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Matobo rhino fence completed

Matobo rhino fence completed

Map showing the fenced area
Map showing the fenced area


By: John Burton, Chairman Matobo Rhino Trust



farmhouse.matopos@gmail.com (John Burton)

hubcapzw@gmail.com (Paul Hubbard)


In January this year the fence around part of Matopos National Park to protect its population of rhino was completed – a major milestone in an effort which showcased  successful public and private sector partnership, and which has already had significant positive results.


In the early 1960s, 13 white rhino were brought from South Africa to the Matopos in Zimbabwe, near Bulawayo. National Parks wanted to re-introduce rhino where ancient cave paintings showed that they had existed before.

From the 1990s, rhino poaching started in Zimbabwe, mainly in the north, in the Zambezi Valley

The black rhino population, estimated at about 3,000, was virtually wiped out.  The Matopos also suffered losses. Translocation and poaching reduced the Matopos population by about half.

To assist Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) with their rhino protection effort, the Matobo Rhino Initiative Trust was formed in January 2013. At the request of the Authority, a project to fence a section of the Park to protect the rhino was born.

The Matobo Rhino Initiative proposed:-

1  to confine the rhino in an Intensive Protection Zone designated by the government, with a ‘shoot to kill’ policy for suspected poachers;

2  to confine the rhino in a defined zone and focus anti-poaching activity on that area;

3  to control tourism with only one official entry point, with opening and closing times; visitors not to be allowed out of their vehicles unless accompanied by a Zimbabwe Professional Guide or ZimParks scout.

4  that the Matobo Rhino Trust work in conjunction with the Dambari Trust which supports rhino dehorning programmes.

5  that a community benefit scheme be set up, so that the surrounding community will be responsible for external fence patrols and fence maintenance and will derive the financial benefit of income from tourism.

In summary, the plan aimed to confine the rhino in a protection zone with high anti-poaching presence, dehorn all rhino and surround the area with a community which receives direct benefit from tourism involving the rhino. Poachers would need to pass through a non-supportive community to get to well-guarded rhino. If they did find a rhino, it would have no horn – a high risk to take for small reward.

The fence project started in January 2013. $180,000 was raised through foreign and local donors and the 52km fence was completed in January 2015. Further assistance is required for the community scheme, fence maintenance and patrols.

The Initiative has already shown positive results:-

1   2014 was the first year in the last 15 that no rhino were poached in the Matopos.

2   Cattle incursions into the park were reduced; these may have provided a screen for poachers.

3   An increased birth rate of rhino was recorded in the last two years.

4   An increased visitor number for rhino walks, with a higher percentage of rhino viewing success. This has a major implication for revenue.

5   A positive relationship between ZimParks and the community, which has been demonstrated in halted poaching incursions – to a major extent this was attributed to community involvement.

6   Greater awareness and publicity for the Matopos and rhino.

7   Increased sightings of other game species and their increasing numbers.

Within the Zimbabwe National Parks estate, the Matopos has the last viable population of black and white rhino. If these are not saved the effect will be disastrous, not only for the species, but for the people, other wildlife, conservation and economy of the area.