The 5,035 km2 (503,500ha) Gonarezhou National Park lies in the southeast corner of Zimbabwe, and is separated from South Africa’s Kruger National Park (two million ha) by a narrow strip of unfenced community land. Gonarezhou is the second-largest national park in Zimbabwe, second only to Hwange (1,5 million ha), and hosts a significant growing elephant population of more than 11,000. Read this comprehensive story by our CEO who spent time in Gonarezhou with friends, as a guest of park management.
Gonarezhou hosts 89 larger and 61 smaller mammal species, 400 bird species (plus another 92 ‘likely to occur’) and 50 fish species (including Zambezi shark and small-tooth sawfish at the confluence of the Runde and Save Rivers). The park has experienced a significant increase in wildlife populations since effective management was put in place.
The Gonarezhou Predator Project monitors population trends and identifies and mitigates threats facing predators. These measures have been extremely successful, with lion, painted wolf (African wild dog), leopard and hyena populations increasing steadily since the project was launched in 2009.
Vegetation and landcapes
Gonarezhou vegetation is dominated by various types of woodlands – including alluvial, mopane, miombo, combretum, dry forests and wooded grasslands. Natural grasslands and Acacia woodlands are virtually absent, and aquatic systems are limited to the three main rivers and various natural and man-made dams and pans.
Gonarezhou landscapes are dominated by impressive sandstone cliffs, various seasonal pans and the large Save, Mwenezi and Runde rivers – which feature wide beds, dense riverine forest and steep rocky gorges with waterfalls and pools. The spectacular Chilojo Cliffs on the Runde River is a much sought-after site for tourists, and has become the most-photographed feature of the park.
The area has been protected in some form since 1934, and was declared a national park in 1975. Prior to that, trophy hunters plied their trade without check, and large numbers of trophy animals were hunted. Attempts by the authorities to rid the area of tsetse fly (which affects people and cattle with nagana – sleeping sickness) resulted in huge tracts of riverine forest being ring-barked and bulldozed, natural pans filled in, fences erected, animals exterminated and pesticides sprayed.
Then, just after the area was declared a national park in 1975, civil war broke out and soldiers treated the national park as their bushmeat pantry, making snares from the fence wire. To add to the destruction, almost 10,000 elephants were culled by the authorities over the course of 20 years, out of concern for the habitat.
The national park is surrounded by trophy hunting blocks and poor communities desperate for protein. Poaching by community members using snares and poisoning used to be rife inside the park and trophy hunters would routinely bait predators and elephants out of the park, to be shot.
Born from that cauldron of fire, present-day Gonarezhou is well-managed, with steadily-increasing wildlife populations and local community involvement. That said, the park faces enormous pressures, and a strong growth in tourism support will ensure that this iconic Zimbabwean gem will survive mounting human pressures.
Gonarezhou National Park has a substantial community engagement and involvement program, embracing a number of initiatives that include conservation education, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and general outreach programs into communities neighbouring the park.
We would prefer to hand-craft a safari to this area, just for you. Contact us to make an enquiry.