By Farayi Machamire for Zim Morning Post
Creating structures that give communities the direct benefit of living next to wildlife remains one of the biggest sticking points between community members, conservation owners, and governments.
A national park in southern Zimbabwe is the building blocks to help mend broken bridges by creating a tented camp whose proceeds are entirely at the disposal of the community.
Bosman’s Community Camp, located on the banks of the Mwenezi River bordering Mozambique and 100 kilometers from Kruger National Park in South Africa, was developed as a tourism and conservation partnership between Malipati Development Trust, Gonarezhou Conservation Trust (GCT) and Chiredzi Rural District Council.
The project’s inputs were funded by the European Union with additional support from USAID and implemented by Sustainable Agriculture Technology.
So far, proceeds from the luxury camp have gone towards building a clinic and renovating a school in a community area within Gonarezhou National Park.
Community members say the initiative helps combat wildlife crime as the financial value of the project encourages communities to be active custodians of land.
“It helps encourage communities to share responsibilities for wildlife conservation and management,” said Lawrence Moyo, President of the Malibati Development Fund.
At least one community member selected from the 12 villages of Ward 15 in Gunnarecho National Park sits on the Malipati Development Trust’s board of directors, helping to make decisions that directly benefit the villages they represent.
“Every board member brings their different villages’ concerns and then says let’s look in our coffers,” Moyo said.
“We want to re-establish the same camp in five other locations within Gonarezhou. The partnership has great potential to change the lives of many ordinary people who live within the park.”
The park is home to more than 11,500 elephants, and has one of the highest densities of elephant snakes of any protected area in Africa.
The GCT who run the park on a daily basis expect to get an influx of tourists from the Kruger National Park through a proposed tourism border between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The borders are expected to open in April next year.
GCT Area Manager Evious Mpofu believes that the new crossing identified will enhance the uptake of campsites while enhancing tourism enrichment linked to the wildlife economy between the Great Kruger protected area network and Gonarezhou National Park as well as Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
Gonarezhou National Park forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which connects Gonarezhou with Kruger National Park in South Africa and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. Animals can move freely between the three sanctuaries.
Currently, South Africa and Zimbabwe share the port of entry at Beitbridge as the only land port, and informal borders at Shashe and Tshikwalakwala are sometimes opened for monsoon tourism events.
Mpofu says the tented campers are an integral part of efforts to tap the Limpopo Transfrontier Park tourism market.
We are trying to create a crossing where tourists from South Australia will come directly to Gunaricho. Mpofu said it is less than 100km from Kruger which gets over 2 million visitors a year and if we can get 10 per cent of that it will go a long way to benefit the community.
Zimbabwe recorded 352,719 tourist arrivals during the first half of 2022. Domestic visits to national parks reached 172,481 during the January-May 2022 period. The proposed borders are among a range of initiatives that the authorities hope will be a catalyst for the development of the sector.
Meanwhile, GCT is overseeing several other community engagement projects in the park that also include the Chilojo Club which revolves around conservation education, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and public outreach in the communities that live alongside Gonarezhou National Park.
The projects provide opportunities for community lands to benefit from wildlife, to be active custodians of the land, and to share responsibilities for wildlife conservation and management.
This article is reproduced here as part of African Conservation Journalism ProgramFunded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow Program: Activity. Implemented by conservation international Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa, and to bring more African voices to the international conservation debate. Written articles from Mozambican and Angolan cohorts translated from Portuguese. Radio stories remain in the original language. Read the original story here