Keep Mana Pools Wild

From Keep Mana Pools Wild

A new 24-30-bed tourism development known as “Nyamepi Lodge” is proposed on the Zimbabwean banks of the Zambezi River in the Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is underway for the proposed lodge which is to be sited 3 kms downstream of the National Parks HQ at Nyamepi, on the eastern bank of the Mana River where it meets the Zambezi (see map).

This is currently Nkupe Camp, a National Parks Exclusive Campsite for Public Use. The site will overlook the Zambezi River and Mana River Mouth, a popular recreational spot for day trippers, fishermen, bird-watchers and Park visitors enjoying the sunset views .

Stakeholders are being asked to give inputs into the EIA process.

A number of concerns about the nature of this development have already been raised. These can be summarised as follows:

• This development proposal contradicts the advice of the recently-completed Mana Pools Management Plan which specifically encourages “low-impact” tourism development away from the Zambezi River in order to preserve the wilderness character of the Park and to reduce pressure on the narrow strip of ecologically-sensitive alluvial terraces which give Mana Pools its special appeal. The proposal is likely to cover some 5 ha and occupy nearly a kilometre of Zambezi River shoreline – a large ecological footprint which can hardly be described as “low impact”.

• A permanent development at this site between the Mana and Chiruwe rivers would hinder wildlife movement and block natural corridors for wildlife between the interior of the Park and the Zambezi River. The presence of several bed units for the proposed development on the eastern riverbank at Mana Mouth would also cause permanent damage to a well-known bee-eater breeding colony which has its nests in the riverbank and which is a point of special interest for bird-watchers visiting the Park.

• This development would deprive the tourism public of the use of an existing Exclusive Campsite (Nkupe Camp) and conflicts of visitor use are likely to arise with the large bed units of this development overlooking the popular Mana Mouth recreational site within a distance of less than 50 metres across the Mana River. The Mana Pools Management Plan makes specific reference to avoiding “Exclusivity Zones” around lodge developments.

• Road access to this site is impossible during the rains because of the nature of the soils and the necessity to cross several rivers. This means that, unless major road and bridge construction were to take place, causing considerable disturbance to the fragile ecology of the Mana Pools alluvial terrace area, this lodge development would only be useable during the dry season months. Boat access to this area is only possible during the rainy months, but the Park rules prohibit the use of anything but small horse-power engines.

• This development lies within the Lower Zambezi-Mana Pools Trans-Frontier Conservation Area and is located directly opposite Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park (where lodge developments are restricted). It is likely to be clearly visible from the Zambian side of the Zambezi River and consultation with Zambian stakeholders will therefore have to be an essential part of the EIA process.

• It appears that there has been no tender process for the allocation of this site. The developer is named as Dove and Hawk Safaris. Mana Pools Tour Operators have their own Association which liaises closely with the Parks and Wildlife Authority and has a voluntary Code of Conduct to ensure that all tour operations are conducted with the well-being of the National Park and World Heritage Site in mind. Dove and Hawk Safaris is a hitherto unknown safari company with no track record in Zimbabwe or the region. This company is not a member of the Association.

• This development proposal was not presented to stakeholders during negotiations that took place during the formulation of the Mana Pools Management Plan. Despite assurances to the Plan’s funder The African Wildlife Foundation, that the Plan would be approved, it has never been signed and no reason has been given for this. This fact, together with the apparent lack of a tender process, can only lead to suspicions of possible insider-dealing and corruption on the part of the responsible Authorities (the Ministry of Environment & Tourism and the Parks and Wildlife Authority). Given that Mana Pools is a World Heritage Site and a Core Area of the recently-designated UNESCO Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve, this could cause an international outcry which would be an embarrassment to Zimbabwe and the region.

It has been suggested that this (and any other proposed tourism developments at Mana Pools) should be re-sited inland and away from the Zambezi River, or that developers should assist the Parks and Wildlife Authority to redesign and upgrade the existing Parks lodges to bring them up to international standards.

If you have something to say about this proposed development, say it at Keep Mana Pools Wild!