BY KEVIN RUSHBY
Near the Hwange national park, a reintroduction project protects animals, attracts tourists and ensures locals aren’t neglected
Inside a stockade of tall wooden stakes, cattle are waiting to be let out for the day.
Golden sunlight stutters through the acacia trees and lights up the homestead beyond, a large, bare-earth courtyard containing five neatly thatched mud-walled buildings.
Hygiene Moyo (75) and her teenage granddaughter Lucricia live here, just outside one of Zimbabwe’s largest and most important national parks, Hwange.
They take me to greet their favourite animal, Booster the bull, who comes trotting across the enclosure when called, pushing his nose forward to be scratched.
Ten new calves mill around in a separate inner stockade, eagerly waiting to be reunited with their mothers.
Not all of the herd, however, are present. Since the start of the year three cows have been killed by hyenas.
“They attack during the day,” says Hygiene.
“The dogs sometimes drive them away, but there are so many of them now.”
It isn’t the only danger: lions and elephants stroll through the isolated village of Ziga at night, and the latter regularly raid Hygiene’s maize crop, her main source of food.
These are the perils of living in an area called Tsholotsho, community land that is alongside the national park.
It is a vast region of open woodland, about 70 miles north-west of the city of Bulawayo, and which is home to lots of hyenas, as well as about 45,000 elephants.
Surprisingly, however, the community land on which Hygiene lives is now the setting for an ambitious rhino reintroduction project and – even rarer than the rhino itself – the programme has been instigated and welcomed by local people.
The day before I visited Hygiene’s homestead, I accompanied Kusasa and Thuza, two male rhinos, on an epic journey across Africa to be released into a fenced reserve.
With this duo, Tsholotsho and Hwange become home to all of the continent’s “big five” animals (lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant are the others).
In terms of preserving African wildlife, Hwange is vital.
This is not only because the elephant population is one of the largest in Africa but because the 14,600 km2 park is critical in what is known as Kaza, the Kavango Zambezi Conservation Area.
It is an area twice the size of the UK, connecting the lush low veld on the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border across the continent to the deserts of Namibia.
Without it, the long-term future of large mammals like elephants and lions would be bleak: restricted to increasingly isolated pockets of land, unable to migrate during droughts or access the genetic diversity of other areas.
But without community cooperation none of this is going to be possible, and Tsholotsho holds a vital geographic position.
In Ziga tourists are rarely seen, though the advantages of their presence are easy to find.
I walk with the cows to the solar pump that provides water – a pump installed and maintained by tourist money.
All around, cattle are streaming in, running in some cases, eager to get a drink.
The water pump is only one benefit tourism has brought: the school has books, dinners and accommodation, all provided through cooperation with a local safari company.
“If the rhino brings benefits,” village headman Andrew Ncube says, “they can stay.
” That kind of attitude represents a major shift in local opinion, a shift that has not happened by accident.
This change is a story that begins in 1996 when game ranger Mark “Butch” Butcher and social worker Njabulo Zondo decided to combine their efforts.
Butch had a successful safari business, but could see that community cooperation was essential to preserving wildlife; Zondo had spent years in rural development and wanted to use tourism to boost local services in an area with overwhelming unemployment and social problems.
Since then, their achievements are staggering: dozens of school classrooms and teachers’ houses built, clean water brought to more than 100,000 people and their animals, 28,000 books shipped in, as well as life-changing dental and eye treatment through mobile clinics.
They built Camelthorn Lodge, a safari lodge on community land, run by locals, and have trained dozens of guides, hotel staff, logistical support crew – even sending several to university (the first from the area).
All this work has also enriched the tourist experience and led to school visits, cookery and weaving classes, and plans for a homestay programme.
The rhino reintroduction, however, is a huge leap in the dark. Until about two decades ago, tourists were seen by most villagers in a similar light to colonial hunters: an unfortunate blight that visited the region, demanding that wild animals were solely theirs while giving back almost nothing.
Subsistence farmers saw elephants merely as a pest that trampled crops, a plague that could kick you to the brink of starvation.
Poachers, on the other hand, were Robin Hood heroes.
Butch and Zondo’s scheme, though, has eroded those deeply held beliefs.
There was also a new generation coming up, less obsessed with cattle herd size as the sole measure of success in life, and able to see a bigger picture.
Then, in 2016, an elderly village headman, Baba Mvelo, dropped a bombshell.
