Without fanfare, a conservation success story is unfolding just over the border in southern Mozambique. If you are a lover of wild places, this may just be the best kept secret in southern Africa. read more
Maputo Special Reserve was originally established to protect the elephant population in the area. Its purpose in the 1960s was expanded to include the protection of other large mammal species and again in the 1990s, thanks to the growing recognition of its wider biodiversity importance.
The reserve is now seen as an important component in the protected areas system of Mozambique, as it conserves the exceptional biodiversity of a coastal zone that lies in the Maputaland Centre of Endemism and enables linkages between marine, coastal and inland components.
Maputo Special Reserve is an important component of the Lubombo TFCA that includes four distinct TFCAs between Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. At 1 040 km², it is a spectacular area that combines lakes, wetlands, swamp forests, grasslands and mangrove forests with a pristine coastline. It supports an exceptionally high number of endemic species of fauna and flora and is part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot, thus part of one of earth’s 36 biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions.
In 2005, the Mozambican government secured a loan from the World Bank to develop Maputo Special Reserve. These developments included infrastructure and accommodation upgrades, and the construction of headquarters and accommodation facilities. In addition, a co-financing agreement between Mozambique and Peace Parks Foundation was signed in 2006 to develop, manage and extend Maputo Special Reserve. A park management unit was appointed to oversee this process.
An important component of the programme entails the implementation of a community development strategy in and around the reserve. The aim of the strategy is twofold: to bring about the sustainable economic development of and benefit-sharing by communities, and to promote consultation and participation to develop nature-based tourism and conservation enterprises. The strategy will be implemented by a community development coordinator, who was appointed by the foundation.
On 14 June 2011 – in one of the most significant developments in the Lubombo TFCA – the Mozambican government proclaimed the Futi Corridor as an extension of Maputo Special Reserve, thereby expanding the reserve by 24 000 ha. Only the international border fence between Mozambique and South Africa now separates Maputo Special Reserve from Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa.
The wildlife sanctuary in the Futi Corridor, adjacent to Tembe Elephant Park, was fenced in 2012. In 2013 a multidisciplinary team was formed to address wildlife crime and the illegal trade in meat. Their combined efforts have seen a marked increase in snare removal and a drop in the number of small wildlife being poached.
Marking a milestone in the development of the reserve, its headquarters were opened in 2014. The headquarters were funded by the World Bank and include entrance gates at Futi and Gala, both with a reception office, boom gate and kiosk. The head-office complex includes 11 offices, two refurbished houses for senior staff, dormitories for field rangers, a water-supply system and a VSAT system for Internet connection. Two ranger stations were also built.
In 2015 an observation post was set up in the central plains area to combat wildlife crime, while essential equipment was supplied to the anti-poaching unit to support their work at night.
Refresher training for two groups of field rangers was successfully completed, while an assessment identified a number of areas for improving anti-poaching measures. In August, two groups of five field rangers each completed their leadership training at Sabie Game Park in Mozambique. Towards the end of the year, the African Field Ranger Training Services of the Southern African Wildlife College gave leadership training to 10 field rangers and introduced them to the Protected Area Security Operations Planning Course. The result of these interventions was a changed patrolling protocol and improved morale, which immediately resulted in more poacher arrests.
The elephant-restraining line along the western boundary of the reserve to prevent human–wildlife conflict was completed. An elephant-restraining line consists of electrified wires that run about two metres above ground, thus allowing community members free movement while protecting crops from elephants. Ultimately, the entire reserve will be fenced with a game fence on the outside and the elephant-restraining line on the inside. At this stage, only 5 km remains to be game-fenced.
Law enforcement continued throughout the year, with the Bantam microlight aircraft being used regularly for aerial patrols to supplement the daily foot patrols. An observation post was set up in the central plains area to combat wildlife crime, while essential equipment was supplied to the anti-poaching unit to support their work at night. This included new tyres, vehicle recovery equipment, better-quality torches with spare batteries and battery packs for spotlights and binoculars.