Situated in the south-east region of Zimbabwe, along the Mozambique border lies the unseen wilderness of Gonarezhou National Park. Gonarezhou is regarded as unspoilt and remains secluded from main tourist routes, preserving its untouched beauty. Displays of red sandstone cliffs, baobab scrublands and stunning natural formed pools are prominent features at this park. Large herds of large tusked elephant can be seen wandering throughout the park. The parks possess scenic glances of mystical panoramic views with remarkable sunset views which will leave you mesmerised.
Gonarezhou was named a National Park in 1975, and the Shangaan community were transplanted from their villages to communal lands outside of the park boundary. What followed was a period of conflict between National Parks and the local community as they struggled to survive on the marginal lands they had been moved to. Poaching was rife during this time.
But a negotiated agreement between the Mahenye people, Zimbabwe National Parks, and local government was reached under the guidance of Clive Stockil, founder of Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge. It was a ground-breaking agreement whose core principle was: “for the local population to care about protecting wildlife, they have to benefit from wildlife”. Almost 40 years later, the agreement does not seem revolutionary, but at the time, it was a significant departure from the status quo.
This agreement and ensuing project was named CAMPFIRE, and has been replicated both within Zimbabwe and across Africa. It came about as a solution to the problem: human-wildlife conflict. Unfortunately, many community conservation projects are devised as a solution to a problem, rather than starting as a free choice. However for the people of Mahenye, the project was a success, and has given rise to an exciting new development!
The Mahenye village is located in one of the most remote corners of Zimbabwe, bordering Mozambique, and a long drive from almost anywhere else. It is here that Clive Stockil decided to build the Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge to facilitate non-consumptive tourism and allow the local community to derive direct benefit from the wildlife. The lodge was first opened in 1996, and despite the fall in tourism from 2000, it’s now thriving again thanks to new investment.
Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge employs almost 40 villagers full-time, including the head guide Thomas Mutombeni. For every guest that stays a night, the CAMPFIRE committee receives a community levy. The local community has certainly lost their skepticism that people will travel thousands of miles to photograph their wildlife!
A few years ago, Chief Mahenye approached Clive Stockil with the idea that the local community wanted to convert communal land (used for grazing cattle) into a wildlife conservation area. Under Clive’s guidance, the community-private-public partnership will be completed in 2017. The Jamanda Wilderness Area is being built by the local community with guidance from Chilo Gorge and will be run and staffed by locals.
Because they believe it will yield a better return than grazing cattle, it’s clearly a win for the community and the wildlife of Gonarezhou. Four decades after the original agreement, Clive Stockil and the Mahenye community are excited for this ground-breaking community conservation project.
If you want to explore Gonarezhou, pop us an email. Chilo Gorge is the only permanent lodge located next to the park (no permanent structures are allowed in the park, hence their location on the boundary).