Hwange National Park: Working Towards a Sustainable Future for All

by Christabelle Peech

Everyone is preparing for the dry season ahead. We believe the rains have finished, although the rainfall was reasonable and Hwange is looking good, we know difficult times lie ahead. There are excellent people in Hwange who are devoted to conservation and assisting in protecting our natural habitat. National Parks do an outstanding job in protecting the area, with the assistance of many other organisations.

We take our hats off to the Friends of Hwange and Bhejane Trusts who are busy drilling more boreholes around the Park and installing magnificent solar powered pumps to as many of the water pans as possible. The solar units being installed include hybrid systems, meaning a generator provides back up for night time pumping when water is very short. Many of the key pans have had two solar pumps installed, enabling the same amount of water to be pumped during daylight hours that was previously supplied by one pump working 24 hours a day.

The intention is to make Hwange as “green” as possible by reducing the need to use engines and generators as much as possible, thus lowering the consumption of fossil fuels. This backup will be vital later in the year as the pressure on water resources increases and elephants converge on the remaining water holes. At 14,651 km², Hwange National Park is half the size of Belgium. During the dry season animals often have to travel long distances to reach functioning water pans. With more of these being spread around the park, less waterholes will dry up

and slightly lessen the concentration of elephants, so other animals will get a chance to drink. Another important consideration is the surrounding areas of the park, particularly the communal lands. People living in this area are tough and resilient, having survived decades of harsh living conditions. They also suffer in the dry season. Their lives are very difficult, people are hungry and crops have not grown properly due to the late and sporadic rainfall. It is a worrying time. However, not a single person I have met in the area has given up hope. They still have a smile on their faces and are determined to get themselves out of this suffering. More and more people are becoming aware that we need to preserve and protect our natural habitat instead of destroying it. What we need to remember is that we will have no community without wildlife, and equally we will lose our wildlife without the community. Conservation and community development go hand in hand. It is difficult to protect the animals without protecting the people.

There are some wonderful organisations working in a holistic way with the people who surround the park. Through these organisations more people in the area are becoming empowered. There is an understanding that in order to protect our habitat, our precious wildlife and our people we need to work together. We need to come up with long term sustainable solutions for all.

A recent workshop held in Cross Mabale brought together many of the stakeholders and people working on the ground. They met to discuss the benefits of holistic management, the idea being to use combined livestock to walk through arid areas in order to break up soil and fertilize the ground. A number of mobile cattle bomas have also been erected in the area. Households bring their cattle together in order to help scale up conservation efforts by reducing human/ wildlife conflict by protecting cattle from lion and other predator attacks. At the same time the community is empowered, gaining control by improving the ecosystem as the bomas improve the quality of grazingand fertilize the soils. The boma is rotated from one villager’s field to the next.

The results from this system have been remarkable; crops grown in fields after utilising the bomas have done substantially well compared to those that did not accommodate the boma. We thank Brent and Laurie Stapelkamp of the African Centre for Holistic Management, African Bush Camps Foundation and the many other organisations and people who have worked hard in putting these in place. We hope to help spread this practice further afield.

This year we have focused on growth, and have partnered with an exceptional organisation called SCOPE, who is working with the Ministry of Education to assist with introducing sustainable growing methods to schools around the country. In conjunction with SCOPE we have embarked on training in permaculture and an integrated land use design which involves all members of the community. Starting with pupils from a primary school, we work closely with parents, teachers, local farmers and other members of the community who all have the same common goal; the ability to provide food for their children. This rural community has taken ownership themselves and are formulating action plans to discuss how best they might move forward in growing food for their families. We hope this Hwange school will become an example to other schools and people in the area by encouraging them to begin to grow food sustainably using simple resources such as rain catchment, organic fertilisers and other permaculture growing methods.

This is a small taster of the positive good work being done on the ground. There is even more going on as we speak! We aim to work together with all interested parties to continue efforts to preserve and protect Hwange, our beautiful natural habitat.

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