National Parks of Zimbabwe

Elephant in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's Game Reserves were initially founded as a means of using unproductive land. Little regard was given to modern conservation values, but once these evolved, the country became a world leader in wildlife management.

By Nick Greaves

The first proclaimed Game Reserve was Wankie (now Hwange NP), formed in 1928 and upgraded in the 1949 National Parks Act. The then-Rhodesia's Game section was originally formed in 1952 as a subsidiary of the Department of Mines, Lands and Surveys. This was the nucleus that became the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management in 1964.One beneficial legacy of colonialism was the Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975, a quintessential breakthrough for conservation. The core philosophy of how people perceived wildlife was changed. Under the Act, ownership of wildlife passed from the State to whoever owned the land the animal lived on.When the landowners (both communal and private) became custodians of the wildlife, a change in mindset occurred. People began to see their wildlife resources as an asset to be nurtured, ensuring their benefits continued into the future. Gradually, fence-breaking elephant and zebra were not viewed as nuisances to be eradicated; herds of impala were no longer a quick, easy meal.Within the Parks and Wildlife Act, various levels were defined at which state-owned land was to be protected and utilized. Gone was the old Game Department that issued hunting licences which, for a nominal fee, allowed settlers to hunt wildlife in all areas but a few Game Reserves. A system of National Parks, Botanical Reserves and Gardens, Sanctuaries, recreational Parks and Safari Areas was set firmly in place. Since 1975, the Act has been amended and refined, allowing the evolution of a dynamic wildlife-protection process.Many African countries have since adopted this philosophy. So far-reaching was the concept of the original Act that it now enshrines many aspects of grass-roots conservation being implemented worldwide. Communal or traditional tribal areas and privately-owned land were also categorized for different levels of utilization.Communal areas harbouring significant wildlife resources or bordering National Parks were given Rural Council status and as a result CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) was born. CAMPFIRE has developed into an important conservation strategy, ensuring that significant financial earnings revert to rural communities for their benefit. This philosophy has been adopted on a Pan-African basis and is slowly being implemented in Asia and South America too.Many of Zimbabwe's National Parks, such as Victoria Falls, Mana Pools and Hwange, are renowned worldwide, though the country also has lesser-known gems such as Chizarira and Gonarezhou. Parts of the Rhodes Estate, established in Rhodes' will of 1902, were bequeathed to the nation for farming, forestry and agricultural research. This land later became part of the rocky Matobo and mountainous Nyanga National Parks.Zimbabwe's Parks offer a wide variety of accommodation, and it is best to check availability with the Parks Department Reservations Office in Harare (popular parks, such as Mana Pools, get booked up). Accommodation varies from fully equipped lodges, cottages and chalets, to camping and caravan facilities.The 1975 Act not only nurtured a change in attitudes to wildlife but also fostered the development of one of Africa's best tourism infrastructures. It saw the need for experienced and trained professional guides and hunters (another much-copied initiative), the establishment of long-term leases for operators in both National Parks and Safari Areas, the development of conservancies on private land and co-operation with rural communities. It was the precursor for eco-tourism in the truest sense.However, the Department of National Parks has always been a 'Cinderella' branch of government and has had to contend with under-funding - a grave error of judgment when one considers the Parks' earning capacity. In recent years the Department has been granted parastatal status whereby it is able to retain a significant proportion of the revenues it generates, in theory at least.The current volatile situation within Zimbabwe and the resultant reduction in tourism will have serious consequences for the running and maintenance of the National Parks and the wildlife they are supposed to protect. One immediate result of the past year's turmoil has been a harrowing increase in poaching in many NPs. Unless this stops soon, the NPs may not be the backbone of the country's economic recovery.

