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KAZA | Africa’s Enormous Conservation Marvel

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KAZA: Southern Africa’s Wildlife Conservation Marvel

Southern Africa is home to some of the world’s most incredible wildlife. Elephants, cheetahs, wild dogs, leopards, lions, rhinos, giraffes and so much more. In 2011 five African countries recognised the value of protecting these animals and the areas they lived in, for the good of the wildlife, but also to benefit communities that rely on tourism as a source of income. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe banded together to establish the Kavango Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area or KAZA, a place where borders were porous and the movement of wildlife was encouraged, a unique collaboration designed to conserve these wild expanses, protect wildlife, promote tourism, and improve the well-being of local communities. At 520,000km² this is the largest wildlife conservation area in the world. It’s enormous – larger than Germany and Austria combined, roughly the size of France, and nearly twice as large as the United Kingdom.

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Diverse Protected Areas within KAZA

KAZA includes 36 protected areas, game reserves, forest reserves, game management areas, communal lands, and conservation and tourism concessions. Some of the jewels in the crown of this spectacular array of protected areas are the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, a World Heritage Site and one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, and the Zambezi River itself and the people and wildlife that live along its banks. KAZA is also home to the greatest concentration of free-roaming elephants anywhere.

Travelling to some of the many fabulous destinations within the KAZA area promotes conservation, and puts money directly into the local communities, all with the added bonus of giving you some truly amazing experiences.

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park, with a size of 14,650km², is Zimbabwe’s largest National Park and one of the world’s last great Elephant sanctuaries. Hwange is known for some of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa and has more animals and a greater variety of species, 107, than any other park in the country.

In terms of wildlife conservation, Hwange is vital. Not only because the elephant population is one of the largest in Africa, nor for its huge herds of buffalo and packs of wild dogs, or its well-deserved reputation for predator sightings, but because the park is a key component of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA)

Imvelo Safaris in Hwange National Park

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Imvelo Safaris offer four special camps in and around Hwange National Park. Small intimate camps that not only offer the usual array of game drives, night drives and safari walks, but also gives guests the opportunity to interact with local communities. Imvelo aims to help the local people by ensuring that they benefit directly from the visitors to the camps.

In a beautiful forest adjacent to Hwange National Park’s Ngamo Plains is Camelthorn Lodge. The lodge was built by the community on community land and is one of the largest community-based tourism projects in Zimbabwe. An ancient Camelthorn tree is at the centre of the property, surrounded by the main lodge and eight villas. There are two particular highlights when visiting Camelthorn, one is their rhino sanctuary and another is visits to the local community.

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Imvelo have successfully reintroduced white rhino back to Hwange, after an absence of 15 years. The project, Community Rhino Conservation Initiative, is unique in that where most rhinos in the world are held in protected National Parks or in private hands, these rhinos have been brought to a small sanctuary on community-owned land that was voluntarily donated by villages located near the southern boundary of Hwange National Park. Visitors here can spend time on foot with these rhinos and the well-trained Cobra Rangers, community scouts, who guard the rhinos 24/7. Guests can also experience glimpses of local village life, including visits to the nearby school and the local clinic, both of which benefit from Imvelo’s tourism-driven philanthropy.

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

The spectacular Victoria Falls is the world’s greatest sheet of falling water and is located midway along the course of the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. At 5,604t wide and with a drop of 355ft, this is the largest uninterrupted curtain of falling water in the world.

The quintessential place to stay when visiting the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is The Victoria Falls Hotel Zimbabwe’s grandest and oldest luxury hotel. Set in lush, tropical gardens overlooking the magnificent falls, the hotel offers authentic Edwardian luxury, within walking distance of The Victoria Falls rainforest, and is in an ideal location for river cruises, helicopter tours and safaris.

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If you are looking to add a conservation element to your Victoria Falls visit, drop in at the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust for a 1-hour tour of their Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Laboratory facilities. Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust are called in cases where wildlife have been injured or orphaned, due to human interference or conflict. They assist by taking care of the animal until it’s recovered and ready to be released back into the wild.

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Simalaha Community Conservancy, Zambia

In 2012 elders of the local community decided their 1,800km² of their communal land should be developed as a wildlife conservancy, allowing for the conservation of the area as well as promoting income generation through tourism. In 2013, supported by Peace Parks, a wildlife sanctuary measuring 200km² was established in part of the Simalaha Conservancy. The first wildlife translocations took place in 2013 and since then, more than 3,000 animals have been rewilded there, including eland, sable, waterbuck, roan, buffalo and giraffe.

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Zambia Horseback Safaris in Simalaha

The best way to experience the conservancy is with Zambia Horseback Safaris which runs riding safaris in Simalaha. Home to 16 large mammal species, but no large predators, the area offers great horseback safari adventures, suitable for any level of horse rider. For experienced riders, the terrain is perfect for long canters and wildlife sightings from horseback. It’s also great for families or those who want to experience a horse safari for the first time.

Park Fees are paid to the Simalaha Conservancy Trust and in addition, the local communities benefit from training and employment, not to mention that by putting money directly into the community they are seeing the benefits of protecting the land and the wildlife on it.

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Livingstone, Zambia

Livingstone is a hub for visitors to the Victoria Falls, otherwise known as the Mosi-oa-Tunya. The proximity to the Zambezi River and the spectacular falls makes Livingstone a hub for visitors from all over the world. 10km from the falls, Livingstone is quieter and less ‘touristy’ than Victoria Falls Town in Zimbabwe. Aside from its status as the ‘tourist capital’ of Zambia, Livingstone is also known for its range of adrenaline adventure activities.

Devil’s Pool, adjacent to the famous Livingstone Island, is situated right on the edge of the falls. Visitors to Livingstone Island can swim right to the edge of the falls if they are feeling brave, though you do need to be relatively fit, steady on your feet, and a confident swimmer.

When your heart rate has recovered from all the action activities in Livingstone, it could be time to look at one of the local conservation initiatives. Local non-profit CATS (Conservation & Tourism Society) focuses on bridging the gap between local communities and local wildlife. Their team of 8 volunteers conduct conservation, wildlife and environmental education at a grassroots level. Livingstone has seen an increasing number of human-wildlife conflict issues as the town has expanded into traditional wildlife areas, and CATS has developed a roadshow to sensitise people on elephant behaviour and to promote safe cohabitation with wildlife.

And at the end of the day, just upstream of the falls is the lovely Radisson Blu Resort Mosi-oa-Tunya. The hotel’s rooms have private balconies or patios overlooking the river and you can pamper yourself with a visit to the spa, a swim in one of the 2 outdoor swimming pools, a sunset cruise, or just relax in one of the resort’s bars or restaurants.

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KAZA’s diverse landscapes offer travellers an incredible opportunity to experience the natural world while contributing positively to local communities and wildlife conservation. By choosing responsible and sustainable travel, such as supporting eco-friendly accommodations, engaging in community-based tourism, and respecting wildlife habitats, travellers can leave a positive footprint and ensure that the magic of Africa’s landscapes and the welfare of its people and wildlife remains for generations to come.

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Stories From Sarah Kingdom