The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
Along the Savé river, in the north-west of the Province of Inhambane, Zinave National Park makes the transition between the wet tropical lands and the dry lands of Mozambique; it represents an important crossing point for the nomadic animals migrating through the region. Giraffe, an icon of this park, lope through vegetation rich in acacias and mopane forests. Ancestral baobab trees hint at the age of the landscape, where traditional fishing and rain ceremonies, ancient tales and sacred locations are interwoven with the region’s wildlife.
On Monday 26 June, in the wake of Mozambique’s Day of Independence, the country’s President Filipe Nyusi celebrated half a century of conservation in two of his country’s most treasured national parks, Zinave and Banhine. The commemorative event hosted His Excellency Mr Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique and Vice-Chairman of Peace Parks Foundation’s Board of Directors. Also in attendance were communities local to the parks, dignitaries and representatives of Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) and Peace Parks Foundation.
In active acknowledgement of great efforts here to restore, rewild and revive the relationship between conservation and communities, the President assisted in the tagging of a buffalo bull – one of the key Big Five species – naming it ‘Reconciliation’ to represent the establishment of peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife, and the value of a holistic, harmonising conservation approach.
Scarcity and Plenty
Africa has a hallmark richness to its existence, portrayed in Zinave’s present day picture of Savé paradise; a sense of plenty shines through forests and along river banks. Yet, in its 50thyear of being, this is a recent state of nature compared to the park’s chequered past. To the south Banhine National Park, celebrating its half century alongside Zinave, is also a newcomer to good health and great hope.
Traditionally, and like much of Africa, the people in these areas lived in harmony with their land and the philosophies of sustainability and conservation were inherent in society. Chiefs and tribal councils had absolute authority and kept the rules of resource control, and so protection of the landscape. June 1973 marked the declaration of the two national parks – assumed to be the beginning of long-term prosperity there. But conflict was quick to rewrite 16 years of cultural and environmental history, littering both protected areas with the chaos of the civil war – which upset delicate ecosystems and decimated wildlife.
A Continent of Change
The southern African region is not immune to the onslaught of global challenges we are facing; conflicts of Mozambique’s past now give way, in the present, to a new and unique suite of threats. The country faces a changing climate, diminishing biodiversity, competition for natural resources and communities who are feeling this heavy load. Yet this insightful nation rich in nature and heritage holds promise: seeing the value and potential of what it has, and the challenges raised, it is leading by example.
I salute and thank Peace Parks Foundation, our partner in the organization and management of Banhine and Zinave, for its unequivocal commitment to developing conservation solutions which generate benefits for the local community. More than 40,000 people earn income for their livelihood thanks to this conservation activity. Our partnership with Peace Parks Foundation and the regional collaboration in the area of conservation between our country, Zimbabwe and South Africa is an example to the world of shared commitment between different governments and non-governmental actors. This partnership implements the vision of living in harmony with nature, specifically in the implementation of the new Kunming-Montreal global framework on biodiversity, adopted in December 2022.His Excellency President Nyusi of Mozambique
As Banhine and Zinave turn 50, Peace Parks also celebrates its 25 years of existence. The three sizable milestones represent a wealth of combined, accumulated knowledge allowing nature and people to profit from cross-sectoral collaboration at its best.
To date, and with the invaluable input of partners, Peace Parks has borne three generations of progress across transboundary landscapes. Work has been focused on the vision of restoring iconic African landscapes in this vast area, by bringing countries together, and partners within countries, to reinstate wildlife populations and strategically develop protected areas where wildlife and people can co-exist in harmony. The organisation’s impact-driven Strategy 2030 both reflects how far we’ve come in successes and lessons learned, and acts as a roadmap setting our pace and direction of travel forwards. Vision 2050 proposes bold action at a vast scale – critical if we are to absorb the climate and social shocks anticipated across southern Africa.
Strategy 2030, in step with the UN’s 30×30 global goals for expansive protected areas, is committed to conservation at scale: reconnecting Africa’s wild spaces through transboundary ecosystems and corridors. Vitally, at the core lie communities able to share knowledge, decision-making, resources and revenue in a commercially viable and truly sustainable way. It is an approach that enhances resilience in the face of adversity and empowers local people to guide their own destiny, and that of the surroundings they depend on.
Putting Mozambique on the Map
Mozambique’s ANAC, responsible for biodiversity conservation and sustainable ecotourism, shows remarkable progress in overseeing and connecting protected areas. Partnering with local organizations and communities, ANAC dedicates itself to planning, coordinating, and executing activities, raising awareness and standards nationwide.
