Hwange National Park

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Hwange National Park
Down the water hole.jpg
African bush elephants in a waterhole of the park
Hwange National Park location.png
The park (in red) on a map of Africa with Zimbabwe highlighted
LocationMatabeleland North, Zimbabwe
Nearest cityHwange
Coordinates18°44′06″S 26°57′18″E / 18.735°S 26.955°E / -18.735; 26.955Coordinates: 18°44′06″S 26°57′18″E / 18.735°S 26.955°E / -18.735; 26.955
Area14,651 km2 (5,657 sq mi)[1]
Established1928 as a Game Reserve[2] (1961 as a National Park)[1]
Governing bodyZimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority

Hwange National Park (formerly Wankie Game Reserve) is the largest natural reserve in Zimbabwe. It is around 14,600 sq km in area. It lies in the northwest of the country, just off the main road between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. The nearest town is Dete. Histories of the region's pre-colonial days and its development as a game reserve and National Park are available online [3][4][5]

History of the park[edit]

Hwange National Park was founded in 1928.[2] It is considered for inclusion in the five-nation Kavango - Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.[citation needed]

Poaching incidents[edit]

In 2011, nine elephants, five lions and two buffaloes were killed by poachers.[citation needed]

In October 2013 it was discovered that poachers killed a large number of African elephants with cyanide after poisoning their waterhole. Conservationists have claimed the incident to be the largest illegal killing of animals in Southern Africa in 25 years.[6][7][8][9] Two aerial surveys were carried to determine the extent of the deaths, and 19 carcasses were identified in the first survey[10] and a further 84 carcasses in the second survey.[11][12] Three of the poachers were caught, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced. All royal game and elephant poaching offences now have a mandatory 9-year sentence and the supply chain is also targeted.

Cecil and Xanda hunting incidents[edit]

On or about 1 July 2015, Cecil, a lion who had lived on Hwange National Park for 13 years, was killed.[13] This action spurred widespread social media coverage[14] and a petition calling for Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe to outlaw big game hunting permits.[15] Walter Palmer, the admitted killer of Cecil, had a permit and was not charged with any crime, as all his papers were in order.[16] Authorities in Zimbabwe have said he is free to visit the country. Charges were initially laid against Theo Bronkhorst, Palmer's guide, for "failing to stop an illegal hunt" but these were later thrown out of court.[17]

Two years after Cecil's killing, his son Xanda met a similar fate. Unlike that of his father, Xanda's killing was not termed illegal, though it did provoke outrage.[18][19][20]



Game at a pan in a vlei or seasonal wetland

The park is close to the edge of the Kalahari desert, a region with little water and very sparse, xerophile vegetation. The Kalahari woodland is dominated by Zambezi Teak, Sand Camwood (Baphia) and Kalahari bauhinia.[21] Seasonal wetlands form grasslands in this area.

The north and north-west of the park are dominated by mopane woodland.[2]

Although it has been argued that elephant populations cause change in vegetation structure,[22][23] some recent studies suggest that this is not the case, even with the large increases in elephant population recorded in the late 1980s.[24]


Lion resting near a termite mound

The Park hosts over 100 mammal and 400 bird species,[25] including 19 large herbivores and eight large carnivores. All Zimbabwe's specially protected animals are to be found in Hwange and it is the only protected area where gemsbok and brown hyena occur in small numbers.

Grazing herbivores are more common in the Main Camp Wild Area and Linkwasha Concession Area, with mixed feeders more common in the Robins and Sinamatella Wild Areas, which are more heavily wooded.[26] Distribution fluctuates seasonally, with large herbivores concentrating in areas where intensive water pumping is maintained during the dry season.[27]

The population of the Cape wild dogs to be found in Hwange is thought to be of one of the larger surviving groups in Africa today, along with that of Kruger National Park and Selous Game Reserve.[28][29]

Other major predators include the lion, whose distribution and hunting in Hwange is strongly related to the pans and waterholes.[30] Since 2005, the protected area is considered a Lion Conservation Unit together with the Okavango Delta.[31]

African leopard, spotted hyena and cheetah are also present in the protected area.[citation needed]

Elephant at Longone Pan

Elephants have been enormously successful in Hwange and the population has increased to far above that naturally supported by such an area.[32] This population of elephants has put a lot of strain on the resources of the park. There has been a lot of debate on how to deal with this, with parks authorities implementing culling to reduce populations,[33] especially during 1967 to 1986. The elephant population doubled in the five years following the end of culling in 1986.[34]

National Parks Scientific Services co-ordinates two major conservation and research projects in the park:

  • National Leopard Project, which is surveying numbers of leopard to obtain base-line data for later comparative analysis with status of leopard in consumptive (hunting) areas and Communal Land bordering the National Park.[35] This is carried out at Hwange in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation and Research Unit of Oxford University and the Dete Animal Rescue Trust, a registered wildlife conservation Trust
  • Painted Dog Project: The project aims to protect and increase the range and numbers of African wild dog both in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, and operates through the Painted Dog Conservation organisation in Dete.[36]


A southern ground hornbill

This overview is only one indication of the diversity of birds in the park and is not a complete list.

