A Forgotten Wilderness | Chizarira National Park Rehabilitation
The rehabilitation of Chizarira National Park presents extraordinary opportunities for research and engagement. Combining the iconic Zambezi valley; a vast, scenic and rarely visited national park; and legendary conservation royalty in the form of Dr Norman Monks, Chizarira promises to be a landmark site in the coming years.
Chizarira National Park
The Zambezi Valley is a unique environment consisting of a string of inter-linked national parks, straddling eight countries. These parks play host to the continent’s greatest elephant population as well as the ‘Big 5’. Each park is of great strategic significance, with Chizarira National Park being the most vulnerable. Managed in conjunction with the Chete and Chirisa Safari areas, the reserve covers just under 2000km2, an area 2.5 times the size of the Maasai Mara.
The name Chizarira comes from the Batonka word Chijalila, which means ‘great barrier’, a reference to the imposing Zambezi Escarpment. Often referred to as Zimbabwe’s most scenic park, Chizarira terrain includes vast forests, open savannah, wetlands, spectacular gorges and river systems. Due to the under-resourcing of the Zimbabwean National Parks service, the park has been heavily poached and ecological fieldwork largely ceased 30 years ago.
But, all hope is not lost. Together with our partners, we have been granted unprecedented research access to Chizarira, opening up the opportunity for student groups to partner with ongoing research project and contribute to the rehabilitation initiative. This is an exceptional opportunity that will enable ecology students to assist in identifying population numbers with a view to better managing the ecosystem and re-establishing a number of species. The scope of our access includes the ability to go off-road, conduct night operations, move around on foot, establish camera trap surveys, conduct call-up surveys, and dart and collar animals.
“You can’t know how to manage a National Park unless you know what’s there, and you can only know what’s there by doing the research. Nothing has been done for 30 years.” – Dr Norman Monks
Very rarely does one gain this kind of access to a national park with such a blank canvas; similarly, the research that can and will be done here in future is vital to the park’s rehabilitation. We need to understand the waterways and wetlands, the grasses, the large mammals, the endemic bird species and the entomology, both in order to preserve it for future generations and to better understand relationships and ecosystems in the present. Opportunities extend beyond the park itself and cover issues such as community conservation and human-wildlife conflict mitigation.
We invite you to collaborate with us by getting student groups involved to contribute to, and explore, new avenues for research and field work. There are many different roles students can play in ensuring the long-term sustainability of this precious park and its survival both today and for posterity.
“Masidonse kanye kanye” (Let us pull and push together so that we finish the work) – Ndebele saying