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. Spurwing Island and Matusadona Water
Lodge are very attractive lodge sites in the centre of the Matusadona
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
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.