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Conservation Services

Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park

Introduction

A major, dynamic conservation initiative – the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) – is currently unfolding across the southern African region.

By supporting sustainable economic development, TFCAs will play a key role in Africa’s ecotourism development. Southern Africa’s first TFCA, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, was formally opened on 12 May 2000 by the presidents of Botswana and South Africa. In the same year, the governments of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland signed five protocols on the establishment of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area. These milestones were followed by the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the governments of the Kingdom of Lesotho and South Africa on 11 June 2001, which paved the way for the establishment of the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area. In June 2001 the governments of Mozambique and Zimbabwe signed an agreement to establish the Chimanimani TFCA in the Chimanimani Mountains.

On 9 December 2002, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) was proclaimed with the signing of an international treaty at Xai-Xai, Mozambique by the heads of state of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. As recent as 1 August 2003, a treaty on the establishment of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park was signed in Windhoek by the presidents of Namibia and South Africa. Agreements to develop further transfrontier conservation areas in southern Africa are under way, with some in the final stages of development.

The establishment of transfrontier conservation areas is an exemplary process of partnerships between governments and the private sector. While the main players are the relevant governments and implementing agencies, donors and NGOs have also greatly contributed towards the creation of transfrontier parks. In the case of the GLTP entities such as the World Bank, USAID Regional Center for Southern Africa, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, WWF Netherlands, Novamedia, the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, Deutsche Bank, SAFRI/DaimlerChrysler, the African Wildlife Foundation and Peace Parks Foundation have made major contributions towards creating what can be considered as the world’s greatest animal kingdom.

Background

The Great Limpopo TFCA began with a meeting between President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and the president of the World Wide Fund For Nature (South Africa) in 1990. In 1991 the Mozambican government used funds made available by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for feasibility studies toward the implementation of a TFCA pilot project. The 1992 Peace Accord in Mozambique and the South African democratic elections of 1994 paved the way for the political processes to proceed towards making this idea a reality. Feasibility studies initiated by the World Bank culminated in a pilot project that was launched with GEF funding in 1996.

This process led to the signing a trilateral agreement in Skukuza, South Africa on 10 November 2000 by Minister Helder Muteia, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Mozambique; Minister Valli Moosa, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in South Africa, and Minister Francisco Nhema, Minister of Environment and Tourism in Zimbabwe. The Skukuza Agreement signalled the three nations’ intent to establish and develop a transfrontier park and surrounding conservation area, at that time called Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou.

Since the signing of the trilateral agreement, working groups operating under a technical committee were established. The technical committee, in turn, would work under the Ministerial Committee.

Finally, on 9 December 2002, the heads of state of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed an international treaty at Xai-Xai, Mozambique to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

The signing of the GLTP treaty effectively transformed the technical committee into a joint management board and the working groups into management committees. The thus established permanent management committees deal with conservation, safety and security, finance, human resources, legislation and tourism. Facilitating the process is an international coordinator, who was replaced in November 2003 when Mozambique took over from South Africa as coordinating country to develop and implement the GLTP project. In terms of the Skukuza agreement, the coordinatorship rotates every two years.

Where is the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park?

The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park will link the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique; Kruger National Park in South Africa; Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe, as well as two areas between Kruger and Gonarezhou, namely the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe and the Makuleke region in South Africa into one huge conservation area of 35 000 km² .

The GLTP will bring together some of the best and most established wildlife areas in southern Africa. The park will be managed as an integrated unit across three international borders. The establishment of the GLTP is the first phase in the establishment of a bigger transfrontier conservation area measuring almost 100 000 km².

The larger transfrontier conservation area will include Banhine and Zinave National Parks, the Massingir and Corumana areas and interlinking regions in Mozambique, as well as various privately and state-owned conservation areas in South Africa and Zimbabwe bordering on the transfrontier park. The final delineation of the area will be determined by way of broadly consultative processes that are currently under way. The Great Limpopo TFCA is truly the jewel among the various southern African TFCAs currently being developed.

Major features

The GLTP comprises a vast area of the lowland savannah ecosystem, not only in the transfrontier park itself, but also in the conservation area that will be reintegrated for joint management. This ecosystem is bisected by the Lebombo Mountains running along the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Five major river systems cross this ecoregion in a generally west-east flow. The dry savannah is maintained due to a relatively low average rainfall of about 550 mm per year.

