INTRODUCTION Dr. Russell Taylor is, among other things, the Transboundary Conservation Planning Advisor for the World…
In this article the bulk of the information is drawn from the official “Umfurudzi Park Map and General Guide”, augmented by information from a variety of other sources and personal observation. (Many of the photographs were donated by the members of the Game Count team, acknowledged at the end of this article.)
The final section reproduces the report on the 2023 Inaugural Umfurudzi Game Count.
Umfurudzi Park occupies an area that is officially designated as Umfurudzi Safari Area (i.e. an area set aside for hunting) in terms of the Parks and Wildlife Act [Chapter 20:14]. The history of its change of status is laid out below.
Umfurudzi Park covers 760 square kilometers and lies 130 kms north-east of Harare in the Shamva District of Mashonaland Central Province. It is bounded by the Mazowe River for approximately 82 kms to the east and south and for 35 kms by the Gwetera River to the north. It is bisected by the Umfurudzi River.
The Park is entirely surround by communal lands. The Madziwa communal areas of Chief Bushu and Chief Nyamaropa lie to the west. Resettlement areas occupy the north and west. Approximately 60 000 people live in these areas and rely on small-scale agriculture for their basic sustenance. This population has been severely negatively impacted by the economic challenges of Zimbabwe and tend to look to illegal artisanal and alluvial mining and to poaching as sources of livelihood and food.
Umfurudzi Park and the surrounding area have a history of human activity dating back 1000s of years to the Early Stone Age and captured in the plentiful rock art found in rock shelters and caves. Later Iron Age stone-walled sites occur. The area was settled by early Mashona groups and then by Portuguese traders and later by colonial mining prospectors.
After 1950, the colonial government designated the area as state land set aside for wildlife habitation. It was managed by the Manicaland Hunters Association.
The Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975 officially created the Umfurudzi Safari Area, and placed the land under the control of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management.
In the early 1980s black rhino were in abundance within the Park. As pressure mounted on the rhino due to poaching, National Parks captured and translocated 44 black rhino from Umfurudzi to other parks.
The area continued as an official hunting area until 2007, when National Parks suspended all hunting due to unsustainably low animal population levels.
Causes of the decline in animal population lay in the country’s deepening economic woes affecting the rural populations surrounding the park and the poorly-funded National Parks being unable to mobilise adequate resources for law enforcement. Animal populations were exposed to excessive illegal hunting over a number of years.
Creation of Umfurudzi Park
In 2007 the cessation of hunting in Umfurudzi was brought about in consultation between National Parks and Hamish Rudland (representing Uni-Freight Africa Limited) and Ian Jarvis (representing Wilderness Africa Trust). A joint management arrangement of the area was methodically negotiated in a three-and-a-half-year process to create a mutually beneficial arrangement that is effective and sustainable. In August 2010, a Joint Venture Agreement was signed between Pioneer Corporation Africa Limited and National Parks, with the approval of the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management.
Umfurudzi Park’s Philosophy & Vision
As a result of the land redistribution process starting in 2000, marked by farm invasions, wildlife has taken an unprecedented battering from poaching in this area. Wildlife is one of the forgotten victims of the land redistribution process and it has become a personal crusade of Umfurudzi to protect and sustain wildlife in this area for future generations as well as to repopulate the Park to fill the population vacuums created by over-exploitation and lawlessness.
Umfurudzi Park provides a perfect environment to make the vision a reality, as it:
- Is protected by ZPWMA and the Umfurudzi Act;
- Is a large piece of land uninhabited by humans;
- Has tremendous biodiversity;
- Has the potential to carry large densities of wildlife.
Umfurudzi Park seeks to create a sustainable model of rehabilitation that can be duplicated in other distressed Parks within Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa. Partnerships have been created with a diverse stakeholder base, consisting of local communities, research institutions, tour operators, environmentalists and conservationists.
Umfurudzi Park is committed to creating an environment where:
- Wildlife can survive, thrive and multiply;
- Future generations can enjoy the legacy of sustainable wildlife management;
- Wildlife can be sustainably harvested to repopulate other Parks;
- Access to the Park by the general public provides continuing education in conservation awareness;
- Surrounding communities come to appreciate the value of wildlife in their own development and enter into the need to protect the wildlife on their doorstep;
- Commercial activities create an enabling environment through sustainable revenue and proﬁt generation within the Park;
- Research and consultation provide scientific information as the basis for strategic decisions and management of the Park;
- The success of the Umfurudzi Park model can be duplicated in other Parks.
