Matusadona National Park
Matusadona National park is situated on the shores of Lake Kariba. This was one of the last wild sanctuaries of the endangered Black Rhino and was also considered to have the highest natural population density of lions in Africa although this is no longer true due to increasing populations elsewhere.
Matusadona is ideal walking safari territory and is worth visiting year round. Small seasonal bush camps in the traditional style are erected for mobile safaris but there are also two good lodges situated on islands just off shore. For a truly traditional safari experience, the best of these is Musango Safari Camp.
Quite a number of Matusadona's camps have been "put in mothballs" during the past few years but there is no doubt Zimbabwe's home grown professional safari guides and camps will once again appear when there is enough demand to do so.
The Matusadona shoreline on Lake Kariba invites water based activities, usually from game viewing boats or pontoons and is one of several protected wildlife areas with shorelines on Lake Kariba.
Some 338 000 acres in area, it is bounded on the west by the Ume River and on the east by the Sanyati River. Two-thirds of it lies south of the Zambezi Escarpment, formed by the 1968 foot-high "Matuzviadonha" Hills from which it takes its name. The best way to experience Matusadona is on a walking safari. Other options include overnighting on the shoreline with a cruiser or houseboat, taking a Sail Safari into the area, or staying at one of the lodges/camps in or on western edge of the park.
Open woodlands on the plateau behind the escarpment are dominated by Julbernardia globiflora. The mountain acacia, Brachystegia glaucescens, is also common on the slopes and ridges of the escarpment.
From the plateau the park falls abruptly to a flat, low-lying area covered mainly with Mopane scrub and woodland and with dense patches of Jesse bush. The entire northern boundary of the park is created by the lakeshore itself. This shoreline, which is subjected to irregular variations in water level caused by fluctuations in annual rainfall, is still in a state of rapid ecological change and development.
Along much of it are "drowned forests", up to several kilometres wide, containing dead trees standing more than 29 years after the filling of the lake. Many of the animals rescued during "'Operation Noah" when the lake was filling were released into Matusadona, which now holds strong populations of most mammals occurring in the Zambezi Valley.
Buffalo are especially prominent and herds of up to 1000 strong often congregate along the shoreline in the dry season. Their population is thought to be growing at about 9% per annum, and this rapid expansion is caused largely by the development of the wide swards of torpedo grass, Panicum repens along the shoreline.
This swamp grass is indigenous to the Zambezi valley. It was generally absent from the lakeshore until 1970, when a combination of circumstances including the decline of the Kariba weed, Salvinia molesta, enabled it to gain a foothold on what were, until then rather barren shores. The dying Salvinia created an ideal mulch for the torpedo grass. It can survive for long periods under water and becomes available to buffalo and other herbivores towards the end of the dry season when other sources of fodder are largely depleted.
Lion, leopard, hyaena and other predators occur in good numbers throughout the park. There have also been isolated reports of cheetah over the years - a small population was reintroduced in 1995.
There is a small but important population of the endangered black rhinoceros, found mainly along the foot of the escarpment. They are mostly concentrated in the west of Matusadona. Eight white rhinoceros were introduced into the park in 1984 but did not survive, probably because they had lost their natural immunity to sleeping sickness over many years of captive breeding in tsetse-free areas.
Hippopotamus and crocodile declined after the lake filled but are now recovering well. Hippopotamus have benefited from the development of the torpedo grass swards and the deeply incised shoreline provides hundreds of suitably sheltered habitats. A recent survey of the crocodile population estimated their density at one adult animal for every 656 feet of shoreline.
One of the Matusadona's most compelling features is its luxuriant birdlife; over 240 species have been recorded in the park. The fish eagle is common along the lakeshore where it makes use of the dead trees as nesting sites. Most parts of the lakeshore have conspicuous populations of grey herons, goliath herons, great white herons and saddlebill storks. Plovers, waders and geese are generally abundant and there are notable populations of osprey, woolly-necked storks, open-billed storks, white-winged plovers and red-winged pratincoles. There are several large colonies of darters and reed cormorants within the treelines, and at least one colony of white-breasted cormorants has appeared recently.
Bee-eater colonies are often found in the sandstone banks and cliffs of the minor rivers that traverse the valley floor. Most local raptors are present in good numbers.
The Matusadona National Park is most easily accessible by boat from Kariba. It is also possible to enter the Matusadona from the gravel Karoi-Kamativi road south of the escarpment.
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