MANA POOLS: … an update

Richard Maasdorp fills us in on the happenings of Mana Pools NationalPark

Mana Pools – A landscape of extraordinary scenic beauty, sheltered by rugged escarpment mountains, and overlooking the peaceful lazy meandering waters of the Zambezi River.

Ask anyone who knows the place well, and they will sing a song of a special place, of a land filled with the dusty ethereal light filtering through the “Albida” woodlands, as the abundance of wildlife species frolic beneath their shade, and the apparent serenity of Mana’s elephants causes a calming effect on the soul.

If we choose, the wilderness of Mana Pools can inspire the creativity in all of us. It is Mother Nature’s garden providing us with a place to engage in our own humility, to pinpoint our position on this planet, and to remind us of our responsibility before the universe. If we open our senses and allow our vulnerability to fully engage with the natural world around us, we can tune in to our fellow creatures on equal terms – with mutual respect.

The special wilderness and wildlife values of Mana Pools National Park have always been the focus of conservation activities carried out by The Zambezi Society and its supporters. Today, a new level of collaboration is rising as conservation and tourism organisations, working with Zimbabwe National Parks (ZimParks), is emerging, and proving to be effective in protecting the elements that make the Zambezi Valley ecosystem so precious.

The  Bushlife  Support  Unit  is  actively  assisting on the ground with year-round anti-poaching camps, ranger developments, vehicle reactions and general support to ZimParks. The Zambezi Elephant Fund has contributed funds to assist both the Bushlife Support Unit and the Tashinga Initiative to construct   new,   well-equipped,   anti-poaching operational bases in the National Parks. The Zambezi Society has an anti-poaching vehicle based at Mana Pools with a dedicated driver who assists ZimParks ranger  developments  and  reactions  throughout the park, covering around 350 kilometres a month in arduous conditions. The Society’s Anti-Poaching Volunteer Unit helps the driver with developments, covering some of the more remote or mountainous escarpment areas in the south of the Park. The same unit also runs a firearms training course for ZimParks rangers. There are volunteer pilots working with Flying   for   Wildlife   and   Sino-Zim   Wildlife Foundation who conduct aerial surveillance through- out the Park using microlights, helicopters and boats to assist with anti-poaching on the ground. Logistical, technical   and   training   support   and   the establishment of a marine base for Zimparks just upstream of Mana are being developed by The Afri-can Wildlife Foundation. In addition to this The Tikki Hywood Trust has made great strides in recent years in strengthening the legislation and law enforcement relevant to poaching.

There  has  also  been  a  recent  shift  in  land- use in the Zambezi Valley which may result in strengthening protection for the wilderness and wild- life of Mana Pools.   Previous hunting concessions in the “Safari Areas” on either side of Mana Pools National Park have recently been leased to non-hunting  operations.   The  Chirundu  Sugar  Estates/ Nyakasanga area and Rifa Safari Area (to the west) are now managed for photographic tourism, and wildlife here is actively being protected with the assistance  of  the German-funded  Hemmersbach Rhino Force anti-poaching unit.

The Sapi Safari Area  (to  the  east)  has  been leased to well-known tourism and conservation fo- cused operator, Great Plains Conservation, and is currently  being  rehabilitated  ,developed  and managed as a non-hunting tourism concession with plans for new tourism safari experiences and wildlife

protection activities.

Since these collaborative efforts began there has been a significant downturn in illegal hunting and poaching in the area. There have been break-through arrests and convictions of poachers and at least four poachers have been fatally wounded – a powerful deterrent to others. The threat to wilderness values in Mana Pools and its associated areas is less easy to assess and quantify.  However, The Zambezi Society remains a powerful lobby group against unsuitable tourism development or over-exploitation and a vigilant   watchdog   in   defending   wilderness values against mining, agricultural or other activities considered to have potentially harmful impacts on these values.

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