The rainfall average in the area is 750mm per annum but Umfurudzi Park lies in Agro-Ecological Region 4 and therefore is characterized by erratic rainfall and regular droughts. It does however support a broad biodiversity consisting of Highveld and Lowveld vegetation as well as a wide range of mammal, reptile, bird and insect species.
Elevation, Geology & Physical Features
Umfurudzi is between 700 – 1100m above sea level. The highest point is Svisvamoyo at 1352m, in the center of the mountainous northern part of the Park, but the northwest corner drops to elevations in the 700s and becomes mainly open flat savanna country. In the middle of the eastern edge of the Park, alongside the Mazowe River, the lowest elevation in the Park is about 720m.
The geology is predominantly granite, with large kopjes and dombos (or inselbergs) dominating the central and southern parts of the Park. The landscape provides a number of interesting features for visitors.
The altitude range (from 700 – 1100 m) means that Umfurudzi is in a transitional zone between Highveld miombo vegetation and more Zambezi Valley-type vegetation. Amongst the miombo there are patches of mopane woodland with baobabs. (Some of the baobabs there have got wooden pegs inserted into the trees to allow access for honey harvesting.) There are some quite extensive areas of combretum and some interesting areas of unusual riverine vegetation.
Grass and herbaceous species are abundant providing for relatively high carrying capacities for grazing animals. Species include Hyparrhenia (thatching grass), Sporobolus (“seed-throwing” grass), Brachiaria (signal grass), Digitaria (finger grass) and Panicum (guinea grass).
The dombos support characteristic vegetation found growing on huge rocky outcrops such as Coleochloa setifera (bristly stonewort), Lindernia pulchella, Selaginella dregei
There are also large vlei lines in valleys throughout the Park, supporting characteristic vegetation.
The vegetation is extremely diverse and therefore is able to support a diverse spectrum of wildlife.
One of the challenges that the Park experiences concerns bush fires in the dry end-of-winter period. These can occasionally be caused naturally but are predominately caused by the activities of the surrounding population, either accidentally or deliberately (as a hunting technique).
The park has three major rivers, the Mazowe River, the Umfurudzi River and the Gwetera River. Only the Mazowe and Umfurudzi Rivers are perennial. There are many tributaries of these rivers starting in the Park, all of which flow seasonally. Water availability and management is one of the limiting factors to the potential carrying capacity of wildlife in the Park.
The Mazowe River is a threatened water resource for wildlife as it is heavily mined both commercially and by informal artisanal miners and is seriously polluted with heavy metals. Also the mining activities are breaking up the river banks and causing erosion and silting on a large scale. Population pressure and riverbank cultivation to the east of the river, is contributing to the silting.
Since the project inception in 2011, there have been 12 dams constructed. The dams are relatively small, approximately 1 to 2 hectares of water, with a depth of up to 3 meters.
The dams are spread throughout the southern and central section of the Park and are approximately 4km to 5km apart. The dams have been created for water supply to wildlife species which traditionally have had to migrate long distances from grazing grounds to ﬁnd water.
Limited water in the Park also caused a concentration of wildlife and therefore the poaching impact was high. With the wildlife being spread out over a large area and having access to water, and not having to travel long distances, it is hoped that incidences of poaching will be reduced.
Wildlife territories are expected to increase to encompass dams and new grazing grounds. Animal populations will also fill the vacuums where animals previously did not reside. Previously sparsely grazed areas are now being grazed, therefore reducing ﬁre risk and spread.
The small stock dams are reviving prime breeding areas for birds and extended habitat for aquatic life currently under siege from pollution and habitat loss in the main river systems of the Park. During the Game Count (see below) five terrapins were counted in Dam 8, though it was not possible to establish which particular species of terrapin.
The diverse terrain and vegetation of Umfurudzi should be ideal for the support of a wide range of animal and bird life (and of course all the other life forms in a balanced environment).
Cambridge University conducted studies in the 1980s and Umfurudzi had healthy populations of animals ranging from black rhino (100+), elephant (100+), buffalo (unknown), sable (1500+), Roan antelope (250+) , eland and waterbuck as well as many predator species such as lion, leopard, hyena, cheetah and other smaller predators.
In 2010 a desktop survey was conducted through interviews with the Parks staff and patrol sightings to quantify the animal species and numbers, which existed in the Park. It was ascertained that the numbers were very low and certain species were disappearing completely within the Park. The list entitled “Pre-2011 Populations” records the results.
