Wildlife and Habitat Conservation
At Imvelo we recognise that the fate of people and wildlife are inextricably connected. In recognition of this, our strategy is to develop lodges on the edges of parks or peripheral areas. The reason for this is twofold; firstly, our footprint has less impact on the park, and secondly our development is in conjunction with local communities, rather than central government. For us this is the front line of wildlife conservation.
Our Rhino Project
Imvelo Safari Lodges are spearheading the return of white rhinos to Hwange. The project is called CRCI—Community Rhino Conservation Initiative and is a massive paradigm shift to introduce rhinos onto community land; this is a world first for white rhinos. At its peak in the 1980s, the rhino population in Hwange National Park numbered several hundred, of which about 120 were white rhinos. By the early 2000s, poaching had once again eradicated the population from the park. The communities living on the park’s south-eastern edge are already conservation conscious, and CRCI builds on this to establish highly protected rhino sanctuaries on community land bordering the park. This is to be the catalyst for a bigger conservancy and buffer zone between the park and communities, supporting local people through gate entry fees, employment, increased tourism, and reduced human-wildlife conflict. This is certainly one of the most ground-breaking conservation projects in Africa today. Learn more here!
Imvelo employs more than 40 local people as community wildlife protection scouts, in charge not only of rhino protection but also of alleviating human-wildlife conflict, conservation education, wildfire prevention, and anti-poaching. These scouts make up our Cobras Community Wildlife Protection Unit, a team of highly trained and dedicated local men. The Cobras are not only proud of what they do but also set an important example to youngsters and other community members. They complement the rest of the Imvelo team, proactively responding to conservation threats to support both tourism and the local people.
Water for Wildlife
Imvelo manages nearly a quarter of the waterholes that sustain Hwange’s wildlife—a massive commitment of which we are truly proud! Hwange National Park is one of the few great parks of Africa without any major rivers or lakes. Due to this, animals, including large herds of elephants, congregate in enormous numbers around the waterholes, particularly during the dry season. Imvelo operates 18 pumps in and around Hwange National Park which provide essential water for wildlife throughout the year. During the dry season, from May to November, Imvelo increases its pumping program with solar hybrid pumps that allow for pumping to continue throughout the night. This is a mammoth logistical operation, with pump attendants stationed in remote places needing regular delivery of rations, supplies, and diesel, while repairs and maintenance are continuous.
During Zimbabwe’s dry months, the grass is incredibly vulnerable to fire and Hwange is usually victim to several annual bushfires sometimes started by humans, putting at risk the vegetation that so many animals rely on. Imvelo’s presence on the edge of the park enables us to quickly detect and react to any destructive wildfires. We take direct responsibility for a network of 280km of fireguards on the border and in the park, and every year we fight wildfires alongside the hard-pressed National Parks and Forestry Commission rangers.
Mitigating Conflict with Wildlife
The long Tsholotsho Communal Land boundary with Hwange National Park is the setting for some serious human-wildlife conflict. Elephants relentlessly raid crops, which devastates the villagers’ food supplies. Lions and hyenas also attack the livestock regularly. This is a classic ‘hard boundary’ in conservation jargon. When Imvelo started work here, local attitudes to wildlife were extremely negative. As part of our work, these impoverished communities are now receiving significant and life-changing benefits from the presence of wildlife in their areas. As the positives start to outweigh the negatives, attitudes are changing – ‘the hard boundary’ is softening both metaphorically and physically, with the development of the Community Rhino Conservation Initiative. Enabling our guests to contribute to transforming negative attitudes towards wildlife, through their visits, provides a great opportunity for improved community-based conservation.
Community-based conservation starts with awareness and experiencing benefits from wildlife. Annually, in conjunction with the Rural District Councils and traditional leaders, we are involved in dozens of community meetings, both formal and informal. The aim is to continuously increase local awareness and garner an ongoing commitment to wildlife conservation, by all levels of the community as they recognize the significant benefits that accrue from sustainable tourism. We prioritize raising awareness in schools of the importance and benefits of wildlife conservation as well as of conservation career opportunities.