Chimanimani

17,100ha in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands. The 1.6 billion-year-old quartzite mountains are 'squeezedtogether' (Chimanimani in Ndawu) in three distinct, close ridges that rise to 2440m. Cut by deep gorges with perennial streams and waterfalls.Mainly dry montane (cedar and yellowwood) forests above grasslands. Proteas, aloes and related species grow here. Lichen on granite cliffs and ferns, mosses and orchids in forests. Several antelope species, notably klipspringer and rare Blue duiker. 200 bird species, including specials like Gurney's sugarbird. No roads, but a good network of footpaths and tracks. Hiking and mountain climbing. Safe swimming, trout fishing and an eland sanctuary. A communal hikers' hut and sites and caves in which to camp. Hotel, lodge and guesthouse in Chimanimani village.

Chizarira

Gazetted 1938, made NP 1975. Zimbabwe's remotest park: 192,000ha, 50km south-east of Lake Kariba. Chizarira ('barrier' in Batonka) is hidden behind the 600m msasa-wooded Zambezi escarpment. Mopane stands and grasslands criss-crossed by rocky ridges and deep gorges. Flood plains dominate the Busi Valley to the south.Plains and flood plains are Big Five country: about 12,000 elephant, herds of 200 - 400 buffalo and assorted antelope. Birds include three notables: the Bat hawk, Livingstone's flycatcher and the elusive Taita falcon. Remote and wild 4x4 country. Guided game drives; wilderness trails of up to 10 days. Very hot in summer (October - January). No permanent accommodation but four basic, exclusive camps. Two private safari lodges on the boundary.Gonerezhou Created 1975, by uniting 5000km2 of former hunting areas and tsetse fly control corridors. Borders Mozambique and South Africa.Hot, dry, low-lying bush country with outcrops of broken granite. Three big rivers cut its parched scrubland. The biggest, the Runde, is edged for 30km by the dramatic, red sandstone Chilojo Cliffs. Mopane, ironwood and baobab dominate. There are a number of grasslands.Gonarezhou means 'the place of the elephant' - more than 6000 here. They're larger, carry more ivory and, thanks to poaching and harassment, are more aggressive than elsewhere. A lot of other wildlife. 230 bird species; two rarities: Angolan pitta and Mashona hyliota. The living-fossil Lungfish and Zambezi sharks occur in the rivers.Raw, untamed and baking wilderness (40șC+ in summer). Network of game-viewing roads but most require 4x4. The 4-5 day trails probe real Africa. Main camp with thatched chalets. Camp sites, some primitive, along the rivers. Several private lodges operate around the park.

Hwange

Once the hunting preserve of Matabele Kings, this 14,650km2 park was proclaimed in 1949. Said to contain Zimbabwe's widest variety and greatest density of wildlife.Sits on the fringes of deep, heat-blistered Kalahari sands. Fossil dunes and rivers confirm that the area was once a desert. Granite kopjes in the north. Pans are watered from boreholes. 1100 plant species, including 260 types of trees and shrubs - notably acacia, mopane and teak.107 mammal species; Big Five, 25 different predators and 16 types of antelope. 20-30,000 elephant migrate between here and Chobe NP in Botswana. Over 430 bird species. 500km of roads and several waterhole viewing platforms and hides. Companies and individuals operate game drives, mobile safaris and 2-8 day walking trips.Three camps provide lodges, cottages, chalets, camp sites, a restaurant, shop and bar. Four more exclusive bush camps accessible by 4x4. A hotel and various private lodges, most upmarket, operate from nearby estates and concessions.

Kazuma

A 331,300ha reserve first proclaimed in 1949; deproclaimed 1964; reinstated mid-'70s. Lies north-west of Hwange on the Botswana border. Kazuma's heart is a large, open, grassy, natural pan. It and other local pans are flooded in the rains. Kalahari sands dominate the terrain.Most Hwange wildlife types found here, in sparser numbers. Home to Zimbabwe's only naturally occurring gemsbok and oribi. Lion and cheetah, in good numbers. A wide variety of waterfowl visit the pans. Remote, quiet and with good vistas, the park provides excellent game viewing away from crowds. Two primitive camp sites. One company runs 2-4 day camping trips. The closest accommodation is at Matetsi or near Victoria Falls.

