Hwange National Park

Hwange National Park is, at 14,651 km2, the largest National Park in Zimbabwe. The park is located to the west in the foothills of the Kalahari near the Botswana border and 200 km north-west of Bulawayo. The park, which is home to a dense population of animals, is one of the most important protected areas in the country.

The area has already served as a hunting ground for the stately King Mzilikazi in the 19th Century. In 1928 the area was turned into a protected wildlife reserve by the British colonial administration. In 1930 the park was awarded the status of a national park and named after a local tribal leader. The National Park lies between the transition areas of the Kalahari Desert in the southwest and the humid savanna in the north-east. The altitude ranges from 938 meters to 1152 meters. About two-thirds of the area is occupied by sandy soils, with dry dunes and river valleys running to the southwest. Under the Sand is a hardpan layer and in the north the rocky ground floors have arisen, drained by the Zambezi to the north. The annual rainfall is about 655 mm although rainfall in the southwest tends to be lower. The rain falls mainly in the months of November through to March. The waters are often only temporary as it evaporates quickly forming saltpans. The hottest temperatures will be just before the rainy season in October. June and July are the coldest months with temperatures near freezing point. The vegetation changes with the rainfalls from the arid southwest to the more densely forested northeast.

The parks animal population consists of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, burchell's zebra, hippopotamus, desert warthog, a large number of antelope, including wildebeest, greater kudu, impala and sable antelope. Other known mammals are lions, leopard, cheetah, African wild dogs and two species of hyenas. Existing bird species are dependent on the season, finches, pigeons, Franklin, guinea fowl, sand grouse and starlings during the dry season. During the rainy season cuckoos, swallows, swifts, flycatchers, nightjars, Egyptian geese, red bill ducks and pygmy geese are there. Indigenous raptors include Jugglers and white-backed Vulture, Bengal Vulture, Cape vulture, Woolly-headed vulture and Cape Vulture. Elephant herds in particular form a significant proportion of the parks wildlife. Their population has increased steadily over the years and their current number is estimated to be 30,000-40,000 elephants. Whilst seeing elephants in this number is certainly a spectacular sight there is no doubt that they have caused extensive damage to the vegetation in the park.

To sustain the livestock in the dry season, 62 artificial water sources have been drilled. The park has a natural feel to it although Migratory movements of the animals from the wetter north-east to the Gwayi River have been interrupted by settlements. In addition, the park is fenced in, to stem the transmission of foot and mouth disease.