Geographically the GLTP features two spectacular Cliff landscapes in Chilojo Cliffs in Gonorezhou National Park and Shingwedzi Cliffs in Limpopo National Park. (attach picture of Chilojo and Shingwedzi cliffs (right))

The four main landscapes include lowland plains savannah in the majority of the area, a somewhat hilly granite plateau in the western portions, the Lebombo Mountains that rise to an average of only 500 m above sea level, and the floodplain riverbank areas along the Save, Changane, Limpopo, Olifants, Shingwedzi and Komati rivers.

There are five major types of vegetation, namely Mopane woodlands and shrubveld in the northern portions, mixed bushveld in the southern half, sandveld in the southeastern areas of Mozambique, riverine woodlands mostly in Kruger and Gonarezhou, and seasonally flooded and dry grasslands in and around Banhine National Park. These are further described below.

  • Mopane woodland and shrubveld
    Dominated by Colophospermum mopane, these communities are a very conspicuous feature of the northern half of the transfrontier park and develop on poorly-drained clays and sandy-clay soils. Whereas vast areas are almost completely covered by this species with only minimal representation of other trees, mixed communities do exist where trees such as Combretum apiculatum also form a strong presence, especially in the western part of the transfrontier park. More localised areas exist where mopane mixed with stands of Spirostachys africana, Adansonia digitata or various species of Commiphora also form conspicuous communities. Two types of mopane stands prevail: vast stretches of mopane-shrubveld, and more localized areas of tall mopane forest usually associated with hill-country. Although often regarded as poor game-viewing habitat they are used by a wide range of animal, bird and invertebrate species and are thus important components of the ecosystem. Elephant and buffalo populations thrive in this habitat.
  • Mixed Bushveld
    These communities occur mainly in the southern half of the transfrontier park and are dominated by Acacia nigrescens, Combretum paniculatum, Combretum imberbe, Sclerocarya birrea, and Dichrostachys cinerea. These habitats form the prime game-viewing areas and within the Kruger National Park (and potentially Mozambique) have large herds of zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, impala, and other species associated with them, together with species such as rhino and elephant.
  • Sandveld
    These areas occur mainly within Mozambique and are distinctive with a very diverse range of plant species associated with them, making them important areas for biodiversity conservation. Typical trees found here include Bapphia massaiensis, Afzelia quanzensis, Strychnos spp., Terminalia sericea, Albizia spp., and others. Certain species of mammals (e.g. springhare) and birds confine themselves to this habitat. They are also the only places in which very rare species of fish are found, such as the lungfish and killifish Nothobranchius.
  • Riverine Woodland
    Tall woodland exists along most river courses in Kruger Park and Gonarezhou and to some extent in parts of the Mozambican portion of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Notable species in this vegetation community include Trichilia emetica, Ficus sycomorus, Xanthocercis zambesiaca, Diospyros mespiliformis, Acacia robusta, Acacia xanthophloea, Kigelia africana and the palms Phoenix reclinata and Hyphaene natalensis. Although only a narrow band rarely exceeding 150metres in width on each bank, these riverine forests represent a diverse and specialised habitat offering refuge for many mammal species (e.g. elephant shrews, nyala, bushbuck, and hippo) and birds which are strongly associated with such habitats.

The vast numbers of wildlife and plant species found here are the building blocks of successful ecotourism. These include at least 147 mammals, 116 reptiles, 49 species of fish, 34 different species of frogs, and an incredible 500 or more species of birds. In addition, at least 2 000 species of plants have been identified.

Cultural importance

Stone-age artefacts and more recent Iron Age implements at many sites provide evidence of a very long and almost continuous presence of humans in the area making up the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Early inhabitants were San hunter-gatherers who left numerous rock-paintings scattered across the region, while Bantu people entered about 800 years ago, gradually displacing the San. The available evidence suggests that humans occurred at low density and were mostly confined to the more permanent river-courses. It is reasonable to assume from the continuous presence at some sites (Pafuri, for example) that humans and wildlife existed in harmony, with no major impact of humans on wildlife or the reverse. The arid nature of the environment, together with an abundance of predators and diseases (e.g. malaria) would have played a role in preventing large-scale human population growth and settlement. Nevertheless, sophisticated cultures already existed by the 16th century, as evidenced by the Thulamela and other ruins near Pafuri.

