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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.