Gonarezhou’s Gentle Giants

This article published in Discover Zimbabwe, Sixth Edition 2017.

View the original article with all its photos here.

Fuelled by decades of poaching, civil unrest, culling and ongoing harassment by humans, Gonarezhou National Park’s elephants have very good reason for having long held the reputation as being some of the country’s most notoriously temperamental and belligerent animals. Resident Safari Operator Anthony Kashula explains why this is changing.

Extreme caution has always been recommended to any traveller willing to visit this spectacularly wild and rugged refuge of the elephants where tales of exhilarating encounters abound.

Indeed, over the years, there have been a number of close encounters with the area’s elephants which have justified this belief but now, thanks largely to the Gonarezhou Conservation Project (GCP), a joint venture between the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Zimbabwe Parks And Wildlife Management Authority (PWMA), they are becoming more tolerant of the steadily increasing numbers of visitors to the park.

This notable increase in the number of visitors to the park in recent years is due largely to the efforts made by the GCP and PWMA in upgrading the park’s roads and tourism infrastructure, investing in personnel, equipment, communications, staff housing, training facilities, workshops, community outreach & education programs, cessation of ration hunting within the park, and increased anti-poaching efforts.

Barely five years ago, relatively few people had visited Gonarezhou, however, trying to secure a campsite in the park during school holidays is now no longer guaranteed and Gonarezhou is quickly earning a reputation as being one of the country’s most popular National Parks.

It has taken time for the long and complicated history between people and elephants to be eroded but an increase in the numbers of visitors to the park is creating a general pacification of the elephant population as their good encounters with people begin to overshadow the bad ones.

As a professional guide and photographic safari operator in Gonarezhou since 2007, we have had our share of mostly good, and one or two bad encounters with the park’s elephants but overall, it has been a privilege to have witnessed the behavioural changes of these amazingly forgiving animals.

Like most animals, elephants have their individual personalities and quirks and having an opportunity to spend so much time in an area where very few other people walk, has made it an extremely interesting and fulfilling pastime of getting to know who is who. Despite their imposing size, if approached cautiously and by keeping noise and movement to a minimum, the majority of these bulls are incredibly relaxed, allowing opportunities for park visitors to enjoy time spent with them as they go about their daily lives.

Either way, a walk or drive in the Chilojo area of the park is incredibly rewarding as you never know who you may bump into next: Golfball, Stompie, Sharp & Wide, Frazzled Ears, Scar Side, Tips Together, Pencil, Even Steven, Long & Clean …or someone new?

So, my advice for anyone looking for a fun and interesting adventure is to go ahead and visit Gonarezhou. You will be very pleasantly surprised by the outstanding beauty and pure wilderness qualities of the park and impressed not only by the park’s elephants but the diversity and abundance of other wildlife.

Should you spend any amount of time in the Chilojo /Fishans/ Hlaro / Chinguli area of the park, then here are some images of a few bulls which we have got to know over the years together with details of some of their distinguishing features and temperaments.

Please note that the names we have given them are solely for our own identification purposes and are typically descriptive of their features or behaviour.

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