Encountering an upset hippo in Zimbabwe

Muddy hippo charges at the camera


In 2019, Mana Pools National Park in Southern Africa’s Zambezi Valley experienced a record-breaking drought—with its four pools almost completely dry. Only muddy puddles remained to support a dwindling population of catfish and thousands of impalas, elephants, and monkeys. I have been visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site for 10 years, spending months at a time walking through the bush and photographing wildlife. But the drought put park rangers, tourists, and me in positions we never could have anticipated.

One day I saw a small vervet monkey stuck in the mud, a hippo lurking behind it. I kept my distance, walking a wide arc to snap some photos while contemplating how to help. The hippo started to walk away, so I slowly approached, but at the last moment, it turned and charged straight at me. I managed to snap one last photo before bolting out of the way. Finally, the hippo moved far off enough that I could move the monkey to safer ground.

For a nature photographer, intervening is never an easy choice, but I felt obligated to help this monkey in distress because of the drought. Unfortunately, saving Mana Pools is far more complicated; two of the four pools have yet to recover, and despite the efforts of local staff, the incredible wildlife that relies on the pools remains at risk.

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