Reaching back as early as 1505, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a permanent presence in what is now southern Mozambique, but confined themselves mainly to the coastal areas. Their influence - as well as that of earlier Muslim Arabs who controlled the coast in early centuries - on the remote interior was limited initially to gold trading routes with the Munhumutapa Empire in Dzimbabwe (now Zimbabwe), large scale ivory trading from the 16th century onwards, and slave trading up till 1860.

The discovery of gold around Barberton and Pilgrims Rest in the latter half of the 19th century attracted large numbers of Europeans closer to this area, with sustained and increasing hunting pressure on wildlife for sport, food and trade. The massive destruction of game, together with the effects of the Rinderpest outbreak of 1896, led to the proclamation in 1898 of the Sabi Game Reserve in the then Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (now South Africa). In 1926 this Reserve was greatly expanded into the current-day Kruger National Park.

In Zimbabwe the Gonarezhou Game Reserve, meaning "the home of the elephant", was proclaimed in 1934, and later upgraded as the Gonarezhou National Park in 1975. As the name implies, it provided habitat to large herds of elephants, which were decimated during Zimbabwe's war of liberation, civil strife in bordering Mozambique, and drought during the 1980's. In later years community-based natural resource management in the form of the CAMPFIRE initiative was established with varying degrees of success in communal areas around this park. The outcome nevertheless has been that large areas in south-eastern Zimbabwe are still successfully managed as wildlife conservancies with tourism and game-farming as the main sources of income.

The Banhine National Park and Zinave National Park were originally proclaimed as hunting areas (Coutada's) in 1969, but both were upgraded to National Park status in 1972. Limpopo National Park existed as a hunting concession area since 1969 and was not upgraded till 2001.

Civil war in Mozambique during the 1970's and 1980's resulted in a complete breakdown in the management of these wildlife sanctuaries and near-complete destruction of large mammals. The habitat remains in good condition however, so that re-establishment of game from Kruger National Park and other source-areas would be a viable and desirable exercise and therefore a three-year translocation programme was started in 2002 with over 4,000 animals having been relocated from Kruger National Park to Limpopo National Park to date.

The civil war in Mozambique also resulted in major social disruption with large-scale movement of people out of the area where the Limpopo National Park is presently situated. With peace again prevailing, people have been moving back into the area.

One of the main goals in the establishment of a TFCA is that the local communities will benefit from the increased eco-tourism to the area. This, in turn, is dependant on the communities' involvement in the development of the park. The development of the Limpopo National Park therefore started with community consultations and with the dissemination of information about the envisaged transfrontier park. Two focal areas for resolving community concerns have been identified, namely realignment of the National Park boundary along the Limpopo River and the development of a voluntary resettlement and compensation plan. Strategies and action plans have been put in place to address these issues.

That conservation is a viable and legitimate form of land-use is amply demonstrated by the fact that the Kruger National Park is one of the top five attractions for tourists in South Africa, annually attracting over one million visitors to enjoy its wildlife and scenery, and generating income amounting to millions of Rands, sufficient to sustain itself independent of government support. This example of conservation as a successful business enterprise is equalled by other examples such as the Mala Mala and other Private Game Reserves which also form part of the transfrontier park and that generate substantial profits by serving as prime destinations to foreign visitors.

In South Africa, the Makuleke people have reclaimed the northernmost reaches of the Kruger National Park (land between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers) from which they were removed in 1969 to make this area part of the Kruger National Park. Realising the benefits to be gained from conservation, the Makuleke community decided that the land would remain in conservation and that they would further develop the area for its tourist potential.

The Makuleke are closely related through family ties and culturally to the Sengwe people who live just north of the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe. They, and many of those living along the Limpopo in Mozambique, are Shangaan speaking.

Tourism

Based on its ecological heritage, the Great Limpopo’s primary economic activity is nature-based tourism. Visit the links below for more information on the specific park.

Kruger National Park

Parque Nacional do Limpopo (PNL)

 

Aguia Pesqueira Camp (Fish Eagle Camp): Located 55km from Giriyondo and 25km from Massingir the camp has fantastic views overlooking Massingir Dam.

