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Codes of Conduct in National Parks

In a National Park, humans are intruders, privileged to be able to peep into the lives of wild animals going about their natural activities. 

Most wild animals view humans (and their vehicles) as a threat.  This means that the duties of a guide includes managing the behaviour of clients to ensure their safety and also the safety of the environment as a whole.

Much of what will be said below is common sense and may seem too obvious to need stating but sometimes it is helpful for clients to have a guide explain WHY a certain regulation is in place, that it is not just a restriction of fun activities.

The regulations in any specific National Park reflect the provisions of national legislation (for example, S.I. 362 of 1990. Parks & Wildlife (General) Regulations). These overarching provisions are then spelled out within each National Park in different ways.

In this article we will look at the legislation and the codes of conduct of two representative National Parks (Mana Pools and Gonarezhou) and comment on the rationale behind the various provisions.

The rules for conduct within a National Park uphold at least one of the following six principles:

  • Protection of wildlife;
  • Protection of the environment which supports the wildlife, including vegetation, geology, water bodies, etc.;
  • Protection of the visitors, ensuring their safety;
  • Protection of the rights of other visitors to have a peaceful stay in the Park;
  • Protection of the safety and efficiency of the National Parks staff;
  • Control of the legalities of running the park – regulations, permits, payments, etc.

The following table suggests which rules are supporting which principles in the regulations. (You will see that often a rule will be serving a number of principles, for example, the rules concerning control of fires.)

We will now go through the aspects of the rules under the following headings:

  • Conduct at the campsites
  • Conduct in the Park
  • Information to assist in the care of the Park
  • Controls, legal regulations, permits, etc.

In each case there will be quotations labelled ), MANA (Mana Pools Code of Conduct, November, 2022), GONA (Gonarezhou, Visitor Rules and Code of Conduct) and S.I. 362 (S.I. 362 of 1990. Parks & Wildlife (General) Regulations). These will be followed by a discussion of rationale behind the regulations. Where appropriate the discussion will occur after several related items.


Only enter your own booked campsite

  • Do not enter campsites for which you do not have a booking. (Mana)
  • Do not enter any campsite in the Park unless you have a booking.  (Gona)


At National Parks people are camping in the open with their possessions scattered around them – but they do want as much privacy and sense of their own space as possible. Entering someone else’s camp site is the equivalent of trespassing in their house and garden back home.

Stay close to your camp site

Do not walk more than 150 metres from your designated campsite for any reason.  (Gona)


In Gonarezhou walking more than 150 meters from your camp site is the equivalent of walking in the Park, which is completely forbidden (see below) for reasons of visitor safety. It can also bring you unnecessarily close to the camp site of another party. (See above.)

No noises/behaviours disturbing other people

  • (No person shall) … (b) cause any noise or behave in any manner likely to disturb … any person (S.I. 362)
  • No generators are allowed. Music or radios can only be played through earphones or headphones (so as not to create disturbance). No speakers. (Mana)
  • Refrain from any behaviour likely to disturb animals or other visitors. You are expected to keep noise levels to a minimum at all times and no behaviour that may cause nuisance to wildlife, other visitors or staff, particularly in public areas or developed campsites of the Gonarezhou is allowed.  (Gona)

No holding public meetings

(No person shall) … (i) hold a political or public meeting; (S.I. 362)

No advertising and collecting money

(No person shall) … (j) display an advertisement or notice or collect money for any purpose from the public; (S.I. 362)


People come to National Parks such as Mana and Gonarezhou because they are seeking the experience of pristine nature, which includes the absence of noises you might expect in a city and the presence of the sounds of the bush. They do not want the presence of other humans to obtrude on their experience. They also have the right to an experience of the wilderness untroubled by the activities of the outside world, such as political meetings and advertising.

Always leave a tidy site

  • … (6) Any person who uses any facility shall leave it and its environs in a clean and orderly condition. (S.I. 362)
  • Be considerate to other visitors by leaving your camp site in the condition in which you would like to find it i.e. litter, ash and toilet paper free. Do not bury litter as honey badgers and hyenas will unearth it.

