In 2011, the IAPF was approached by Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) to provide a detailed study outlining a plan to co-manage Chizarira National Park for 25 years.
Completed in conjunction with the Wilderness Foundation (South Africa) it was submitted in 2012. Negotiations have drawn out, particularly delayed with the election period in Zimbabwe.
ZPWMA has suffered severe cutbacks since 2002 due to regional hardships. These effects have been felt hardest at Chizarira which was the centre of an area which was once heavily populated with black rhino, but which are now locally extinct. Located in north-west Zimbabwe Chizarira National Park is 1910km2 of some of Africa’s most stunning terrain. With 7 different ecological zones it is a unique area. Unfortunately though it has suffered from severe poaching and fire in recent years.
Chizarira is within the Peace Parks Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, situated in the Okavango and Zambezi river basins where the borders of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converge. It is the world's largest transfrontier conservation area, spanning approximately 520 000 km2.
The ultimate goal would be to fully resurrect Chizarira and have it listed as a World Heritage Site. This project is anticipated to commence in 2015 and will require solid global support in what has been described by many as one of the great conservation hopes that could be undertaken today in the region.
In preperation, IAPF has aquired a concession and lodge at the edge of the Park to use as a base and HP for local and international conservation experts involved with the project.
Key Objectives of the Study were to:
- Provide up to date and relevant information on Chizarira National Park’s history and current situation to partners, donors and other relevant agencies;
- Provide support for recommendations to the Authority from the Partners in regards to the resurrection of the Park and long term collaborative co-management;
- Provide a reference point and baseline for future assessments of the project’s progress at various stages, linked to Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s);
- Provide a starting reference point for each component of the project;
- Highlight the urgency in which effective action is required; and
- Overall, to ascertain whether or not the project is feasible for the Partners and the Park itself.
Executive Summary and Key Findings of te Study
Zimbabwe’s conservation areas were, until recently, regarded as among the most popular and well protected in Africa. The country’s extensive range of protected areas rival anywhere in the world for diversity, remoteness and sheer beauty. Within these various protected areas lies the potential to create refuge for long-term biodiversity, conservation and ecological processes whilst remaining sustainable to themselves and the surrounding communities. A number of key factors have prevented Chizarira National Park (CNP) from establishing this buffer of self-sustainability, which has inadvertently led to a reduction in tourism, wildlife numbers and biodiversity, community empowerment and ecosystem biodiversity both in and around the Park.
Two primary threats have seen Chizarira steadily decline from an ecological and semi-self-sustaining position. Firstly, intense uncontrolled burning in the Park over the past several decades has altered the landscape of Chizarira from its original state. Secondly, this destructive phenomenon was equally matched by intense poaching of wildlife. This poaching ranged from justifiable subsistence, community based poaching to targeted commercial poaching of rhinoceros, elephant and bush meat. The outcome from these destructive events has been an almost complete cessation of all tourism activities within the Park. The result of this breakdown in self-sustainability has been the neglect of Chizarira’s infrastructure and upkeep, further enhanced by regional hardship and international perspectives portrayed by the media.
The point at which the design, implementation, monitoring and adjustment of elaborate models for the resurrection of the Park can be effective has passed. Today, Chizarira stands at a critical point; it is on the brink of being consumed by the communities that surround it. A proven, yet externally oriented approach to implementing and managing a park plan for Chizarira is required immediately.
The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) has three national strategic goals concerning CNP, these being:
- Restore and maintain Parks’ Estates and wildlife resources in general to their prime condition as the sanctuary of the nation’s wildlife heritage and biodiversity;
- To attain the Authority’s financial self-sufficiency and corporate growth for consolidation of the core function of conservation;
- Achieve adequate institutional capacity, optimal allocation of resources and effective performance management.
A public private partnership (PPP) between the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), its partners, and the ZPWMA, is a feasible option available to fulfill these goals through the engagement a series of processes.
The Authority itself writes, “The National Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975 firmly places the responsibility of conservation and the wildlife management on the landowner”. The body of this document will reinforce the recommendations presented by the IAPF to The Authority to enter into a 25-year co-management agreement. A future contract will see CNP resurrected in the short to midterm and adequately financed, managed and globally publicized through this collaborative agreement.
Chizarira’s remoteness has been the prevailing reason for its demise; an almost non-income generating park that acts as a constant burden for all budgets outlined by the Government. The Park’s inability to generate income from tourism at present has led to it being in a certain sense ‘forgotten in time’. Amongst the budgets, plans, reports and proposals are a group of 41 ZPWMA rangers that continue to protect the park to the best of their ability. Their motivation under very trying conditions is extremely honorable, and they remain one of Chizarira’s key assets.
Former Parks’ research officer, Peter Thomson, was first stationed at CNP in 1971. He sums up the situation as such: “We tend to think in decades at most, but natural processes can take centuries. Knee-jerk, once-off management action has small chance of success in the long term; careful, outcomes-based plans must be developed and sustained, with constant monitoring and review in order to adapt future action to past results. Unfortunately, all sorts of other things impinged on management at Chizarira – the war, changing conservation philosophy and capacity, and Zimbabwe’s economic melt-down – and today the park does not at all resemble the Chizarira of the 1970s”.
The Chizarira of tomorrow is going to require answers that last today. This document outlines to the partners presenting the proposal and the Authority, that whist there are significant obstacles that need to be overcome, the resurrection and long-term management of CNP, in collaboration with the Zimbabwean Government is feasible.
Though Chizarira will continue to remain a financial challenge, it has something much more valuable than the ability to generate tourism. The Park’s remoteness and unique biological diversity leave us with a responsibility to resurrect and maintain this Estate for future generations as a truly untamed wilderness area.