He wanted rhinos to return before he died. White rhinos had been wiped out by hunters before the first world war, then again by poachers in 2004.
But Baba Mvelo was adamant: he wanted them back.
With his support, the idea gained momentum. – The Guardian
The well-heeled mini state that is bucking the trend in Zimbabwe
BY DOUGLAS ROGERS
One writer returns to the country of his birth to discover how a ‘Wonder of the World’ is transforming tourism in troubled times.
It was 4pm in Zambezi National Park, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and the watering hole was quiet. A fireball sun dipped over the borderlands to the west. From our timber-built hide, my son Whitaker, aged 12, panned his binoculars across the landscape and saw a cloud of dust on the horizon. “There’s something coming,” he said.
Steve Taylor, our Zimbabwe-born guide, took a look. “Good spot, Whitaker,” he said. “Buffalo. Hundreds of them!” He checked his watch. “They’ll be here in 45 minutes. Anyone fancy a sundowner?”
Sure enough, exactly 45 minutes later, 300 Cape buffalo stood drinking at the pan and, like a post-work stampede for happy hour, other animals began to appear – antelope, warthog, a dozen elephants, a lone giraffe. Somewhere nearby, hyenas howled.
“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have seen game like this here,” said Taylor, founder and owner of Askari Safari, who splits his time between the United States and a new home in Victoria Falls. “The area was in trouble, and there were few animals because of poaching and mismanagement. Now, all that is changing.”
The reason is the establishment, in 2011, of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza), or Five Nations Peace Park. Kaza is the joining together of 36 national parks and three World Heritage Sites on the borders of five countries – Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe – making it the largest transboundary wildlife system in the world. The size of France, and home to half of Africa’s elephants, Kaza has shown how cross-border cooperation on wildlife management, anti-poaching and community conservation can transform animal populations
Tourism is making a comeback, too, and Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe’s spray- drenched colonial river town, a Wonder of the World within Kaza – is booming. Helicopters buzz the cataracts, white-water rafters and luxury river boats ply the Zambezi and people like Taylor, who left Zimbabwe in the bad old days, are buying property there or moving back permanently.
This was my first post-Covid trip to the country of my birth, from my home in the United States. Part of the reason was to attend a memorial service for my late father in eastern Zimbabwe, where I grew up, but it was also a chance to spend a week’s holiday with my extended family in the Falls, on the opposite side of the country.
I love coming “home”, but Zim is a mess. Inflation is rampant, prices are exorbitant, roads and other infrastructure are crumbling. The exception is Victoria Falls, which might as well be another country. My first glimpse of it was at the impressive airport built by the Chinese in 2015. International flights arrive from seven countries and the energy and excitement at arrivals far exceeds what you feel when landing in Harare, the capital. “We have a saying here: ‘Turn left for Victoria Falls, turn right for Zimbabwe’,” said our transfer driver as he turned left out of the airport on to a smooth, newly built road towards the regenerated town.We had booked a thatched four-bedroom Airbnb named Acacia, in a leafy suburb, and that afternoon did what every self-respecting visitor to the Falls does: have high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. I confess, I was braced for disappointment. Built in 1904, the grandest of southern Africa’s grandes dames offers spectacular views of the steel railway bridge across the Zambezi Gorge, but my last visit there 15 years ago had been a complete disaster. With political turmoil and hyper-inflation at their height, there was no electricity, my room was full of cobwebs and I paid my bill with a backpack full of Zimbabwean dollars.
This time around, much to my surprise, the hotel was undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation – and it looked immaculate. We were swiftly ushered to the Stanley Terrace, fronting lush green lawns where cucumber sandwiches, scones and a dozen types of cake were being delivered in style on three-tiered silver platters.
Far from rejecting its colonial past, the hotel honours it with an entire hallway of framed photographs of British Royalty. All around us, well-heeled Americans and Europeans were enjoying their afternoon teas and quaffing their pink gins.
But it isn’t just tourists who are coming back to this trend-bucking corner of Zim. An estimated five million Zimbabweans have fled the country since 2000, and most of them continue to live abroad. Of those returning, many choose to settle in the Falls. To get a glimpse of this local scene, Stephen Taylor suggested I visit Loretta’s Coffee Caravan, just around the corner from our Airbnb.Five years ago, the cafe’s owner “TK” Musungwa was running a driving school in Stockport, England, his family having fled Zimbabwe for Manchester in the early 2000s. On a visit to Harare, he met his now wife Loretta – a barista – and on a trip to the Falls, they discovered that they couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee anywhere. TK said farewell to England and Loretta’s Coffee Caravan was born, serving a chocolate-rich blend of Zimbabwean, Rwandan and Tanzanian beans as well as fruit smoothies.
