An Update from our Biodiversity Project in Victoria Falls
July 11 2016

Estimated population abundance and density differs from one species to the next amongst the various large mammals found within the Zambezi National Park.  Wildlife managers need updated information about population estimates and dynamics in order to devise effective conservation and management strategies.

Because of this need, ALERT conducts the large mammal biodiversity project within the Zambezi National Park in Victoria Falls, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority.  A road transect count method is followed, with data collected on the number of individuals observed in each cluster of animals, the GPS coordinates, age and sex ratios, and other data.

During the months of April, May and June road transects counts observed a total of 12 species of large mammals, with a maximum of 10 in any one month.   

In April impala were observed at the highest density whilst in May it was zebra, and in June it was elephant. Looking at data for all three months together, impala, unsurprisingly is the species observed at the highest density.  Of the three months, the highest density per unit area of all species combined was observed in May.

All data collected and analysed is provided to the Wildlife Authority for their use in managing the Park. 

About the Zambezi National Park large mammal biodiversity project 

Six kilometres from the Victoria Falls lies the 52,600 hectare Zambezi National Park; wild with bush and big game it stretches along the river for forty kilometres.  Game includes mega fauna such as elephant (Loxodonta africana), buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and lion (Panthera leo); antelope including greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), along with a large number of smaller mammal species such as small-spotted genet (Genetta genetta) and honey badger (Mellivora capensis).

Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park is contiguous with the Kazuma Pan – Matetsi - Hwange complex, forming a total contiguous conservation area within Zimbabwe of over 1,846,700ha excluding forest reserves.  The Zambezi National Park and surrounding safari areas are also part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, established with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Situated in the Okavango and Zambezi River basins and incorporating 36 national parks, game reserves, community conservancies and game management areas the total conservation area spans approximately 287,132 km2.

Data has been collected on the diversity of wildlife within the Park since the 1970s but the funding available to the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) to continue to monitor wildlife populations over recent years has been lacking.  Custody of mammal populations using sustainable means is one of the key objectives of ZPWMA. This heritage has to be passed to the next generation hence the need to safeguard any further biodiversity loss. Monitoring of populations thus becomes a useful tool in detecting process and change.

The project has been on-going since 1973 with a database of sightings on established transects being kept and trends monitored.  The data collected is used to calculate density indices, encounter rates and abundance kilometric indices.  This data gives an indication of population changes in terms of numbers and age sex ratios over time. Where a downward trend is observed ways are sought to explain and correct the phenomena. Over the years this process has helped the Park Manager to decide on which management tools to use to ensure equilibrium in the ecological system.  It is hoped that continuing this monitoring study in partnership with the ZPWMA will ensure that appropriate conservation management plans can be developed and implemented.

If you are interested in joining the research team you can do so as a volunteer, or as a conservation research intern.


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