Chizarira National Park

by Mike Cadman

Chizarira National Park

This remote 1980 km2 park sprawls from the southern lip of the steep Zambezi Escarpment across wild landscapes of deep river valleys, wetlands, and woodlands until it reaches the Busi River which forms its southern boundary.

Tundazi Mountain, on the edge of the escarpment, soars to some 1434 m, and nearby camp sites in the park overlook the flat Zambezi Valley, offering unhindered views towards Lake Kariba, some 40 km distant.

The escarpment here is characterised by precipitous gorges cut by the Mucheni, Sengwa and Ruzuruhuru (on some maps it is known as the Luizikukulu) rivers. In places, these gorges are over 450 m deep but nevertheless elephant paths zigzag their way in and out of the valleys.

The name “Chizarira” is derived from a local Tonga word which, loosely interpreted, means “barrier” a reference to the steep slopes of the escarpment. The area was declared a game reserve in 1963 but granted National Park status in 1975.

Miombo woodland, tall deciduous trees with a high canopy and grassy understory, dominates much of the park, but this changes to mopane woodland savanna in the southern parts of the park which lie at about 800m. Parts of the park receive up to 600 mm of rain annually and temperatures can reach 40°C but drop to zero on some winter nights.

The park forms a watershed and is drained by numerous small streams and springs, which help form wetlands and marshes. The availability of water, in addition to the broad biodiversity of vegetation within the park, creates an important habitat for a wide variety of animal and bird life.

Elephants, buffalo, lions, leopard, roan and sable antelope, and zebra, as well as a wide variety of other mammals, occur in the park. Chizarira has unfortunately over the years been heavily targeted by poachers, ivory poachers in particular, but new efforts by various organisations working in conjunction with the Zimbabwean Parks and Management Authority are stabilising the situation in the park. Anti-poaching efforts have been stepped up, and various community engagement programmes have been established.

About 400 species of birds, including a wide variety of raptors, occur in Chizarira. Cliff breeding species such as Verreaux’s Eagle and both Peregrine and Taita falcons, breed on the cliffs in the north of the park, and Crowned eagles Africa’s most powerful raptor, hunt in the dense woodlands and forest. No fewer than seven species of swift and two species of spinetail have been recorded. Eight species of owls also occur here.

There are a number of remote camp sites within Chizarira and walking trails are being introduced.

Mike Cadman

Mike has worked as a journalist for a variety of international and local media organisations as well as environmental NGO’s for the past 38 years and is the author of five books. During his career, he has covered all major news developments in southern Africa and has travelled extensively throughout many parts of the continent. He spends as much time as possible in the bush and has extensive knowledge of broader environmental issues as well as the creatures that live there.