In 2002, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe established the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), including Zinave, Banhine, and the iconic Kruger National Park. Peace Parks played a pivotal role in this, subsequently supporting the GLTFCA’s development since 1998. Mozambique and South Africa now collaborate to rewild national parks like Zinave and Banhine, strengthening their migratory corridors – which is a conservation cornerstone for the Foundation. We have since been instrumental in supporting this process and signed a 20-year agreement with ANAC in 2015 to restore and co-manage Zinave, followed by a second pact for Banhine in 2018, highlighting ANAC’s significant contribution and political support for transformative changes.
The integrated management of landscapes such as those of the Banhine and Zinave National Parks is complex. It requires specialised knowledge and synchronisation of actions between the various social actors, to implement the policies conceived by the Government. These conservation areas constitute a single ecosystem that is interesting to manage in a unified manner. Our commitment to working with the government remains in the shape of whatever contribution is needed in order to restore and promote the ecological balance, so that each year we can celebrate successes and socio-economic growth in the region.His Excellency former President Chissano of Mozambique, Vice-Chairperson of Peace Parks Board of Directors
Where Zinave Leads…
Over the past five years, Zinave National Park has achieved significant milestones under the co-management agreement. These include establishing a joint park management team, upgrading infrastructure, training and deploying additional rangers, reintroducing diverse wildlife species, and implementing community development programs. The invaluable support from our generous donors has made these accomplishments possible, highlighting the importance of funding in conservation efforts. Notably, Zinave’s intensive rewilding program has successfully reintroduced over 2,300 game animals, including iconic species like buffalo, elephant, leopard and, in a stand-out translocation series to be continued, keystone species black and white rhino. These rewilding efforts contribute to the park’s growing wildlife economy, benefiting both local communities and the greater ecosystem. Moreover, community involvement and sustainable development programs, such as the Hunger Project, play a critical role in addressing hunger and poverty challenges in the surrounding rural areas by promoting self-reliance, empowering women as key agents of change, and fostering partnerships with local government.
Banking on Banhine
Banhine, a true African wilderness, faces challenges primed by its harsh landscape and the complex interaction between people and wildlife. The park recognises the pressing need for community-focused projects to support its development and address issues such as poverty, remoteness, and limited resources. To mitigate human-wildlife conflict, Banhine has invested significantly in its ranger force, comprising over thirty skilled individuals who dedicate countless hours to anti-poaching efforts, successfully removing snares and making arrests during extensive patrols each year.
For much of Banhine’s existence the park has struggled to survive, but has seen out the tough times. With a fresh management plan and a clear vision come the crucial foundations of new infrastructures and community initiatives. By securing additional funding, Peace Parks will be able to provide water resources to the surrounding communities as well as animals living in the park; alongside comes the rewilding of Banhine in Zinave’s footsteps, by bringing back historic species and ensuring their safety with effective anti-poaching measures.
In Banhine, infrastructure development has been a key priority, encompassing essential systems such as water, housing, an airstrip, and a radio network, all vital for effective park management. The Swedish Postcode Lottery plays a crucial role by providing core support for the highly successful Herding 4 Health program, which is making brilliant progress in enabling communities to harmoniously integrate their traditional rangeland and livestock management practices, promoting coexistence and contributing to landscape restoration efforts across the region.
Africa’s Gold Standard
Securing space for restoring and rewilding has been a monumental conservation challenge in today’s changing world – yet there is plenty of reason to be hopeful in the face of such immense opportunity and motivation. We are excited to be celebrating both the coming of age of two magnificent national parks, and our opportunity to play a role in Mozambique’s committed approach to conservation. It’s a privilege and an inspiration to be moving forward strategically in partnership with ANAC, and for our vision to be further inspired by their leadership. To this end, the additional USD 5.5m mobilised for the development of Banhine is hugely encouraging. It will make a vital contribution to community development and secure the integral place and voice of local people in the management of the park. Africa is looking on at this nation’s significant precedent in sustaining large, intact and vibrant ecosystems at a scale.Werner Myburgh, Chief Executive Officer of Peace Parks Foundation
The best practice examples being set for the rest of Africa by these extraordinary national parks are powerful, and point to a gold standard being raised by Mozambique’s uniquely special protected areas. Stepping into Zinave and Banhine less than a decade ago, few would have imagined that decimated wilderness of this kind could begin to thrive again so soon; and the sky is the limit.