Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest and best known National Park. It is situated in the northwest corner of Zimbabwe on the Botswana frontier, about an hour’s car journey south of Victoria Falls. Formerly occupied by the San bushmen, the Nhanzwa, and latterly the royal hunting preserve for the Matabele king, Mzilikazi, the area was finally gazetted for wildlife conservation in 1928 and was called Wankie Game Reserve. The reserve was created simply because the land was deemed to be unsuitable for agriculture due to its poor soils and scarce water supplies. With the inclusion of neighboring Robins Game sanctuary, it was proclaimed a national park in 1930.

The Park’s area of 5,657 square miles (14,651 square km) is largely flat and lies across a watershed draining north into the Zambezi River, and south west towards the Makgadikgadi Pan in central Botswana. In a wetter age, when mudflats were spread across the extreme south-west of the present Park, and when swamps and forests in the north laid down the Hwange coalfields, great rivers flowed here. Today, the shallow soils north of the watershed support Mopane (Colophospermum mopane) woodland, Baobab (Adansonia Digitata) in rocky places, and splendid Acacia forests along the Lukosi River. Ancient dunes, now thickly vegetated, tell of a dry period when Hwange was a sand desert. Two thirds of the park south and west of the watershed is still covered with Kalahari sand hundreds of metres deep, and here, woodlands and vleis mingle with scrub and open grasslands. In the east, better soils nourish abundant grazing and stands of Zambezi Teak (Baiklaeia Plurijuga). There are many calcrete rich areas along the watershed where the animals eat the earth for the mineral salts it contains.

When the rains come, the sandveld is verdant with abundant grass and foliage and water fills every hollow. But almost all the pans and vleis become parched long before the end of the dry winter months (April-November), when drought strips the veld of its greenery.

Ted Davison was the first warden of Hwange National Park and as time went on it became clear to him that water was the key to the Park’s future. Under his direction, and that of subsequent wardens, with tireless work and dedication, boreholes were sunk, windmills erected and diesel pumps installed to create artificial waterholes during the dry season. With water permanently available at these pans, animal numbers blossomed resulting in the impressive game concentrations we have today. The responsibility lies with all of us to maintain and protect them.

Hwange is home to the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Cape Buffalo) and is one of Africa’s largest elephant sanctuaries. It has over 100 mammal species, more than 400 bird species and countless smaller creatures. At least 1000 floral species have been identified including 230 different trees and shrubs and almost 200 grasses. The abundance of flora and fauna makes Hwange National Park one of the most diverse parks in the world.