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Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park

Park Development

© 2009 Koos van der Lende
© 2009 Koos van der Lende
© 2009 Koos van der Lende
© 2009 Koos van der Lende
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 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.
Reaching back as early as 1505, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a permanent presence in what is now southern Mozambique, but confined themselves mainly to the coastal areas. Their influence - as well as that of earlier Muslim Arabs who controlled the coast in early centuries - on the remote interior was limited initially to gold trading routes with the Munhumutapa Empire in Dzimbabwe (now Zimbabwe), large scale ivory trading from the 16th century onwards, and slave trading up till 1860.
The discovery of gold around Barberton and Pilgrims Rest in the latter half of the 19th century attracted large numbers of Europeans closer to this area, with sustained and increasing hunting pressure on wildlife for sport, food and trade. The massive destruction of game, together with the effects of the Rinderpest outbreak of 1896, led to the proclamation in 1898 of the Sabi Game Reserve in the then Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (now South Africa). In 1926 this Reserve was greatly expanded into the current-day Kruger National Park.
© 2009 Koos van der Lende
© 2009 Koos van der Lende
In Zimbabwe the Gonarezhou Game Reserve, meaning "the home of the elephant", was proclaimed in 1934, and later upgraded as the Gonarezhou National Park in 1975. As the name implies, it provided habitat to large herds of elephants, which were decimated during Zimbabwe's war of liberation, civil strife in bordering Mozambique, and drought during the 1980's. In later years community-based natural resource management in the form of the CAMPFIRE initiative was established with varying degrees of success in communal areas around this Park. The outcome nevertheless has been that large areas in south-eastern Zimbabwe are still successfully managed as wildlife conservancies with tourism and game-farming as the main sources of income.
The Banhine National Park and Zinave National Park were originally proclaimed as hunting areas (Coutada's) in 1969, but both were upgraded to National Park status in 1972. Limpopo National Park has existed as a hunting concession area since 1969 and was not upgraded till 2001.
The Great Limpopo TFCA began with a meeting between President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and the president of the World Wide Fund For Nature (South Africa) in 1990. In 1991 the Mozambican government used Global Environment Facility funds for feasibility studies toward the implementation of a TFCA pilot project. The 1992 Peace Accord in Mozambique and the South African democratic elections of 1994 paved the way for the political processes to proceed toward making this idea a reality. Feasibility studies initiated by the World Bank culminated in a pilot project that was launched with Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding in 1996.

This process led to Minister Helder Muteia (Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Mozambique), Minister Valli Moosa (Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in South Africa), and Minister Francisco Nhema (Minister of Environment and Tourism in Zimbabwe) signing a trilateral agreement in Skukuza, South Africa on 10 November 2000. The Skukuza agreement signalled the three nations' intent to establish and develop a transfrontier park and surrounding conservation area that, at that time, was called Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou.
Finally, on 9 December 2002, the heads of state of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed an international treaty at Xai-Xai, Mozambique to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
Since the signing of the MoU in 2000 working groups were operational under a technical committee which, in turn, was operational under the ministerial committee. The signing of the Great Limpopo treaty in 2002 effectively transformed the technical committee into a joint management board and the working groups into management committees. The thus established permanent management committees deal with conservation; safety and security; finance, human resources and legislation, and tourism. Facilitating the process and driving the development of the TFCA is an international coordinator, who was first appointed by the partner countries in 2000; the position was funded by the Foundation. In terms of the Skukuza Agreement, this position rotated every two years between the three countries and will be replaced by a permanent secretariat.
A number of other exciting country-specific and cross-border projects are being planned as part of the developing the world's greatest animal kingdom.
© 2006 Jacques Goosen
© 2006 Jacques Goosen
On 16 August 2006, the Giriyondo Access Facility between Limpopo and Kruger national parks was opened by Presidents Guebuza from Mozambique, Mbeki from South Africa and Mugabe from Zimbabwe. Giriyondo for the first time allows visitors to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park cross-border access within the perimeters of the park.
Almost 5 000 heads of game have been translocated from Kruger to Limpopo National Park. This, combined with 50 km of fencing being dropped, has encouraged more animals, including over 1 000 elephant and over 1 000 buffalo, to cross the border of their own accord.