Be considerate to other visitors by leaving your camp site in the condition in which you would like to find it!  2) Please report any untidy campsites to the reception with as much detail as possible.  (Gona)

Waste disposal

  • (No person shall) … (e) dispose of any refuse other than by:

(i) burning it at a place where fires may be made; or

(ii) placing it in a receptacle provided for that purpose; (S.I. 362)

  • A carry-in/carry-out policy applies. ALL non-biodegradable waste must be removed from the park. Do not bury litter as honey badgers and hyenas will unearth it. It is not unreasonable to request that “what you brought in you must take out”.  You may be required to show your CARRY OUT litter at the exit gate. Failure to do so will result in a $100 fine.
  • Dispose of your litter outside the park ONLY at a designated bin in one of the TOWNS that you pass through. DO NOT use roadside or lay-by bins as these are seldom emptied.
  • If you see any litter in the park, please assist by picking it up. (Mana)
  • We have a strict carry-in/carry-out policy whereby all litter/rubbish must be removed from the park. The park IS massive and the logistics of collecting litter from each campsite is time consuming, expensive and ecologically impactful. We ask that you dispose of your litter in our recycling bins at the reception on departure or if you are exiting via another exit gate, please take your litter with you. Ln the event that you see any litter in the park, please assist us by picking it up.  (Gona) 

Maintenance of long-drop toilets

  • Do not throw anything into the long drop toilets which you would not throw down your own toilet at home i.e. Only dispose of biodegradable material (no ashes).  (Gona)


The non-biodegradable waste materials produced by our 21st Century lives are amongst the major problems that we have to face. Firstly, these waste materials are unsightly, have a tendency to smell unpleasant and to semi-break down in a manner that pollutes the environment. In wilderness areas these negative aspects are added to by the dangers presented to wildlife. Animals can cut themselves on broken glass or sharp-edged tin cans. They can become entangled or caught in various forms of rubbish. They can swallow harmful substances while trying to feed off abandoned food scraps.

The Gonarezhou document lays out the nature of the problem from the Park’s point of view. If visitors all left their waste material behind, even if neatly placed in a bin, then the Park would have a huge administrative problem (as they used to have in the past) of disposing of such waste safely and without causing pollution.  It is of paramount importance that every visitor to a Park should take responsibility for their own waste material – and carry it away with them to dispose of in a responsible manner. (It is interesting that the Mana Pools document is at pains to point out that the task of responsible disposal goes with the visitor out into the wider world.)



  • (b) … a person may alight from his vehicle in the event of an emergency, the onus of proof whereof shall lie upon such person. (S.I. 362)
  • Walking is allowed entirely at your own risk ONLY if you obtain a walking permit from the park office. It is strongly recommended that unless you have considerable experience with African wildlife you should not walk unaccompanied. Rather hire a ranger or guide. Do not tag onto (shadow) other walking groups. (Mana)
  • Walking is strictly prohibited except within the bounds of the camping, picnic or viewpoint sites. Do not move more than 50m from any designated picnic Chipinda Pools, Chinguli, Chitove, Chivilila, Runde Gorge site and be aware that all facilities are unfenced. Do not walk-out across the sand to the water opposite the Chilojo picnic sites. Walking in Gonarezhou is restricted for our visitors’ own safety. Walking is only allowed in the company of a fully licensed and authorised guide.  (Gona)


Since its inception Mana has allowed visitors the opportunity to walk in the Park but various unfortunate incidents have caused this freedom to have to be severely curtailed and in other Parks one is only ever allowed to walk with special permission and in the company of an armed ranger or licenced Professional Hunter.

The reasons for this restriction are obvious. By definition, National Parks are home to wild animals. Some of these animals are large and capable of hurting or killing people if for some reason they feel cornered or that their offspring are being threatened. It would be irresponsible of the National Parks authorities not to try and keep such incidents to a minimum and their main method is not allowing visitors to wander around without at least the protection of the metal body of a vehicle (though even the vehicle is not 100% guarantee of safety from an annoyed elephant).