The camp features:

  • 4 x 2 bed chalets with en-suite bathroom and kitchen. Chalets have lighting but no power.
  • 8 x camping sites with communal kitchen and bathroom
  • 1 x Overlander camping site with communal kitchen and bathroom

The camp can be used for as a bush to beach stop off but also a camp where the quiet surroundings and scenic dam views can be enjoyed.

Accommodation - 4x4 Trails and Camps - Nhampfule, Sandalo, Giriyondo and Mbona Kaya

 

The Park offers a Self Drive 4x4 Experience enabling visitors to traverse the Park between Pafuri (north), Mapai (East), Giriyondo (West) and Massingir (South). Visitors will experience a wide variety of scenery from Lebombo mountains, Shingwedzi valley and Sandveld pan systems and can overnight in a number of scenically located unfenced 4x4 camps.

Nhampfule Camp (Mapai): Located at Mapai gate approximately 5km from the Limpopo river crossing the camp is ideally suited as a stop off point on the route to/from Vilankoulos. The camp has 6 camp sites with communal hot water showers and flush toilets.

 

Sandalo Camp (Central): Located in the centre of the Park and also known as Tamboti camp. The camp has a single large camping area with central fire-circle with communal hot water showers and flush toilets. The camp is situated within range of the excursions to Shingwedzi Cliffs viewpoint and Ngwenya pools.

 

Mbona Kaya 4x4 Camp (Central): Located in the center of the Park the camp has spectacular views over a permanent Shingwedzi river water hole where excellent game sightings are experienced in the dry season. The camp as one large and one small camping area each with a fire-circle and sharing an enviroloo and bucket shower enclosure. A 5km circular game drive along the Shingwedzi river will be opened in early 2012.

 

Gonarezhou National Park

Gonarezhou National Park is the second largest national park in Zimbabwe, occupying a total area of 5 053 km square. It was established in 1934 as a Game Reserve and proclaimed a national park in 1975. It is managed by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

The Gonarezhou is a place of varied and scenic beauty, with its main physical attractions being the large rivers (Mwenezi, Save and Runde) and the world-famous Chilojo Cliffs. The vegetation of the park is varied and runs through miombo derived woodlands and sandveld vegetation on higher areas to mopane woodlands on the lower ground. Park is now known for not only the exceptional quality of the wilderness experience that is on offer to visitors, but it is also increasingly being rated as a highly rewarding wildlife destination in its own right with increasing game viewing and birding opportunities.

Wilderness is however one of the core features of the Park upon which its tourism and management strategy is based - although this is an elusive concept to define, it has to do with elements of scenic beauty, size, remoteness and degree of use. These features have intrinsic value, but defining and protecting it as part of the essence of Gonarezhou also places the Park competitively within the regional tourism markets.

The Park is divided into two regions - the Chipinda Pools (Save-Runde) sub-sector in the northern part of the Park, and Mabalauta (Mwenezi) in the south. Currently tourism is focused on the Runde and Mwenezi Rivers, although a recent update of the tourism plan envisages wider use of the Park with an expansion of the range of activities and amenities on offer.

 

Chipinda Pools: (Runde and Save sub-region)

The name Chipinda is derived from the Ndau dialect meaning "enter".

This sector is sandwiched by the Runde and Save rivers, the magnificent Chilojo Cliffs as well as the scenic Runde and Save river gorges. The alluvial plains bordering these two major rivers host some of the highest densities of wildlife in the Park, and possibly in the region. Amenities include two public campsites at Chipinda Pools and Chinguli with 9 and 5 camping sites respectively. Ablution facilities (inclusive of showers with hot running water) are available, and each individual camping site is equipped with a thatched-roof shelter, braai place and tap water. Parties of up to six clients/camping site can be accommodated

From Chipinda Pools it is possible to do a self-guided walk to view the Chivilila Falls - here the water of the Runde river is channelled into a narrow rocky gorge through which it will travel for just more than 10 km, exiting at the famous Chinguli camp and spreading out to form once again a typical Lowveld river with a wide, sandy bed. Exclusive campsites are scattered throughout the sector, mainly along the banks of the Runde River. These campsites offer a high degree of privacy and an exceptional wilderness experience and can be booked by parties.