It was agreed to actively restock the Park over a three-year period to build numbers of existing species, as well as reintroduce species which had been wiped out over the past 20 years.
Inaugural Game Count, November 2023
It has become very important to establish current levels of wildlife within the Park. National Parks approached Kelvin Hein to help them to organise a Game Count for this purpose. The following is his report on this process.
UMFURUDZI GAME COUNT REPORT, 24-26th NOVEMBER 2023
By Kelvin Hein
(Background section omitted as it duplicates information given above.)
Methodology: There were three methods used to conduct the Game Count:-
- Static – Seventeen persons made up Teams of three or more persons were placed at six “stock dams” to conduct a 24 hour count beginning on Saturday morning, through the night to Sunday. Because these dams were fairly isolated, no set start and end time was required.
- Driving – All game seen along the roads by Teams going and coming from their set walking routes were recorded. Many were recorded more than once. With a spreadsheet detailing times, description of herd make-up, and area of sightings on maps, duplications are eliminated.
- Walking – With information gleaned from the aerial Game Count in September and the Park’s Managers, it was decided to concentrate the Twenty four walkers along both sides of the Umfurudzi River. Two Teams started at the Mzingi River on the Western boundary of the Park; one team walking on the North Bank and one on the South, to the junction of the Umfurudzi River, and back to the Umfurudzi Campsite, maintaining North and South positions. The Middle section was also covered by two teams walking upstream along the North and South Banks of the Umfurudzi River, from the Bridge above the Old Camp back into the Umfurudzi Campsite. The last two teams walked up the North and South banks of the Umfurudzi River from the junction with the Mazowe, on the Eastern boundary, to the Bridge crossing above the Old Camp.
These walks were repeated three times – Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, with each team walking each of these sections on either the North or South Bank. Each team was assisted by an armed Parks Ranger. Again, as with road counts, duplications of animals counted over the three walks are eliminated, using spreadsheets with times and information of area and herd description.
|RESULTS: Total Count
Conclusion: Counting animals while walking proved to be almost an impossible task! Walking upstream, the wind was almost always blowing from behind, East to West. Early rains in October had brought on a flush of leaves and the bush was extremely dense. Because of the ever present danger of humans on foot, animals were most vigilant and often dashed off at speed with the approach of a group of walkers. There were many pathways running parallel to the river; these having been made by Artisanal Miners whose workings were visibly numerous both within the river and along most of the tributaries of the Umfurudzi and Mzingi Rivers. One pit was described as being a “death pit”, at least 5mtrs deep! Snares were also discovered by one team, and a poacher apprehended. An encounter at a Static water point resulted in three dogs being shot and the carcase of a Wildebeest was recovered. Most animals were counted along the road, and more often than not, seen closest to Hippo Pools. These were not threatened with the presence of vehicles passing them, showing little sign of fear. Certain gregarious species were seen in singletons and included in herds of other species (for protection?) Again, herd animals, such as Wildebeest, Zebra and Buffalo have obviously been broken up into smaller groups having been dispersed by illegal hunting.
Any future Game Counts would have to change the focus from counting along the River frontages and look at each group, counting well-defined “blocks” using roads, rivers and mountain ranges as boundaries. With this in mind, Participants would be able to drive, use Observation Points, and also walk at their own discretion.
One party of Game Counters came across a poacher at work, who was arrested by their accompanying National Parks ranger. This incident and the Game Count report shows that there is still some way to go before the efforts of Umfurudzi Park bear fruit and the wildlife population numbers in this rich area begin to rise to appropriate levels.
Umfurudzi Park as a tourist destination
Umfurudzi Park is committed to the rehabilitation and protection of the biodiversity of the area. One of the ways to raise funds to support these aims is to invite the public to pay to come and enjoy the experiences offered by this rich environment within an easy drive from Harare.. Various sorts of accommodation are provided and day visitors catered for.
Accommodation is also offered at Hippo Pools, which is reached by driving through Umfurudzi Park and is situated on the east bank of the Mazowe river.
Umfurudzi Park is an important conservation and social experiment in Zimbabwe where large commercial interests and the authorities responsible for Zimbabwe’s environment have come together in close cooperation to ensure that future generations of Zimbabweans can see plentiful, diverse wildlife in a healthy natural environment
Many thanks to Game Counters who donated photographs for this article, more than I could accommodate, lovely though they were – Geoff Bradshaw, Rachel Stewart, Kelvin Hein, Deb, Bev Morgan, Alison Taylor and Liz Lapham.