No feeding animals

  • (No person shall) … (c) offer food to, or feed, any animal; (S.I. 362)
  • Feeding of animals or birds is strictly prohibited. This includes the enticing of animals using natural and locally available foods. (Mana)
  • Any feeding of animals is prohibited anywhere within the park. Please note that baboons have become a big problem in some areas. Please ensure that your foodstuffs and rubbish is securely locked away and is not left unattended.  (Gona)


Animals will obviously be attracted by easily available food. This applies particularly to baboons and monkeys, but also to hyenas, honey badgers and even elephants. The more animals become habituated to finding food in the vicinity of humans the more they will come to expect such food and begin to make an active and possibly even dangerous nuisance of themselves.

The eventual outcome of this scenario is that the animal(s) in question will have to be shot. In short, laying out food for wild animals (or carelessly allowing them to find food lying around in your camp) spells a death sentence for the animals.

No noise or behaviour disturbing animals

  • (No person shall)… (b) cause any noise or behave in any manner likely to disturb wildlife …… (S.I. 362)
  • Allow animals right of way at all times if driving or walking. Do not disrupt animals that are drinking or moving towards water.
  • Refrain from any behaviour likely to disturb wildlife or other park users. In particular, do not approach closer than 30 meters to Painted Dog dens or do anything that forces animals to move when they are resting.
  • To avoid overcrowding at wildlife sightings, respect the following limits A MAXIMUM OF 5 VEHICLES AT A TIME or A MAXIMUM OF 12 PEOPLE WALKING. Be courteous and move off after a maximum of 20 minutes if other visitors are waiting their turn. Avoid surrounding animals. All observers (on foot or in a vehicle) should watch from the same viewing quadrant (preferably downwind) – see diagram. (Mana). (See article by Dick Pittman referring to this issue.)
  • Refrain from any behaviour likely to disturb animals or other visitors. You are expected to keep noise levels to a minimum at all times and no behaviour that may cause nuisance to wildlife, other visitors or staff, particularly in public areas or developed campsites of the Gonarezhou is allowed.  (Gona)

No recordings to attract predators

No recorded sounds are to be used to attract predators. (Mana)


It is imperative that humans keep their intrusion to a minimum and try not to disrupt the natural patterns that are unfolding. A cheetah on a kill, for example, is vulnerable to having its kill snatched away by lions or hyenas. It should not also be in danger of being frightened off by a number of vehicles nosing up to the kill, full of excited, chattering tourists seeking photo ops.

National Parks cannot spell out all the possible ways that the lives of animals can be disrupted by the presence of humans but in every human-animal encounter the animal has the right to as much space and silence and stillness as is possible. This includes predators not being subjected to having their hopes of a kill raised by recorded sounds.

No removal or damage of anything

  • (No person shall) (a) be in possession of any Wildlife except in accordance with a permit;  or any plant except in terms of section 43;  (S.I. 362)
  • (No person shall)… (g) destroy, damage or deface in any way or remove any State property or any object of geological, ethnological. historical or scientific interest; or collect or remove any wood, rock, sand, soil or other substance; (S.I. 362)
  • Note that all plants, animals and soils are protected and cannot be removed from the park. This includes firewood, feathers, seeds & seed pods, fruits, bones, teeth, horns, skins, flowers, insects, cultural artefacts etc. (Mana)
  • Note that all animals, plants (and parts thereof) and artefacts in a national park are protected and cannot be interfered with, picked up, harmed or removed from the Park estate.  (Gona)

No collection of firewood

  • It is prohibited to collect your own firewood from the park. All firewood must be purchased at the reception. 
  • We encourage the use of gas to preserve firewood. Dead trees form a haven or food source for many species in the wild. If you must use wood, please keep your fire size to minimum. (Mana)
  • It is illegal to collect your own firewood in the park – it can be dangerous to you but dry logs also play an important role as seed traps, in erosion control and as habitat for various smaller species. … 2) Do not collect your own firewood from the park – it plays an important role in erosion control and provides habitat for various species. Firewood must be purchased at the reception(s) and collected from the designated points. We charge for this to encourage visitors to use as little firewood as possible.  (Gona)

No weapons, explosives, poisons or digging tools

  • (No person shall)… (d) be in possession of any weapon, explosive or poison or, in the case of a botanical reserve or botanical garden, any gardening-tool; (S.I. 362)
  • All firearms must be declared on entry to the park and (unless carried by tour operators licensed for this park, or their guides) must be handed in or sealed at the park office.

