A new independent report has highlighted urgent concerns over the management of the Victoria Falls world heritage site (WHS) by responsible authorities.
The report produced for Keep Victoria Falls Wild cites the recent allocation of leases and concessions by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, threatening the vulnerable riverine fringe along the upstream river corridor above the Victoria Falls.
The report calls for an immediate halt to construction at these highly ecologically sensitive zones of the Victoria Falls National Park which include a proposed riverside ‘tree lodge’ development – a significant new 57-room development on a 40 hectare concession stretched along the riverside fringe within the VFNP and already widely promoted within the tourism industry – as well as a riverside restaurant development, currently under construction immediately above the Falls.
The report also recommends the World Heritage Committee to freeze all developments in and surrounding the WHS until suitable management plans are in place.
The forest fringe is a protected area noted for its importance to wildlife and wider scenic value. The vulnerability of this habitat is also recognised in the 2016-2021 Joint Integrated Management Plan:
“The Zambezi River, in common with all rivers in tropical Africa, has a distinct fringing vegetation of gallery or riparian woodland. The Riverine Forest is found along the banks of the Zambezi, Songwe and Maramba Rivers and on some islands. On the riverbanks it is with a width rarely more than 20-100m wide from the high water mark (Fanshawe, 1975, Meynell et al., 1996). At its best development, riparian forest is a three storeyed forest with a closed evergreen canopy attaining 21m in height… This habitat houses the highest concentration of animals and is the most sought and threatened by human developments (State Parties, 2016, p.18-9).”
Yet, despite the vulnerability to this habitat being widely recognised in management documents, tourism developments continue to impact and threaten the river corridor.
Meanwhile, as part of efforts to protect Victoria Falls, there is an online petition that seeks to stop commercialization of Cataract Island and surrounding majestic wild areas.
The petition notes; “As Victoria Falls expands as a City, growth and development opportunities are natural and important. However, it is equally important and imperative for these developments to be balanced against the erosion of wild spaces which are the very attraction of this World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which captivates thousands of visitors each year. It is the foremost natural icon in the country, a heritage of all Zimbabweans.”