Geography and geology[edit]

Most of the park is underlain by Kalahari Sands.[38] In the north-west there are basalt lava flows of the Batoka Formation, stretching from south of Bumbusi to the Botswana border.[39][40][41] In the north-central area, from Sinamatella going eastwards, there are granites and gneisses of the Kamativi-Dete Inlier[42] and smaller inliers of these rocks are found within the basalts in the north-west.[43]

The north and north-west of the park are drained by the Deka and Lukosi rivers and their tributaries, and the far south of the park is drained by the Gwabadzabuya River, a tributary of the Nata River. There are no rivers in the rest of the park, although there are fossil drainage channels in the main camp and Linkwasha areas, which form seasonal wetlands. In these areas without rivers, grassy pan depressions and pans have formed. Some of these pans, such as many of the pans in the Shumba area, fill with rainwater, while others, such as Ngweshla, Shakwanki and Nehimba, are fed by natural groundwater seeps.[44][45] Many of the pans are additionally supplied by water pumped from underground by park authorities.[46]

Archaeological, historical and cultural sites[edit]

People have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years, as attested by numerous archaeological sites ranging from early Stone Age to the historic era. Stone age foragers hunted and gathered in the region, leaving numerous sites with stone tools throughout today's park. They made engravings of animal hoofprints on sandstone rockshelter walls with some small rock paintings in the park's northwest.[47] Iron-age people built large and small stone-walling sites in the park, such Mtoa [48] and the Bumbusi National Monument.[2] Information about the people who once lived in today's park is available online[49][50].[2]

Places of interest[edit]

Map of Hwange National Park

Main Camp area[edit]

  • Umtshibi camp, the headquarters of the park maintenance unit[46]
  • Mtoa Ruins and Pan
  • Dopi vlei, a fossil river containing Dopi Pan
  • Kennedy vlei, a fossil river also known as Massumamalisa, containing the Kennedy 1, Kennedy 2 (named after Sir John Noble Kennedy, Governor of Southern Rhodesia[46]) and Massumamalisa (Somalisa) Pans
  • Manga vlei, a fossil river also known as Amanga, containing the Manga Pans
  • Nyamandhlovu Pan (the name refers to elephant meat) and game-viewing platform, one of the most popular game-viewing sites[2]
  • Guvalala Pan and game-viewing platform, rehabilitated by scouts from Kent, UK in the 1990s[51]
  • Dom Pan, where lion are often seen[2]
  • Chivasa Pan
  • Longone Pans, named after the chief cook during the first warden's time[46]
  • Ngweshla Pan, a waterhole heavily frequented by game since before the park's proclamation[2]
  • Shapi Pan, another waterhole heavily frequented by game since before the park's proclamation[2] and former headquarters of the park maintenance unit[46]
  • Sibaya Pan

Sinamatella area[edit]

  • Chawato Springs, a mineral spring north-west of Sinamatella on the Bumbusi road[52]
  • Dabashuro (Dobashura) Spring, a mineral spring west of Sinamatella[52]
  • Salt Springs
  • Tshakabika Hot Springs, a thermal spring east of Sinamatella[52]
  • Lukosi River
  • Mandavu Dam and picnic site
  • Masuma Dam, with a thatched shelter overlooking the dam, as well as a camping ground and picnic site[53]
  • New Inyantue Dam
  • Tshompani Dam
  • Dandari (Dandaro) Vlei, Plains and Pan
  • Kapula Vlei
  • Tiriga (Triga) Vlei, a fossil river
  • Shuma Pans, a series of waterholes heavily frequented by game since before the park's proclamation,[2] with a hide and picnic site
  • Nehimba Pan
  • Tshompani Pan

Robins Camp area[edit]

  • Deteema Dam, hide and picnic site
  • Deteema fossil forest, fossilized Dadoxylon trunks[2]
  • Deka River, with Crocodile Pools hide
  • Chingahobe River, a tributary of the Deka River and Chingahobe (Chingahobi) Dam
  • Mahohoma River, a tributary of the Deka River
  • Toms vlei and river, a tributary of the Deka River, named after the hunter Tom Saddler. Big Toms and Little Toms pans and hides are on the river.[2]
  • Mbejane (Bejana) Pan, near the head of the Dandari vlei

Linkwasha concession area[edit]

  • Inkwazi Vlei, a fossil river
  • Makololo Pans and Plains
  • Somavundhla Pan

Dzivanini wilderness area[edit]

  • Liputi (Libuti) Camp and well. The name means a meeting place[2]
  • Kordoziba Gate
  • Nata River
  • Gwabazabuya (Gwabadzabuya ) River
  • Limpandi Dam
  • Dzivanini (Sibanini) Pan and mudflats

Shakwanki wilderness area[edit]

  • Shakwanki Pan; the name means ear and is a reference to its shape[46]
  • Tamasanka Pan, on the Hunters Road from Tati to Mpandamatenga
  • Xixi Amabandi Pan

Tsamhole wilderness area[edit]