Mana Pools

Achieved NP status 1975. Situated below Lake Kariba: 2200km2 with 70km of Zambezi frontage. The meandering Zambezi forms rich alluvial flood plains and terraces. Inland pools, open grasslands and mixed woodlands cover the valley floor. Unique ecosystem of sweet grasses, jesse scrub and open woodlands. Supports huge numbers of game - giraffe, wildebeest and hartebeest excepted for no known reason. 12,000 elephant, 8000 buffalo and numerous hippo and crocodile. 380 different water and woodland birds. African skimmers and Carmine bee-eaters breed here; Fish eagles common.Visitor numbers are restricted; Mana only opens during dry season (April - November). Game drives, unaccompanied walks, fishing and, most popularly, canoeing are available. About 12 operators offer up to 5-day trips down the river. NP camping sites and a few chalets on the riverbank and inland. Two private luxury lodges with alfresco bathtubs and riverside bars.

Matobo

43,200ha of cultural and natural importance. A candidate for World Heritage status. King Mzilikazi and Cecil Rhodes are among those buried here.The similarity between the smooth granite, whaleback boulders (dwalas) and the shaven domes of his warriors led Mzilikazi to the name amatobo - 'the bald ones'. Balancing rock towers, formed by erosion, contain innumerable smooth-walled caves. Below lie densely wooded valleys, numerous streams and grassy marshlands. Intense botanical variety: many trees and shrubs (some endemic), lichens, aloes, wild herbs and flowers and more than 100 grass species.Over 175 bird, 88 mammal, 39 snake and 16 fish species. Africa's highest concentration of Black eagles (and probably of leopard). Good scenic drives and excellent hiking and horse-riding among the hills. Stone Age rock paintings of incredible diversity and animation. Fully equipped lodges, chalets, camping sites and a guesthouse. Private lodges around the boundary offer tours.

Matusadona

A 1407km2 lakeshore park, 20km from Kariba town. Best reached by boat. Cut by the rugged Zambezi escarpment. Bounded by the verdant valleys of the Ume and Sanyati Rivers, both partly flooded by Lake Kariba's waters. Plateau covered by open, mixed woodlands, jesse bush and plains with swards of torpedo (panicum) grass.About 300 animal species, including Big Five, crocodile, hippo and cheetah. 240 different birds (many Fish eagles); at least 20 species of angling fish.3-4 day backpacking, guided game-viewing hikes; boat trips up the fjord-like Sanyati Gorge. Private safari lodges and three exclusive camps. Rustic overnight huts and camp sites. A CAMPFIRE project offers traditional Shona fare.

Nyanga

47,000ha of Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands. Takes its name from Mount Inyangani ('the shaman's horn'), its highest peak (2593m). Rolling granite mountains - birthplace to several big rivers which form spectacular cascades, notably the 243m Pungwe Falls. Open vistas, valleys, gorges and lakes. Brachystegias and other indigenous trees remain but many hillsides now covered with exotics - pine, eucalyptus and wattle. Aloes (one endemic), proteas, wild flowers and lichen thrive.Some antelope, Samango monkeys, birds (including the rare Marsh tchagra, Narina trogon and especially eagles). Hiking, mountain climbing and pony trail country. Iron Age stone structures, trout fishing, sailing and swimming. Five hotels, several holiday cottages, Parks lodges and camp sites in this easily accessed park.

Zambezi

56,000ha with a 40km front on the Upper Zambezi. Extends 24km inland. Crossed by the main road to Botswana. The Zambezi passes over several rapids in the basalt rockbed. The (usually dry) tributaries of several streams cross the parks' Kalahari sands. Big trees and Ilala palms flank the Zambezi. Inland, savannah grasslands dotted with pockets of mopane, mukwa and teak.Most of Zimbabwe's mammal and bird species found here, many in good numbers. Hippo and crocodile ever-present. 90km of game-viewing roads, a viewing platform, 25 picnic and 3 fishing sites. Private operators offer guided drives, walking and horseback trails, and canoe trips. The Department of National Parks has several riverbank bungalows and five basic camp sites in the park. Numerous hotels, lodges and tour operators in and around Victoria Falls village.Copyright © Travel Africa. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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