The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
At a ceremony held in Zinave National Park, Mozambique, on 21 August 2020, Her Excellency, the Minister of Land and Environment, Ivete Maibaze, inaugurated the park’s new headquarters and infrastructure developments. Zinave is co-managed through a partnership between Peace Parks and the National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC). In attendance were the General Director of ANAC, Mateus Mutemba, accompanied by Former President of Mozambique and vice-chairman of Peace Parks Foundation, Joaquim Alberto Chissano. This event marked the culmination of a massive multi-year infrastructure development project, and a $3.2 million investment by Peace Parks, aimed at improving the efficiency of the park’s operations and conservation efforts.
Zinave National Park is a conservation area situated in southern Mozambique. Most famous for its large untamed forests, the park has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, set in motion by an intense development project. It is thriving with life and well on its way to being one of southern Africa’s most inspiring stories of what can be done when motivated individuals partner with a committed government.
Securing the landscape
First proclaimed a national park in June 1973, Zinave had a difficult start as prior to being declared a protected area, the park was a hunting concession where large herds of sable, buffalo and elephant could be found. For fear of losing these species to overhunting, the Government of Mozambique stepped in to secure the park’s natural assets.
Between 1977 and 1992, Mozambique suffered a devastating civil war which was followed by severe periods of drought throughout the country. This nearly eradicated all wildlife in its protected areas causing imbalances in large ecosystems. Zinave National Park was no exception and the once-thriving wilderness stood silent with only a few remaining animals hiding in overgrown forests.
Mozambique is, however, deeply committed to nature conservation, so much so that nearly a quarter of its landscape is officially declared protected areas.
From 1998, the Government of Mozambique launched the rehabilitation of Zinave. Staff re-occupied the park, a wildlife sanctuary was established and basic infrastructure was reconstructed. In 2015, ANAC signed a co-management agreement with Peace Parks that was extended to 20 years in 2020, unlocking a $26 million investment for Zinave over the partnership period.
Peace Parks committed itself to the task and development was significantly fast-tracked. “Zinave lies within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area and forms part of an ancient wildlife corridor which is still used by migratory animals. Over the years we have seen collared elephants moving from Zinave through Banhine National Park, down to Limpopo National Park and eventually across the border into Kruger National Park in South Africa,” says Antony Alexander, a Senior Project Manager working for Peace Parks in Mozambique. “In working to reconnect these migratory routes, we have to ensure that each component, such as Zinave, is healthy and functioning well.”
Brick by brick
To this end, a massive $3.2 million infrastructure development project was launched which aimed to improve the efficiency of park operations and conservation efforts.
This included the construction of staff housing and recreational facilities, as well as the upgrade of the solar power system, boreholes and water treatment services. The office complex was rehabilitated and upgraded with meeting facilities, and various workshops and storerooms were constructed.
“Zinave is extremely remote so we need to be able to repair and service vehicles and machinery on-site,” says Bernard van Lente, Peace Park’s Zinave Project Manager.
To support operations such as anti-poaching, a digital radio network and operations control room with satellite Internet communications were established and proper accommodation for staff and rangers was built.
Zinave is just over 400 000 ha in size, which makes patrolling the park very difficult. To assist with this, the park has a Savannah aircraft that is used for aerial surveillance. In 2019, the aircraft was instrumental in uncovering a large illegal logging operation in Coutada 4, a hunting concession that lies on the northern border of Zinave National Park. “We recently upgraded the airfield and completed construction of a new hanger.
The airfield is very important not only for park operations but also for welcoming tourists. We are situated about four hours from the nearest town and although they were upgraded, the roads are difficult to travel on,” says Bernard.
Tourism is a key component in Zinave’s eventual self-sustainability. With the successes achieved in rewilding the park, the tourism offering is growing steadily. Since 2016, 2165 animals have been translocated into a wildlife sanctuary. “Last year, sable, which is a signature species and highly sought-after for game viewing, was reintroduced after being locally extinct for decades.
We’ve already seen the first youngsters being born and with all the protection efforts in place, we believe the game numbers will keep increasing year on year making Zinave more attractive to tourists. We have newly constructed entrance gates and have installed signage to help guide guests through the park. A beautiful tourism arrival centre with basic camping facilities was also set-up close to park headquarters,” says Bernard.
Zinave has over 200 tree species, including ancient baobabs that have captured the imagination of many over the years. A drive through the sanctuary offers visitors the opportunity to view several of Africa’s iconic wildlife species such as buffalo, crocodile, elephant, giraffe, hippo, kudu and zebra.
Bernard says, “the sanctuary was first constructed in 2011 and has since been expanded from just under 6 000 ha to just over 18 500 ha in 2018. With the reintroduction of wildlife, the area is extraordinary and we have cleared 4×4 routes to allow visitors to explore the scenery. In total, we have cleared over 200 km of seasonal park management and game drive roads throughout the park. This was a massive undertaking as the terrain can be extremely challenging, but our workforce sourced from local communities has been instrumental in this success.”
A future for Zinave’s people
Communities play a vital role in safeguarding and developing protected areas and significant effort has been put into improving their livelihoods. “We have very good relationships with the communities around Zinave and partner with them to find ways of securing the park’s future,” says Bernard. “So far, there are seven conservation agriculture developments and two honey projects up and running.
We are improving the water supply in five communities and timber confiscated from illegal logging operations were repurposed for school furniture, providing desks and chairs where there were none. During the construction of the various infrastructure development projects, we also employed an average of 200 people per month.”
Zinave’s Park Warden, Antonio Abacar, recognises the park’s potential in providing meaningful and long-term employment opportunities for those living along its borders. He says, “Zinave National Park is intended to protect and conserve the biodiversity of this area, but we also know that it will attract tourists in future. Zinave is situated close enough to the coast that people can experience the best Mozambique has to offer – the untouched beaches and marine life near Vilanculos as well as the iconic African bush that is home to so many different species of wildlife. We look forward to welcoming tourism operators who will establish the facilities needed to support this and celebrate the opportunities tourism development will offer local community members.”
Peace Parks in Mozambique
Through various contractual agreements with ANAC, Peace Parks, provides technical expertise and financial investment in five parks and reserves in Mozambique.
These protected areas include the Limpopo, Zinave and Banhine national parks which form part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area; as well as Maputo Special Reserve and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve that make up the Mozambique component of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area.
Over the past four years alone, with support from its international donors, Peace Parks has put more than $21 million dollars towards conservation in Mozambique.