunching away happily. Eland are dotted around, some in small groups other on their own, all enjoying the nutritious bounty falling at their feet. Normally you would have the baboons up in the branches having the choice of pods and the warthogs, eland and impala having no other option but to clean up the scraps that are discarded, but today there seems to be enough for all to share on the ground.
Then all of a sudden, the wind dies down for a few moments and with it the dust begins to settle. Over the ridge to our right large grey forms can be now be seen standing under the towering trees, their sensitive trunks delicately picking up the tasty morsels. We have climbed up onto a fallen log so we can take in a bit more of the landscape and avoid our legs being sand blasted too much, and we watch the small family. There are 3 adults and 2 juveniles busying themselves with collecting up the fallen pods, the other animals know better to try and share the food with these huge beasts. One of the youngsters was clearly a bit more fussy than the rest and would take her time over selecting a pod, curling her trunk around it, carefully tapping it against her leg to get rid of what sand she could, before popping it into her mouth. If there was a stalk left on any of the pods she would delicately pull it off while holding the pod between her teeth and toss it away.
The smallest member of the herd, who seemed to be just a few years old, must have been getting bitten by tsetse flies as he would stamp his little feet or do a little dance to chase the biting insects away. It looked like he had eaten his fill as he seemed to grow bored and clearly very irritated with the biting flies, so he found a cool spot in the sand under the base of the tall Albidia and lay down for a nap. His family continued to munch away on the pods around him and after they had eaten all the pods under this tree, a big cow ambled over, snuffling his belly trying to get him to get up and follow them to the next tree. After a little more encouragement he struggled to his little feet and plodded off with his family, their trunks swishing and tails swinging with their lumbering gait. As the wind and dust started once again to sweep across the flood plain, we retreated to the car, but were grateful for the short respite from the wind and a chance to watch the elephants feeding.