No used toilet paper in the bush

  • Should you need to answer the call of nature in the bush, bury all your waste. Used toilet paper must be buried, burned or taken out of the park.   (Mana)
  • Should you feel the urgent need to answer the call of nature in the bush, do not leave any trace of litter behind. We can assure you streamers of used toilet paper do not appeal to any visitor to Gonarezhou!  (Gona)


A National Park is an area set aside to preserve a piece of bush in as near to a pristine state as possible. This state includes every aspect of the environment from the wildlife, through the vegetation and to the rocks and soil that make up the basis for the unique features of the area.

It is essential that nothing is subtracted from this whole and if people start taking small mementoes of their presence who knows what the cumulative effect would be after many years.

There are powerful reasons why firewood should not be collected in the Park. In recent years science has helped us to understand that every fallen leaf and twig has its place in feeding, concealing and generally sustaining all sorts of tiny-to-microscopic life forms that in their turn are essential to life forms further up the food chain.

We now realise that “dead wood” should not be used as a term that indicates that something is useless and should be discarded.

One way of ensuring that ill-intentioned people cannot “remove or damage” wildlife or indigenous plants is to have a blanket ban on carrying into the park any implement or substance which could be used in poaching. The Park authorities will then be justified in prosecuting anyone found in possession of such items.

And finally, there is a form of “damage” that comes from leaving in the Park things which should not be there, which includes all forms of human litter and waste discussed above but also unsightly toilet paper, even though it is biodegradable.

No night driving

  • 10. (1) … no person shall be within the Parks and Wildlife Estate during the prescribed hours other than while travelling on a prescribed/designated road, unless a facility has been allocated for his use (S.I. 362)
  • Remain in your camp during prescribed hours. These hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.  (Mana)
  • For security reasons, be in your camp during prescribed hours – 18h30 to O6h00 (October-April) & 18h0o to 06ho0 (May-September). No driving at night is allowed.  (Gona)

No spotlights for night viewing of wildlife

  • Night driving or using a spotlight to view wildlife is prohibited. (Mana)
  • The use of spotlights for viewing wildlife at night is strictly prohibited at any time.  (Gona)


Some animals are nocturnal and are only going to be seen at night. And there is a special thrill attached to sitting in the bush at night, being part of the other world that emerges after sunset.

There are two reasons, however, that National Parks are keen to deprive you of this experience. The first is that the dangers of visitors getting lost or into difficulties of some sort are greatly increased at night.

The other reason is that visitors might become difficult to distinguish from poachers. If there is a blanket prohibition against travelling at night then it can be assumed that anyone detected travelling at night is a potential threat.

No off-road driving

  • 7. (1) The Director may:

…(b) by erecting appropriate signs:

(i) restrict the speed at which any vehicle may travel; and

(ii) close and prohibit travel; and

(iii) prohibit any person from leaving a vehicle or riding on its exterior;

 on any road or part of any road.

    (2) ……no person within the Parks and Wildlife Estate shall

(a) drive any vehicle anywhere other than on a road; (S.I. 362)

  • No driving off road under any circumstances. Only drive on designated and graded roads and DO NOT FOLLOW other people’s off-road tracks – you are not entitled to break the law as they have. You may park your vehicle within 10 meters of either side of a designated road. Absolutely NO driving in riverbeds except at designated crossing points. Should you become stuck in the sand at any of the river crossing points and are recovered, take care to fill in any holes you may have made.  (Mana)
  • No off-road driving under any circumstances. Only drive on designated roads and do not follow other people’s tracks off any roads.

– No driving in riverbeds except when crossing at designated crossing points. Keep to the general track to avoid creating multiple vehicle tracks across the sand. Do not attempt to cross any of the sand river crossing points whilst towing a trailer unless you have two vehicles and recovery equipment

– Off-road driving is taken very seriously and transgressors could have their vehicle impounded and pay a release fee of US$1,000.00 per vehicle.  (Gona)


Vehicles have speed, bulk, weight and imperviousness to surroundings that make it highly desirable that they are restricted to specific routes cleared for their use. Driving vehicles on anything other than designated roads has many negative implications, for example:

  • Increasing the chances that visitors get lost or stuck in the bush and that a great deal of time and manpower is spent rescuing them (if they have survived);
  • Reducing the areas far away from roads where animals can feel safe from human incursion and increasing the chances of disturbing wildlife;
  • Exposing smaller, more fragile forms of wildlife to the threat of being run over;
  • Threatening burrows, dens and other ground breeding areas;
  • Operating negatively on the soil crust and vegetation which is often fragile in this part of the world, particularly in the dry season.

