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Safari Stories to Warm your Heart

Storytelling is not just perfect around campfires; on safari, it’s almost compulsory. And what better place to recount exciting tales of adrenalin-surging adventures and magnificent sightings? These captivating stories, usually told with much gusto and embellishment, are the same ones you’ll remember long after you’ve gone home and packed away your bush kit.

Stories are a part of every safari and with a life spent in the bush, John Stevens has entertained many clients with tales of his experiences. These stories, always told in good company, are a pleasure to share and provide us with insights we may not find in books.

Tales of Suspense

With World Rhino Day coming up on the 22nd September, it seemed appropriate to open this newsletter with a story about a rhino, set under a full African moon.

When I asked John to tell me his Moonlight Rhino story, now legendary, he responded with a smile and that faraway look came into his eyes, as he recalled that wonderful night…

“Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley was once home to the Black Rhino. Difficult to believe now that they’re all gone, but true.

“It was August 1990 and our camp overlooked the vast expanse of the Zambezi River in the Mana Pools National Park. My four guests were American and our "Walking Safari" in this exquisite locality was almost over. They would be flying out of the area the following day so we had a little while left to explore. I sat back in my old canvas chair thinking of a few options. It would be full moon that night and I had in mind spending it out at a remote pan, which was situated well off the beaten track. I explained the benefit of sitting quietly at such a spot, listening to night sounds and observing at close quarters unexpected sightings. Above all, the whole atmosphere would be riveting. I detected a sparkle in my guests’ eyes!

“We headed for a large termite mound, moulded around the darkened tree trunks of several Ebony Trees. From the safety of the top of the mound we would have a good all-round view of the pan. In a few more minutes, the sun would vanish from sight.

“Like a giant football, the deep orange moon tipped the horizon. It seemed to rise rapidly, casting long deep shadows on the still water. There was a movement two o'clock from the position of the moon and then it remained motionless. Were we seeing things? It moved again, revealing the distinct outline of a Black Rhino. It walked majestically down to the water’s edge and then continued to wade into the middle of the pan. We watched in amazement as this prehistoric animal lowered its head to drink for what seemed a long time, and then it melted back into the shadows. We couldn't believe our luck; it read six-thirty on the watch dial.

“Another hour drifted by when we were all alerted to the ghostly howl of a Hyena echoing through the valley. In the distance, another answered. The moon was now well elevated; in fact, it had become like daylight! I was looking through my binoculars at the game trail where the Rhino had made its exit when another dark form emerged. The now familiar outline in the bright moonlight approached the water’s edge. The area was sufficiently bright to reveal that this Rhino was a magnificent bull. Should I attempt to call it closer? I would give it a try!

“Drawing in my lower lip beneath my top row of teeth I let out a challenge, which brought an immediate response. The animal swung around to face in our direction. The floating moon cast light down on this magnificent beast revealing its incredible profile, complete with long, tapered horn. The rhino answered to my challenge but in a far more realistic manner! He then began to approach our position with his head held low and telescopic ears tilted forwards. I whispered to my guests to remain absolutely still as the Rhino stood there just metres away in the grey water, moving his head from side to side, attempting to locate our position! Moving away a little distance, the Rhino proceeded to have a mud bath, almost rolling onto his back at times. The mud bath ended abruptly as the Rhino stopped and stood motionless, facing the opposite side of the pan; something had disturbed it.

“I scanned through my binoculars looking deeper into the shadows searching for a clue - what could have disturbed the Rhino? I was concentrating on a dark shadow, which could easily have been one of those "lookalikes " but then there was a movement. Another shadow of the same shape appeared, followed by yet another and I could now make out the forms of three large Buffalo Bulls moving in the direction of the approaching Rhino. Twenty meters separated the two species that were now quite obviously aware of each other’s presence. I wondered to myself how these two gigantic species would react to one another?

“They were now only a metre or two apart, heads lowered in a threatening challenge and the Rhino was snorting aggressively. The leading Buffalo responded with a loud bellow, thrusting its massive boss and curved horns in a sideways movement. The Rhino was having none of this and held onto its gained territory with determination. It was the Buffalo who backed off a short distance before deciding that actually he was the superior species and would duly regain lost pride! What happened next I would surely remember vividly for a long time…

“On the stage below, there was a certain calm in the way the giant animals now approached one another; no longer was there that aggressive display of threat. The brilliant moon was high, throwing its reflection on the calm water. A Scop’s Owl’s tranquil hoot punctuated this incredible moment.

“As the two massive heads were lowered, the tip of the Rhino's horn gently made contact with the worn boss of the Buffalo. I could hear the collective sharp intake of breath from my fellow spectators.

And that magical moment in time hovered gently before the beasts began to shuffle, a dance of danger as the dust sprang up like mushrooms beneath their feet. Utterly unforgettable.”

