ZIMBABWE’S Panda Masuie Forest Reserve has become the region's haven for iconic and endangered species, specifically the elephant.
A recent wildlife census in the reserve counted 512 Savanna elephants, a rise in number, up from 285 observed in the 2021 census. The census says this is a 79% increase.
There were also 212% more warthogs, and 25% more Kudu in the reserve compared to 2021.
“The results are encouraging. Panda Masuie is becoming a stronghold for many species of animals,” says Jos Danckwerts, conservation director for the IFAW-supported Panda Masuie Release Project.
“The 85 000-square-acre reserve is located within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), the world’s largest terrestrial transfrontier conservation initiative, spanning an area more than twice the size of Germany and Austria combined.
“Within KAZA TFCA, elephants are highly mobile. They’re also highly perceptive to the threats and disturbances around them and tend to migrate to the safest areas, he said.
Panda Masuie is co-managed by Wildlife is Life and the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, with the support of IFAW. Since the partnership began, significant time and resources have been invested to protect and restore the forest by tackling key conservation challenges, including poaching and wildfires. As a result of these efforts, elephants, lions, zebras and other species can now roam freely in the reserve, safe from human threats.
“This shows that large wild landscapes, and nature as a whole, can recover and thrive given enough protection,” Danckwerts said.
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Rangers and volunteers observe waterholes throughout Panda Masuie for 24 hours straight, counting wildlife as they arrive to drink. The annual waterhole game census is conducted every October at the end of the dry season, during the full moon. The counts provide an important baseline to monitor how the wildlife populations in the reserve are faring, and to inform the planning and management of elephants and their habitat.
IFAW landscape and conservation director Phillip Kuvawoga said: “Having accurate and reliable figures helps us to make long-term and informed decisions about the landscape and the wildlife resources.”
He said the increase in the elephant population was due to deliberate interventions aimed at habitat restoration and ensuring persistence of viable populations in healthy ecosystems.