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Limpopo/Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area

Where is the Limpopo/Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area?

The proposed Limpopo/Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area (interim name only) straddles the international borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

When established, this transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) will embrace land that belongs to different stakeholders and become a unique conservation initiative involving partnerships between governments, private landowners and local communities.

The Limpopo/Shashe TFCA is situated at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. This area is rich in plant and animal life, scenic geological features and important archaeological sites, and therefore ideal for the establishment of a TFCA.


The concept of establishing a transfrontier conservation area around the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers dates back to an initiative by General J C Smuts who decreed in 1922 that some farms along the banks of the Limpopo River be set aside for the Dongola Botanical Reserve. The primary aim of this reserve was to study the vegetation and assess the agricultural and pastoral potential of the area. This idea was transformed into the Dongola National Park in the 1940s when the results of the study showed that the area was not suitable for human habitation and that it could best be used as a “wildlife sanctuary for the recreation of the nation”. It was during this time that the idea of linking the sanctuary with similar conservation areas in the then Bechuanaland Protectorate and Southern Rhodesia was first mooted.

In Botswana, land to be committed to the proposed Limpopo/Shashe TFCA would encompass the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (Notugre), an association of private landowners who have agreed to remove the fences that separate their properties and jointly manage wildlife resources. Notugre presently embraces 36 farms with a combined area of 70 000 ha. It is renowned for its Tuli elephants, the largest elephant population on private land in Africa. Needless to say, the establishment of this TFCA will considerably expand the range of land available to this elephant population. Notugre is also a conservation success story, given its abundant wildlife today, which was virtually non-existent in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

On the South African side, the land to be committed to the TFCA would comprise a complex mosaic of private land, state-owned land and national parks. South African National Parks (SANParks) with the assistance of the World Wide Fund For Nature (South Africa), De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, the National Parks Trust and Peace Parks Foundation, has since 1998 been involved in land purchases to create the Mapungubwe National Park. This park forms the core area of South Africa’s contribution to the Limpopo/Shashe TFCA and will include 18 properties of 25 800 ha in total. A major advance in the consolidation of the core area was made in 2002 when De Beers, a world leader in the diamond trade, and SANParks signed an agreement whereby properties owned by De Beers would be integrated into the core area.

To date, roughly 75% of the park’s core area has been consolidated by means of purchase or contract, and the Mapungubwe National Park (replacing the working name Vhembe/Dongola) was officially opened on 24 September 2004.

The potential area that Zimbabwe can commit to the proposed TFCA is the Tuli Circle Safari Area covering an area of 41 100 ha. This area is contiguous with the northern end of Notugre and has no physical barriers to impede the movement of wildlife. The potential also exists to incorporate portions of the Maramani Communal Land into the area of the proposed Limpopo/Shashe TFCA.

The proposed TFCA will be developed in phases, as it will not be possible to acquire all the properties simultaneously. The initial phase could link Notugre with the Tuli Circle Safari Area and also with Mapungubwe National Park. A common characteristic of the areas that will constitute the proposed TFCA is the low and erratic rainfall (an average of 300 mm or 10 inches per annum) which, together with the frequent cycles of drought and poor soils, makes the area extremely marginal for agriculture and ideal for wildlife conservation.

Major features

The landscape south of the Limpopo River is flat Mopane veld with sandstone and conglomerate ridges and koppies. Nearer the Limpopo, the flat landscape changes into rugged, hilly terrain. The altitude varies from 300 to 780 m above sea level. In the Tuli Circle Safari Area, the relatively flat basalt landscape gives way to the Shashe River basin running north-south to join the Limpopo River. Other major rivers that cross the proposed TFCA are the Tune and Motloutse rivers in Botswana, and the Mogalakwena River in South Africa.

Three main vegetation communities are recognised in the region: riparian fringe along the Limpopo and Shashe rivers and tributaries; the Acacia-Salvadora community of the Limpopo flats (including flood plains) and vlei areas; and unique baobab and mlala palm stands and mixed western Mopane veld on ridges and flats south of the riparian fringe and flood plains. Both the riparian forest and the Acacia-Salvadora communities are regarded as being among the most endangered vegetation communities in the South African environment. Twenty-six Red Data plant species occur within the Mapungubwe National Park.

Within the Tuli Circle Safari Area there are three botanical reserves: Tolo River (0,44 km2), Pioneer (0,38 km2) and South Camp (0,26 km2).

