Pans of Northern Hwange, Zimbabwe


Hwange Zimbabwe holds a character as biodiverse as the ecosystem itself and the northern pans are no exception. Being the largest national park in Zimbabwe, covering an impressive 14, 650 sq km, there is much scope for variety. Water is a precious and scarce resource for a park of such magnitude – filled with an abundance of wildlife – some of which travel its length, breadth, and beyond. With over 100 species of mammals, an elephant population some 44 000 strong, and 400 species of bird, the demand for water is high. Then there are predators, insects, flora and fauna – each element of the ecosystem reliant on another.

Hwange National Park Map
Hwange National Park Map

There are three different sections of the park – Robins (North West), Sinimatella (Central) and Main Camp (East). Each has its own distinct atmosphere, pans, dominant species and ecology. Much of the park has no permanent natural surface water, so many pans are man-made in a conscious conservation effort for the survival of the park and its inhabitants. Water is pumped into these pans during the dry season, a saviour for many species. In other areas, natural springs or ‘seeps’, provide a lifeline to wildlife year-round. According to Africa Geographic, there was a time when water was abundant, evidence left in…

“…fossil riverbeds that bear testament to a time when water was abundant, and mudflats, swamps and forests thrived. These ancient rivers dried up many thousands of years ago, leaving the landscape, as well as its plant and animal life, at the mercy of the seasonal rains.”

Hwange is part of the greater Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). The project ensures ancient animal corridors remain open between Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Angola. This allows animals to seek greener pastures and water sources in other areas when levels are low. However, various conservation groups, such as the Bhejane Trust, have made it their mission to provide sufficient water throughout the park, allowing animal populations to remain as well as increase within its borders. This has proved wildly successful in the elephant populace, increasing from 13 000 in 1986 to an estimated 45 000 today.

Hwange Game Count
Hwange Game Count

On a recent visit to Nantwich Lodge, professional guide Courage and content creator Kim Sparrow visited a few of the pans in the north-west section of the park. On an evening game drive, Croc Pan, Salt Pan and Little Toms each gifted sightings unique to the area. Croc Pan lived up to its name with a myriad of crocodiles and hippos in and around the water’s edge. Salt Pan was a last-minute decision, resulting in an incredible lion sighting with the backdrop of an elephant bull. Being just before the rains, the pans were quite low resulting in the two female lions pawing through the muddy waters – fishing – for CATfish!! Little Toms allowed for a birds-eye view of a herd of elephant bulls quenching their thirst at the end of the day – the spectators from the hide doing the same.

Game drives through the park are of course soul-filling experiences, reconnecting to nature by witnessing the ways of the wild. However, they are also a reminder of the importance of conservation initiatives along with the effort, time and money it takes to secure and maintain each waterhole.

Wildlife is reliant on these pans, as is the ecosystem of the national park, ensuring sustainable health and growth all year round. Spend time exploring and observing the pans of Hwange, watching the ebbs and flow of the wilderness come and go throughout the day; an endless stream of wonder.

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