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 proposed 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.
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. The total surface area of the transfrontier park will be approximately 37 572 km2. The establishment of the transfrontier park is the first phase of the establishment of a bigger transfrontier conservation area measuring almost 100 000 km2.
The latter will be made up by areas adjoining the core transfrontier park in each country. These land areas are managed in various forms for conservation or sustainable natural resource use could be referred to, marketed and managed as a broader Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. These areas include the Zinave National Park, Banhine National Park, Corumana and Massingir development areas as well as interlinking areas in Mozambique, the private and provincial wildlife reserves adjoining the western border of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and the Save, Malilangwe and other conservancies and community wildlife areas adjoining Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is an extensive area of essentially flat savanna bisected north/south by the Lebombo mountain range, and drained by four river systems flowing from west to east. Temperatures are mild in winter and very rarely drop below freezing point, while summers are hot with daily temperatures averaging in the thirties (centigrade). The area is generally rather dry with a rainy season in summer, average rainfall being about 550mm per annum.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park can broadly be categorised as consisting of four landscape types:
- Lowland Plains in Mozambique rising to about 450 metres above sea-level in the Kruger National Park.
- Granitic plateau with interspersed hills along the western side of the transfrontier park between about 500 to 750m above sea-level.
- The Lebombo mountain range which bisects the Lowland Plains in a north-south direction, with an average height of about 500m above sea-level.
- Riverine courses which flow in a general west-to-east direction, and have distinctive ecosystems associated with them. The major river systems are the Save, Limpopo, Olifants, and Komati.
Several vegetation communities can be broadly categorized as follows:
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.
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.
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).
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 150 metres 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.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
Species Diversity and Endemism
Only a few areas within the transfrontier park have been intensively surveyed for biodiversity attributes. The information provided here is therefore based on minimum species richness and endemic status known for specific areas of the transfrontier park, and therefore reflect the minimum biodiversity present.
Amblysomus julianae is only known from a few specimens collected from the Pretoriuskop area in the Kruger National Park. Currently the Kruger Park is also one of the last areas anywhere in the world to hold significant and viable populations of Wild dog Lycaon pictus, having some 300 individuals in total. The population of 10 000 white rhino Ceratotherium simum present in the Kruger Park is the biggest anywhere, while the 300 black rhino Diceros bicornis is the second largest population. Both these species are increasing steadily and increased range opportunities into Mozambique and Zimbabwe will enhance the conservation of these threatened animals, as also for the endangered wild dogs. One as yet undescribed new species of Eptesicus spp. bat is known from the Kruger Park. A number of rare antelope species representing unique gene pools are also largely localised within the Transfrontier Park, such as roan antelope Hippotragus equinus, sable Hippotragus niger and tsessebe Damaliscus lunatus.A total of 147 species, of which none are endemic are found here. However, aside from a localised population around Pretoria in South Africa, Juliana's Golden mole
Hippopotamus amphibius), 5 000 giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis), 1 500 warthogs (Phacochoerus aethiopicus), 17 000 buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), 3 500 kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), 1 500 waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), 14 000 blue wildebeest and over 100 000 impala. Other ungulates include eland, nyala (Tragelaphus angasii), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), roan, sable, tsessebe, steenbok, mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula), Sharpe's grysbok, klipspringer, suni (Neotragus moschatus), oribi (Ourebi ourebi), red duiker (Cephalophus natalensis) and common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia). Within the park alone are 18 Red Data Book mammal species.Other significant populations of mammals in the Kruger National Park include 1 500 lions, 2 000 spotted hyaenas, 13 - 15 000 elephants, 32 000 Burchell's zebra, 2 200 hippos (
A total of 505 species of birds are known from the Kruger National Park, but a small number of additional species is likely to be present in the Mozambican and Zimbabwean portions of the transfrontier park. None of the Kruger National Park species are endemic.
At least 116 species of reptiles are found in the transfrontier park area. Included amongst these are two near-endemic species: Nucras caesicaudata (blue-tailed sandveld lizard) and Monopeltis decosteri (De Coster's spade-snouted worm lizard).
At least 2 000 species of plants have been recorded from the area, none of which are confined exclusively to the transfrontier park.
Forty nine species of fish are found in the area. Three species deserve special conservation status because of their rarity and limited distribution, these being the two small seasonal pan inhabitants Nothobranchius orthonotus and Nothobranchius rachovii, as well as the lungfish Protopterus annectens.
Thirty four species of frogs are found in the area. The Sandveld Pyxie Tomopterna krugerensis was discovered within the Kruger Park and has its main area of distribution within the transfrontier park area, although also recorded in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and its surrounding transfrontier conservation area will be the world's greatest animal kingdom.