Saturday, November 6, 2021

Battlefield to National Park: Chimanimani, Mozambique

The Chimanimani Mountains straddle the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, a position that made them a battleground in two long, bloody wars. 

First was the struggle against Rhodesia's white regime, known as the Bush War, which lasted from 1964 to 1979. Rhodesian rebels regularly based themselves in these mountains, and the Rhodesian army regularly attacked them there, neither side caring much about the international border. Hiding out in the mountains, the rebels hunted for food, devastating the native wildlife.

Mozambique attained its independence from Portugal in 1975, and almost immediately fell into a civil war between factions backed by the US and the USSR. That bloody war – the usual estimate is that 600,000 people died, but some say a million – lasted until 1992. Again, rebels took to the Chimanimani Mountains, and again they supported themselves by hunting.

So by the time something like peace was achieved in Mozambique, the Chimanimani region was in bad shape. Fortunately for the wildlife, the fighting had also driven out a lot of the people, and honestly these mountains weren't a great place for people to live anyway. So the by the late 1990s government of Mozambique began moving to preserve parts of the mountain region from development.

Just recently Mozambique declared part of the region a national park. Chimanimani National Park encompasses about 634 square kilometers, or 156,000 acres, and it is surrounded by an even larger buffer zone within which development is controlled.

Chimanimani has been in the science news over the past few years because biological surveys are under way to document the region's plant and animal species; after all scientists had been mostly excluded from the region for two generations. The mountains are home to many, many plants and animals, and several new species have been discovered. (NY Times,

Meanwhile larger mammals have been making their way back in, and tourism is becoming a significant business; Time Magazine made Chimanimani one of the "must see" places of 2021.

Sometimes it seems like some places are so messed up that things can never get better, but sometimes that is wrong.

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