Africa’s ‘super-park’ takes shape

6 November 2006

South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have opened a new border crossing as the project to create the world’s biggest animal kingdom – a massive transfrontier park spanning the three countries – picks up momentum.

The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park will link South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area – as well as the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe and the Makuleke region in South Africa – into a single conservation area of 35 000km².

In August, presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe opened the Giriyondo Tourist Access Facility linking the Kruger and Limpopo national parks.

A crossing over the Limpopo River between the Kruger and Gonarezhou parks is currently being developed.

Part of the 450km of heavy fence between the Kruger and Limpopo parks has been removed, and officials hope to have the rest down by 2010, when South Africa hosts the next football World Cup.

Parks that transcend borders
The Great Limpopo Park is one of 14 transfrontier conservation areas in the southern African region. The “Peace Parks” initiative aims not only to promote regional co-operation in conservation, but also to boost socio-economic development through eco-tourism.

“It amounts to more than allowing our wild animals to roam freely,” President Thabo Mbeki said at the opening ceremony in Giriyondo. “It serves to encourage us further to deepen the cooperation and partnership among our three countries.”

The region’s transfrontier conservation areas, coupled with the 2010 Fifa World Cup, “provide us with a unique opportunity for exceptional growth in the tourism industry,” Mbeki said.

He noted that nine Southern African Development Community (SADC) tourism and environment ministers had come up with a proposal to develop and market a Transfrontier Conservation Areas Tourism Route for 2010 and beyond.

The success of this plan, he said, would require “urgent consideration of issues relating to tourism infrastructure investment, security, quality assurance within the hospitality sector and ease of travel within the region.”

Massive biodiversity
Among the notable features of the Great Limpopo Park are the convergence of tropical, moist, temperate and dry savannah ecosystems – and a huge number of wild animal and plant species.

These include at least 147 types of mammal, 116 reptile species, and an incredible 500 or more species of birds.

Experts believe that a possible increase in poaching in the new borderless park will be outweighed by the benefits of increased land area, which is expected to ease the pressure of Kruger’s booming elephant population, and to help with the conservation of threatened animals like the wild dog.

South Africa has already translocated over 1 000 animals – including elephants, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, waterbucks and zebras – into the Limpopo park to help speed up its recovery from Mozambique’s long civil war.

Unique tourism opportunities
Other features of the three parks will provide opportunities for developing unique tourism experiences.

Mozambique’s biggest natural asset, its beautiful coastline, has seen the development of “bush-beach ecotourism”.

Visitors will be able to enjoy world-class game viewing in the Great Limpopo Park before picking up the bush-beach trail – possibly stopping at Banhine National Park or Banamana Wetland for a “feathered five” experience, then moving on to the stunning coastal resorts of Gaza and Inhambane provinces.

And in the southeastern lowveld of Zimbabwe, including the community areas making up a “biodiversity corridor” linking Gonarezhou to Kruger, numerous cultural tourism possibilities exist or are already being developed.

Towards the northern part of Gonarezhou there are magnificent cliffs and gorges where canoeists and rafters could start their adventure down the Save River Valley to Zinave National Park, going on to the coastal estuary near Bazaruto National Marine Park and the dugongs in Linga-Linga Bay.

Crossing via Giriyondo
The Giriyondo Tourist Access Facility is only open to tourists visiting the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

The border post is open from 8am to 4pm between October and March and from 8am to 3pm between April and September, and tourists will need valid passports.

For South Africans and Mozambicans wishing to visit each other’s country for a maximum of 30 days, visas are no longer required.

At present, the roads in the Limpopo National Park are only accessible to four-wheel-drive vehicles. reporter

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