Z010 Hwange National Park


19°00’S; 26°30’E
c. 1 460 000 ha


Hwange National Park covers 14 600 km2 and is one of the largest protected areas in Africa. It lies in northwest Zimbabwe, bordering Botswana, extending from 25°45E to 27°30’E and from 18°30S to 19°45’S. Hwange is bounded by the Matetsi and Deka Safari Areas in the north, Forestry Areas and private farms in the east, and Tsholotsho Communal Land in the south. The Park falls within Hwange District in Matabeleland North Province.

Hwange is the oldest National Park in Zimbabwe and it is well known to international and regional tourists. The Park is readily accessed off the main Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road. There is an extensive network of tourist roads in the north and east, while the flatter, less appealing centre and west comprise a wilderness area with few roads. Much of the west and centre of the Park is covered in aeolian Kalahari sand, deposited in a series of parallel dunes during the Pleistocene. The topography is flat with gentle undulations. Today there are no surface perennial rivers, but there is evidence of fossil drainage lines. In the dune troughs, there are numerous shallow calcrete pans. After heavy rains, some of these pans hold water throughout the dry season; others are augmented by water supplied from deep underground boreholes. To the north and east, the underlying basalts and sedimentary rocks of the Karoo Series, granites and gneisses of the Wankie/Deka geological complex, appear. The Deka, Sinamatella and Lukosi rivers drain northeast towards the Gwayi River. The topography is more broken with basalt and shale ridges and hills rising to 1 000 m a.s.l. The rivers shrink to a series of pools in the dry season. There are several man-made dams in the area: Mandavu Dam being the largest. The dams and the pans form a vital network of aquatic ecosystems for migrant and resident birds. The increase in artificially supplied water in the dry season has been one of the causes for the increase in herbivore populations. The trees surrounding the pans are often damaged by Elephant Loxodonta africana as the herds congregate during the late dry season.

The climate is hot (33°C in October) and dry, with an average rainfall of 620 mm p.a. There is a decrease in rainfall from east to west. The temperatures drop at night and 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.

The Kalahari Sands are covered with a mosaic of dry deciduous Baikiaea plurijuga woodland on the dune crests and Terminalia sericea, Burkea africana scrub in the troughs. In the east, the Baikiaea woodlands also contain some Brachystegia spiciformis. The vegetation patterns are determined by edaphic factors modified by frost, fire and elephants. The heavier clay soils along the fossil drainage lines support perennial Hyparrhenia/Androstachys/Aristida grassland with Acacia erioloba woodland on the edges. The clay soils derived from basalt and mudstone in the northeast support Colophospermum mopane deciduous woodland and mixed Combretum /Terminalia shrubland. There are several large vleis or marshes on basaltic vertisols that are dominated by Ischaemum afrum grassland and drain into the rivers. 


Hustler (1986) has updated the bird checklist, which records a total of 410 species of which 41 are vagrants. This has since risen to 449 species. Hwange is considered to be of conservation importance for 11 species on the Kalahari Sand areas; it probably holds the largest protected population of Bradfield’s Hornbill Tockus bradfieldi in the world. Burchell’s Sandgrouse Pterocles burchelli is a breeding resident. Eleven migrant waterbird species including Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus, Maccoa Duck Oxyura maccoa, Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata and Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus are found in the ephemeral pans. Hwange contains possibly the largest protected population of Yellow-billed Oxpecker Buphagus africanus in the Sub-region. Other species of Sub-regional conservation concern that breed in the Park are: Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori and Southern Ground-hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri. Great Snipe Gallinago media, Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus and Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni are vagrants that occasionally visit. The Park is also an important refuge for 7 raptor species: White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis, Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus and African Hawk-eagle Hieraaetus spilogaster.


Hwange National Park is well known for the wide variety of mammals occurring here (105 species). It holds a large Elephant population (c. 28 000), and numerous Buffalo Syncerus caffer, Giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis, Blue Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus and Sable Hippotragus niger. The White Ceratotherium simum and Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis numbers are slowly increasing in the Intensive Protection Zone within the Park.

Hwange also has the most substantial population of Wild Dog Lycaon pictus in Zimbabwe. The Park holds 68 species of reptile. Hwange contains the best-developed Baikiaea woodland and forest in Zimbabwe. 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 sawmilling of hardwood trees in the Park by an iniquitous timber company clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of the Park to political pressures. There is poaching of the larger mammals, and in 1993 large numbers of White Rhinoceros were heavily poached, dramatically reducing their numbers. Another major threat to the Park is the burgeoning Elephant population. The consequent damage to the vegetation and reduction in habitat for other species has significant implications for the maintenance of biodiversity. A clear policy on Elephant management is vital and urgently required, and should be carried out promptly before damage to the vegetation becomes irreversible.

Globally threatened
* Cape Vulture – Breeding (pairs) – | Total Numbers – OV

Globally near-threatened
* Great Snipe – Breeding (pairs) – | Total Numbers – V
* Pallid Harrier – Breeding (pairs) – | Total Numbers – OV
* Black-winged Pratincole – Breeding (pairs) – | Total Numbers – OV


Dickinson’s Kestrel | Fairly Common
Burchell’s Sandgrouse | Uncommon
Racquet-tailed Roller | Rare
Bradfield’s Hornbill | Common
Miombo Rock-thrush | Rare
Arnot’s Chat | Fairly Common
Kurrichane Thrush | Common
Kalahari Scrub-robin | Rare
Barred Wren-warbler | Rare
Stierling’s Wren-warbler | Common
Meves’s Starling | Common
White-bellied Sunbird | Common
Miombo Double-collared | Sunbird Rare
Broad-tailed Paradise-whydah | Rare
Black-eared Seedeater | Uncommon

* – Species does not meet IBA threshold
RR & BRA – Restricted-range and biome-restricted assemblage
Br? – Suspected breeding
V – Vagrant
OV – Occasional visitor

Keeping Common Birds Common