Helping two iconic Gonarezhou National Park species live in harmony

Gonarezhou National Park management is stepping in to save one of the park’s iconic species from another. As the elephant population in the park continues to grow, so is their impact on their surrounding habitat. Of specific concern is the destruction of baobab trees, especially in areas close to permanent water sources such as the river floodplains. The rate at which even very large trees were being felled led to a concern that most of the floodplain baobabs would be lost if no action was taken.

Management is now experimenting with how best to protect the baobabs in a few key areas of the park. These are the areas around Chipinda Pools and the Chilojo Cliffs, along the Runde and towards the Runde/Save junction. Three separate methods are being trialled. The first is to pack a rock ring around the base of the trees; the second, to encircle them with large logs or, in cases where neither rocks nor logs are in relative close proximity, wrapping the trunks in diamond mesh. More than 100 trees have so far been included in the trials, and the effectiveness of the different methods is continuously monitored.

Baobab with rock ring ( E. vd Westhuizen, FZS )

Early results show that all three methods can be effective. Though some trees were lost after they received protection, indications were that the trees were already too badly damaged by the time the project started. However, it remains to be seen if the ancient trees would be able to withstand the elephants’ efforts to feed on them should the park enter into a severe drought.

Baobab with log ring (E. vd Westhuizen, FZS )