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According to a leading conservation group, a controversial ban on walking without a guide in Mana Pools, one of Zimbabwe’s most popular national parks, has been lifted after wildlife groups lobbied the authorities.

Mana Pools in Zimbabwe
Mana Pools

Quoting a statement from Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Zambezi Society said that “the ban on unguided walks has been lifted with immediate effect.”

According to the statement visitors would instead have to pay for a daily permit for “walking activities”, and anyone found walking without a permit would be fined US$100.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Zambezi Society said it had worked with tour operators and the parks authority to develop codes of conduct for visitors to Mana Pools and the nearby Chitake Springs after a number of complaints.

News that the authorities had decided to ban walking without a ranger in Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage site, caused consternation in April among the many frequent visitors to the area in the extreme north of Zimbabwe.

There was some speculation that the authorities had imposed the ban fearing a foreign fatality in the park could lead to adverse publicity at a time when Zimbabwe was desperate to improve its income from tourism. There has only been one recorded visitor fatality in recent years when a Zimbabwean holidaymaker was grabbed by a lion as he showered at the end of the day in Chitake Springs in 2010.

Photos have emerged in recent months from the park of visitors, particularly wildlife photographers, getting dangerously close to elephants, sparking concern. There have also been complaints that some visitors drive in riverbeds in their 4×4 vehicles.

Mana Pools fans have greeted the news they would be able to again walk freely in the park with delight in online forums. However, there was also some caution.

One Facebook user posted: “Hopefully the walking visitors will respect the wildlife and not aggravate them for the ‘picture/selfie’. I’ve seen it in Mana – and it is shocking what some foreign visitors think is funny to show their friends at home.”

Walking permits reportedly cost US$15 per day for foreigners. ‘Mana means four in the local Shona language and refers to the four large pools near the river that are the park’s main feature. There are now not believed to be any rhinos in the park.

Shenton Safaris
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