Accommodation: There is one tented campsite for guests at Chipinda Pools. There are 19 camping sites at the beautiful Chipinda Pools Camp, each with basic shelter, braai area and ablution facilities with showers.

Access: The main point of entry for the northern section of Gonarezhou is through Malilangwe main road, and all visitors are required to report to the reception office at Chipinda Pools. Follow the main tarred road from the Chiredzi turn-off to Mutare for 18 kilometres. Turn off to the south at the Chipinda Pools sign post. Follow the gravel road for approximately 34 kilometres to the entrance of the Park, about 59 kilometres from Chiredzi.

The main port of entry for the southern section of Gonarezhou is through Chikombedzi-Gonakudzingwa main road and all visitors are required to report to the reception office at Mabalauta. Mabalauta is lies 40km south of Chikombedzi, the closest township.

Mabalauta (Mwenezi sub-region) )
The Mabalauta section in the Mwenezi sub-region includes the Simuwini rest camp, "The place of the Baobabs".

Accommodation: The camp overlooks the Mwenezi River with 6 x 4 sleeper and 2 x 2 sleeper thatched self-catering accommodation facilities at the camp. A fully equipped kitchen as well as en-suite bathroom is found in each unit. An Attendant is available for cleaning but will not cook. Camping is possible at Simuwini at the Mabalauta Camping site which has ablution facilities and running water. Visitors with caravans on tow can also camp at Simuwini and use the same facilities for standard camp sites.

Access: Turn east off the main Masvingo - Beitbridge road at the Mwenezi Police Station turn-off, about 20 kilometres south of Rutenga. Proceed down the dirt road about 3 kilometres and turn left at the entrance to the Police Station - the signboard indicates Mwenezi Ranch HQ and Chikombedzi. Follow this road for about 60 kilometres to Chikombedzi Business Centre. Do not turn off this road. The road you take follows the Mwenezi River southeast from the Mwenezi Police Station to Chikombedzi (the river will not be visible from the road). The only major intersection you will encounter is 20 kilometres from the Mwenezi Police Station and is signposted. Head straight through the intersection to Chikombedzi. Turn right after entering Chikombedzi Business Centre at a 4-way intersection where a National Parks sign indicates the route to Gonarezhou, Mabalauta, Right. About 300 metres down the road another sign indicates the route - turn left. Follow this road around a small dam and DO NOT turn off it. About 6 kilometrees further you will pass Zhou School and 3 kilometres later you will come to Gonarezhou National Park boundary. The route from there to the Warden's Office, Mabalauta is clearly signposted. The total distance from the Masvingo - Beitbridge Road to Mabalauta is 105 kilometres.

There are 14 camping sites in the Runde sub-region at Chinguli which also have similar facilities to those at Chipinda. Camps with minimum facilities are located at Nyahungwe, Madumbini, Bopomela, Lisoda, Gota, Chitove, Chamaluvati and Chilojo. These exclusive sites may be booked by a single party of up to 10 people and there are no attendants available.

Enquiries

Specific TFCA enquiries

  • International Coordinator
    Elizabeth Mhlongo
    e-mail: ElizabethMH@sanparks.org

  • Kruger National Park
    Public Relations Department
    Kruger National Park, South Africa
    Phone: +27 (0)13 735 4363
    Fax: +27 (0)13 735 4053
    e-mail: williamm@sanparks.org.za

  • Parque Nacional do Limpopo
    Bookings, Reservation and Tourism Information Contact: Lodovico Salinha
    Mobile: (+258) 84 3011 719 E-mail: salinhal@yahoo.com
    General Enquiries including Park Development and Concession Opportunities
    Contact: Park Warden – Mr Baldeu Chande
    Mobile: (+258) 84 3011 726 E-mail: baldeu55@gmail.com
    Or
    Contact: Project Manager – Mr Antony Alexander
    Mobile: (+258) 84 3011 730
    e-mail: antony.alexander01@gmail.com

  • Gonarezhou National Park
    Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management
    e-mail: reservation@zimparks.com / bulawayoresesrvations@zimparks.co.zw
    Website www.zimparks.com
    Head Office, Harare, Zimbabwe
    Tel: 0800 3222 344 (Toll free) ; +263- 4-706077/8 ; +263-4 -707624/9
    Bulawayo office
    Tel: +263-9-65592 / 74000 / 63646/7