Hwange National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Hwange National Park covers 14,600 km² and is one of the largest protected areas in Africa. It lies in the west of Zimbabwe, bordering Botswana, and extends from 25°45’E to 27°30’E and from 18°30’S to 19°45’S. Hwange is bounded by the Matetsi and Deka Safari Areas in the north, by Forestry Areas and private farms in the east, and by Tsholotsho Communal Land in the south. The park falls within Hwange District of Matabeleland North Province. It is the oldest national park in Zimbabwe, having been proclaimed in 1928. The park is readily accessed off the main Bulawayo–Victoria Falls road. There is an extensive network of tourist roads in the north and eastern parts, while the flatter, less appealing centre and west are a wilderness area with few roads.

Over much of the west and centre of the park, the topography is flat with gentle undulations. There are no surface perennial rivers, but there are numerous shallow calcrete pans. After heavy rains, some of these pans hold water naturally throughout the dry season, while others are augmented by water supplied from deep underground bore-holes. To the north and east, the topography is more broken with ridges and hills, rising to 1,000 m and more. The Deka, Sinamatella and Lukosi rivers drain north-east towards the Gwayi river; they shrink to a series of pools during the dry season. There are several man-made dams in the area, Mandavu Dam being the largest. The increase in artificially supplied water in the dry season has been one of the causes for the increase in herbivore populations, particularly elephant Loxodonta africana. The trees surrounding the pans are often damaged by elephants as the herds congregate during the late dry season.

The west and centre of the park are covered by a mosaic of dry deciduous Baikiaea woodland (the best-developed such woodland in Zimbabwe) with scrub of Terminalia and Burkea, and there is some Brachystegia woodland in the east, and perennial grassland along the fossil drainage lines (with Acacia woodland on the edges). In the north-east there is deciduous mopane woodland and mixed Combretum/Terminalia shrubland. There are several large vleis or marshes that are dominated by grassland and drain into the rivers. The climate is hot (33°C in October) and dry, with an average of 620 mm of rain annually. There is a decrease in rainfall from east to west. Frosts of ­5°C and lower are frequent during June and July. ‘Black’ frosts (below ­7°C) occur every few years and can have a devastating effect on the vegetation.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The dams and the pans form a vital network of aquatic ecosystems for migrant and resident birds. A total of 410 species have been recorded, of which 41 are vagrants. Nationally, Hwange is considered to be of conservation importance for 24 species, including Ciconia episcopus, Oxyura maccoa, Gallinula angulata and Chlidonias hybridus. Hwange contains possibly the largest protected populations of Tockus bradfieldi and Buphagus africanus in the southern African subregion. Other nationally uncommon or threatened species that breed in the park are Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Ardeotis kori and Bucorvus cafer. Gyps coprotheres, Gallinago media, Circus macrourus and Glareola nordmanni are occasional visitors. The park is also an important refuge for seven raptor species: Trigonoceps occipitalis, Necrosyrtes monachus, Torgos tracheliotus, Terathopius ecaudatus, Aquila rapax, Polemaetus bellicosus and Hieraaetus spilogaster. Grus carunculatus is a very rare vagrant; a number live fairly close to, but outside, the park.

Non-bird biodiversity: Hwange National Park is well known for its wide variety of mammals (105 species), including Diceros bicornis (CR; numbers are slowly increasing in the Intensive Protection Zone within the park) and the only substantial population in Zimbabwe of Lycaon pictus (EN).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Outside the park, in the adjacent Forestry Areas, the woodlands have been exploited for lumber. On paper, Hwange is relatively well protected. However, the recent illegal felling and saw-milling of hardwood trees in the park by a timber company clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of the park to political pressures. There is poaching of the larger mammals, and in the early 1990s large numbers of both species of rhino were heavily poached, reducing their populations to low levels. Another major threat to the park is from the very high numbers of elephant Loxodonta africana. The consequent damage to the vegetation and reduction in habitat for other species, including birds, has significant implications for the maintenance of biodiversity. A clear policy on elephant management is vital and should be carried out promptly before the vegetation damage becomes irreversible.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hwange National Park. Downloaded from on 21/04/2021.