“Vic Falls feels like an island far removed from the madness of Zim,” TK told me, “a small town where people can reinvent themselves. England is an easier place [to live], but this is the home I love.”
I certainly loved Loretta’s – a bustling coffee shop with tables set under a mahogany tree, frequented not by commuters seeking their caffeine fix but by khaki-clad game guides, armed park rangers, dashing river rafters and real-estate agents cashing in on the property boom.
On our third day, we hit the rapids. The Zambezi below the Falls arguably offers the greatest white-water rafting in the world, so I booked a trip with local outfit Shockwave.Its river outings are not for the faint-hearted. First comes an hour-long trek into the boiling belly of the gorge with the unsettling knowledge that an even steeper climb (up) awaits you down river. Tackling Grade 5 rapids with names such as Jaws of Death and Washing Machine is both terrifying and exhilarating. We were lucky to have as our guide Pilani Moyo, the owner of Shockwave and the first black Zimbabwean to own a rafting business on the Zambezi. He spends the off-season guiding on the greatest rivers in the world and has a home in Colorado, in the United States.
More sedate by far was the four-hour dinner cruise we took on the lush upper reaches of the river, a mile or two upstream from the Falls. I recall taking a “booze cruise” here years ago – on a rusty junk of a vessel filled with rowdy passengers drinking warm beer. This was very different. Our boat, Pure Africa’s Zambezi Explorer, was a sumptuous three-deck vessel with designer sofas, hand-woven Ndebele-patterned chairs and a staff of mixologists, waiters and chefs in addition to the boat captain.Dinner was served at sunset as we cruised past long-tusked elephants grazing on the riverbanks, with hippos snorting in the shallows and a fiery sun setting over towering palm trees upriver. To our immediate right was Zambia, with Botswana, Namibia and Angola beyond. My all-American children were wide-eyed with wonder, and I thought of all the fellow Zimbabweans I had met who had opted to return home. As I write this, I am looking at properties online and thinking seriously about following them. Something must come up.
Douglas Rogers was a guest of Askari Safari (askarisafari.com), which offers a five-night Victoria Falls tour taking in Zambezi National Park from £4,000pp. It includes a guided visit to the Falls, three adrenaline activities, a river cruise plus all breakfasts and dinners, but not flights. In 2025, he and Askari’s owner, Steve Taylor, will lead Storyteller 2025 – a two-week literary safari with talks by game guides, writers and artists.
Five reasons to visit Victoria Falls
- Wildlife wonders
The Falls themselves are wild – but the resurgent animal population is another reason to visit. The region comprises two national parks and is on the edge of the great Hwange game reserve. For the best viewing close to town, take a guided or self-drive trip to Chamabonda Vlei, a narrow plain dotted with watering holes within Zambezi National Park. While you are in town, book a visit to the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (vicfallswildlifetrust.org), a non-profit organisation that rescues animals wounded by poachers.
- Luxurious lodgings
The refurbished Victoria Falls Hotel offers the ultimate in Edwardian era refinement (victoriafallshotel.com; doubles from £420 per night). Ilala, with its gardens and thatched roofs, has a timeless, classic safari lodge feel (ilalalodge.com; doubles from £380). Newly opened Drift Inn is a budget nine-room B&B offering great breakfasts, artisanal coffee, a swimming pool and a yoga, massage and reflexology studio (driftinnvicfalls.com; doubles from £75).
- Glorious food
Chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Sarah Lilford serves up Zimbabwe’s most exciting culinary offering at Dusty Road (dustyroad.africa). The daughter of white farmers who lost their land in the early 2000s, she set up her restaurant in working-class Chinotimba township offering authentic Zim dishes – beef stew, chicken in peanut butter, grilled bream – cooked on wood fires. Enjoy them on the veranda or under trees in the backyard. Don’t miss the dried mopani worm snack or the vodka cocktail made with baobab powder. In town, the Three Monkeys (3monkeyszw.com) serves a great tomahawk steak. Next morning, order a flat white at Loretta’s Coffee and Smoothie Caravan on Reynard Road.
