Mana Pools, the iconic Zimbabwean national park and World Heritage Site, faces another threat to its wilderness status as two new lodge developments on prime sites within the parks boundaries have been proposed. And both are being vigorously disputed by the wider conservation and ecotourism communities.
It was just over a year ago that strong opposition from environmental groups stopped Protea Hotels from going ahead with their 144-bed hotel and conference centre across the river from Mana. But this time, the battle is likely to be more complex as those involved are reputed to have strong political connections.
Mana Pools has established its world-wide reputation because it remains a low-volume wilderness region offering some of the best wildlife experiences on the continent. And it lies along an extended floodplain section of the Zambezi, which makes it an ecologically sensitive area. It is for these reasons that UNESCO established the region as a Word Heritage Site. Indiscriminate development by unconcerned developers puts this status at risk.
Both proposed lodges seem to have been given government approval without going to tender and without comprehensive EIA’s a being completed: in fact, according to local conservationists, everything about the procedures goes against the parks own approved management plans that state all new developments should be well away from the river for ecological and impacts reasons.
The first site, referred to as ‘Nyamepi Lodge’, is situated on the banks of the Zambezi River midway between the parks western and eastern boundaries, and is controlled by the son of George Pangeti, Chairman of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Board. The second site, known as the Vine site, is also situated on Zambezi River between the existing Ndungu Camp Site and Vundu Camp, and is controlled by an Italian citizen. He is involved in a tannery business not far from Marondera that has extensive government contracts. His partner, a Chinese national, has links to various businesses in Zimbabwe, including minerals and the development of an agricultural university. It is believed that this consortium won a concession to establish a lodge in Gonarezhou National Park, which then subsequently fell through. In exchange, they requested and have been granted a site in Mana Pools!