Matobo National Park

by Mike Cadman

Matobo National Park

The Matobo Hills are a jumbled landscape of massive granite-topped kopjes (hills), piles of huge boulders balanced upon one another, secluded valleys, and numerous rivers and streams.

The Matobo National Park is Zimbabwe’s oldest; it was declared in 1926 and is also a UNESCO (United Nations Education and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. The park has exceptionally diverse wildlife and also contains one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Africa, with some of the paintings estimated to be 13 000 years old, although most are between 500 and 300 years old.

“The paintings illustrate evolving artistic styles and also socio-religious beliefs,” the UNESCO description of the area states. “The rich evidence from archaeology and from rock paintings at Matobo provides evidence that the Matobo Hills have been occupied over a period of at least 500 000 years. Furthermore, this evidence provides a very full picture of the lives of foraging societies in the Stone Age and the way agricultural societies eventually came to displace them in the Iron Age.”

Some people in the region practice the traditional Mwari religion and believe the hills are home to sacred spirits, followers of the religion visit shrines amongst the rocks. The Mwari religion is a traditional Shona religion that revolves around a central creator-god, Mwari, responsible for good health, rain and success in business.

Although the National Park covers 424 km2 (163 miles2) the hills sprawl over a much wider area of communal land surrounding the protected area. The rugged nature of the hills is the result of millions of years of weathering, which have slowly worn away the granite bedrock. The run off from the hills has created wetlands and drainage lines in the valleys, which help feed numerous rivers and streams.

The vegetation of the park is extremely varied for such a relatively small area, and some plant species are endemic (they occur nowhere else) to the Matobos.

Rhino, giraffes, zebra, sable, and other a variety of antelope as well as leopard are found in the park. The high density of leopards is partially due to the large population of hyraxes (a 5kg herbivorous animal sometimes erroneously called “rock rabbits”) which are their primary prey in this area.

The hyrax population is also the main prey of the large Verreaux’s eagle, it has a wingspan of over two meters (6ft 6 inches), and the density of this eagle in the park is the highest anywhere.

The area is rich in other species of birds of prey, including the martial eagle, which is Africa’s largest eagle, and the crowned eagle, which is the most powerful found on the continent.

The colonial businessman and politician Cecil Johan Rhodes, after whom Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe) were named during colonisation by his British South Africa Company, is buried at World’s View, a scenic area atop one of the hills. This was done per his written request in his last will and testament.

The park is about 40 km (25 miles) south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. There are several safari lodges in the area as well as chalets and camping sites within the park.

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.