4. Thrills and spills
Victoria Falls is Africa’s adventure sports capital. Shockwave (shockwavevictoriafalls.com) offers exhilarating white-water rafting trips, while Wild Horizons (wildhorizons.co.za) operates the heart-in-mouth gorge swing and zip-line right in front of its uber-stylish Lookout Café (thelookoutcafe.com). Shearwater (shearwaterbungee.com) pioneered bungee jumping off the Vic Falls bridge. For more leisurely river adventures, Pure Africa (pure.africa/experiences) offers elegant sunrise, sunset and dinner cruises on the Zambezi in a fleet of luxury vessels.
- Art and history
Renowned artist and conservationist Larry Norton has a gallery at the Victoria Falls Hotel (larrynorton.co.za), showcasing his giant, hyper-realistic wildlife paintings. The hotel’s open-air Stone Dynamics Gallery (stonedynamicsgallery.com) displays and sells the work of some of Zimbabwe’s leading sculptors, including Dominic Benhura. Meanwhile, historian Chris Worden from Footsteps of Livingstone (footstepsoflivingstone.com) gives a mesmerising one-hour talk on the life of David Livingstone that could almost be a one-man play in London’s West End. The Telegraph
African Sun Hotels donates US$21K to a conservation organisation in Victoria Falls
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
The African Sun Hotels group has donated US$21 000 to The Victoria Falls Anti- Poaching Unit, a non-profit wildlife organisation to cover salaries and medical aid for game scouts.
During the handover ceremony held in Victoria Falls today, African Sun Hotels’ head Marketing, Public Relations and Innovation Charleen Mtezo said this is part of their Corporate Social Responsibility in order to fulfill and meaningfully impact the communities in which they operate, as well as contribute towards the achievement of the United Nations agenda 2030 for strategic development goals.
“The town of Victoria Falls is located in one of the most beautiful environments,” she said.
“However, the beauty of the location comes with some heavy burden of human and wildlife conflict. The Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit tries to ease some of the burdens by protecting the wildlife and habitat from poachers, as well as rescuing and rehabilitating injured animals.
Additionally, they train ex- poachers in new skills so they find alternative avenues of revenue creation to give them a sustainable income without doing harm to flora and fauna. It is against this background that the African Sun Limited, we saw fit for us to assist the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit, so that they are able to carry out the challenging tasks at hand.”
She said the donation of will cover salaries, medical aid for scouts for a period of 12 months.
“l wish to invite other corporations to join us safeguard our precious environment and transform the lives of our communities. Lastly, I applaud those who are already on the ground doing the same.”
Wild Is Life Trust, ZEN rescues a newly-born abandoned calf in Kazuma
BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
Wild Is Life Trust organisation have rescued a newly-born elephant calf near Victoria Falls which was abandoned by its mother and family herd.
In a statement, the organisation, working in collaboration with Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery on a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and rewild orphaned elephants said the calf has been taken to their facility in Harare after fruitless efforts to unite it with its mother.
The calf has been named Kazuma as it was rescued from Kazuma National Park.
“Last week we received a call from Zimparks to say an elephant calf had been abandoned by his herd and stuck in a water trough in Kazuma National Park. Zim Parks had valiantly tried to reunite this calf, but sadly, no mother was found,” Wild Is Life Trust said.
“We immediately sent a team led by Jos Danckwerts, Paradzai Mutize and Tom Ranjisi and they brought him to Panda Masuie near Victoria Falls where the medical team and Roxy Danckwerts assessed the calf…
“It was ascertained that Kazuma was under a week old despite his 169kgs which is a record weight for a neonate! He has very pink ears and wrinkled skin and long hair all over his body as he is so young. His umbilicus was infected and he had a few scrapes from trying to get out of his watery prison – but all was treated immediately.”
The next day, the two organisations jumped into action to collect the calf, alongside some medical practitioners and following the rescue, they reported that Kazuma has been adapting well,with the love from other orphaned elephants.
” Kazuma has been settling in beautifully so far… Kadiki fell in love with him at first sight and has taken him under his ear along with Elliot.
” Yesterday he was introduced to Beatrix, Elliot, Limpopo, Splat, and Skellum and it was absolutely wonderful to see them all fuss around little Kazuma who is about the same size as Elliot.
We have a way to go with this little bull, but with round-the-clock care, we are feeling positive he will go from strength to strength. Kazuma needs lots of milk, love from his Carers and ellies alike at this time – and that we vow to give him.”
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