The stories we could tell

John and Nicci Stevens have put together and guided many wonderful safaris for clients who often come back for more of the thrills and fun they experienced whilst on safari.

One such client holds a special place in our hearts because she is almost equal in enthusiasm to John! But it’s more – Joann appreciates the care and attention that goes into planning each itinerary. She knows the value of a good guide and she understands that sometimes you have to work really hard to find the animals. She is also a great listener, and John shares many of his stories with this appreciative lady! Joann was rewarded for being a great safari traveller on her most recent travels with John in Zimbabwe…

“How lucky I am to have met John Stevens in 1996 when my husband and I took cousins on a Zimbabwe safari. We went back again two years later, and then John and I went to Zambia in 2007. In June of this year John and I met up for another great trip to Zimbabwe - Mana Pools on the Zambezi River, Hwange National Park and the Malilangwe Reserve in southern Zimbabwe. We had an incredible two weeks together; the bush was beautiful, still green in spots. The animals were not to be believed - huge herds of buffalo and elephants, cats every day, herds of sable... we saw it all. The Zambezi River is a favorite place of mine; we tracked lions the first day and then saw them daily thereafter. I had never been to Hwange before, but it is an incredible park with a proliferation of game - we saw lions every day, leopards twice and cheetahs with cubs and without 3 times. The giraffe were magnificent, the parade of elephants going to the watering hole will be in my mind forever, as will the little less than a week old elephant we saw with its family. I can't believe I saw 14 rhinos on one trip and at one park... both black and white.  

John knows where all the animals are, and his tales of the bush are wonderful. We had a million laughs and incredible sightings.”

Add a Log to the Fire – let us know if this exciting experience appeals to you…

Many stories have been told of safaris taken on the banks of the Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park. But just 45km inland from the river is a unique and remote water source called Chitake Springs. This is a favourite spot of John’s and many others besides. Gary Layard, a guide with whom John works often, especially at his daughter and son-in-law’s camp (, has come up with an idea that might arouse some interest, especially with returning clients. He suggests, that for a true “up close and personal” wilderness experience, Chitake is the perfect “fly-camping” site.

“There is an " edge " to Chitake, which I find completely addictive...”

It is from here that you can track lions and also choose from many different spots along the riverbed to sit and take in the interminable action. The spring provides the only source of water for miles around, so you may find yourself surrounded by herds of buffalo or elephant, antelope and the predators that follow, including lion, leopard and wild dogs. Well into the dry season, the incidence of wildlife sightings increases, as animals all come in search of water. It is now that you may see over a thousand buffalo come down to drink every day. Some of these photographs, kindly provided by Gary Layard, help to portray the intensity of the moment, as this big, very nervous herd descends to the water, lions looking on!

For the avid bush lover and for those who like a challenge, being in such close proximity to the wild provides an intense experience. Chitake’s narrow riverbed means that sounds are amplified here and the chance to sit quietly and watch the drinking herds at night, or sit behind binoculars during the day, twitching for the more than 300 bird species in the area, is one that shouldn’t be missed. Chitake is “raptor heaven”, with regular sightings of some of the less common raptors such as the western-banded snake eagle and little sparrow hawk. Bohm’s spine tail and large flocks of Lilian’s lovebirds are also often seen.

Camp overnight here (from The Mana Pools Safari Company tented camp and with Gary as guide), the rugged Zambezi escarpment a brooding presence in the background and the chance to immerse yourself in a true wilderness experience.

If this appeals to you and you’d like to find out more, do get hold of us and we can put something together that combines this experience with others. Contact Nicci or Laura now. We can feel a cracker of a safari story coming on!

Explore more...

Meet Gary Layard, Safari Guide

Gary Layard (48) grew up in rural Zimbabwe and has fostered a passion for wild places in Africa from a very young age. He is married to Sharon and has two children, Bryony (17) and Jeremy (14).

He qualified as an optometrist in Johannesburg in 1986 and has built up two busy optometric practices in Harare. 

In 2007 Gary decided to take his bush passion to new levels, and undertook to complete his Professional Guides license - after a three year apprenticeship, he was able to achieve this, whilst continuing to work as an optometrist - every possible opportunity to get into the bush was fully utilised, as his family and staff will confirm! Sharon, Bryony and Jeremy fortunately share Gary's passion for the bush, and they spend a lot of time together, enjoying the wilderness of Zimbabwe (especially Mana Pools National Park) and adjacent countries.

Whilst Gary continues to work as an optometrist, he does make time to pursue his passion with professional guiding - taking a number of select photographic safaris each year.

Join us around the campfire

If you’re planning to come on safari, we hope you find something here - – to warm your imagination and spark some thoughts.

But most of all, we hope that you, too, will come away from a safari with many stories of your own to tell!

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