Control of fires

  • 9. (1) …. (n)o person within the Parks and Wildlife Estate shall light a fire in the open air other than at a place where fires may be made.

    (2) A person shall carefully and properly extinguish a fire kindled or used by him within the Parks and Wildlife Estate and, until he has done so, shall not go so far away from that fire as to be unable to control it by himself.

    (3) No person within the Parks and Wildlife Estate shall discard any burning object. (S.I. 362)

  • Note that fires are only to be made at designated braais/fireplace stands/scrapes. Fires are prohibited at any picnic site or viewpoint which does not provide this infrastructure. (Mana)
  • Fires are prohibited at any picnic/day visitor sites in the park. Fires are only to be made at designated campsites and are prohibited at any picnic site or anywhere else in Gonarezhou.  (Gona)

Control of ash

Dispose of ash from your fire by burying it. Do not put soil or ash into the “long-drops.”  (Mana)

  • Please put your ash into a heap by the fireplace, it will be collected by tourism staff. Do not dispose of it down the long drop toilets (Gona)


Occasionally fires can be caused naturally by, for example, lightening strikes, and they do have their place in the germination of seeds of certain species. On the whole, however, we all need to work together to avoid accidentally causing fires which threaten the lives and sustenance of wildlife on a vast scale.

For this reason, the regulations seek to control where fires are lit and to forbid them where there is no infrastructure to prevent fires from spreading.

The prohibition against putting ash in long-drops is interesting. In some other contexts a bucket of ash is placed alongside a long-drop and people are asked to put a shovel-full into the toilet when they have finished using it. That ash is, however, guaranteed to be cold. It might be important to discourage this practice when people might be tempted to scoop up hot ashes and toss them into the long-drop, causing damage to the seat and potential danger of fire.

No wasting or polluting water

(No person shall) … (f) commit any act liable to endanger the adequacy or purity of any water; (S.I. 362)


In this part of the world water is a vital part of survival for a wide range of wildlife. One of the most pernicious forms of poaching is the poisoning of pans or other water sources, causing widespread death of various species, including vultures.

No camping other than in designated/booked sites

(No person shall)… (l) camp or occupy a caravan except at a site allocated in terms of subsection (1) of section 11 (S.I. 362)


In Europe “wild camping” far from the facilities of an organised campsite is a favoured pastime. In a National Park in Zimbabwe, however, this practice is heavily discouraged for reasons which have been touched on above, for example, the presence of wildlife that can seriously threaten life and the possibility that uncontrolled camping can lead to unintentional fires sweeping through the bush.

Furthermore, in the unrelenting war against poaching, it is essential that the authorities can be certain that bone fide visitors are in designated places for the night and anyone else needs to be investigated.


Reporting illegal/suspicious activities

  • You can be of great assistance to park management if you report any illegal activities. In the event of off-road driving, note vehicle details i.e., colour, make, registration number and the location where this occurred.  Where possible take a time/dated photograph for proof. All registered tour operators and guides act as an intermediary for zimparks so feel free to report any suspicious activities or incidents to them and they will guide you accordingly or take appropriate action. If you hear any shots, please report these to zimparks giving the time and an estimated location. (Mana)
  • You can be of great assistance to park management if you report any illegal or impactful activities to us. In the event of breach of these rules and regulations, please note the number of people, any vehicle details i.e. colour, make, registration number, the location where the incident occurred and if possible take a time/dated photograph for proof. We have rangers based at Chinguli and Save-Runde Base Camp who have radio communications with Chipinda Pools, as well as mobile units on patrol all-round the Park. Please feel free to report any suspicious activities or incidents to them and these can be dealt with.  (Gona)

Reporting dead animals

Report the location of any dead animals to zimparks. (Mana)


The members of the public who are visiting a National Park are doing so because they love being in the bush and want such places to be available to them and their children for the foreseeable future. It makes sense, then, for them to be seen as part of a team with National Parks, looking out for the wellbeing and proper functioning of the Park.