The region has excellent potential for a “big five” conservation area. Viable populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena still occur, apart from the well-know Tuli elephants. In addition, there are significant populations of ungulates within the area of the proposed TFCA, such as eland, gemsbok, duiker, impala, zebra, Sharpe’s grysbok, steenbok and blue wildebeest. The habitat is also suitable for both white and black rhinoceros, which led to the release of four white rhino into Mapungubwe National Park in 2004. The permanent pools in the Limpopo River offer refuge to crocodiles and hippopotamus as well as a variety of indigenous fish species. De Beers recently reintroduced wild dogs, roan, tsessebe and elephant into the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve.

This area also has a great diversity of birdlife and over 350 species have been recorded to date. At least eight black eagle breeding pairs have been recorded in the sandstone hills.

Cultural importance

The cultural resources of the Limpopo-Shashe basin are generally associated with Iron Age settlements of around 1200 AD. The similarity of ivory objects, pottery remains and imported glass beads excavated at different sites that spread across the modern international borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe attests to the cultural affinity of the people that lived in the Limpopo-Shashe basin during the Iron Age.

The Iron Age archaeological sites of Mapungubwe, K2, Leokwe and the Schroda site in the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa, and the Mmamagwe site in Botswana are amongst the best-studied Iron Age sites in southern Africa. They represent the Zhizo, K2 and Mapungubwe Iron Age cultures that existed in this region roughly between 600 AD and 1300 AD. Small Iron Age sites postdating this period have also been recorded in the area, including stonewalled sites on hilltops and Khami-type ruins.

Mapungubwe is renowned for the golden rhino and is believed to be the precursor of Great Zimbabwe, the most remarkable Iron Age site in southern Africa. The Mapungubwe landscape was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in July 2003. Other important archaeological sites are at Toutswe Mogala and Mmamagwe in Botswana. Several sites are also situated on Sentinel Ranch and Mapela Hill in Zimbabwe.

Additional features of cultural importance in the Limpopo valley are the numerous San rock paintings and engravings (petroglyphs), fossilised dinosaur footprints and skeletal remains of the dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus that became extinct approximately 65 million years ago.

Tourism opportunities

The Limpopo/Shashe TFCA with its wealth of wildlife, beautiful scenery and unique cultural assets has the potential to become a major tourist destination in southern Africa. Existing tourist facilities are a number of privately run lodges in Botswana (which already attract about 20 000 visitors each year) and a growing number in South Africa. The recently launched Mapungubwe National Park has added 100 beds to the region in the form of a rest camp with chalets, a tented camp, wilderness trails and various game-viewing facilities like a tree-top walk, hides and access roads. In Zimbabwe, the Tuli Circle Safari Area is used extensively for hunting by permit.

Enquiries - Specific TFCA enquiries

  • International Coordinator
    Mr Sedia Modise
    Limpopo/Shashe TFCA
    Tel: +267 (3) 902 407
    Fax: +267 (3) 902 407
    Cell: +267 7170 7745


  • Botswana
    Mr Jan Broekhuis
    Assistant-Director (Parks)
    Department of Wildlife and National Parks
    Tel: 09 267 3971 405
    Fax: 09 267 3912 354
  • South Africa
    Mr Ernest Mokganedi
    Director: TFCAs
    Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
    Tel: +27 12 310 3698
    Fax: +27 12 320 1243
  • Zimbabwe
    Mr Edison Chidziya
    National TFCA Coordinator
    Parks and Wildlife Management Authority
    Tel: +263 4 724 025
    Fax: +263 4 724 914


  • Mr Johan Verhoef
    Project Coordinator: Mapungubwe National Park
    South African National Parks (SANParks)
    Tel: +27 (0)12 426 5000
    Fax: +27 (0)12 343 2723
  • Mr Piet Theron
    TFCA Programme Manager
    South African National Parks (SANParks)
    PO Box 787
    Pretoria, 0001
    South Africa
    Cell: +27 82 4686488
    Tel: +27 12 420 4314 / 16
    Fax: +27 12 420 4622

General Enquiries:

  • Northern Tuli Game Reserve
    Mrs Tanya McKenzie
    Programme Co-ordinator - Children in the Wilderness Limpopo Valley
    Executive Committee Cell: 082 417 0434
    Fax: 0866 711227
    Postal Address: P O Box 985, Hillcrest, 3650
  • Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site
    Mr Fhatuwani Mugwabana
    Park Manager
    Tel: +27 (0) 15 534 2594
    Fax: +27 (0) 86 695 0379