First trail runners join the Big 5 for inaugural Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun®
Strict instructions, “Run as a herd, stick together, keep your eyes open, the rangers will be at the front and the back – listen to them,” marked the start of the first ever Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun® through Big 5 territory in Southern Africa, which saw a group of 37 intrepid runners and rangers traverse the Limpopo-Shashe basin over three days, covering 90 km of the Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe conservation cooperative called the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA). read more
Greater Mapungubwe, measuring 5 909 km2, has become the cultural TFCA. Visitors flock to the area not only to see the magnificent sandstone formations, the wide variety of trees – notably the enormous baobab – and game and birdlife, but also to experience a kinship with past generations. The cultural resources of the Limpopo-Shashe basin are generally associated with Iron Age settlements of around 1200 AD. The similarity of ivory objects, pottery remains and imported glass beads excavated at different sites spread across the modern international borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, attests to the cultural affinity of the people who lived in the Limpopo-Shashe basin during the Iron Age.
The Mapungubwe World Heritage Site is a major attraction park and was home to the famous gold rhino - a symbol of the power of the King of the Mapungubwe people who inhabited the Limpopo River Valley between 900 AD and 1300 AD. At that time Mapungubwe had developed into the largest kingdom on the subcontinent. It is believed that a highly sophisticated civilisation, which traded with Arabia, Egypt, India and China, existed at Mapungubwe.
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in July 2003. With the assistance of Peace Parks Foundation, De Beers, the National Parks Trust and WWF-SA, South African National Parks (SANParks) negotiated with landowners and bought up farmland to consolidate the core area of South Africa’s contribution to the proposed TFCA. Mapungubwe National Park was officially opened on 24 September 2004. A memorandum of understanding on the TFCA’s establishment was signed on 22 June 2006 and an international coordinator appointed. On 19 June 2009, Limpopo/Shashe TFCA was renamed the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA.
In 2011, much time was spent to ensure responsible mining operations at the Vele Colliery that lies 5.7 km from the boundary of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. Prior to operations commencing, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks and Coal of Africa signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA). The MoA seeks to ensure the conservation and integrity of this globally significant natural and cultural World Heritage Site and maintain and strengthen cooperation between the signatories. In 2014 the signatories signed a biodiversity offset agreement for Vele Colliery, obliging the mine to support SANParks’ conservation efforts.
In 2012 archaeological discoveries were made on the farm Klein Bolayi, east of Mapungubwe National Park, confirming that the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape extends eastwards or downstream along the Limpopo Valley, and corroborating human habitation in the area for more than 1 500 years.
The Greater Mapungubwe TFCA resource management committee was formed to deal with cross-border challenges at an operational level. Area managers now directly attend to cross-border or international matters such as border safety, security and veterinary concerns. By 2014, this arrangement had evolved to include joint training, events and meetings of field staff. The management plan for the Tuli Circle Safari Area was also completed in 2014. Two community development trusts were established in Botswana and a community camp was erected in Zimbabwe to ensure that local communities benefit from tourism in the area.
The park rangers in the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA meet regularly to exchange information and develop strategies to overcome their particular challenges. Peace Parks Foundation procured tracking devices for the TFCA, which the park management committee handed to the Botswana rangers, as another step in jointly gathering data on the TFCA. To assist with cross-border operations and law enforcement efforts, the foundation also donated a quad bike to the TFCA.
Another successful Nedbank Tour de Tuli event was held from 13 to 18 August. This, the 11th edition of the event, saw 340 participants cycle across almost 300 km of challenging and remote terrain in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Participants also had the opportunity to meet some of the communities they are helping to uplift. Over the years, Tour de Tuli has hosted over 2 700 cyclists and raised more than R14 million for Children in the Wilderness (CITW). In 2015, 540 children attended a CITW camp, while 2 271 children attended CITW Eco-Clubs.
The TFCA hosted the first tri-nations camp for children. The children were selected from schools in the three partner countries that are situated in the TFCA sphere of influence. Children in the Wilderness facilitated the camp, the TFCA units in the partner countries helped with the preparations, and Peace Parks Foundation provided financial support. The camp was a resounding success and will be repeated in 2016.
Throughout the year, joint working groups and trilateral technical committee meetings were held. As usual, the turnout was very good and proves the commitment of government and private-sector stakeholders to the development of the TFCA.