From hunting ground to National Park: the story of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park

Situated in the northwest of Zimbabwe, just below the Victoria Falls, is the country’s biggest (and Belgium-sized) national park. Founded in 1928, the park was historically a hunting ground for early colonists.

Quick Facts

  • Covers 15 000 square km, about the size of Belgium
  • Home to the Big Five
  • Pans and salt licks unique to Hwange National Park
  • Zimbabwe’s biggest and most popular park
  • Formerly called Wankie National Park

Founder and history

In 1928 the then Rhodesian government, spurred by the enthusiasm of members of the Legislative Assembly such as Major W Boggie, declared the park as a reserve. It was the last retreat of big game animals left in Zimbabwe that were not under pressure from humans.

In September 1928, Ted Davison a 22-year-old official employed at the time for Tsetse Fly control was offered the appointment as First Warden. He accepted readily. In the 33 years he remained in charge of the reserve, Ted Davison developed it to its full grandeur as a great national park.

The original Wankie Game Reserve, as it was first called, was proclaimed as a national park on 27 January 1950. From that time on it was developed as a major conservation and tourist asset.

Davison found the reserve in a wild state – without roads or pathways. It had only been occasionally penetrated by hunting parties of Bushmen and visiting Europeans. It’s a flat and sandy landscape that’s hilly and stony in the north. In the north the recluse HG Robins made his home, complete with an astronomical telescope mounted on a tower. When he died, he bequeathed his block of farms to Hwange National Park. Robins Camp now houses visitors around his original home and observation tower.

Pans and salt licks
The most remarkable physical features of the park are the shallow pans and natural salt licks (sodium and lime) that attract game animals from the adjoining Kalahari wilderness.

The pans comprise one of the natural wonders of southern Arica. Most of them are 20 to 30 meter in diameter. They reach a depth of up to 1 m of water after the rains. Strangely the pans have been created by ants and other wildlife. The ants who build ant heaps bring salts such as lime to the surface. The salts attract wild animals, especially elephants, who have a particular craving for it. Eating the ant heaps to obtain the salts, the wild animals form hollows in the ground that collects rainwater. The hollows are constantly expanding as animals eat the lime-flavoured soil, drink the water, and carry the mud away on their hides.

The largest pans have formed in the areas of richest lime deposit near Main Camp, Kennedy, Ngwashli and Ngamo. The lime-flavoured water attracts heavy concentrations of wildlife. Observation platforms built at some pans (such as Nyamandlovu and Guvulala) allow visitors the pleasure of watching an endless procession of animals coming to drink, bath, and ambush one another in fights for survival.

Animals and when to spot them?
Elephants and buffalo are particularly numerous in the park. Tremendous herds of animals may be seen especially at the pans during their habitual drinking time between 16:00 and 21:00. Eland also drink at this time.

But zebra, giraffe and sable drink from 16:00 to 19:00; while wildebeest drink at night and in the morning. Roan, sable, buffalo and kudu frequent the pans during the daytime; and carnivore such as lion, leopard and cheetah drink in the early morning.

Camps
Today, four camps – Main, Nantwich, Robins and Sinamatella – provide a variety of accommodation. Good roads lead to most of the interesting places in the park. The population of game animals, protected and supplied with reliable, permanent water sources such as boreholes augmenting the natural supply in some of the pans has increased widely.

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