Zim, Botswana and SA agree on park deal

An agreement for a new transfrontier game park straddling the borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe has been signed.

The environment ministers of the three countries endorsed the agreement in Botswana on the dry bed of the Shashe River on Thursday.

Once proclaimed, the Limpopo-Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) will cover 4 872sq km, almost a quarter the size of the Kruger National Park.

Centred on the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, where the borders of the three states meet, the area is well known for its rich cultural heritage and prolific wildlife.

It includes South Africa's renowned Mapungubwe archaeological site, where excavations in the 1930s uncovered a royal graveyard, including numerous golden artefacts.

Chief among these is a one-horned golden rhino, made of carved wood covered with gold foil. The sculpture was produced by a powerful Iron Age civilisation that established itself on and around the flat-topped sandstone hill about a thousand years ago.

The African people who lived there, from about AD1000 to AD1300, exchanged ivory and gold with East African traders for glass beads from places as far away as India and Egypt.

Thousands of such beads have been found in the ruins and graves at Mapungubwe, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2003.

The transfrontier area also contains a large number of elephants, as well as viable populations of lion, leopard and cheetah.

Thursday's signing ceremony included Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk and his Botswana and Zimbabwean counterparts, Kitso Mokaila and Francis Nhema.

Van Schalkwyk said the Limpopo-Shashe TFCA was set to become a "big five" park.

"We will bring in large numbers of the big five (elephants, rhinos, lions, buffaloes and leopards). We will play our role in stocking the area with what is needed," he said.

According to a fact sheet handed to journalists at the ceremony, there are close to 2 000 elephants within the TFCA, mostly in Botswana.

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism described the proposed TFCA - just over half of which is located in South Africa - as a "complex mosaic of landowners".

It includes, in South Africa, privately owned land as well as land owned by the state and SA National Parks.

On the Botswana side, the park would include privately owned land, the northern Tuli Game Reserve, and cattle and game ranches.

The Zimbabwean part would include a mix of communal lands, privately owned stock and game farms, and a government-owned safari area.

Mokaila said the establishment of the TFCA would enhance socio-economic development in the area.

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