By Shelley Cox
Hwange National Park, named after a local Nhanzwa chief, and Zimbabwe’s largest park, covering an estimated 14,680 square kilometres and haven to an estimated 108 wildlife species which inhabit this beautiful and diverse landscape. Hwange today holds its outstanding reputation for maintaining one of the largest elephant populations in the world, an important feat considering the country’s recent history of political and economic turbulence, and the wide spread onslaught of elephant poaching across Africa. It also has one of the healthier lion populations across Southern Africa, and has healthy populations of other endangered and / or protected species such as Painted Dogs, pangolin, brown hyena and gemsbok. It is one of the gems of Zimbabwe’s heritage, and its protection and preservation for future generations is vital.
With Zimbabwe firmly back on the map as a sought after destination for tourists visiting Africa, Hwange National Park is anticipating an increase in visitor numbers when compared with recent years. A number of existing lodges and camps over the course of the past two to three years had already started the process of refurbishing their properties, or building additional properties, to ensure high quality standards are maintained. Collaborative conservation efforts between Zimbabwe National Parks and the tourism operators were formed just over two years ago and the future for Zimbabwe’s largest National Park is looking bright. In a move to extend and increase the number of accommodation options within Hwange, whilst allowing for a greater presence in historically unvisited areas of the park, Zimbabwe National Parks have granted concessions to a number of new / existing operators. Many of these concessions are currently developing new camps scheduled to be opened in both 2018 and 2019, and are expected to add value to the already high quality accommodation options on offer in the and around the park.
Machaba Verney’s Camp is one such establishment opening its doors this month, having invested an estimated USD 3.2 million dollars into the development of a luxury tented camp Zimbabwe can be proud of. The Camp is named after the waterhole over which it looks, and which was named in memory of Jim Verney, the assistant Game Warden taken on by Ted Davison (Hwange’s first ever appointed Game Warden) in 1938. Jim Verney was known as “Mpoposha” by the local people meaning ‘the one who talks too much’ and is an apt name for the future fire-side tales which will be told around the camp fire at night. Jim Verney was sadly killed in action during the war in 1941.
Located in a private concession, in the Central Eastern section of a typically unused part of Hwange National Park, Machaba Verney’s Camp has been delicately built under an amphi-theatre of teak forest woodland which looks out over an impressive waterhole and floodplain, and which is playground to the famous elephant herds of Hwange, along with its other larger and smaller species.
Focused on ensuring a minimal footprint and impact on the surround environment and this natural heritage, Machaba Verney’s has been built incorporating the latest solar technology and recycling sewerage systems. In addition, its spacious, luxurious, and light coloured khaki-beige canvas tents positioned on seligna decking, blend in naturally to the surroundings, can barely be seen from the air, and offer elevated views of the waterhole and wildlife rich floodplain in front of camp.
The camp comprises of ten tents, eight twin / double tents and two family tents, tucked perfectly under the shady arms of the teak trees and positioned to ensure the best serenity and privacy so that guests can enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Each of the tents includes a spacious en-suite bathroom with flush toilet, double vanity and shower facilities.
Taking on the concept of being proudly Zimbabwean in terms of operations, the staff force will be 100% locally employed from both the Hwange area and further afield across the country. Each of the staff members, from junior level to senior level, will have their own individual room with a shared bathroom between two rooms. In addition, majority of the internal furnishings for Machaba Verney’s have been sourced from local Zimbabwe suppliers in an effort to support local business and industry, and to ensure the camp aesthetic portrays a purely Zimbabwean feel.
As part of their social responsibility for the next 25 years, Machaba Verney’s will be donating USD 5 per person per night (for every guest staying in their camp) from their own funding, into a trust for the Hwange Main Camp National Park School, the school which majority of the staff and rangers from the park send their children to. The long term goal is to turn the school into a centre of excellence for education, incorporating wildlife and conservation as a key syllabus.
Machaba Verney’s is also the first camp in Hwange National Park to build a researcher’s house on site within the camp, allowing for Zimbabwe registered wildlife researchers (such as Painted Dog Conservation, Wildcru and others) to have access to accommodation within the park, and to be able to work from, whilst out in the field.
Scientific research is a vital component of wildlife management and conservation practices. It allows for an understanding of species behavior and ecology, monitoring and assessment of diseases and disease transmissions, evaluating methodologies of control and population management as well as human wildlife conflict mitigation, and much more. As such Machaba Verney’s is committed to assisting and working closely with National Parks and the wildlife researchers in and around Hwange National Park for the collaborative effort of conservation and management of the habitat of Hwange and its wildlife.
One thing is for sure, with the inclusion of operators such as Machaba Safaris with Machaba Verney’s camp, who have ensured they are supporting sustainable development of Zimbabwe’s wildlife habitats, its National Parks, its people and its industries, Zimbabwe and its tourism, and the resultant revenue generation, is certain to only grow from strength to strength.