A dead animal could represent a natural fatality or could be a victim of poaching or of a disease that might be in danger of spreading to other animals. It is important that National Parks are in a position to assess the situation as soon as possible.


Control of operators/guides & commercial safaris

  • Any commercial safari activities within the park must be conducted by a registered Mana Pools Tour Operator. All firearms must be declared on entry to the park and (unless carried by tour operators licensed for this park, or their guides). Foreign tour operators and guides can only operate under the permit of a local Mana Pools operator.  (Mana)
  • It is illegal, to guide, outfit or conduct any commercial activities within the Gonarezhou without a GCT operators permit and/or other relevant permits.   (Gona)


National Parks needs to be aware of the nature of the parties they are hosting and to ensure that groups are being conducted by local operators who are aware of all the local rules. It is obviously also important for them to maintain control of the income streams from the issuing of local permits. It is not in the interests of the local tourism and photographic safari industry to allow the uncontrolled presence of foreign operators in the Parks.

Fishing regulations

  • Fishing is only permitted with a licence which can be purchased at reception.  Note that a maximum of five fish may be kept per licensed fisherman per day and that NO FISH are permitted to be removed from the park. (Mana)
  • Fishing is only allowed under permit at specific overnight camp sites. Fishing is only permitted at specific overnight campsites for which you have a permit to stay. These include Chipinda Pools, Chinguli, Chitove, Chivilila, Runde Gorge, Nyavasikana and Rossi Pools. No fishing is allowed elsewhere in the park under any circumstances.
  • Fishing is limited to 150 metres either side of your own campsite.
  • Fishing is not permitted by day visitors.
  • Please note that a maximum of five fish may be kept per licensed fisherman per day; no fish are permitted to be removed from the park.  (Gona)


National Parks needs to control fishing in the Park for two separate reasons. On the one hand, the sale of fishing licences represents an income stream for National Parks. On the other hand, the fish in our bodies of water are part of our wildlife heritage and need to be protected from over-exploitation.

Photography & filming regulations

  • Photographic parties are required to adhere to all the above demands to respect animals’ space. Note that Commercial Photography is ONLY allowed with a valid permit from zimparks. (Mana)
  • Photography and filming within the park for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited without a valid permit.  (Gona)


Permits for commercial photography are another income stream for National Parks but also the film crews need to be monitored carefully because of the danger that they might get carried away in the search for the perfect footage – at the expense of the wildlife.

Drones & UAVs

  • The use of drones is prohibited. (Mana)
  • Drones are not permitted inside Gonarezhou without a valid permit under any circumstances. The use of unauthorised drones in the Park will be taken VERY serlously – they pose a security threat, impact on the experience of other visitors and if utilised improperly, agitate and disturb wildlife.  (Gona)


Gonarezhou’s Visitor Regulations has supplied the three cogent reasons why drones are prohibited:

  • Possibility for being used by poachers to detect the whereabouts of desirable poaching victims;
  • The irritating noise they make which would detract from the experience of other visitors;
  • The irritating noise they make which could cause wildlife to panic.

Flying over the park

(No person shall) a. Take off from within the National Parks Wildlife estate.

b. Fly at less than 155m above the ground (S.I. 362)


The reasons for restricting the flying of full-sized planes over the Park fall into the same three categories as the restrictions on flying drones – except that planes can be required to fly high enough above the ground to mitigate some of the ill-effects.

No unregistered radio communication

No unregistered communication radios are to be used in the park except in an emergency. You are required to advise zimparks if your vehicle and those of your party are fitted with such radios. (Mana)


Radio communication is a very useful tool for poachers – and such communication needs to be confined to the staff of the National Park.


Above we have examined the elements of the Codes of Conduct of two of Zimbabwe’s major National Parks, Mana Pools and Gonarezhou, as well as the over-arching legislation on which they are based.

The same principles apply in all the country’s National Parks and it it is desirable that all guides are in a position to explain and justify the provisions to visitors in their care. Each of the provisions has been produced out of a great deal of experience and a desire to protect the wildlife and environment in the care of the National Park as well as all the visitors who come to enjoy the Park.

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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