  • Tsamhole (Tsamahole) Pan and firetower, on the edge of extensive mudflats. The name refers to a waterhole owned by two people[2]
  • Bumbumutsa Pan; the name means bumble bee[2]
  • Reedbuck vlei, at the headwaters of the Deka River

Accommodation and camping[edit]

The park has three large rest camps and four smaller permanent camps. A history of the establishment of the large camps is available online.[54]

Main camp[edit]

Nyamandhlovu Pan, near Main Camp

This is the park headquarters, in the north-east, easily accessible by tarred road from the main BulawayoVictoria Falls road. There are a variety of self-catering accommodation, camping and caravan sites, a bar and restaurant and a supermarket.[25]

Sinamatella camp[edit]

Sinamatella is in the north, several hours' drive through the park from Main Camp, or a shorter journey on a dirt road from the main Bulawayo–Victoria Falls road. Set on an escarpment above a waterhole, overlooking miles of bush. The camps has similar accommodation and camping facilities to Main Camp and a kiosk.[25]

Robins camp[edit]

Robins is in the north-west, and has self-catering accommodation and camping sites but no other facilities. The camp is based around the old clock tower of the farm of Harold Robins, donated to the park in 1939.[25]

Nantwich camp[edit]

Nantwich is located near Robins Camp, and has three self-catering lodges, built on a bluff overlooking a pan.[25] The lodges were not functional, and in a serious state of decay, in August 2013.

Bumbusi exclusive camp[edit]

Bumbusi is an exclusive camp for one party at a time, comprising self-catering accommodation for up to twelve persons. It is located twelve kilometres north-west of Sinamatella, near the Deka River and the Bumbusi National Monument.[25]

Lukosi exclusive camp[edit]

This is an exclusive camp for one party at a time, comprising self-catering accommodation for up to ten persons. It is located ten kilometres east of Sinamatella, near the Lukosi River and is only open in the rainy season.[25]

Deka exclusive camp[edit]

This is an exclusive camp for one party at a time, comprising self-catering accommodation for up to twelve persons. It is located twenty-five kilometres west of Robins, in headwaters of the Deka River and requires four-wheel drive for access.[25]

Bush camps[edit]

The Lukosi river bed near the undeveloped bush camp

These are remote camping sites with no facilities, for one party at a time. The bush camps are:

  • Lukosi, on the Lukosi River east of Sinamatella
  • Vhikani
  • Rhino Bar, east of Sinamatella and north of Shumba
  • Salt Springs, near a dam south-east of Robins
  • Tshakabika, near hot springs east of Sinamatella, four wheel drive required.[25]

Camping and picnic sites[edit]

Masuma Dam from the hide in the camp
Shumba Pan from the hide near the camp

In addition, overnight camping is permitted at picnic sites and some of the platforms overlooking waterholes; bookings must be made in advance with the National Parks board. Camping is restricted to one party at a time and during the day, the facilities are open to all visitors. The sites are:

  • Nyamandhlovu Platform
  • Guvalala Platform
  • Kennedy 1 Picnic Site
  • Jambile Picnic Site
  • Ngweshla Camp
  • Shumba Camp
  • Masuma Camp, a fully fenced site with two flush toilets, a shower and hide overlooking the dam[53]
  • Mandavu Dam
  • Deteema Dam hide[25]

Privately operated camps and sites[edit]

There are a number of privately operated tented camps and lodges within access to the park:

  • Davison's Camp, in the far south-eastern corner of the park, comprises nine tents overlooking a waterhole.[55]
  • Giraffe Springs, south of Shapi Pan in the central part of the park, is a tented camp overlooking Giraffe Pan. There are ten luxury tents, each with a viewing platform.[56]
  • Malindi Station Safari Lodge, adjacent to Kennedy Concession and neighboring the 72 miles of perfectly straight railway line and the Hwange National Park, is a converted rail carriage lodge built in the form of a railway station, opened in 2015. The thatched lodge is set overlooking two waterholes, and consists of six rooms within three tastefully converted Rhodesian Railway carriages, the lodge offers full board with bird watching, game drives and bush walks.[57]
  • The Hide, between Kennedy 1 Pan and the railway line, is a tented camp opened in 1992. The camp is set in acacia woodland with views over a waterhole, and consists of ten luxury tents.[58]
  • Kapula Lodge, on the Kapula vlei near Masuma Dam, consists of four luxury tents. The camp is self-catering.[59]
  • Makololo Plains Camp, east of Ngweshla Pan, consists of two camps, one with nine rooms and one with five. Each camp is on raised platforms with elevated boardwalks, overlooking a waterhole.[60]
  • Linkwasha Camp is east of Makololo, on a wide grassy plain[61]
  • Somalisa Camp is west of Ngweshla, in the Kennedy vlei and consists of two camps, one with six tents and one with four tents, each overlooking a pan.[62][63]

Proposed camps[edit]

Tshakabika hot springs – site of an undeveloped bush camp and a future rest camp

Long-term planning provides for the establishment of four further rest camps:

  • Tshakabika, currently a bush camp, east of Sinamatella
  • Two sites in the Linkwasha area, in the east of the park, currently a concession area
  • Liputi in the far south[2]



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External links[edit]