The harmonisation and integration of various policies to improve the cooperative management of the park are under way. Processes such as introducing a joint operations protocol and developing cross-border tourism products that will optimise Great Limpopo’s tourism development opportunities are far advanced. In 2013 a wilderness walking trail in the Pafuri area was launched, the first of a range of cross-border tourism products to be developed in the context of the transboundary initiative and in partnership with a variety of key stakeholders.

In a major step to market Great Limpopo, its website, Facebook page and Twitter account were launched in 2014. In April 2014 Mozambique and South Africa signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on biodiversity conservation and management, with a view to addressing the scourge of rhino poaching in Great Limpopo. Throughout the year, senior officials from Limpopo and Kruger national parks met and focused on a number of strategic anti-poaching interventions. As a result of the transfrontier collaboration and joint operations, incursions along the border have dropped significantly.

On 31 March 2015, Limpopo National Park hosted a high-level meeting between Mozambique’s Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Mr Celso Correia, and his South African counterpart, Mrs Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs. The ministers discussed the implementation plan of the MoU on biodiversity conservation and management that was signed in 2014. The implementation plan aims to facilitate coordinated law enforcement operations and the management and protection of Great Limpopo TFCA and its component protected areas.

The managers of Limpopo and Kruger national parks had previously successfully collaborated on a number of strategic anti-poaching interventions, including improved cross-border collaboration and operations, joint training initiatives and the development of a joint communications system. To formalise and expand these collaborative activities, a joint park management committee for Limpopo and Kruger national parks met for the first time on 9 April 2015. The committee focuses on matters such as protection, conservation management, tourism development, community benefits, communication and fundraising. A joint wildlife-crime strategy was developed to guide collaboration, and bilateral wildlife-crime meetings between the two park managers and field rangers are held regularly. Joint operations such as Capricorn have been very successful, often leading to arrests and the recovery of firearms and related poaching equipment.

On 22 September 2015, a co-management agreement was signed for Zinave National Park. In terms of this agreement, the Mozambican National Agency for Conservation Areas and Peace Parks Foundation will jointly develop and manage Zinave as an integral component of Great Limpopo. A process is also under way to integrate into Great Limpopo the concession areas adjacent to Gonarezhou National Park in the north and the Greater Lubombo Conservancy located on the south-eastern boundary of Kruger National Park. In addition, following a training needs assessment, a joint training programme is being developed for Great Limpopo.

Over the past five years, two PhD researchers have documented a large diversity of wildlife species in Limpopo National Park with the use of camera-traps. The 49 mammal species above 3 kg that were snapped include bat-eared fox, aardwolf, African wild dog, serval, lion, cheetah, giraffe, elephant, hyena, zebra, eland and roan and sable antelope. The project goal is to provide the necessary information to improve the transboundary conservation management of key predator species such as lion, cheetah and African wild dog. The research has also identified and assessed potential corridors linking Limpopo and Banhine national parks. Along with the recent realignment of the Banhine National Park borders, the Limpopo National Park management has initiated the demarcation and protection of these corridors to develop ecological interconnectivity in Great Limpopo.

Sharing the benefits of Great Limpopo with those living in the surrounding area has been an important objective from the outset and a strategy for attaining this is taking shape. In 2015, the Great Limpopo joint management board commissioned the development of an integrated livelihoods diversification strategy. An integrated strategy to address the poisoning of elephants, lions and vultures in the area is also being developed.

The third successful Pafuri Wilderness Trail and Shangane Festival cross-border tourism event involving the South African and Zimbabwean components was held in October. The TFCA has identified a range of cross-border tourism products to be developed. These include transboundary wilderness trails, self-drive 4×4 trails and the development of a cross-border tourism node in the Pafuri—Sengwe area, which forms the heart of the TFCA.