African animals recognise no boundaries, apart from the territories they claim for themselves and the fences that bind them. I went to Ponto de Ouro Protected Marina Area and Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique and Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa to see for myself how a transfrontier park is born.
Understanding who does what is a bit complicated, but I’ll concentrate on what’s happening on the ground thanks to Peace Parks Foundation alias Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). TFCAs like Usuthu-Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Conservation Area, consist of multiple sections across several countries, in this case Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. It’s a case of “poli poli” (Swahili for slowly slowly) while the politics, logistics, impacts to local communities and tourism are worked out. All the while, dedicated Peace Parks transfrontier parks experts like Landscape Architect Johalize Koch (identifying the best tourism options in the park) and Tourism Manager Tanya Alexander, along with Maputo Special Reserve Manager Miguel Conçalves, are on the ground walking the talk!
I drove with Miguel – tall, dark, handsome and a man of-few-words – along a 40km stretch of protected marine beach inside the MSR transfrontier park in southern Mozambique to watch turtles laying. On that windy night a few degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn, I estimated seeing one turtle track per kilometer, indicated by heavy drag marks across the beach to beyond the high tide line, where they lay their eggs in the same spot they were born. Loggerhead turtles, weighing about 115km, don’t compare in size to the enormous but rare Leatherbacks, who can weigh up to 900kg! The turtles are tagged and monitored each night over the laying season to deduce a figure in 2016 of 1600 loggerhead tracks and only 53 critically endangered leatherbacks. The turtle monitoring programme links up with that in South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site. You too can witness turtles laying or hatching on organized turtle watching tours between November and March, and I recommend it as one of those wildlife bucket list moments.
MAPUTO SPECIAL RESERVE
Maputo Special Reserve is one of 5 distinct transfrontier conservation areas between Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland and this reserve of coastal forest, huge freshwater inland lakes, closed canopy forests and large open plains is one of 25 biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial eco-regions because of the exceptionally high number of endemic flora and fauna. Look out for large dark-skinned endemic elephants here. Adventurer Kingsley Holgate described it as “Tanzania by the sea”
The first tourism concession to have been taken up in Maputo Special Reserve is Anvil Bay Lodge, tucked into the coastal dune forest along a pristine stretch of squeaky white sand beach. It’s 5-star private barefoot wilderness, created by the Bell family foundation and run by the local community. First choice is to arrive by a Bell helicopter. Second and only other choice is to arrive by 4×4 via deep sand tracks. It’s worth it! See my separate review of Anvil Bay Lodge.
There will soon be several more options such as camping and chalets inside the Maputo Special Reserve, and a tar road from the South African Kosi Bay Border to the gates (such as they are)! But you’ll still need a 4×4 to negotiate the rollercoaster ride. So stop often and pluck a ripe mangosteen off a tree and reflect how lucky you are to be alone in the middle of a hard-fought transfronteir park.